Trump ‘arbitrarily’ inflated asset values, says former lawyer Michael Cohen on stand

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NEW YORK (Reuters) – Donald Trump “arbitrarily” inflated the value of his real estate assets to secure favorable insurance premiums, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen testified in the former president’s civil fraud case.

Cohen, who cut ties with the former US president five years ago, is now a key witness in a case brought by Democratic New York Attorney General Letitia James, who alleges that Trump inflated the value of the properties of their family businesses. The case threatens to break up the Trump administration business empire.

Cohen testified that Trump ordered him to “reverse engineer” the values ​​of many of the Trump Organization’s holdings so that the company’s financial statements would show that the assets “had extremely high values ​​with low liabilities to ensure better insurance premiums.” .

The value of the company’s holdings would be “whatever figure Mr. Trump told us,” Cohen said in brief testimony before the trial’s lunch break. The trial will resume at 2:15 pm EDT (1815 GMT).

After the trial began, Trump told reporters that he was “not at all concerned” about Cohen’s testimony.

Colleen Faherty, an attorney for the attorney general’s office, began her questioning of Cohen by reviewing his criminal record. In 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to a campaign finance violation and lying to Congress during a separate investigation into Trump’s business dealings with Russia.

“I did it at the direction, in concert with and for the benefit of Donald Trump,” Cohen said on the stand, referring to his false testimony before Congress.

Trump leaned back in his chair with his arms crossed and watched Cohen intently on the stand, occasionally whispering to his lawyers.

Faherty’s initial questioning seemed aimed at preventing attacks by Trump’s lawyers on Cohen’s credibility.

Earlier on Tuesday, Trump, the favorite for the 2024 Republican election. presidential nominationcalled Cohen a “liar.”

“He’s a proven liar, as you know, a criminal,” Trump told reporters before entering the courtroom, referring to Cohen. “We didn’t do anything wrong and that’s the truth.”

cohenwho once said he would “take a bullet” for Trump, began a three-year prison sentence in 2019, but was released to home release the following year during the coronavirus pandemic.

Cohen’s testimony during a congressional investigation into Trump’s finances in 2019 was the impetus for James’ lawsuit.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and defended his property valuations, calling the case a “fraud” and a political witch hunt.

He has occasionally appeared in court for the past month, complaining in inflammatory comments to reporters that it is a distraction from his campaign.

He arrived on Monday after a campaign stop in New Hampshire and a few days later be fined $5,000 by Judge Arthur Engoron, the judge overseeing the case, for violating a gag order.

In September, before the trial began, Engoron found that Trump fraudulently inflated his net worth and ordered the dissolution of companies that control the crown jewels of his real estate portfolio, including Trump Tower in Manhattan. That ruling is on hold while Trump appeals.

The lawsuit concerns mainly damages. James is seeking at least $250 million in fines, a permanent ban against Trump and his sons Donald Jr and Eric from running businesses in New York and a five-year commercial real estate ban against Trump and the Trump Organization.

Early in the trial, Engoron barred the parties from speaking publicly about court staff after Trump shared a social media post attacking Engoron’s secretary and identifying her by name.

Trump deleted the post, but last week Engoron revealed that a screenshot had remained active on his campaign site for weeks.

Engoron, who said the error appeared to have been “inadvertent,” Trump fined $5,000 and warned that future violations would bring “much harsher” penalties, including imprisonment.

James’ civil suit is one of many legal problems Trump faces as he campaigns for the presidency. He has pleaded not guilty to four criminal charges, including federal cases related to efforts to overturn the 2020 election results and the removal of government documents from the White House.

Jack Queen Information; Editing by Noeleen Walder, Nick Zieminski, and Lisa Shumaker

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