In a dramatic courtroom confrontation, Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former lawyer and confidant, testified at Trump’s civil fraud trial in New York. This marked the first face-to-face meeting between the two in five years. Cohen, who had been an executive vice president and counsel to Trump, revealed that the former president personally authorized the fraudulent inflation of his net worth and property valuations.
The civil suit, led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, alleges that Trump and his co-defendants engaged in fraudulent activities to inflate asset values for their financial gain. They seek to recover $250 million and impose various sanctions on Trump’s business dealings in New York. The court had already found Trump and his co-defendants liable for fraud, and the trial continues with additional charges, including record falsification, conspiracy, and insurance fraud.
Cohen, who turned on Trump in 2018, pleaded guilty to federal charges related to campaign finance violations and lying to Congress. Given his insider knowledge, he is a pivotal witness in both this civil case and a separate Manhattan criminal prosecution. Trump and his co-defendants vehemently deny any wrongdoing and question Cohen’s credibility due to his prior convictions.
Cohen’s Testimony: Wearing a dark houndstooth jacket and a white button-down shirt, Cohen entered the courtroom, briefly acknowledging Trump, who was present in the audience. Cohen began by outlining the crimes he pleaded guilty to in 2018, emphasizing that some were committed while he was in Trump’s employ and that he lied to Congress for Trump’s benefit. Cohen stated, “I reported and only worked for Trump. I was his special counsel.” He described how he was tasked with adjusting financial statements to meet Trump’s arbitrary valuation targets.
According to Cohen, Trump instructed him to manipulate these statements to achieve predetermined figures, a process that he referred to as “reverse engineering.” Cohen’s claims included the involvement of Allen Weisselberg, the former CFO of the Trump Organization, and alleged participation of Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, and Ivanka Trump in aspects of this scheme. During Cohen’s testimony, Trump appeared visibly agitated, occasionally shaking his head and showing signs of frustration.
Cross-examination by Trump’s attorney Alina Habba escalated into a contentious exchange, with Cohen responding with “asked and answered” and drawing objections. Trump’s attorney, Christopher Kise, expressed his concerns to the judge regarding Cohen’s behavior.
Implications of the Trial: The New York Attorney General’s office alleges that Trump, his adult sons, and their company falsified the values of Trump properties and assets to secure favorable loan terms, which significantly increased Trump’s wealth. They seek $250 million in restitution and sanctions to restrict Trump’s business activities in the state.
Cohen’s testimony plays a crucial role in both the civil and criminal cases against Trump. The criminal case, initiated by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, resulted in the indictment of Trump on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. Trump has consistently denied wrongdoing and has attributed the charges to a political vendetta. He is actively considering a 2024 presidential run and leads the Republican field by a considerable margin.
Trump and his legal team have consistently attacked Cohen’s credibility, portraying him as an unreliable witness due to his criminal history. The animosity between Cohen and Trump has only escalated since Cohen’s split from Trump’s inner circle, with Cohen now hosting a podcast that frequently scrutinizes Trump’s legal troubles.