Michael Cohen’s dramatic testimony escalated into a furious exchange with Trump’s defense attorneys after he was grilled about his previous convictions on tax evasion and other charges during an intense cross examination.
Taking the floor on Tuesday afternoon, attorney Alina Habba attacked Cohen’s credibility by referencing comments made by prosecutors during his 2018 sentencing on eight criminal charges, which included five counts of tax evasion.
Habba cited statements saying Cohen was ‘motivated by personal greed’ and had ‘repeatedly used his power and influence for deceptive ends’.
The sentencing judge at the time also noted that Cohen’s crimes showed a ‘pattern of deception that permeated his professional life’ and declared that he had ‘abused his relationship to a powerful individual’, referring to Trump.
In response, Cohen admitted that when he pleaded guilty to the five tax crimes he did not tell the truth because he did not think they were offenses.
Michael Cohen looks towards former President Donald Trump as he is questioned by Colleen Faherty, a lawyer for the attorney general’s office on Tuesday
The former president’s fixer-turned-foe described Tuesday’s confrontation with Trump as a ‘heck of a reunion’
Trump talks to the media during a break of his civil business fraud trial at New York Supreme Court
When asked if he had lied to Judge William Pauley, who had handed him a three-year sentence, Cohen said, ‘yes.’
Habba then asked if Cohen had told his wife he was evading taxes between 2012 and 2016, prompting a furious exchange in court.
Cohen said he wanted to ‘object’, then cited two cases including the USA v. Nixon, though he did not say on what grounds.
Trump’s lawyer Christpher Kise leapt up and called Cohen a ‘serial liar’ and said that if he ‘lied to his wife it’s relevant’.
Lawyers for the Attorney General called it an ‘improper question’ and cited Cohen’s marital privilege as a reason not to answer it.
The judge allowed the questioning to continue and Habba said: ‘So you lied to Judge Pauley but I’m supposed to admit you’re not going to lie to me now?’
Cohen replied: ‘I’m going to have to object to that as well.’
Habba pressed: ‘You lied to Judge Pauley?’
Using a legal term, Cohen said: ‘Asked and answered’.
Kise leapt up again and said: ‘This witness is completely out of control! The witness doesn’t get to sit here and play judge.’
As the judge gave the court the five minute warning before the end of the day, Habba joked: ‘If it’s entertaining I’m happy to go all night’.
But tensions ramped up again when Cohen tried to elaborate on an answer and Habba cut him off.
She said: ‘You’re not on (his podcast) Mea Culpa and you’re not on CNN. I’m going to ask the questions, you’re going to answer yes or no’.
Taking the stand for the first time earlier on Tuesday, Cohen detailed how the ex-president had allegedly ordered him to boost his assets to enhance his net worth
Trump is seen listening to Cohen’s testimony in a courtroom sketch. His former confidant told the court he breached campaign finance laws to ‘ensure Mr. Trump was protected’
Cohen said he had ‘acknowledged my complicity’ with regards to the $130,000 hush money payment made to porn star Stormy Daniels and the ‘second campaign finance violation’ with regards to the $150,000 paid to Karen McDougal for her silence about her relations with Trump
The tense faceoff came after an afternoon of highly-anticipated testimony by Cohen who earlier detailed how the ex-president had ordered him to boost his assets to enhance his net worth.
It also marked the first time the two former allies have been seen in the same room since their relationship deteriorated in 2018.
Speaking on the stand, Cohen claimed there was an ‘overwhelming amount of misinformation’ out there about him when he was first charged by prosecutors in 2018.
He confirmed he pleaded guilty to eight counts related to campaign finance violations and lying to Congress that year which led to him being jailed for three years.
But he claimed he had breached campaign finance laws over a hush money payment to former Playmate Karen McDougal by checking documents to ‘ensure Mr. Trump was protected’.
Asked who he was working for during his crimes, Cohen said: ‘Donald J. Trump.’
Cohen admitted he had ‘acknowledged my complicity’ with regards to the first $130,000 hush money payment made to porn star Stormy Daniels which was made weeks before the 2016 election.
Cohen said there was a ‘second campaign finance violation’ with regards to the $150,000 paid to Karen McDougal for her silence about her relations with Trump.
According to Cohen, he was ‘tasked to review documents to ensure Mr. Trump was protected.’
The money paid to McDougal was directed through the National Enquirer, Cohen told the court.
Speaking to the court, Cohen claimed he broke the law on behalf of the former president
Before proceedings could begin, Trump’s lawyers attempted to delay the trial citing an ‘outbreak’ of Covid-19 among lawyers from both sides
Cohen said that his admission he lied to Congress was for claiming that he spoke to Trump three times about a failed project to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, whereas in fact they spoke 10 times.
Cohen told the court: ‘I did that at the direction of and for the benefit of Mr. Trump’.
He said there was a ‘whole group of people’ involved in the formation of his comments including Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner.
Cohen said that he was introduced to Trump by his son Don Jr after he helped to remove the board and replace it with one which was more favorable to him.
In March 2007 Cohen accepted an offer from Trump to become his executive vice president and special counsel.
Cohen said: ‘I reported to and only handled work for Mr. Trump and so I was his special counsel. Whatever issues he had, whatever created ire for him, he’d bring it to me to resolve’.
Cohen talked the court through how the Trump Organization was set up and who were the senior people.
Trump’s three children Ivanka, Eric – who was sitting in the public gallery – and Don Jr were also executive vice presidents, Cohen said.
So close was Cohen with the Trump family that he was on the board of the Eric Trump Foundation, which supported hospitals and other good causes.
Colleen Faherty, the prosecutor, asked Cohen what work he did on the Trump Organization’s statements of financial condition, which were given to insurance companies and banks to decide about policies and loans.
Cohen said: ‘I was tasked by Mr. Trump to increase the total assets based upon a number that he arbitrarily elected and my responsibility along with Allen Weisselberg (former Trump Organization chief financial officer) was to reverse engineer the various different asset classes, increase those assets in order to achieve the number that Mr. Trump had tasked us with’.
Faherty asked what kind of numbers they were talking about.
Eric Trump (left) was seen arriving in court alongside his father on Tuesday before taking a seat in the public gallery
A person holds a sign that reads ‘Trump is guilty’ outside the courthouse
Anti-Trump protesters gathered outside of the New York courthouse to greet Former President Donald Trump, witness Michael Cohen, Attorney General of New York Letitia James and other attorneys as they arrived for the civil court trial
‘Whatever number Mr. Trump told us to’, replied Cohen.
Faherty asked if Trump’s own net worth was determined by those numbers and Cohen said it was.
As Cohen left for lunch he briefly glanced over in Trump’s direction but Trump did not look back.
Speaking to reporters during the lunch break, Cohen called the courtroom face-off with Trump a ‘heck of a reunion’.
Trump angrily shook his head as Cohen described how he would increase specific lines on the sheet called ‘assets’ in the statement of financial condition for each year at the Trump Organization.
Cohen said: ‘We’d take this specific list of assets and we would figure out which specific line to increase the number again to reverse engineer into the total asset Mr. Trump sought’.
Trump shook his head again when Cohen described how he and Allen Weisselberg, the former Trump Organization chief financial officer, would ‘mark it up by hand’ to increase the value of each asset line.
The aim was to ‘get to the total asset number Mr Trump tasked us to achieve’, Cohen said.
The court heard that Trump would call Cohen and Weisselberg to his office when he wanted his assets inflated.
Cohen said: ‘He would look at the total assets (on the statement of financial condition) and he’d say I’m not actually worth four and a half billion dollars, I’m actually worth more like six.
Cohen was seen leaving his Park Avenue apartment ahead of his highly anticipated court appearance
A grinning Michael Cohen, 57, was seen arriving at court for the fourth week of Trump’s $250million fraud trial
‘He directed Allen and I would go back to Allen’s office and return after we achieved the desired goal’.
Cohen said there was ‘no specific program within which to change the numbers’ and described it as ‘reverse engineering’.
One way of increasing the value was to look at the ‘highest price per square foot’ in the city for property which they used in order to ‘inflate’ the value of Trump-owned apartments.
Cohen was asked if these were comparable apartments to the ones he was adjusting and he said no.
‘They were not comparable, they were just different’, he said. Some had higher ceilings or did not have obstructed views but they were used anyway.
Cohen said that Weisselberg spoke with Trump’s children Eric, Don Jr and Ivanka as part of compiling a new statement of financial condition, but he didn’t know if they had any input.
On the 2011 statement of financial condition, Cohen said he contributed to revised valuations for Trump Park Avenue, Trump World Tower, 100 Central Park South, a property under development in Beverly Hills and the Miss Universe Pageant.
In 2012, possibly Trump Tower, 100 Central Park South, the Trump development in Seven Springs, Westchester, and the Miss Universe Pageant.
Later in his testimony, Cohen explained that getting to a higher asset value took several days of work.
The revised financial statements were used by Cohen to brag about Trump’s wealth to journalists including for a 2013 profile in real estate website The Real Deal.
Cohen said he showed a report the statement ‘in order to create the story about how much Mr. Trump was actually worth’.
According to Cohen, they were given to insurance underwriters to help them renew the Trump Organization’s policies.
He told the court that Trump arranged it so that he would come in three quarters of the way through meetings with the underwriters and talk about how he was so rich he might ‘self insure’.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump watches as Assistant Attorney General Alex Finkelstein questions William Kelly – the attorney for Trump’s longtime former accounting firm, Mazars USA – while defense lawyer Christopher Kise objects
The aim would be to pressure them into giving the Trump Organization a ‘good premium’, Cohen told the court.
The statements were also used when Trump was ‘interested in putting a bid for the Buffalo Bills’ and they used it to ‘demonstrate his ability to purchase the team’.
Trump’s lawyers objected to the line of questioning but the judge allowed it, prompting Trump to throw his arms in the air in frustration and shake his head.
The Bills went up for sale in 2014 after its previous owner, Ralph Wilson, died at the age of 95.
Trump, a group spearheaded by Bon Jovi and Terry Pegula and Kim Pegula, the owners of ice hockey team The Buffalo Sabers were the final bidders.
In a July 2014 Trump wrote to Morgan Stanley, which was overseeing the sale, with a $1billion bid and bragged that his net worth was ‘in excess of $8 billion’
Trump called himself a ‘longtime fan of the NFL’ who ‘would be honored’ to own the team.
Deutsche Bank wrote a letter for Trump saying he had the ‘financial wherewithal to fund his bid’ but Cohen said this was based on the statements of financial condition.
The Pegulas won the bidding with a $1.4billion offer, at the time a record for the NFL.
Trump – who is not required to attend proceedings – skipped his usual campaign haunts to appear in the Manhattan courtroom for the confrontation.
Speaking to reporters as he arrived at earlier this morning, Trump noted that Cohen served prison time after pleading guilty to tax evasion, lying to Congress, and campaign finance violations.
‘He’s a proven liar,’ said Trump, who is expected to testify later in the trial.
New York Attorney General Letitia James is seen arriving at New York State Supreme Court Tuesday morning
Speaking to reporters as he entered the courtroom, Trump took aim at Cohen, noting that he had served prison time after pleading guilty to tax evasion, lying to Congress and campaign finance violations
The disbarred attorney, 57, was seen leaving his Park Avenue apartment Tuesday morning and heading to New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan for the fourth week of proceedings in the $250million fraud trial.
‘This is about accountability, plain and simple,’ Cohen told reporters as he entered the courthouse, adding that it was up to the judge to make any determinations in the case.
Trial proceedings were adjourned on Monday because of issues related to an apparent COVID-19 exposure.
And on Tuesday Trump’s lawyers sought to delay the trial further, citing an ‘outbreak’ of Covid-19 among lawyers from both sides.
Attorney Christopher Kise took a dramatically different tone about the pandemic than Trump did while in office as he asked the judge to pause the trial.
Kise said that the New York State Attorney General’s office knew one of its staff had Covid last Wednesday but only told them about it on Saturday.
Since then four Attorney General’s lawyers had tested positive and one lawyer from Mr. Trump’s team, the court heard.
Kise said it was ‘beyond irresponsible’ not to have told the Trump team earlier. He accused New York Attorney General Letitia James of being ‘really hypocritical’ because she sued Amazon over its Covid practices and publicly stated that protecting people’s health was a priority.
Kise said that Trump was the ‘leading candidate for President of the United States’ and that the prosecution was ‘exposing’ him to Covid.
Another of Trump’s lawyers called the infections an ‘outbreak’ and that it was ‘incredibly problematic’ to continue the trial.
Judge Arthur Engoron said that masks were available and that he would move ahead with the trial.
Alina Habba, another of Trump’s lawyers, said she would refuse to use the same microphone as lawyers from the Attorney General’s office in case they were ‘contaminated’.
The trial proceeded with testimony from William Kelly, the attorney for Trump’s longtime former accounting firm, Mazars USA. The firm cut ties with Trump last year after James’s office raised questions about the reliability of his financial statements.
At one point during Kelly’s cross examination, a frustrated Trump shook his head before blurting out: ‘This is a disgrace.’
Trump’s lawyer Jesus Suarez was questioning Kelly when prosecutors objected, prompting another Trump lawyer to interject. Trump calmed down and the witness continued to testify.
Cohen, who has become one of Trump’s most vocal critics after serving as his personal lawyer and fixer for years, was originally scheduled to testify last week but had to delay his appearance for health reasons.