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Trump scowls as Cohen casts him as a cheat at fraud trial

Michael Cohen took only minutes to attack his former boss.

Cohen, once Donald Trump’s loyal fixer, has become his nemesis, and shortly after taking the witness stand Tuesday, he cast the former president as a criminal and a cheat. Trump, on trial in the civil fraud case in Manhattan, was seated feet away, scoffing at the testimony and shaking his head in anger.

It was the first time the men had been face to face in five years. Cohen was called to testify about Trump’s annual financial statements, which are at the heart of the case that New York Attorney General Letitia James brought against Trump.

But Cohen began by answering questions from a lawyer with the attorney general’s office about his own federal crimes, which included lying to Congress. Unprompted, he said: “I did that at the direction of, in concert with and for the benefit of Mr. Trump.”

Those comments set the tone for a combative day of testimony from Cohen who said that he had helped manipulate the financial statements at Trump’s behest. Cohen said little he had not said before, though he had never said it in the same room as the former president.

“I was tasked by Mr. Trump to increase the total assets based upon a number that he arbitrarily elected,” Cohen testified, saying that it was his responsibility to “increase those assets in order to achieve the number.”

Trump, he said, would meet with Cohen and another lieutenant and direct them to “reverse engineer” the statements to reach his desired net worth — and return to him once they did.

In the years since their last encounter, Cohen has gone to prison and testified against Trump before Congress and a grand jury. Trump, for his part, has been impeached twice, voted out of office and indicted four times.

Cohen testified in a clear voice, his New York accent helping to emphasize his statements about his role at the Trump Organization, where he reported directly to Trump.

Trump’s scowl was soon replaced by a blank expression as he frequently consulted with his lawyers.

Judge Arthur F Engoron has already ruled that Trump fraudulently misvalued his properties. The trial will determine whether he has to pay a hefty penalty and whether his conduct violated other laws.

(Published 24 October 2023, 21:09 IST)

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