Michael Cohen said he had a “heck of a reunion” Tuesday with his former boss Donald Trump when he testified against the former president at his New York civil fraud trial.
With Trump sitting feet away, Trump’s one-time lawyer and fixer described how he manipulated Trump’s financial statements – “reverse-engineering” them to hit an arbitrary net worth. Cohen explained how he would inflate the value of Trump’s properties along with the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer.
Once Trump’s lawyer began questioning Cohen, things quickly got heated, as he sneered at the questions and loudly objected to one line of questioning.
Cohen and Trump didn’t have any direct interactions on Tuesday, but both are expected to be back in court again Wednesday, when Trump’s lawyers will continue to cross-examine Cohen.
Here’s what to know about the dramatic day in court:
Trump and Cohen meet for the first time in 5 years
When Cohen walked into the Manhattan courtroom Tuesday morning, it was the first time he and Trump had been in the same room in five years.
Cohen once said he’d “take a bullet” for Trump, but turned against him after pleading guilty to federal crimes in 2018. Quickly he became one of Trump’s chief antagonists even as he prepared to go to prison, testifying against him before Congress and writing books critical of the former president.
Trump didn’t react to Cohen’s entrance, though he watched intently while Cohen began testifying, staring directly ahead with his arms folded at his former attorney.
The two didn’t make eye contact when Cohen left the courtroom at breaks. Outside the courtroom, however, Trump attacked Cohen, saying he “has a horrible record.”
“It’s not going to end up very good for him. We’re not worried at all about his testimony,” Trump said during a lunch break.
When he left the courtroom, Cohen only briefly commented on his former boss: “Heck of a reunion.”
The former fixer described how he fixed things for Trump
Cohen’s testimony directly implicated Trump, saying that he was directed by his former boss to inflate Trump’s net worth on financial statements to hit an arbitrary number.
Cohen said that he and former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg would manipulate Trump’s financial statements, the documents at the center of the civil fraud trial, based on what Trump wanted his net worth to reflect.
“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 predominantly was to reverse engineer the various different assets classes, increase those assets in order to achieve the number that Mr. Trump had tasked us.”
Asked what numbers they would hit, Cohen said, “Whatever number Mr. Trump told us to.”
Cohen explained that when Trump would look at the financial statements, he would “look at the total assets and he would say ‘I’m actually not worth 4.5 billion, I’m really worth more like six.’ He would then direct Allen and I to go back to Allen’s office and return after we achieved the desired goal.”
Looking at Trump’s 2012 statement of financial condition, Cohen said he recalled inflating assets including Trump Tower, Trump Park Ave., Trump World Tower at United Nations Plaza, the commercial side of 100 Central Park South, the Mansion at Seven Springs, the Miss Universe Pageants and “possibly others.”
Cohen said that they would look at numbers “being achieved elsewhere” in New York and recalculate valuations using real estate as “comparables” that were achieving the highest prices per square foot in the city, even though those properties had different amenities from Trump’s assets. Those other properties would have different ceiling heights, unobstructed views, and were not inhibited by rent control, for instance.
“You could call them comparable, but comparable would imply that they are similar,” Cohen said.
Fireworks during cross examination
Trump attorney Alina Habba questioned Cohen for the final 25 minutes of Tuesday’s court session, but she needed little time to elicit a reaction from Cohen, showing the tension that had built up during the afternoon.
Cohen’s demeanor changed from the first question, and Cohen loudly objected and raised his voice at Habba when she asked, “Did you ever tell your wife that you were committing tax evasion?”
The outburst prompted lawyers from both sides to argue over one another, with Trump lawyer Chris Kise objecting to Cohen’s response and the New York attorney general’s office objecting to the question, saying it covered spousal privilege.
Habba continued asking Cohen about the criminal charges he pleaded guilty to, including that it led to the loss of his law license.
“Asked and answered,” Cohen sneered in response to a question about losing his law license.
“You have lied under oath numerous times, Mr. Cohen?” Habba asked.
“That’s correct,” Cohen said.
The Trump team is trying to undercut Cohen’s credibility as a witness. There’s plenty of material to work with, given Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 for lying to Congress.
“This witness is completely out of control,” Kise said after Cohen’s outburst, prompting a laugh from the gallery.
The tense questioning is going to continue into Wednesday, as Habba hadn’t even started on the substance of Cohen’s testimony in the civil fraud trial.
“Mr. Cohen, this is how this is going to work, you’re not on ‘Mea Culpa,’ you’re not on your podcast and you’re not on CNN,” she told Cohen at one point, saying Cohen’s job was to answer yes or no to questions.
Judge says effort to buy Bills supports allegations of a pattern of fraud
Judge Arthur Engoron said trial testimony and financial documents about Trump’s $1 billion bid to buy the Buffalo Bills in 2014 could be included as evidence because they support the attorney general’s claims that Trump had a fraudulent pattern and practice when reporting his worth.
In the July 2014 letter submitting a bid to buy the Bills, Trump claimed his net worth was $8 billion.
The financial documents with claims in them that Trump had an $8 billion net worth at the time “arguably tends to show pattern and practice of fraud, to use a loaded term,” Engoron said, overruling an objection from Trump’s attorneys who said the document is not relevant to the case.
Before Engoron’s ruling, the state attorneys and Trump’s lawyers clashed over Michael Cohen’s testimony about the letter. Kise objected to the line of questioning regarding internal preparations for Trump to bid on the Bills, arguing there was no transaction to buy the team, and it wasn’t the basis for any claims in the complaint.
During a break in the trial, Trump said there was “absolutely nothing wrong” with his failed bid to buy the Bills.
“I was a bidder on the team. I had it all financed and everything else that you needed,” Trump said. “There was absolutely nothing wrong and we didn’t even make the deal. It was many years ago.”
Trump’s dual-track day
Trump spent the entire day in the courtroom, both for Cohen’s testimony and the appearance of Mazars general counsel Bill Kelly.
But he also spent the day helping to scuttle the short-lived House speakership candidacy of Minnesota GOP Rep. Tom Emmer.
Emmer was selected among eight candidates midday Tuesday to be his party’s nominee for speaker. Minutes before court in New York wrapped for the day, Emmer had already dropped out in the face of opposition from Trump’s congressional allies – and Trump himself.
During a break in the trial, Trump whacked Emmer on his social media site, Truth Social. “I have many wonderful friends wanting to be Speaker of the House, and some are truly great Warriors. RINO Tom Emmer, who I do not know well, is not one of them,” Trump wrote.
Trump listened intently during much of Cohen’s testimony, but he was also looking down at his phone for stretches, typing on it while Cohen was speaking.
When Trump walked out of court at the last break of the day, the former president noted what was transpiring in Washington, DC. “It looks like he’s finished. Looks like he’s finished,” Trump said of Emmer.
The whole episode was another reminder that Trump’s trials are all taking place as he’s the leading GOP candidate for president, and that he can help sway his political base even while sitting in a courtroom.
CNN’s Brynn Gingras, Sabrina Souza and Skylar Harris contributed to this report.
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