NEW YORK — Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s onetime loyal aide turned vocal antagonist, took the witness stand Tuesday to testify against Trump in a $250 million civil fraud trial, telling the judge that the former president ordered Cohen to falsify financial documents.
In measured tones, Cohen testified that when he worked for Trump as his lawyer and fixer, Trump directed him to modify documents that represented Trump’s net worth so that they reflected the number Trump desired.
“I was tasked by Mr. Trump to increase the total assets based upon a number that he arbitrarily elected,” Cohen said, “and my responsibility, along with [former Trump Organization CFO] Allen Weisselberg, predominantly, was to reverse engineer the various different asset classes, increase those assets in order to achieve the number that Mr. Trump had tasked us.”
As Cohen delivered that testimony, Trump, who was seated at the defense table, grew red in the face and shook his head. Trump didn’t look at Cohen as he entered the courtroom, but as Cohen spoke on the witness stand, Trump trained his eyes on him and either crossed his arms or leaned forward over the defense table.
Cohen didn’t look at his former boss as he testified, instead directing his attention entirely to the lawyer from the New York attorney general’s office who was questioning him.
Cohen is one of the central witnesses in Attorney General Tish James’ case against Trump, which accuses him, his adult sons and his business associates of inflating his net worth in order to obtain favorable terms from banks and insurers.
Cohen’s testimony Tuesday marks a fresh front in his efforts to take down Trump after years of defending him. That defense ended five years ago, when Cohen pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance crimes that he and federal prosecutors said Trump directed him to commit, and Cohen began speaking publicly about his former boss as a coward and a “con man.”
In the intervening years, the two traded endless barbs — with Trump calling Cohen a liar and a “rat” — but hadn’t had a face-to-face standoff until Tuesday.
“Well I haven’t seen him in years, and you know his record, his record is a horrible one,” Trump told reporters during a break in testimony. “But they’re just starting, but you’ll see how it ends up. It’s not going to end up very good for him.”
He added: “We’re not worried at all about his testimony.”