Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and other lawmakers appeared to set the stage for House Democrats to further investigate President Donald Trump’s business dealings and subpoena his tax returns during a hearing with his former lawyer and longtime fixer Michael Cohen.
Cohen spoke at length with lawmakers on the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Wednesday during an extraordinary hearing related to his work for Trump. In his remarks, Cohen described his longtime employer as a “con man” and a “cheat” and claimed he helped Trump commit a series of criminal misdeeds, including arranging hush money payments to the porn star Stormy Daniels. Cohen also said he believed Trump had devalued his assets in an effort to avoid paying taxes, part of a long effort to simultaneously increase his net worth on the public stage, but decrease it when it was time to report to the government.
As part of her allotted questioning time, Ocasio-Cortez pressed Cohen on how the committee could find out more about Trump’s alleged criminality.
“Do you think we need to review his financial statements and his tax returns in order to compare them,” the lawmaker asked, referring to the president’s tax history, which has not yet been made public.
Cohen replied with a simple “yes,” before noting that “you’d find it” at the Trump Organization.
Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.) used her own time to probe Trump’s involvement in the hush money payments, asking how deeply the president was involved in conversations related to the payments to Daniels and another woman, Karen McDougal, shortly before the 2016 presidential election. Cohen confirmed that Trump called him to discuss “public messaging” about the payments, but later instructed the attorney to publicly deny those conversations took place.
“What did the president ask or suggest you say about the payments or reimbursements?” Hill asked.
Cohen responded that he was told to say Trump “was not knowledgeable of these reimbursements and he wasn’t knowledgeable of my actions.”
The testimony could raise new legal issues for Trump separate from the ongoing special counsel inquiry into the 2016 presidential election. Cohen has pleaded guilty to several federal crimes as part of Robert Mueller’s probe, including illegally interfering in the election. He was sentenced to three years in prison.
It’s unclear, however, if Trump can be indicted while in office.
Ocasio-Cortez also asked Cohen on Wednesday if Trump had ever been interested in reducing his local real estate tax bills, citing an article in The Washington Post that found Trump valued a golf club in Jupiter, Florida, at more than $50 million in financial disclosure forms to election regulators. However, the president had argued for years to tax officials that the property was worth “no more than $5 million.”
“What you do is you deflate the value of the asset and then you put in a request to the tax department for a deduction,” Cohen explained when asked how his former client had allegedly dodged tax payments.
Cohen also claimed that Trump exaggerated his net worth in an attempt to obtain a loan from Deutsche Bank in 2014.
The questioning on Wednesday regularly turned toward other officials in the Trump orbit who could clarify Cohen’s remarks. Cohen repeatedly said Trump Organization executive Allen Weisselberg would be able to answer lawmakers’ questions in more detail.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) issued his own blistering line of questioning in which Cohen said Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr. and Weisselberg were all involved in the hush money payments, coordination that Khanna said amounted to a “criminal conspiracy.”
“Are you telling us, Mr. Cohen, that the president directed transactions in conspiracy with Allen Weisselberg and his son Donald Trump Jr. as part of a criminal conspiracy of financial fraud,” Khanna asked at one point.
“Yes,” Cohen replied.