Trump valued properties at 'whatever number' he picked, former lawyer Michael Cohen testifies

Michael Cohen arrives at a Manhattan courtroom (AFP via Getty Images)
Michael Cohen arrives at a Manhattan courtroom (AFP via Getty Images)

Donald Trump's former lawyer has testified that he manipulated the values of the former president's real estate properties to match "whatever number" Mr Trump said.

Michael Cohen said Mr Trump tasked him and other former executives with doctoring financial statements to boost the value of the company's holdings and secure better real estate premiums.

Mr Cohen's testimony came in the fourth week of a trial in New York state court in Manhattan, brought on by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

Ms James' civil fraud case, that alleges that Mr Trump had inflated the value of his properties, was brought against him and his family last September.

"He would say, 'I'm actually not worth $4.5 billion, I'm really worth more like 6 (billion)," Mr Cohen told the court on Tuesday, adding that Trump arrived at the valuations of his assets "arbitrarily."

Mr Cohen said he and onetime Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg would mark up line items by hand using red ink in Mr Trump's financial statements after he told them the numbers were too low.

Mr Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has denied wrongdoing and defended the valuations of his properties, saying the case is a "fraud" and a political witch hunt.

Mr Trump initially leaned back in his chair with his arms folded and stared intently at Mr Cohen as he testified, but spent most of the day hunched over the defendant's table, occasionally speaking to his lawyers.

Donald Trump and Michael Cohan in court (REUTERS)
Donald Trump and Michael Cohan in court (REUTERS)

Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom, Mr Trump called Cohen a "liar" and said he was "not worried at all about his testimony."

Mr Cohen, who once said he would "take a bullet" for Mr Trump, turned on his boss in 2018, when he pleaded guilty to a campaign finance violation and lying to Congress about Trump's business dealings in Russia.

In an apparent effort to head off expected attacks by Mr Trump's lawyers on Cohen's credibility, Colleen Faherty, a lawyer for the attorney general's office, began her questioning of Mr Cohen by reviewing his criminal history.

"I did that at the direction of, in concert with and for the benefit of Donald Trump," Mr Cohen said on the stand, referring to his false congressional testimony.

Mr Cohen began a three-year prison sentence in 2019 but was released to home confinement the following year during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Trump arrived on Monday following a campaign stop in New Hampshire and just days after being fined $5,000 by Justice Arthur Engoron, the judge overseeing the case, for violating a gag order.

In September, before the trial began, Justice Engoron found that Trump fraudulently inflated his net worth and ordered the dissolution of companies that control crown jewels of his real estate portfolio, including Trump Tower in Manhattan.

That ruling is on hold while Mr Trump appeals.

The trial largely concerns damages. Ms James is seeking at least $250 million in fines, a permanent ban against Trump and his sons Donald Jr and Eric from running businesses in New York and a five-year commercial real estate ban against Trump and the Trump Organization.

Ms James' civil suit is one of many legal woes Trump faces as he campaigns for the presidency.

He has pleaded not guilty to four criminal indictments, including federal cases tied to efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election and the removal of government documents from the White House.