In questioning Cohen, Ocasio-Cortez focuses on potential Trump fraud

In a day filled with theatrics, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman to be elected to the House, focused her allotted five minutes for questioning Michael Cohen on details that could fuel future fraud investigations of the president.

In a House Oversight Committee hearing that lasted most of the day and featured grandstanding from legislators on both sides of the aisle, the New York congresswoman’s questioning of the president’s former personal attorney moved along at a speedy clip. It also gave the committee a checklist of potential future witnesses who might know more about a series of fraud accusations against Trump.

Ocasio-Cortez began her questions by asking about a collection of documents allegedly collected by American Media Inc. (AMI), the parent company of the National Enquirer magazine, which Cohen had called a “treasure trove” of incriminating information about Trump. Cohen said he didn’t know the documents’ current location, but that the people who would know were David Pecker, chairman of AMI, who was recently accused of attempted extortion by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos; Barry Levine, the National Enquirer’s former executive editor; or Dylan Howard, AMI’s vice president.

Ocasio-Cortez then turned to discussing potential insurance fraud by Trump. Cohen stated that the president had reported inflated assets to insurance companies and that former Trump Organization officials Allen Weisselberg, Ron Lieberman and Matthew Calamari would know more about the practice. She then segued into asking about information that Trump has avoided releasing since he began his campaign.

US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, questions Michael Cohen, US President Donald Trump's former personal attorney, as he testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., questions Michael Cohen, President Trump's former attorney, as he testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

“Where do you think the committee might find more information on this?” asked Ocasio-Cortez, referring to the alleged insurance fraud. “Do you think we need to review his financial statements and his tax returns in order to compare them?”

“Yes,” said Cohen, “and you’d find it at the Trump Org.”

Cohen was also questioned about an October 2018 report in the New York Times that Trump had participated in a series of tax schemes related to his father’s real estate empire. Cohen said the activity in the report predated his time working with Trump but that the committee should talk to Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, who was granted immunity last year in the federal government’s investigation into Cohen. Again, Ocasio-Cortez asked if it would be helpful for the committee to acquire Trump’s tax returns in order to further investigate those charges, and again Cohen agreed that it would.

Ocasio-Cortez and Cohen then discussed Trump’s practice of increasing and decreasing the values of his properties, particularly his golf courses, to avoid tax bills, a tactic that was described in an August 2016 report by the Washington Post. It said Trump had valued his golf course in Jupiter, Fla., at $50 million but that his attorney had argued for three straight years that for the sake of calculating the tax bill, it should be declared as worth “no more than $5 million.” Cohen said that this tactic was identical to the tax treatment Trump used for Trump National Golf Course in Briarcliff Manor, N.J.

Cohen’s testimony in front of the House was the second in three straight days of hearings for the former Trump Organization and Republican National Committee employee, who pleaded guilty last year to lying to Congress and campaign finance fraud. He spoke to the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors on Tuesday and is set to do the same with the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday.


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