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Now that Democrats control the U.S. House of Representatives, they’re using their power to conduct oversight hearings on President Donald Trump. On Feb. 27, 2019, Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen testified before the committee. In his opening statement, Cohen called Trump a racist, a con man and a cheat, but he also admitted he had lied to Congress previously, making his track record for veracity questionable.
In recent years, members of Congress have been criticized for grandstanding during hearings instead of eliciting new information. After Cohen’s hearing, one of the newest Democrats was widely praised for using her time ask pointed questions about Trump’s financial statements: freshman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
Below is the transcript of Ocasio-Cortez’s questioning of Cohen.
Ocasio-Cortez: "Thank you, Mr. Chair.
"Mr. Cohen, I would like to quickly pick up on some previous lines of questioning before getting into my own. So I may go a little quickly to get it all in five minutes. First, my colleague from Vermont had you asked several questions about AMI, the parent company of the National Enquirer. And in that you mentioned a treasure trove -- a treasure trove of documents in David Pecker's office relating the information assembled from all of these 'catch and kill' operations against people who potentially had damaging information on the president.
"You also mentioned that the president was very concerned about the whereabouts of these documents and who possessed them. Does that treasure trove of documents still exist?"
Cohen: "I don't know. I had asked David Pecker for them."
Ocasio-Cortez: "So you would say the person who knows the whereabouts of these documents would be David Pecker."
Cohen: "David Pecker, Barry Levine, or Dylan Howard." (Editor’s note: Pecker is chairman of AMI; Levine is the National Enquirer’s former executive editor; Howard is AMI’s vice president.)
Ocasio-Cortez: "Okay. Thank you. Secondly, I want to ask a little bit about your conversation with my colleague from Missouri about asset inflation. To your knowledge, did the president ever provide inflated assets to an insurance company?"
Ocasio-Cortez: "Who else knows that the president did this?"
Cohen: "Allen Weisselberg, Ron Lieberman, and Matthew Calamari." (Editor’s note: Weisselberg is the Trump Organization’s CFO, Lieberman and Calamari are executives at the Trump Organization.)
Ocasio-Cortez: "And where would the committee find more information on this? Do you think we need to review his financial statements and his tax returns in order to compare them?"
Cohen: "Yes. And you would find it at the Trump Org."
Ocasio-Cortez: "Thank you very much. The last thing here. The Trump Golf organization currently has a golf course in my home borough of the Bronx, Trump Links. I drive past it every day going between the Bronx and Queens. In fact, The Washington Post reported on the Trump Links Bronx course in an article entitled 'Taxpayers Built this New York Golf Course and Trump Reaps the Rewards.'
"That article is where many New Yorkers and people in the country learned that taxpayers spent $127 million to build Trump Links in a 'generous deal allowing President Trump to keep almost every dollar that flows in on a golf course built with public funds.'
"And this doesn't seem to be the only time the president has benefited at the expense of the public. Mr. Cohen, I want to ask you about your assertion that the president may improperly devalued his assets to avoid paying taxes. According to an August 24th -- August 21st 2016 report by The Washington Post: 'While the president claimed in financial disclosure forms that Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida, was worth more than 50 million, he had reported otherwise to local tax authorities that the course was worth 'no more than 5 million'.' Mr. Cohen, do you know whether this specific report is accurate?"
Cohen: "It is identical to what he did at Trump National Golf Club at Briarcliff Manor."
Ocasio-Cortez: "Do you know -- to your knowledge, was the president interested in reducing his local real estate bills, tax bills?"
Ocasio-Cortez: "And how do you do that?"
Cohen: "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."
Ocasio-Cortez: "Thank you. Now on October 2018, the New York Times revealed that 'President Trump participated in dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud that greatly increased the fortune he received from his parents.' It further stated for Mr. Trump: 'He also helped formulate a strategy to undervalue his parents' real estate holdings by hundreds of millions of dollars on tax returns, sharply reducing his tax bill when those properties were transferred to him and his siblings.' Mr. Cohen, do you know whether that specific report is accurate?"
Cohen: "I don't. I wasn't there in the 1990s."
Ocasio-Cortez: "Who would know the answer to those questions?"
Cohen: "Allen Weisselberg."
Ocasio-Cortez: "And would it help for the committee to obtain federal and state tax returns from the president and his company to address that discrepancy?"
Cohen: "I believe so."
Ocasio-Cortez: "Thank you very much. I yield the rest of my time to the chair."
House Oversight Committee hearing, Feb. 27, 2019