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Cohen says he ‘threatened’ schools over possible release of President Trump’s SAT scores or grades

He said Trump directed him to send the letters during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Michael Cohen, President Trump's former personal attorney, testifies Wednesday before the House Oversight and Reform Committee. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)

Michael Cohen told a House committee on Wednesday that President Trump directed him during the 2016 presidential campaign to send threatening letters to schools he attended vowing to hold them liable to “the fullest extent of the law” if the then-candidate’s SAT scores or grades were made public.

The president’s former attorney presented the House Oversight and Reform Committee with a letter he said he wrote in 2015 at Trump’s direction that "threatened his high school, colleges, and the College Board not to release his grades or SAT scores.“

Trump attended the New York Military Academy, a boarding school, from age 13 until he enrolled in Fordham University. He transferred to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania during his junior year and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1968.

During his testimony, Cohen referenced a May 2015 letter he wrote to the Rev. Joseph M. McShane, president of Fordham University. In the letter, Cohen said the release of Trump’s records without his consent “is expressly prohibited by law, with any violation thereof exposing the subject educational institution to both criminal and civil liability and damages including, among other things, substantial fines, penalties and even the potential loss of government aid and other funding."

Releasing the records would “lead to jail time," he warned. The letter ends with Cohen requesting McShane to confirm that "the records have been permanently sealed.”

A Fordham spokesman said the university in New York received a call from someone on the Trump campaign as the candidate was gearing up for his run.

“We told the caller that Fordham is bound by federal law, and that we could not/would not reveal/share any records with anyone except Mr. Trump himself, or any recipient he designated, in writing,” university spokesman Bob Howe said in an emailed statement.

Howe said Fordham received a follow-up letter from one of Trump’s attorneys summarizing the call and reminding the school that Trump would take action if the records were released.

Privacy law prevents colleges, schools and the College Board, the nonprofit that administers the SAT exam, from releasing grades and test scores without permission.

The University of Pennsylvania and the College Board declined Wednesday to comment.

A representative from New York Military Academy said administrators did not recall receiving a letter from Cohen or any other Trump staffer. Jie Zhang, the academy’s superintendent, has held the job for about two years, assuming the position after Cohen said he sent the letters.

" In contrast," Assistant Superintendent Jonathan Gastel said in a statement, “we were told that he was proud of his record of accomplishment here and valued the experience.”

Cohen said the letters were evidence of Trump being a “con man.”

“When I say con man, I’m talking about a man who declares himself brilliant but directed me to threaten his high school, his colleges and the College Board to never release his grades or SAT scores,” he said.

Cohen attended the public hearing to talk about his personal and professional relationship with Trump. On Tuesday, he met with the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors, answering questions related to its investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election.

Trump has repeatedly boasted of his intelligence. Last month, he tweeted that his lifetime of success in business, TV and politics “would qualify as not smart, but genius . . . and a very stable genius at that!” He has been less enthusiastic in providing evidence of that intelligence, refusing to disclose IQ scores.

Cohen noted in his testimony that Trump had criticized President Barack Obama for not releasing his grades.

“The irony wasn’t lost on me at the time that Mr. Trump in 2011 had strongly criticized President Obama for not releasing his grades," Cohen said Wednesday on Capitol Hill. "As you can see, Mr. Trump declared, ‘Let him show his records’ after calling President Obama ‘a terrible student.’ ” Cohen presented a news article that showed Trump questioning how Obama, who he said had been a “terrible student,” was accepted to Columbia University and Harvard Law School.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But on Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders sharply questioned Cohen’s credibility.

“Disgraced felon Michael Cohen is going to prison for lying to Congress and making other false statements,” Sanders said in a statement.

"It’s laughable that anyone would take a convicted liar like Cohen at his word, and pathetic to see him given yet another opportunity to spread his lies.”

Cohen is expected to begin a three-year federal prison sentence in May following convictions for financial crimes relating to the 2016 presidential campaign and lying to Congress.

Valerie Strauss contributed to this report.