This article has been updated.
During Michael Cohen’s testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Wednesday, Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) asked Cohen to explain how President Trump approached estimates of his net worth before the 2016 campaign.
“To your knowledge,” Clay asked, “did the president or his company ever inflate assets or revenues?”
“Yes,” Cohen replied.
“Was that done with the president’s knowledge or direction?” Clay asked.
“Everything was done with the knowledge and at the direction of Mr. Trump,” Cohen responded.
Why would he do it? Clay asked, to which Cohen stated, in essence: It depends. Sometimes, he said, it was to influence Forbes’s list of America’s wealthiest individuals. But he also provided a potentially more problematic example when pressed by Clay.
Cohen came prepared with evidence. He introduced into evidence three documents providing a summary of Trump’s net worth in June 2011, June 2012 and March 2013. Over the course of those documents, the worth of Trump’s assets went from $4.6 billion to $5 billion to . . . $9.2 billion — an increase of $4.2 billion over the course of nine months.
How’d that increase occur? Suddenly in 2013, Trump’s net worth included a “brand value” of $4 billion. When he announced his candidacy for the presidency in 2015, he provided a document from 2014 that identified his “licensing deals and brand value” as being worth $3.3 billion. Given that “licensing deals” were about $100 million in 2011 and 2012, that would put his 2014 assessment of his brand value at about $3.2 billion.
For the most part, other sections of his net worth didn’t change much. In 2011 and 2012, he listed his commercial and residential properties individually, later lumping them all together — thereby making it harder to evaluate his estimates. The worth of his club facilities and other partially owned properties climbed. (The value of properties under development, apparently identified as “Mansion at Seven Springs” in 2012 remained fairly constant.)
How that surge in brand value was validated isn’t clear.
Clay asked Cohen if he thought the financial documents that were provided included inflated numbers. Cohen said that he believed they did. Looking at the chart above, it’s hard to see how one might argue against that, even setting aside that Forbes figured that his net worth in 2014 was less than half what Trump presented. (Its estimate was $4.1 billion — about $1 billion less than Trump’s net worth would be without including his “brand value.”)
“Did the president ever provide inflated assets to a bank in order to obtain a loan?” Clay then asked Cohen.
“These documents and others were provided to Deutsche Bank on one occasion where I was with them,” Cohen said, “in our attempt to obtain money so that we can put a bid on the Buffalo Bills.”
While Cohen’s wording was carefully chosen, the implication is clear: Trump may have tried to seek a loan using inaccurate information. Ironically, Cohen pleaded guilty in August to making a false statement to a financial institution.
Later in the hearing, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) asked about asset inflation.
“To your knowledge, did the president ever provide inflated assets to an insurance company?” she asked.
“Yes,” Cohen replied, then named several Trump Organization employees who could corroborate his claims including Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg.
In other words, Cohen’s testimony included at least two significant future paths for investigation by House Democrats: Instances in which Trump and his company offered misleading financial information to banks and insurers.