Former Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen Testifies Before House Oversight Committee
Since the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump has claimed that he cannot release his tax returns because he is under audit. But his former attorney Michael Cohen cast doubt on that excuse Wednesday, when responding to a question about the “real reason” the president refused to make his tax filings public.
“What he didn’t want,” Cohen testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, “was to have an entire group of think tanks that are tax experts run through his tax return and start ripping it to pieces, and then he’ll end up in an audit and he’ll ultimately have taxable consequences, penalties and so on.”
Asked whether the president was actually under audit in 2016, Cohen said even he was unsure. “I don’t know the answer. I asked for a copy of the audit so that I could use it in terms of my statements to the press, and I was never able to obtain one.”
“I presume that he is not under audit,” Cohen added.
A spokesperson for the president’s company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It is no secret that President Trump has tried to avoid taxes for decades. The first time he landed in the pages of Forbes, in 1982, the magazine noted that he got the “biggest tax abatement ever” for his midtown Manhattan hotel. Four years later, Forbes pointed out his $100 million tax break on Trump Tower. One year after that, amid a skirmish with the New York City mayor involving tax breaks on a third project, Trump called the official a “moron.”
It is less clear whether Trump broke laws during his years-long crusade to skirt taxes. In an investigation published last year, the New York Times accused Trump of fraud, saying he and his siblings inherited the majority of their father’s real estate business in 1997 and claimed on tax filings that the holdings were worth only $41 million. According to the newspaper, the properties ended up selling for more than 16 times that amount. By undervaluing them, the Trump family reportedly avoided hundreds of millions in taxes.
A lawyer for Trump called the allegations “100 percent false” last year. On Wednesday, Cohen said he did not know whether the report was accurate: “I wasn’t there in the 1990s.”
But he did shed light on more recent efforts to cut the president’s tax bill by challenging property assessments around the country. Such maneuvers are common in the real estate industry, but Trump’s stand out as being particularly brazen. In Palm Beach County, Florida, he told officials that one of his golf courses was worth $5 million or less, according to the Washington Post, despite saying in other documents that it was worth over $50 million. “It’s identical to what he did at Trump National Golf Club at Briarcliff Manor,” Cohen said, referring to a New York golf course the president owns. “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.”
President Trump is more famous for overstating the value of his assets than understating them. For more than 30 years, he tangled with Forbes over his net worth, claiming he was far richer than he really was. “It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed amongst the wealthiest people in Forbes,” Cohen said, “and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.”