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Our Reporting on Michael Cohen: A Reading Guide

This week’s testimony by President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer held millions rapt with allegations of fraud, coded orders to lie and hundreds of threats. Many of those assertions had been explored before, as these articles show.

Michael Cohen is sworn in to testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Feb. 27. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

The roughly five hours that Michael Cohen spent this week testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform provided riveting viewing. Alternately contrite and pugnacious, Cohen — who at various times has been the personal attorney for President Donald Trump, deputy finance chair of the Republican National Committee, an executive with the Trump Organization and a wheeler-dealer who held millions of dollars’ worth of New York City taxi medallions, and is soon to be an inmate in federal prison after pleading guilty to lying to Congress — described a way of doing business at the Trump Organization that many likened to a mob operation. Among other things, Cohen testified that Trump, using code, urged him to lie about the Trump Organization’s plans for a tower in Moscow. The White House dismissed Cohen’s testimony as the fabrications of a perjurer.

ProPublica and WNYC have reported on many of the subjects Cohen touched on in his testimony.

During Cohen’s testimony, for example, he was asked about reporting by the “Trump, Inc.” podcast that the Trump International Hotel in Washington overcharged the Trump inaugural committee.

Trump’s Inauguration Paid Trump’s Company — With Ivanka in the Middle

The article noted, in a reference to the president’s elder daughter, that a “top inaugural planner emailed Ivanka and others at the company to ‘express my concern’ that the hotel was overcharging for its event spaces, worrying of what would happen ‘when this is audited.’” There’s more about the behind-the-scenes machinations of the Trump inaugural committee in “New Evidence Emerges of Possible Wrongdoing by Trump Inaugural Committee.” And to find out more about what happens at the president’s hotel, check out “How a Nigerian Presidential Candidate Hired a Trump Lobbyist and Ended Up in Trump’s Lobby.”

Cohen testified that Trump would overstate or understate the value of his assets when it suited his interests. He’d typically pump up his claims, according to the testimony, to make himself look wealthier or to improve his position in Forbes magazine’s rankings of the wealthiest Americans. He would downplay the value of his assets when it came time to pay taxes on them.

Trump Said He Made $21 Million in Income From His New York Contracts. He Actually Made a Lot Less.

This article examines claims in Trump’s financial disclosure forms “that he earned nearly $21 million through contracts with New York City to run two skating rinks in Central Park and a Bronx golf course.” Trump’s math did not square with ours, as this portion of the analysis shows: “He disclosed an income of $12.9 million for the two rinks, roughly the same amount as our estimate of his expenses for that period. We estimated that his expenses for those months were above $12 million. … This left Trump with a profit, by our estimate, of several hundred thousand dollars. That’s in line with Trump’s predictions to New York City, which is that he expected to make a profit, after taxes, of less than $500,000 annually.” In this instance, Trump was reporting profits of $12.9 million to the public and $500,000 to the tax man.

Trump’s Company Is Suing Towns Across the Country to Get Breaks on Taxes

Trump has never been known for his humility, but apparently his company is prone to recognizing the deficiencies in its properties when it talks to tax assessors. Consider this example, about the Trump National Westchester Golf Club, 35 miles north of New York City. “Trump bought the course in 1996 for $7.5 million and put in $40 million of renovations. The course includes a 75,000-square-foot clubhouse, a 101-foot man-made waterfall and a host of luxury condominiums overlooking the fairway. Trump said in presidential financial disclosures that this property is worth $50 million. Ossining currently assesses the property at only $15 million. Yet in legal filings, the Trump Organization claims $15 million is far too high. In 2015, the company said the property is worth only $1.4 million in a lawsuit filed against the Town of Ossining in Westchester County court.”

One of many striking moments in Cohen’s testimony occurred when he was asked about making threats on behalf of Trump. Cohen estimated he had done so more than 500 times over a decade.

A Short History of Threats Received by Donald Trump’s Opponents

This article describes a series of menacing statements, allegedly made at the behest of Trump (most of which had nothing to do with Cohen), that were reported in different publications. Representatives for Trump did not respond to the allegations at the time. Here’s an example: “Nine years ago, a lawyer representing Trump Atlantic City casino creditors says he got threatening phone calls. The FBI traced one of them to a payphone outside the ‘Late Show With David Letterman,’ where Trump was appearing. ‘My name is Carmine,’ the caller told the lawyer, Kristopher Hansen, in 2009. ‘I don’t know why you’re fucking with Mr. Trump but if you keep fucking with Mr. Trump, we know where you live and we’re going to your house for your wife and kids.’”

Finally, if you want to learn more about Cohen himself, read the profile by Andrea Bernstein and Ilya Marritz of WNYC for the “Trump, Inc.” podcast: “The Company Michael Cohen Kept.” That article explores much of Cohen’s colorful early career, taking readers from the taxi garages in a warehouse district of Queens deep into his days representing more than 100 plaintiffs who claimed they were injured in auto collisions. “A distinctive pattern emerged early in Cohen’s career,” the article notes. “Many of the people who crossed paths with Cohen when he worked in Queens and Brooklyn were disciplined, disbarred, accused or convicted of crimes.”

And to hear Cohen’s testimony dissected by Bernstein and Marritz for the “Trump, Inc.” podcast, turn to “What We’ve Learned From Michael Cohen.”

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Nick Varchaver

Nick Varchaver is a senior editor at ProPublica.

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