Donald Trump returns to civil fraud trial, with fixer-turned-foe Michael Cohen set to testify

Trump Fraud Lawsuit
Michael Cohen arrives for former President Donald Trump’s civil business fraud trial at New York Supreme Court, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023, in New York.
AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura

Michael Cohen once proclaimed he’d “take a bullet” for Donald Trump. Now, after breaking with the former president amid his own legal troubles, the fixer-turned-foe is poised to testify against his old boss Tuesday as a key witness at the civil fraud trial that threatens to upend Trump’s real estate empire and wealthy image.

Trump voluntarily came to court for the highly anticipated testimony, appearing at the Manhattan courthouse for a sixth day this month. Cohen, whose testimony was delayed from last week by an unspecified health issue, has said it would be his first time seeing Trump in five years.

“This is not about Donald Trump vs. Michael Cohen or Michael Cohen vs. Donald Trump,” Cohen said as he arrived at the courthouse to await his turn to testify. “This is about accountability, plain and simple.”

Trump, heading into court, noted that Cohen served prison time after pleading guilty to tax evasion, lying to Congress and campaign finance violations.

“He’s a proven liar,” said Trump, who is expected to testify later in the trial.

The trial wasn’t held Monday because of issues related to an apparent COVID-19 exposure. Trump’s attorneys sought to delay the trial on Tuesday, arguing that a rash of COVID-19 cases in the office of their adversary — New York Attorney General Letitia James — had put the former president’s health at risk.

Trump lawyer Christopher Kise said it was “frankly irresponsible” not to postpone the proceeding. Another attorney for Trump, Alina Habba, also objected to sharing a “contaminated” microphone with members of the attorney general’s office.

James’ office, in a statement, said it had taken all steps to notify the relevant parties and had followed health guidance, adding that defendants could choose to wear masks if concerned. Trump did not.

The trial proceeded with testimony from William Kelly, the former attorney for Trump’s longtime former accounting firm, Mazars USA.

Trump has attended several prior days of the trial .Each time, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination has complained to TV cameras in the courthouse hallway about a case he’s derided as a “sham,” a “scam” and “a continuation of the single greatest witch hunt of all time.”

James’ lawsuit alleges that Trump and top executives at his company, the Trump Organization, conspired to pad the business mogul-turned-politician’s net worth by billions of dollars on financial statements provided to banks, insurers and others to make deals and secure loans.

Judge Arthur Engoron has already ruled that Trump and his company committed fraud, but the trial involves remaining claims of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records.

As punishment, Engoron ordered that a court-appointed receiver take control of some Trump companies, putting the future oversight of Trump Tower and other marquee properties in question, but an appeals court has blocked that for now.

Trump denies any wrongdoing. He says his assets were actually undervalued and maintains that disclaimers on his financial statements essentially told banks and other recipients to check the numbers out for themselves.

Cohen spent a decade as Trump’s fiercely loyal personal lawyer before famously breaking with him in 2018 amid a federal investigation that sent Cohen to federal prison. He is also a major prosecution witness in Trump’s separate Manhattan hush-money criminal case, which is scheduled to go to trial next spring.

James, a Democrat, has credited Cohen as the impetus for her civil investigation, which led to the fraud lawsuit being decided at the trial. She cited Cohen’s testimony to Congress in 2019 that Trump had a history of misrepresenting the value of assets to gain favorable loan terms and tax benefits.

Cohen gave copies of three of Trump’s financial statements to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Cohen said Trump gave the statements to Deutsche Bank to inquire about a loan to buy the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and to Forbes magazine to substantiate his claim to a spot on its list of the world’s wealthiest people.

Earlier this month, Trump dropped a $500 million lawsuit that accused Cohen of “spreading falsehoods,” causing “vast reputational harm” and breaking a confidentiality agreement for talking publicly about the hush-money payments.

But a Trump spokesperson said he had only decided “to temporarily pause” the lawsuit as he mounts another campaign for the White House and fights four criminal cases, but said he would refile at a later date.

With Trump in court for Cohen’s testimony, it’ll be the ex-president’s first time at the trial since Engoron fined him $5,000 on Friday because a disparaging social media post about a key court staffer lingered on his campaign website for weeks after it was ordered deleted.

Associated Press writer Michael R. Sisak contributed to this report.