Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez questioned Michael Cohen and laid the groundwork for obtaining Trump's tax returns

  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., made a splash during her questioning of President Donald Trump's former lawyer and self-described fixer Michael Cohen.
  • The freshman lawmaker, who represents parts of the Bronx and Queens, appeared to lay the groundwork for a formal request of Trump's financial documents, including paperwork from his real estate company and his personal tax returns.
  • The president dismissed many of Cohen's claims during a press conference in Hanoi, saying his former confidante lied a lot."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., made a splash during her questioning of President Donald Trump's former lawyer and self-described fixer Michael Cohen.

The freshman lawmaker, who represents parts of the Bronx and Queens, appeared to lay the groundwork on Wednesday for a formal request of Trump's financial documents, including paperwork from his real estate company and his personal tax returns.

In her first blockbuster hearing as a member of the House Oversight Committee, Ocasio-Cortez asked Cohen about reports that the president lied to insurance companies and tax collectors about his financial situation in order to scam those private businesses and the government.

The president dismissed many of Cohen's claims during a press conference in Hanoi, saying his former confidante, who has been sentenced to three years in prison, in part for lying to Congress, "lied a lot." And an attorney for the president, Charles Harder, had previously dismissed a report of the president committing tax fraud as "100 percent false, and highly defamatory."

But Ocasio-Cortez cited that report among others in questioning that seemed orchestrated to provide political and possibly legal grounds for obtaining the tax returns that Democrats have sought unsuccessfully since Trump's presidential campaign.

"Do you think we need to review his financial statements and his tax returns in order to compare them?" Ocasio-Cortez asked Cohen at one point during her fast-paced four minutes of questioning.

"Yes, and you would find it at the Trump Org," Cohen said, referring to the Trump Organization, the president's sprawling real estate business.

Ocasio-Cortez also drew out names from Cohen that could lead to further action from the committee. Cohen named a number of Trump Organization executives, including Allen Weisselberg, Ron Lieberman and Matthew Calamari, from whom he said the committee could learn more.

She also cited an article from The New York Times published in October that reported that the president engaged in tax schemes in the 1990s including instances of "outright fraud."

"Would it help for the committee to obtain federal and state tax returns from the president and his company to address that discrepancy?" Ocasio-Cortez asked.

Cohen said, "I believe so."

The full exchange is below:

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: First, my colleague from Vermont had asked you several questions about AMI, the parent company of the National Enquirer, and in that you mentioned a "treasure trove" of documents in David Pecker's office relating to information assembled from all these catch-and-kill operations against people who had potentially damaging information on the president. You also mentioned that the president was very concerned about the whereabouts of these documents and who possessed them. Does that treasure trove of documents still exist?

Michael Cohen: I don't know. I have asked David Pecker for them.

Ocasio-Cortez: So you would say the person who knows the whereabouts of these documents would be David Pecker?

Cohen: David Pecker, Barry Levine or Dylan Howard.

Ocasio-Cortez: OK, thank you. Secondly, I want to ask a little bit about your conversation with my colleague from Missouri about asset inflation. To your knowledge, did the president ever provide inflated assets to an insurance company?

Cohen: Yes.

Ocasio-Cortez: Who else knows that the president did this?

Cohen: Allen Weisselberg, Ron Lieberman and Matthew Calamari.

Ocasio-Cortez: And where would the committee find more information on this? Do you think we need to review his financial statements and his tax returns in order to compare them?

Cohen: Yes, and you would find it at the Trump Org.

Ocasio-Cortez: Thank you very much. The last thing here. The Trump golf organization currently has a golf course in my home borough of the Bronx, Trump [Golf] Links. I drive past it every day, going between the Bronx and Queens. In fact, The Washington Post reported on the Trump Links Bronx course in an article titled, "Taxpayers built this New York golf course and Trump reaps the rewards." That article is where many New Yorkers and people in the country learned that taxpayers spent $127 million to build Trump Links in a "generous deal" that allowed Trump to "keep almost every dollar that flows in." On a golf course built with public funds. And this does not seem to be the only time that Trump has benefited at the expense of the public. Mr. Cohen, I want to ask you about your assertion that the president may have improperly devalued his assets to avoid paying taxes. According to an Aug. 24-Aug. 21, 2016, report by The Washington Post, while the president claimed in financial disclosure forms that Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida, was worth more than $50 million, he had reported otherwise to local tax authorities that the course was worth "no more than $5 million." Mr. Cohen, do you know whether this specific report is accurate?

Cohen: It's identical to what he did at Trump National Golf Club at Briarcliff Manor.

Ocasio-Cortez: Do you know, to your knowledge, was the president interested in reducing his local real estate bills? Tax bills?

Cohen: Yes.

Ocasio-Cortez: And how did he do that?

Cohen: 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.

Ocasio-Cortez: Thank you. Now, in October 2018 the New York Times revealed that, "President Trump participated in dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud, that greatly increased the fortune he received from his parents." It further states, of Mr. Trump, "he also helped formulate a strategy to undervalue his parents' real estate holdings by hundreds of millions of dollars on tax returns, sharply reducing the tax bill when those properties were transferred to him and his siblings." Mr. Cohen, do you know if that specific report is accurate?

Cohen: I don't. I wasn't there in the 1990s.

Ocasio-Cortez: Who would know the answer to those questions?

Cohen: Allen Weisselberg.

Ocasio-Cortez: And would it help for the committee to obtain federal and state tax returns from the president and his company to address that discrepancy?

Cohen: I believe so.

Ocasio-Cortez: Thank you very much. I yield the rest of my time to the chair.