COHEN: Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great. Not to make our country great.
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ANDREA BERNSTEIN: In his opening remarks before the House Intelligence Committee, Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal attorney, made a striking statement about Trump’s campaign.
COHEN: He had no desire or intention to lead this nation, only to market himself and to build his wealth and power. Trump would often say this campaign was going to be the greatest infomercial in political history.
BERNSTEIN: In essence it’s not that Trump’s campaign overlapped or conflicted with his business. The campaign was the business.
COHEN: He never expected to win the primary. He never expected to win the general election. The campaign, for him, was always a marketing opportunity.
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BERNSTEIN: Hello, and welcome to this Trump, Inc. podcast extra. From WNYC and ProPublica, I’m Andrea Bernstein.
ILYA MARRITZ: I’m Ilya Marritz.
BERNSTEIN: For the last year we’ve been unraveling the mysteries of Trump’s financial interests. This week, Michael Cohen leads some of those interests to bear in his testimony before the House Oversight Committee, and in documents he released leading up to the hearing.
And Ilya and I were like, “Oh my god, we can’t believe we’re actually having someone from inside tell us how things worked, on the record.” So we’ve picked up some of the segments of the hearing that we think are the most illuminating, and we’re going to play them and talk about them.
MARRITZ: Before we get started, I just want to say, how remarkable — it’s been less than a year since you and I were driving around Nassau County in outer Brooklyn, retracing the elements of Michael Cohen’s life. Now he’s here and he’s telling us what he knows.
BERNSTEIN: Alright. So the first piece of tape that I picked out was about the Trump Tower Moscow deal. So this deal was back in November when Michael Cohen was like, “No, no, no. This deal did not end in January of 2016. It went on until June of 2016,” and also other really stunning things in that plea deal: He said he had briefed Trump and his family about it. He said he had been in touch with a campaign official and that he had spoken to an official from the Kremlin about this Moscow project.
MARRITZ: This was the thing he lied to Congress about.
BERNSTEIN: This is the thing he lied to Congress about, and in his opening statement he addresses why he lied.
COHEN: Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That’s not how he operates. In conversations we had during the campaign — at the same time, I was actively negotiating in Russia for him — he would look me in the eye and tell me, “There’s no Russian business.” And then go on to lie to the American people by saying the same thing. In his way, he was telling me to lie. There were at least a half a dozen times between the Iowa caucus in January of 2016 and the end of June when he would ask me, “How’s it going in Russia?,” referring to the Moscow tower project. You need to know that Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to Congress about the timing of the Moscow tower negotiations before I gave it. JJust to be clear, Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it.
BERNSTEIN: So many things here that I want to talk about, but let’s start with the lie, which is that Cohen is saying that he and Trump both knew that Trump was lying and they just went on with it. This was ordinary course of business.
MARRITZ: And, in fact, the method of establishing this story is just sort of being like — I don’t know, it’s just, like, sort of saying what you wish were true and then acting as if it is true. What Cohen didn’t really say —
BERNSTEIN: Right. I mean, one of the things about the lie is that — I will say that people from the Trump Organization or people who know Trump have often said this to me, that everybody knows that there is a lie involved, and everybody just accepts it. And Cohen says in another part of his testimony — he says, he didn’t think the stakes were so high when it was just real estate development versus running for president and being President of the United States. This is the first time that I’ve heard anybody on the record in this big stage saying, “Trump lied all the time. Everybody knew it. This was part of the business model.”
MARRITZ: Right. And he’s also implicating Trump’s children in the lie: Don Jr. and Ivanka. Ivanka has basically said, “I was barely involved at all.” I believe Don Jr. has said something —
BERNSTEIN: Only peripherally, he said.
MARRITZ: — something similar, and said that, I think, under oath to Congress. So that might really create problems for him.
BERNSTEIN: That’s if “only peripherally” contradicts “ten times.”
MARRITZ: Right. Right. So he — right. So Cohen said he briefed the Trump family about ten times in that period. What I didn’t hear him address — and that’s a little unsatisfying to me — is why they wouldn’t admit to the Moscow deal. What were they trying to hide, exactly?
BERNSTEIN: It is, I think, one of the big lingering questions from today. One of the things, though, that Michael Cohen testified about was that his testimony was reviewed by the President’s attorneys, and he said Ivanka and Jared Kushner’s attorney also looked at it. It was part of this joint defense agreement. So one of the things that is interesting about that is that he was sort of saying, “Okay, I never was told directly to lie,” and he was clear about that, that he was never ordered to lie, but that he — as he said — “I worked for Trump for a decade, so I understood the code.” So by submitting a certain piece of testimony that contained a lie, he — his understanding was that he was given the signal to go ahead and do that.
MARRITZ: I think the one other thing that we have to say about Moscow is that Cohen talked about it repeatedly as a business deal, as a lucrative business deal. He talked about the prospect of making hundreds of millions of dollars from this deal. And he really talked about it as something that the Trump family and the Trump Organization saw as a profit center for them. They didn’t expect to win the election, but they did expect to come out of 2016 making a lot of money out of this deal. So that was useful confirmation for us who are trying to understand the motives of the campaign around that time and what they were doing in Moscow in the first place.
BERNSTEIN: Right. And it doesn’t entirely explain why Trump didn’t want to say it —
MARRITZ: No, not at all.
BERNSTEIN: — or went to such lengths to deny it. But we know that when this plea deal came out he said, “Well, I — if my campaign wasn’t successful, I still had a right to make money as a businessman.” He does have a right to make money as a businessman. The question is — is whether he should be secretly negotiating with a hostile foreign power during a campaign for president. The next piece of tape — oh, I love — I love this next piece of tape because it tells us so much about the inner workings of the Trump Organization. So there is this understanding that they can do things extra-legally, that they can figure out these creative methods to cover their tracks. There’s a sense of cheapness that people don’t want to be paying for things. And there’s a sense of, “Okay, we have to keep all of this secret.” And all this comes out in this description that Michael Cohen gives, of how he met with Donald Trump about the payments to Stephanie Clifford, AKA Stormy Daniels, during the final weeks of the campaign and how they would get that done. And he talks about he and Trump and Allen Weisselberg — the Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer — all meet together, and then he and Alan Weisselberg go off and they try to figure out how they’re gonna do it.
COHEN: I had asked Allen to use his money. Didn’t want to use mine. And he said he couldn’t. And we then decided, “How else we can do it?” And he asked me whether or not I know anybody who wants to have a party at one of his clubs, that could pay me instead, or somebody who may have wanted to become a member of one of the golf clubs. And I also don’t have anybody that was interested in that. And it got to the point where it was down to the wire. It was either we — somebody wire the funds and purchased the life rights to the story from Miss Clifford, or it was going to end up being sold to television. And that would have embarrassed the President and it would have interfered with the election.
MARRITZ: Okay. There’s so many interesting things about this. The main one is just the sense of precariousness around all of this. This is a an active candidate for President of the United States — a major party nominee, weeks away from the election, and he’s desperately searching for somebody who can help cover his tracks. That’s just — to think that he is going to campaign rallies and coming offstage and thinking about this is just so striking.
BERNSTEIN: And there was also … One of the things that came up a number of times in the testimony was how it interacted with the Access Hollywood tape and Michael Cohen says it was very much on their minds that if there was another story about a problematic Trump relationship with a woman that — that they really feared would be devastating, and in one sense he was saying, “Look, that’s what sort of pushed us to go to these desperate lengths.” But as the hearing went on it was really clear that this kind of thing was in character. It was ordinary. And we have come across it. We have come across this sort of strange financial arrangement, we’re trying to figure out what they mean. What is this, what is that, what’s the plan? And here’s Michael Collins saying, “No, there was no plan. We were just scrambling and this is what we came up with.”
MARRITZ: The only other thing I want to say about this clip is Allen — Allen Weisselberg. His name came up a bunch. I kind of felt like Michael Cohen is pointing a big red arrow at him, and it was like, “Talk to this guy.” And Congress should talk to this guy if they have these questions, because Allen Weisselberg, the Chief Financial Officer of the Trump Organization, started working for Fred Trump decades ago and he’s been with Donald Trump every step of the way. We know he has some kind of immunity deal with prosecutors, but we don’t know the shape of that deal. I don’t know if Congress can call him, if they can subpoena him, but if members of Congress are still curious about all this stuff after hours and hours of Michael Cohen testimony today, the next person they should talk to probably is Allen Weisselberg.
BERNSTEIN: I think this is a good moment to put in a little note for the listeners —
BERNSTEIN: — is that you and I covered Michael Cohen’s crimes before he was raided. Before really anybody knew his name, we were looking at his associates and their problematic criminal histories, and how Michael Cohen had never been charged with a crime, but he had been running up against all of these people who were, or who lost their professional licenses, or had been charged in some way. And the Republican response to everything Michael Cohen said was, “He’s a liar! He’s a liar! He’s a liar!” And we at Trump, Inc. certainly have familiarity with that. But, having said that, a lot of the things that Michael Cohen said today lined up with other things we have learned about the Trump Organization from people who’ve been associated with it: from documents, from court records. So there was a sense of the pieces falling into place, finally.
MARRITZ: Okay. The next piece of tape I want to play actually connects with what we’ve just been talking about, and that’s the hush money payments and the profile that — that we did of Michael Cohen last April —
BERNSTEIN: We’re still trying to figure it out.
MARRITZ: — right after he had been raided. That’s right. So who we’re going to hear from next is Michael Rothfeld. He is one of the team of reporters at The Wall Street Journal who really pulled this whole thing apart and got everybody interested in the Stormy Daniels payments and pieced together the story of these shell companies.
MICHAEL ROTHFELD: We’d heard that it was an LLC with a — kind of a funny name, and that it was an appropriate name, like, um, “Damage Control” or something.
MARRITZ: They started searching state databases for new companies formed in October 2016, picking out any suggestive names they saw.
ROTHFELD: Right. We looked for “Damage Control.” We looked for, like, “Hush Money.” We looked for “Secrets” — you know, things like that: “Secret Consultants,” things such as that. We eventually found one called Resolution Consultants that was formed in Delaware. And when we pulled the paperwork for that corporation, Michael Cohen’s name was on it, and that was kind of like a bingo moment. And we thought we had found it.
MARRITZ: But the timeframe wasn’t quite right.
ROTHFELD: And so we confronted Michael Cohen with that and he said, “No, no. That’s not it. I never even set up a bank account for that LLC.”
MARRITZ: They went back to the database of shell companies.
ROTHFELD: That’s how we found Essential Consultants LLC, which also had his name on it, and that was the one that he used against or whatever else.
MARRITZ: So when the Michael Rothfeld’s story comes out — and Joe Palazzolo’s story — this creates a huge public relations problem for Trump and Michael Cohen — with whom he, at the time, is still allied — and they have to get their story straight about these facts that are now being trumpeted on the front page of The Wall Street Journal.
BERNSTEIN: And — and we actually heard a breakdown of how he did that and how, according to Michael Cohen, he and Trump put their story together. Here’s an exchange with Katie Hill, a Democrat from California, about the cover-up.
REPRESENTATIVE KATIE HILL: Did the President call you to coordinate on public messaging about the payments to Ms. Cliffords in or around February 2018?
REPRESENTATIVE HILL: What did the President ask or suggest that you say about the payments or reimbursements?
COHEN: He was not knowledgeable of these reimbursements, and he wasn’t knowledgeable of my actions.
REPRESENTATIVE HILL: He asked you to say that?
COHEN: Yes, ma’am.
REPRESENTATIVE HILL: Great.
MARRITZ: And then Cohen went on to describe this scene from February 2018. Basically one year ago when he, Cohen, is doing this interview with a reporter from Vanity Fair, [CHUCKLES] and Donald Trump actually calls him and he takes a time-out from the interview to discuss with the President of the United States how they’re going to get their stories straight about the hush money payments, and it’s just … We knew that this kind of coordination was happening or was probably happening, but hearing him describe it was just — made it just so vivid.
BERNSTEIN: Also that it was happening in 2018. So this is well into Donald Trump’s presidency. And we learned today it was after Donald Trump had written a personal check for $35,000 to pay Michael Cohen, and his son Donald Trump Jr. had signed another check. So the family is in on this “payoff scheme,” as Michael Cohen described it.
MARRITZ: Cohen gave us those two checks to look at.
BERNSTEIN: So many stunning things about that! One of them is that there’s this participation in what the Southern District of New York has described as a crime by Donald Trump and his son and his business. Another is that there’s Donald Trump in the White House — as Michael Cohen describes it, in the Oval Office, saying, “Here’s this picture. Here is this portrait. And, by the way, your check is coming by FedEx, and it takes a while for that to get through the White House apparatus. But don’t worry. It’s coming to you.” So all of this reporting we’ve been doing about “There is no separation between Trump and his business and his campaign,” there is Michael Cohen testifying that it’s all coming together in this moment of getting Michael Cohen his payment reimbursement for his hush money payment to Stormy Daniels.
MARRITZ: And this stuff is completely unsettled. Michael Cohen’s going to jail for his role in it. But in terms of Donald Trump’s role — and now Donald Trump Jr.’s role — in Allen Weisselberg, American Media [Inc.], and all the other parties to this agreement, we don’t really know what the shakeout is gonna be. And you could feel in the hearings that this is still very much of a live issue. I want to play you a clip from an exchange with Congressman Ro Khanna where he basically adds it all up and then says, “Now what?”
REPRESENTATIVE RO KHANNA: I just want the American public to understand the explosive nature of your [INDISTINCT] testimony in this document. Are you telling us, Mr. Cohen, that the President directed transactions in conspiracy with Allen Weisselberg and his son, Donald Trump Jr., as part of a civil — criminal — as part of a criminal conspiracy, a financial fraud? Is that your testimony today?
REPRESENTATIVE KHANNA: And do you know if this is a criminal financial scheme, that the President, Allen Weisselberg, and Donald Trump Jr. are involved in is being investigated by the Southern District of New York?
COHEN: I’d rather not discuss that question, because it could be part of an investigation that’s currently ongoing.
BERNSTEIN: So one of the things that we learned is that Michael Cohen says, “I speak to the Southern District of New York all the time” — that his most recent communications with Trump are the subject of an ongoing investigation, according to Michael Cohen.
MARRITZ: Probably from last summer.
BERNSTEIN: Probably from last summer. And he was asked, “Did Donald Trump do anything else illegal?” and he said, “Well, I can’t answer that, because the Southern District is looking into it.” So we don’t know … We have no other source for this information other than what Michael Cohen said today, which he said under oath in Congress with — he’s already convicted of lying to Congress, so the penalties would presumably be very severe if he were lying again. We don’t know what this means, but according to him the Southern District is still looking into other potential Trump crimes and [MARRITZ ALMOST INTERRUPTS] everything else we had learned already wasn’t so surprising: the fact that the President of the United States might be under investigation, still, for something we don’t know about was startling.
MARRITZ: You know, and all through the hearings, the Republicans were trying to poke holes in Cohen’s credibility to try to get to the root of his motive. Asked a lot of questions about, like, whether he had a book deal, because Cohen could be eligible under something called Rule 35 for a reduction in his sentence if his cooperation with the Southern District bears fruit, so he, actually, has, like, a stake in all this.
BERNSTEIN: He has a motive to cooperate. I mean, one of the things that was interesting is he kept repeatedly warning members of Congress and saying, “Don’t end up like me. Don’t keep defending him. Don’t do what I did,” which is trash the people that are attacking him, “because that’s what I did, and look at me now.” And he — that that became his response to “Liar, Liar Pants on Fire,” which is — was essentially — in fact, I think it is what one of the Republicans said.
MARRITZ: [CHUCKLES] Yes, it is.
BERNSTEIN: That’s a direct quote.
BERNSTEIN: That was it. It was Democrats asking questions about different issues, and Republicans saying, “You’re a liar. You’re a thief. You’re a crook. Here’s your plea deal.” And Cohen responded to that by saying, “I ended up here because I did what you’re doing today to me.”
MARRITZ: I think the last piece of tape that I want to play, Andrea, is from our local congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — AOC. And I was really curious what she was going to say, because, you know, her thing is Democratic Socialism and different forms of justice. And I didn’t know her to be particularly interested in [BERNSTEIN ALMOST INTERRUPTS] understanding the Trump business. But she revealed that she has a real interest in it, and I think she was really one of the most effective questioners on all of this. So in the space of just about five minutes, she asked Cohen a lot of stuff on the record and got answers. She asked him where American Media’s secrets on Donald Trump are kept. He said David Pecker has them.
BERNSTEIN: And David Pecker runs American Media Inc., the parent company of The National Enquirer. We should say that Cohen said there was a whole — he didn’t use the word “vault” — but he said there was a whole storage area of Trump’s secrets that had been kept over the years. He doesn’t know where they are now. This is what AOC was asking about.
MARRITZ: Right. And he said, “Ask David Pecker. He has them. He’ll know.” She asked about false statements to insurers on behalf of the Trump Organization, which is something else that has sort of recently been reported, and Michael Cohen said, “Yes, that happened.” Just plainly — didn’t really elaborate. And then she hones in on the golf courses, and there is a Trump golf course in AOC’s district — it’s in the Bronx, next to the bridge.
BERNSTEIN: What are the odds?
MARRITZ: I know! [LAUGHS] And — and this is interesting because of property taxes which is something that we devoted a whole episode to last year. Donald Trump’s playing up the value of his properties when it suits him and playing it down when it comes time to pay property taxes.
REPRESENTATIVE ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: 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 August 24th — August 21st, 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, quote, “no more than $5 million.” 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.
REPRESENTATIVE OCASIO-CORTEZ: Do you know — to your knowledge, was the President interested in reducing his local real estate bill, tax bills?
REPRESENTATIVE 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.
REPRESENTATIVE OCASIO-CORTEZ: Thank you.
MARRITZ: This is not, like, rampant criminality. It’s more of a motive — sort of state of mind kind of thing, and I think it’s something that any American who owns their home will instantly grasp, which is that you have to pay property taxes every year. So when the President of the United States is really brazenly underplaying the value of his properties, I actually do think that’s a fact that might connect with citizens, even if it’s not particularly of interest to prosecutors.
BERNSTEIN: It’s hard to know, because there are plenty of people who feel like, “Okay, well, if you are just following the laws, who cares if you don’t pay your taxes? No one likes paying taxes.” There are questions, though, that are raised about whether Trump has done this to an illegal extent — which is to say, everybody wants to value their assets low when they can and value them high when they can and profit from it. The question is, “Has he ever crossed a line?” Michael Cohen didn’t quite say it, but he strongly hinted it. For example, when he said that Donald Trump got a $10 million refund check from the IRS, and said, “They were so stupid to give it to me.”
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BERNSTEIN: So we get an insider’s look today at the way the Trump Organization valued its assets, doing what it did with the golf courses, which is undervalue them when it came to paying taxes and then, for other reasons, to go back and say they were actually worth more than they were.
COHEN: There were times that I was asked — again, with Allen Weisselberg, the CFO — to go back and to speak with an individual from Forbes because Mr. Trump wanted each year to have his net worth rise on the Forbes wealthiest individuals list.
BERNSTEIN: When we heard Forbes, we knew we had to call our friend Dan Alexander, who covers Trump’s businesses and he used to work on putting together the magazine’s billionaires list.
DAN ALEXANDER: Yeah. So, basically, Michael Cohen is describing how the Trump Organization tries to kind of game the system and act like Donald Trump is richer than he actually is. And the exercise of how to game the system is kind of similar to how you actually go about valuing his net worth generally.
BERNSTEIN: In his testimony Cohen described essentially working backwards from value Trump wanted to be assessed at, and make the numbers work.
ALEXANDER: The difference is, is that when you’re trying to game the system you start with a number that you want at the end, and then you kind of work your way backward and try to figure out, “How can we fudge things to get there?” And Donald Trump — and this is true — years before he ever became a political figure, is absolutely obsessed with the number that Forbes says is his net worth. You know, we’ve put about 1,600 people on the Forbes 400 since the first list in 1982. None of them care as much about this figure than the current President as the United States.
BERNSTEIN: So what was your reaction to hearing this discussion of Forbes today?
ALEXANDER: Well, none of the content of it was surprising, because, of course, when you’re on the other end of it, you know exactly what’s going on. You know that these numbers don’t make any sense. They’re not tethered to reality. But what was interesting was hearing the person delivering the message. I mean, Michael Cohen, was one of the people who was in discussions with us in past years over these very conversations, and so, today, to hear him flat-out admit, “We were just making a bunch of that stuff up,” it was kind of amazing to watch. But, of course, there was nothing really regulatory about it. We knew it. But nonetheless seeing somebody admit it is always kind of fascinating.
BERNSTEIN: It is kind of startling — [LAUGHS]
BERNSTEIN: — all of the things that he said today in the testimony that we know goes on because we deal with Trump Organization, the White House. We deal with their public statements. So we know the game that is going on. But to have him own to it was kind of weirdly satisfying.
ALEXANDER: [LAUGHS] You know, it was interesting. I — I mean, it was funny as we were looking at it, because — particularly when he started getting into the nitty-gritty of how exactly they try to manipulate the numbers — again, it all makes sense. But it’s like, “Huh. Wow, so it really is just that arbitrary.” You know, that Trump just picks a number and they just try to back up from there, you know?
BERNSTEIN: So we got a clue though as to why because Cohen released these financial documents in connection with an attempt to get a loan from Deutsche Bank to buy the Buffalo Bills — which I didn’t actually know was something that they did. Did you?
ALEXANDER: There was some rumors about them potentially buying the Bills in 2013, or whatever it was. But, truthfully, nobody took it all that seriously. Trump made a bunch of noise about it but there was always the question, “How is Donald Trump going to have enough cash to buy, you know, an NFL team?” So it made sense that they would have had to go get financing if they were seriously trying to do that, and how serious that project actually was — is, I suppose, up for debate.
BERNSTEIN: So Michael Cohen didn’t come right out and say this in the testimony, but what these documents show is: 2011, their total assets are, mmm, around $5 billion, $4.5 billion. In 2012, they’re $5 billion. And then the next year, 2013, they’re $9 billion. Or maybe they’re $8.6 billion, because he’s assigned this whole new asset category called “brand value.”
BERNSTEIN: So what did you learn from those documents?
ALEXANDER: [LAUGHS] Well, so, you can see as you’re looking through line-by-line that he has signs of value to his licensing and management revenue streams. And that makes some sense. So Trump gets paid to put his name on people’s products. And in many cases they’re locked into those deals for a certain amount of time. And so you add value that they’re publicly traded companies that have similar business lines and so you can come up with a valuation for that. That is a “brand business.” That’s the definition of a brand business. What you don’t do is then, just for the heck of it, tack on a random number that makes the whole net worth much bigger. Just doesn’t make any sense.
BERNSTEIN: So there seems to be the hint in Michael Cohen’s testimony that these two threads are converging. On the one hand, getting a really good valuation from Forbes and having these figures to present to the banks.
ALEXANDER: Yeah. I mean, it’s kind of interesting. It’s easy to justify trying to deceive a magazine. Trying to deceive banks is a much more dangerous endeavor. And how seriously a bank would have actually taken this, you know, is another question. I mean, if you’re a banker at Deutsche Bank and you pull this up and it’s got this sort of cursory summary of the assets, and then half of it is tacked on to brand value, are you really going to change the amount of money that you’re lending to Donald Trump? Probably not.
BERNSTEIN: What else did you learn today? What are your big takeaways?
ALEXANDER: Well, you know, the stuff that is outside of the business was, of course, interesting. I was laughing with all my colleagues. So, here you are talking about the Stormy Daniels stuff, and the Russia stuff, and all that. You know, I was talking with a lot of my colleagues, and we watch these Congressional testimonies every now and then from start to finish, and it takes a couple hours. And, usually, you sort of start to zone out after an hour. You know, one out of every four questions is interesting, or something like this. On this one, it was like 90% of the exchanges were fascinating, regardless of the topic.
BERNSTEIN: Dan Alexander, Forbes Magazine, thank you so much.
ALEXANDER: Yeah, of course. Thank you.
BERNSTEIN: So, yeah, there’s one other thing I wanted to talk about before we wrap up this episode, which is the portrait.
MARRITZ: Which one?
BERNSTEIN: Cohen describes a charity auction where there’s a picture of Donald Trump up for bid, and Donald Trump — according to Cohen — wants to make sure that his portrait is going to get the highest bid of any of the other portraits in this auction. So he says to Michael Cohen, “Go out and find a straw bidder. Go find someone to keep bidding up.” So it gets to the highest price, and the plan is that they’re going to reimburse this guy. So that does happen. He bids it up. They get the highest price, and then there is Michael Cohen paying this guy from Donald Trump’s foundation. So this is not a high-stakes campaign situation. It’s not that Trump wants to be on the Forbes billionaire list, a higher number than he is. It’s not that he wants to get a bank loan and he wants to make his assets presentation look as good as it possibly can. This was a portrait auctioned off, and Trump just wanted the bragging rights. And to do that, he was potentially willing to cross a legal line, because you can’t take money from a charitable foundation and use it for a non-charitable purpose.
MARRITZ: It was actually really fun [CHUCKLES] watching Twitter while watching the hearings — although you sort of had to [CHUCKLES AGAIN] be careful —
BERNSTEIN: They really require a lot of attention!
MARRITZ: — you really had to be careful about that. Around the time that this was happening — or right after, David Farenthold from The Washington Post (who’s covered, you know, the Trump charity better than anybody), he Tweeted, “This is actually the third portrait of himself that @RealDonaldTrump has allegedly bought with his charity’s money. I knew about a three-foot one and a six-foot one. This is a nine-foot one that he bought back in 2013.”
I knew about the painting. I didn’t know charity money was involved. So we really did learn new things today.
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BERNSTEIN: We’re going to leave it there for now, but I am so sure Michael Cohen’s testimony is something that we will return to again and again in future episodes of Trump, Inc.
This episode of Trump, Inc. was produced by Meg Kramer and Catherine Sullivan, was edited by Charlie Herman and Eric Umansky. Bill Moss is our technical director. Sam Baer is our engineer. The original music is by Hannis Brown.
MARRITZ: And just one more thing. This podcast has been updated with a correction. Michael Cohen gave testimony before the House Oversight Committee.
CONGRESSPERSON: How many times did Mr. Trump ask you to threaten an individual or entity on his behalf?
COHEN: [LONG PAUSE] Quite a few times.
CONGRESSPERSON: 50 times?
COHEN: [IMMEDIATELY] More.
CONGRESSPERSON: 100 times?
COHEN: [IMMEDIATELY] More.
CONGRESSPERSON: 200 times
COHEN: [IMMEDIATELY, ALMOST ROBOTIC AT THIS POINT] More.
CONGRESSPERSON: 500 times
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