How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez inadvertently sparked the New York attorney general’s Trump lawsuit

‘This investigation only started after Michael Cohen ... testified before Congress shed light on this misconduct,’ Letitia James says

AOC questions Michael Cohen on insurance fraud at 2019 hearing

On Wednesday, when New York Attorney General Letitia James announced her $250m civil lawsuit against former president Donald Trump, she specifically cited former Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s testimony in 2019, when he revealed that the former president fraudulently inflated the value of his assets.

“I will remind everyone that this investigation only started after Michael Cohen, the former lawyer, his former lawyer, testified before Congress and shed light on this misconduct,” she said.

The question that triggered Mr Cohen’s response came in 2019 from Ms James’s fellow New Yorker, Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

In 2019, Mr Cohen testified against his former boss before the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee. At the time, Ms Ocasio-Cortez, who the previous year had beaten former House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley in a primary in New York’s 14th District, asked questions about whether Mr Trump ever provided inflated assets to an insurance company.

“Yes,” Mr Cohen said in response. When Ms Ocasio-Cortez asked who else knew that Mr Trump did this, he said, “Allen Weisselberg, Ron Lieberman and Matthew Calamari.”

The lawsuit also named Mr Lieberman, the former chief financial officer for the Trump Organization. Specifically, it said that Mr Weisselberg helped Mr Trump make fraudulent statements of financial condition regarding his properties.

“Mr Trump made known through Mr. Weisselberg that he wanted his net worth on his statements to increase every year, and the statements were the vehicle by which his net worth was fraudulently inflated by billions of dollars year after year,” Ms James’s office said in a statement. During the hearing, Ms Ocasio-Cortez continued to ask about Mr Trump’s tax returns.

“And where would the committee find more information on this, do you think we need to review his financial statements and his tax returns,” Ms Ocasio-Cortez said.

“Yes, and you’d find it at the Trump Org,” Mr Cohen said.

The lawsuit alleges that Mr Trump fraudulently inflated his net worth by millions of dollars so that banks could lend him and his businesses money on more favourable terms that would otherwise not be available.

Ms James’s Wednesday morning announcement was only the first piece of bad news for Mr Trump and his allies that emerged over the course of the day.

Later on Wednesday, multiple news outlets reported that conservative activist Virginia “Ginny” Thomas — the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas — had struck an agreement to voluntarily appear for an interview with the House January 6 select committee.

Ms Thomas has been under scrutiny for her actions in the period between 7 November 2020 (the day most news outlets called the 2020 election for Joe Biden) and 6 January 2021, when a riotous mob of Mr Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol in hopes of preventing certification of Mr Biden’s win. She reportedly contacted state lawmakers in two states won by Mr Biden — Arizona and Wisconsin — to pressure them to step in and overturn Mr Trump’s loss.

According to NBC News, Ms Thomas was also in contact with John Eastman, the ex-law professor and Trump adviser who formulated a plan for Congress to block Mr Biden’s win with the aid of fraudulent Electoral College certificates.

The former president also recieved another serious blow late Wednesday when a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a Florida federal judge’s order which effectively barred the Department of Justice from using classified documents found at his Palm Beach home to further a criminal investigation into him and his associates.

Circuit Judges Robin Rosenbaum, Britt Grant and Andrew Brasher said they agreed with the government’s argument that District Judge Aileen Cannon “likely erred in exercising ... jurisdiction to enjoin the United States’s use of the classified records in its criminal investigation and to require the United States to submit the marked classified documents to a special master for review”.

Mr Trump has repeatedly described both the New York state lawsuit and the DoJ probe as examples of partisan witch hunts meant to damage him politically.

Speaking on Fox News host Sean Hannity’s eponymous programme on Wednesday, the ex-president said he rejected an offer to settle the three-year investigation into whether his companies committed massive amounts of fraud because paying “even a small amount” would be akin to admitting liability.

“I met with them. I actually thought they wanted to settle but I didn't want to settle because how can you even if I paid a very small amount, you’re sort of admitting guilt,” he said.

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