In 2015, the journalist wrote pieces regarding the former president’s dissatisfaction with his position on Forbes’ annual list of the world’s wealthiest people.
(AP) — NEW YORK (AP) — The editor of Forbes magazine testified before a grand jury on Thursday, addressing questions about an article probing whether former President Donald Trump overstated his fortune as part of a criminal probe into his business operations.
Forbes editor Randall Lane said he was questioned about stories he published in 2015 regarding Trump’s obsession with his ranking on the magazine’s annual list of wealthiest individuals in a blog post on the business magazine’s website.
Lane said assistant wealth editor Chase Peterson-Withorn also testified, briefly answering questions about a 2017 story he wrote about Trump’s unit size and worth at Trump Tower.
Lane’s admission is the strongest indication yet that Manhattan prosecutors examining Trump are focusing on whether he defrauded Forbes and banks by misrepresenting his wealth in order to get better loan terms.
In June, Trump’s corporation, the Trump Organization, and its longtime finance chief, Allen Weisselberg, were charged with tax fraud as a result of the probe. They are accused of avoiding taxes on hefty executive fringe benefits.
Lane said he was questioned for about 20 minutes by Mark Pomerantz, a former mafia prosecutor who is assisting the investigation, and was asked to confirm a number of things, including the methodology of the magazine’s list of the wealthiest Americans and Trump’s statements in the article that “I look better if I’m worth $10 billion than if I’m worth $4 billion” and that a higher net worth “was good for financing.”
Pomerantz also inquired about Trump’s statements in the 2015 article that his Trump Tower holdings were worth five or six times more than the magazine’s $530 million estimate, and that his apartment was worth at least twice as much as the magazine valued it at $100 million, according to Lane. Peterson-Withorn testified for around five minutes, according to the editor, and was especially queried about Trump’s assertion that the apartment was 33,000 square feet.
Trump’s attorney has been contacted for comment.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Lane said he and Peterson-Withorn had been battling subpoenas for their testimony since September, voicing worries that testifying about a news topic would undermine their journalistic integrity and inhibit sources who provide them with information.
The judge in charge of the grand jury, according to Lane, confined the scope of their inquiry to establishing the authenticity of the Trump stories. “If we were sitting on something noteworthy, we would have previously shared it with our readers,” Lane wrote, claiming that everything he and Peterson-Withorn testified about had already been exposed in their stories.
While grand jury hearings are confidential, there is no prohibition on witnesses testifying before them discussing their testimony.
After Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen told a congressional committee in 2019 that the developer-turned-politician had a practice of manipulating property prices, prosecutors began investigating into how Trump and his company valued their assets.
Trump, according to Cohen, would inflate valuations to get better credit terms then deflate them to get tax breaks.
Cohen gave a Congressional committee copies of Trump’s financial statements from 2011, 2012, and 2013 – statements he claims Trump gave to his main lender, Deutsche Bank, in order to inquire about a loan to buy the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, and to Forbes in order to substantiate his claim to a spot on the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest people.
When Forbes and Fortune published their annual lists of the world’s wealthiest people, Trump “would go into a frenzy” and have Cohen and longtime financial chief Allen Weisselberg inflate valuations to come up with an acceptable number, according to Cohen’s memoir “Disloyal.”
Lane wrote in his 2015 article that other real estate developers had told the magazine “slapping a high Forbes 400 estimate on a banker’s desk can sometimes help secure bigger loans and better rates.”