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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Ex-aide paints an unflattering portrait of Trump's Hamptons art payment

Michael Cohen said he found a "straw bidder" to buy a Trump portrait in 2013 and that the Trump Foundation repaid the buyer the $60,000 cost while Trump kept the artwork, all at Trump's direction.

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer, testifies

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer, testifies before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday. Photo Credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

President Donald Trump — who often accuses others of fakery, rigging and fixes — has plenty of seasoning in those practices, according to his convicted former associate Michael Cohen.

Part of the story played out on Long Island's East End, as Cohen told it during his explosive daylong testimony Wednesday before the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

Cohen swore in his remarks that "con man" Trump directed him to find a "straw bidder" to buy a portrait of him that was up for auction at an Art Hamptons event.

"The objective was to ensure that his portrait, which was going to be auctioned last, would go for the highest price of any portrait that afternoon," Cohen said.

"The portrait was purchased by the fake bidder for $60,000. Mr. Trump directed the Trump Foundation, which is supposed to be a charitable organization, to repay the fake bidder despite keeping the art for himself.

The matter has surfaced before. Trump tweeted on July 16, 2013: “Just found out that at a charity auction of celebrity portraits in E. Hampton, my portrait by artist William Quigley topped list at $60K."

Two years later Dan's Papers, the Hamptons news and entertainment weekly, recounted the sale as Trump began to run for president.

"The auction was held during a reception for The Pleasurists, an exhibition of Quigley and Ben Moon’s art, held at Quigley’s Newtown Lane studio in East Hampton on July 12, 2013," the publication reported. 

"Quigley says he received word before the auction that Trump may want the painting, so he better raise the starting bid so as not to embarrass Trump."

Trump asked friend Stewart Rahr, a billionaire art collector, to bid on his behalf, the publication reported. Trump's foundation, which funded the purchase, since dissolved under pressure from state authorities.

The art purchase was far from the most crucial matter addressed by Cohen in his hours before the committee. He also discussed the hacked Democratic emails, Trump's Moscow hotel project and hush-money payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels.

Another vanity-driven public-relations  "fix" described by Cohen involved exaggerating Trump's net worth, to lift his position in the Forbes magazine's ranking of the world's wealthiest people.

Cohen shared Trump financial statements with the House committee. "I believe these numbers are inflated," he said.

"It was my experience," Cohen said, "that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed among the wealthiest people in Forbes, and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes."

Cohen has been sentenced to a prison term of 3 years for financial crimes and lying to Congress. Some but not all of that involved ex-client Trump. When Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) attacked Cohen as a "pathological liar," he shot back: "Are you referring to me or the President?"

From Vietnam, where his fruitless summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un had just ended, Trump called the congressional session a "fake hearing."

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