Forbes Magazine Editors Testify in NY Case Against Trump Over Former President's Wealth

Both the editor and deputy wealth editor of Forbes magazine testified Thursday in the New York criminal investigation against former President Donald Trump that focuses on whether he inflated his wealth and evaded taxes.

Editor Randall Lane said that he was questioned for about 20 minutes as prosecutors sought to find out whether the former president committed fraud by exaggerating the extent of his wealth both to the magazine and banks. Lane penned an article in 2015 that described Trump's obsession with Forbes' annual list of the wealthiest Americans.

He wrote in a post published on the Forbes website Friday that he and deputy wealth editor Chase Peterson-Withorn had resisted the orders to testify in the case, but the judge overseeing the process ordered their testimony and "limited the scope to simply confirm the accuracy" of the articles.

He was asked to verify the methodology of compiling the list of the wealthiest Americans and specifically a quote from Trump in the 2015 article saying, "I look better if I'm worth $10 billion than if I'm worth $4 billion" and that having a higher net worth "was good for financing," he said in the post.

Peterson-Withorn's testimony lasted about five minutes, and he said he was asked about a 2017 article he wrote about Trump's apartment at Trump Tower. Specifically, he was asked about Trump's assertion that his apartment was 33,000 square feet and worth at least $200 million. Trump claimed that Forbes underestimated the value of his holdings in the Trump Tower.

Forbes Editor
Both the editor and deputy wealth editor of Forbes magazine testified Thursday in the New York criminal investigation against former President Donald Trump. Above, Forbes magazine editor Randall Lane rings the NASDAQ Closing Bell in honor of the 2017's Forbes 30 Under 30 at NASDAQ MarketSite on January 24, 2017, in New York City. Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Lane's disclosure is the clearest indication yet that Manhattan prosecutors investigating Trump are zeroing in on whether he committed fraud by exaggerating his wealth, not only to Forbes but to banks to secure more favorable loan terms.

The investigation has already led to tax fraud charges in June against Trump's company, the Trump Organization, and its longtime finance chief, Allen Weisselberg. They are accused of evading taxes on lucrative fringe benefits paid to executives.

Mark Pomerantz also asked about Trump's claims, reported in the 2015 article, that his holdings in Trump Tower were worth five or six times more than the magazine's $530 million estimate and that his apartment was worth at least twice the $100 million that the magazine valued it at, Lane said.

Messages seeking comment were left with Trump's lawyer.

The Manhattan district attorney's office declined to comment.

In disclosing his testimony, Lane said he and Peterson-Withorn had been fighting subpoenas for their testimony since September, raising concerns that testifying about a news subject would erode their journalistic independence and have a chilling effect on sources who provide them with information.

Lane said everything he and Peterson-Withorn testified about had already been revealed in their articles, writing: "If we were sitting on anything newsworthy, we would have already shared that with our readers."

While grand jury proceedings are secret, there is nothing barring witnesses called before them from talking about their testimony.

Prosecutors started looking at how Trump and his company value their assets after Trump's longtime personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen told a congressional committee in 2019 that the developer-turned-politician had a habit of manipulating property values.

Cohen said Trump would inflate values to gain favorable loan terms and minimize them to reap tax benefits.

Cohen gave a Congressional committee copies of Trump's financial statements from 2011, 2012 and 2013–statements he said Trump gave to his main lender, Deutsche Bank, to inquire about a loan to buy the NFL's Buffalo Bills, and to Forbes to substantiate his claim to a place on its list of the world's wealthiest people.

Trump "would go into a frenzy" when Forbes and Fortune were compiling their annual lists of the world's richest people and would have Cohen and longtime financial chief Allen Weisselberg inflate valuations to come up with an acceptable number, Cohen wrote in his 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."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Forbes Testimony in Trump Investigation
The editor of Forbes magazine testified December 16, 2021, before a grand jury hearing evidence in a criminal investigation of former President Donald Trump and his business practices, answering questions about an article examining whether the former president inflated his wealth. Above, Trump speaks during a rally in Perry, Georgia, on September 25, 2021. Ben Gray/AP Photo