College & Workforce Readiness

The SAT Makes Surprise Appearance in Michael Cohen/Trump Hearing

By Catherine Gewertz — February 27, 2019 2 min read
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A funny thing happened on the way to one of the most explosive Congressional hearings in recent memory: The star witness mentioned the SAT.

Michael Cohen, President Trump’s onetime attorney and fixer, used his opening statement to the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday to unroll a laundry list of the president’s alleged lies and hypocrisies. How did a college-entrance exam get into that mix?

Cohen disclosed that Trump directed him to write a letter in 2015 to the Rev. Joseph McShane, the president of Fordham University in New York, where Trump was a student for two years before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.

In that letter, Cohen says that the news media have been trying to obtain Trump’s college records, and he threatens Rev. McShane with civil and criminal penalties if the university discloses Trump’s academic records, including records from the College Board.

Cohen said in his testimony that he wrote similar letters to Trump’s high school and to the College Board, but the list of exhibits published by The New York Times and on CNN showed only the Fordham letter.

Education Week asked the College Board to confirm that it received a similar letter, and to supply the letter, but the organization declined to comment.

Fordham told Inside Higher Ed that “someone on the Trump campaign” called to warn about penalties if the university released Trump’s records, and followed up with a letter restating the call. Fordham said that it informed the Trump representative that “we obey federal law and don’t release student records to anyone but the student/graduate or anyone that the student designates, in writing.”

Cohen used the Fordham letter to paint a portrait of a hypocritical Trump. He pointed to a 2011 interview with the Associated Press when Trump was considering running for president, in which he questioned Barack Obama’s college record and suggested he release details for public scrutiny.

“I heard he was a terrible student, terrible. How does a bad student go to Columbia and then to Harvard?” Trump said in the interview. “I’m thinking about it, I’m certainly looking into it. Let him show his records.”

The Fordham letter and the 2011 Trump interview were submitted as exhibits 6 and 7 to Cohen’s testimony. They can be found widely online, along with the testimony itself.

Photo: Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, is sworn in to testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 27, 2019. —J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.