Trove of Just-Released Documents Show Feds Eyed Cohen Long Before Raid

March 19, 2019 by Dan McCue
Michael Cohen, U.S. President Donald Trump's former personal attorney, testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, February 27, 2019. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Federal authorities began investigating President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, just months after the president took office, made available to the media by court order on Tuesday.

The release of the trove of redacted documents was a victory for the nine news organizations who filed a legal action to unseal them: ABC, the Associated Press, CBS News, CNN, the New York Daily News, the New York Post, The New York Times, Newsday, and the Wall Street Journal.

All of the documents made public Tuesday relate to the search warrant for FBI raids on Cohen’s home and office in April 2018.

Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, supported their release, saying in a statement it would be in Cohen’s interest in “continuing to cooperate and providing information and the truth about Donald Trump and the Trump organization to law enforcement and Congress.”

Prosecutors had opposed the request, saying disclosure of the documents “would jeopardize an ongoing investigation and prejudice the privacy rights of uncharged third parties.”

But U.S. District Judge William Pauley III, who sentenced Cohen to three years in prison in December for crimes including lying to Congress, said while the prosecutors had valid concerns, there was no reason to keep all the documents secret.

Last month Pauley ordered prosecutors to redact Cohen’s personal information and details in the warrant that refer to ongoing investigations and several third-parties who have cooperated with the inquiry.

But he authorized the release of details in the warrant that relate to Cohen’s tax evasion and false statements to financial institutions charges, along with Cohen’s conduct that did not result in criminal charges.

David McCraw, vice president and deputy general counsel for The New York Times, told the Associated Press that he was hopeful Pauley would approve the release of additional materials in May after the government updates the judge on its investigation.

“The documents are important because they allow the public to see firsthand why the investigation was initiated and how it was conducted,” McCraw told the AP.

Keith Werhan, the Ashton Phelps Chair in Constitutional Law at Tulane Law School in New Orleans, said Judge Pauley’s ruling that the documents should be released “obviously seems to serve the public interest in transparency in a case such as this.

“There are legitimate law-enforcement interests, and perhaps privacy interests in play, but again, in a case such as this, I believe it is the function of courts to support media efforts to gain the release of as much information as possible,” Werhan said.

What Tuesday’s documents show is that Special Counsel Robert Mueller began investigating Cohen at least nine months before the FBI raid, looking into the attorney’s personal business dealings and whether he ever acted as an unregistered foreign agent.

The documents suggest Mueller’s investigators were scrutinizing Cohen’s taxi business, his dealings with lenders and consulting contracts he signed after the 2016 election.

Among those who hired Cohen at the time was an investment firm affiliated with Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg.

In addition to the warrant to search Cohen’s home and office, the FBI was also given permission to search a hotel room used by the attorney and a safe deposit box. All told, investigators seized more than 4 million electronic and paper files, along with more than a dozen mobile devices and iPads, 20 external hard drives, flash drives and laptops.

Although Cohen initially cried foul over the raids, he ultimately pleaded guilty last summer to failing to report more than $4 million in income to the IRS, making false statements to financial institutions and campaign-finance violations stemming from the hush-money payments he arranged for porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

He was not charged with failing to register as a foreign agent.

Cohen is scheduled to report to prison in May. In February, he testified before Congress in open and closed hearings about his dealings with Trump over the past decade, calling his former client a con-man and expressing remorse for the deeds he carried out on Trump’s behalf.

“I have fixed things, but I am no longer your ‘fixer,’ Mr. Trump,” Cohen told the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

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