Administration

Unsealed Mueller docs reveal new details of Cohen probe

Newly unsealed documents show the depth of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into former Trump attorney Michael Cohen in 2017 for potentially acting as an unregistered foreign agent, making false statements to financial institutions and bank fraud.

A federal judge in D.C. on Wednesday unsealed five redacted search warrant applications filed by Mueller in his investigation of Cohen. The documents date back to July 2017 and request access to several of Cohen's accounts, including his Gmail, Trump Organization email and Apple account.

The warrants were referenced in documents released by the Southern District of New York earlier this year, the first indication that Mueller began investigating Cohen shortly after he was tapped as special counsel and a year before the FBI raids on Cohen's properties.

Cohen is currently serving a three-year prison sentence, after pleading guilty to several federal charges, including bank fraud, campaign finance violations and lying to Congress about plans to build a Trump property in Moscow.

On Tuesday, Judge Beryl Howell, the chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, ordered that the documents be unsealed after the government said they had no opposition to their release. She did allow for certain redactions to be made to the search warrant applications.

The documents show that as early as November 2017, Mueller knew that Cohen was receiving payments from President Trump. One filing states that bank records "show that since February 2017, Cohen has received over $280,000 through checks from President Trump."

Included was a chart showing the exact dates and amounts of each of the payments, beginning on Feb. 14, 2017.

Cohen pleaded guilty last year to violating campaign finance laws with hush-money payments made ahead of the 2016 election to women alleging affairs with Trump. That campaign finance investigation appears to be ongoing.

Several pages of the documents relating to Essential Consultants LLC, which Cohen used to make the payments, were redacted, suggesting that the information relates to an ongoing probe.

Previous filings unsealed in the Southern District of New York revealed that FBI agents sought and obtained warrants to search Cohen's electronic communications as far back as July 2017 in connection with Mueller's investigation.

The newly unsealed filings offer more insight into the depth of the information Mueller had in the early months of his investigation into Russian interference. Mueller was appointed special counsel in May 2017.

The records offer more insight into the FBI's investigation of Cohen for possibly violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act, a detail previously known from files unsealed in his case back in March.

According to a newly-revealed affidavit dated November 2017, FBI agents had telephone records showing that, for a yearlong period beginning the day of the presidential election, Cohen exchanged more than 1,000 phone contacts with the CEO of Columbus Nova LLC, a Zurich-based firm that is linked to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

Previous filings have revealed that Cohen received over $80,000 in monthly payments and a total of $583,332.98 from Columbus Nova LLC in his consulting work.

The new documents also reveal that, as far back as August 2017, Mueller's team was investigating whether the money Cohen received from Columbus Nova was connected to his involvement in the distribution of a plan to lift sanctions on Russia.

A search warrant executed on Aug. 27, 2017, cites a February 2017 New York Times report that Cohen was involved in distributing such a plan to then-national security adviser Michael Flynn as part of a deal to end Russia's involvement in Ukraine.

"The United States continues to investigate if any of the payments or financial relationships described above, or other relationships described further below, were connected to COHEN's involvement in the distribution of a plan to lift Russian sanctions," the affidavit states.

The warrant indicates that FBI agents had dug up phone records showing that Cohen had contacts with Flynn and Russian-American businessman Felix Sater, who was also involved in the proposal, as part of that investigation.

The documents also show that the FBI had requested on July 14, 2017 that Microsoft maintain "all content for all email accounts associated with the domain 'trumporg.com,' " including Cohen's account. That ask was made roughly two months after Mueller's appointment as special counsel.

Court documents previously released in federal court for New York indicated that investigators had attempted to access Cohen's Trump Organization email, but had been unsuccessful. It's unclear if they were ever able to gain access to the account.

The November 2017 affidavit also references Cohen's contacts with representatives for AT&T and other U.S. and foreign corporations "who appear to have approached COHEN in connection with political objectives in the Trump administration."  

The documents also show the extent of Mueller's concerns surrounding potentially illicit attempts to achieve Trump's campaign promises.

The special counsel references then-candidate Trump's statements opposing the AT&T-Time Warner merger, as well as his interest in lowering pharmaceutical prices, before delving into Cohen's contacts with AT&T and pharmaceutical giant Novartis.

The investigators eyed Cohen over consulting contracts that he signed with several companies, in which he pitched himself as a way of understanding Trump's line of thinking.

In one email to an AT&T executive, Cohen included a profile touting his personal relationship with Trump titled, "Michael Cohen Would Take a Bullet For Donald Trump," according to the documents.

And AT&T apparently appeared to believe that Cohen would be helpful to the company.

"Just had Cohen call. Oh my. All good," one consultant texted an AT&T executive after speaking with Cohen in February 2017 about his potential work with the company. "Eager to tell you about it."

Cohen ultimately was not charged as acting as an unregistered foreign agent.

Mueller concluded his probe into Russia's election interference last month, and a redacted version of his final report was made public earlier this month. Several investigations have been referred from Mueller's office to other divisions of the Justice Department.

Transcripts of Cohen's closed-door interviews earlier this year with the House Intelligence Committee were also made public this week.

 

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