National Security

Unsealed documents shed new light on depth of the Cohen probe

A trove of newly released documents from the federal raids on Michael Cohen’s home and office are offering new insight on how investigators built their case against President Trump’s former “fixer.”

The nearly 900 pages of redacted documents show that investigators examined nearly all aspects of Cohen’s life, first as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe and then as federal prosecutors in New York took hold of the case.

They also reveal allegations the FBI looked into but did not charge Cohen with having committed, including concerns that President Trump’s former lawyer could be acting as an unregistered foreign lobbyist.

{mosads}Former prosecutors with the Manhattan attorney’s office told The Hill that the documents outline a typical investigation for the office.

Linda Severin, a former federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), said the strategy of investigating every avenue possible is “standard operating procedure” for the office.

She said it would be particularly important for investigators to make sure they had more than enough evidence to search Cohen’s premises given the fact that he was the president’s personal attorney.

“We never want to get it wrong,” Severin added.

Sources familiar with the work of the SDNY also said it was notable that prosecutors had a significant amount of evidence of criminal activity by Cohen before the raids, which could mean they were hoping to dig up dirt on others by searching his premises.

Mimi Rocah, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the SDNY, said investigators have to reach a high bar in order to obtain a search warrant, proving to a judge that they have probable cause to believe that someone engaged in criminal activity.

Among the revelations from Tuesday’s document dump is that investigators first obtained a search warrant for Cohen’s digital and electronic communications in July 2017, nearly a year before the federal raids. That warrant was granted by a judge in D.C. as part of the Mueller investigation.

“That’s a lot for them to have had that far back,” Rocah said.

She said prosecutors could have had enough evidence to arrest Cohen at the time of the FBI raids but that they may have been seeking evidence about other individuals.

The government is currently conducting an investigation into campaign finance violations tied to Cohen. Significant sections of the documents released Tuesday that would have included evidence on that probe were redacted, keeping details about the investigation away from the public.

Cohen has publicly implicated Trump, his former client, in a plan to make payments to women alleging affairs with the president ahead of the 2016 election. Trump has denied the allegations.

The newly released documents, which include several affidavits outlining the evidence for obtaining search warrants for Cohen, laid out the ways authorities believed Trump’s former “fixer” committed several crimes, including bank and wire fraud.

Cohen, who will report to prison in May to serve a three-year sentence, has pleaded guilty to those crimes as well as to campaign finance violations and making false statements to Congress.

In addition to sharing evidence of the crimes Cohen admitted to committing, the documents also reveal the concerns prosecutors had about potential crimes he was not charged with, including whether he was acting as an unregistered foreign lobbyist.

The initial July 2017 warrant for Cohen’s Gmail account states that investigators suspected him of acting as an unregistered foreign agent and violating the federal law on foreign lobbying, the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Search warrants for Cohen’s digital communications requested any messages and documents he may have exchanged with foreign entities or individuals.

Prosecutors also noted Cohen’s consulting contracts with foreign companies, such as the Swiss pharmaceutical firm Novartis, in the allegations tied to Cohen’s bank fraud charges. Cohen’s work for Columbus Nova LLC, a Zurich-based consulting firm linked to sanctioned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, also was featured in the documents.

Rocah said prosecutors may have determined that Cohen did not violate foreign lobbying laws or that they didn’t have enough evidence to bring forward the charges. She said any charges along those lines may have been negotiated as part of Cohen’s agreement to cooperate with federal authorities.

The former prosecutors also predicted that even after Mueller concludes his probe into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, the SDNY could continue investigating any criminal probes first picked up by the special counsel, much like they did in Cohen’s case.

The federal investigation into Cohen first began under Mueller, but he later referred it to the Manhattan attorney’s office.

Elie Honig, also a former assistant U.S. attorney at the Manhattan attorney’s office, said the special counsel determined that the SDNY was better suited to handle the Cohen investigation. Mueller is tasked with probing potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election.

Referring other cases to the SDNY is an option Mueller could likely take after the door is closed on the main Russia investigation, Honig said.

“I do think we’re going to see much or all of his work fanned out to other components of the Department of Justice, primarily SDNY,” he said. 

Tags Donald Trump Michael Cohen Robert Mueller
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