Criminal investigation into Trump lawyer began months ago
Fri., April 13, 2018
NEW YORKâ"U.S. President Donald Trumpâs personal attorney, Michael D. Cohen, has been under criminal investigation for months by federal prosecutors who empanelled a grand jury to probe his business dealings beyond his law practice, according to a new court filing.
Prosecutors revealed th e new details about the Cohen probe after his lawyer appeared in court Friday seeking to temporarily halt prosecutors from reviewing documents that FBI agents seized in a search this week of Cohenâs office, home and hotel room.
The 22-page filing states that the recent searches are the result of a âmonths-long investigation into Cohen, and seek evidence of crimes, many of which have nothing to do with his work as an attorney, but rather relate to Cohenâs own business dealings.â
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The governmentâs motion also reveals prosecutors searched a safety deposit box used by Cohen â" carrying out the searches in part because they feared evidence might be de stroyed if they had simply served him with a subpoena. Officials redacted a section in the document explaining why they thought they could not trust Cohen to turn over records willingly.
The filing, signed by acting U.S. Attorney Robert Khuzami, also says that while the current investigation was referred by special counsel Robert Mueller, the New York investigation âhas proceeded independentâ of Muellerâs work.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether any crimes were committed as part of an effort by Cohen to squelch damaging stories about Trump when he was a presidential candidate, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Mueller has evidence that Cohen secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
Confirmation of the trip would lend credence to a retired British spyâs report that Cohen strategized there with a powerful Kremlin figure abou t Russian meddling in the U.S. election.
It would also be one of the most significant developments thus far in Muellerâs investigation of whether the Trump campaign and the Kremlin worked together to help Trump win the presidency.
Among the material sought by investigators in the search were records related to payments made to adult-film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, two women who allegedly had sexual liaisons with Trump years ago.
Prosecutors also say that the presidentâs own statement that he did not know Cohen paid Clifford may negate any claim of attorney-client privilege on that matter. Authorities also revealed that they have already searched a number of email accounts used by Cohen.
âThe results of that review ... indicate that Cohen is in fact performing little to no legal work, and that zero emails were exchanged with President Trump,â the filing states.
Cohen was linked on Friday to another hush payment t o cover up an affair.
Elliott Broidy, a top Republican donor, said he had a relationship with a Playboy Playmate, who wasnât named, and that Cohen had approached him after having talked to the womanâs lawyer, Keith Davidson. Davidson had also represented Daniels and McDougal.
Broidy agreed in late 2017 to pay $1.6 million to the woman, according to a person familiar with the matter. The woman had become pregnant, and ended the pregnancy, Broidy said.
Broidy has stepped down as a deputy fundraising chair for the Republican National Committee, a position that is also held by Cohen.
AltTrump is retaining Michael Cohen as his personal attorney despite a federal criminal investigation of the lawyerâs business dealings, a White House spokesman said.
âMichael Cohenâs legal problems and issues are his own,â White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah said on CNN Friday. Asked if Cohen remains Trumpâs lawyer, Shah said: âLast Iâve hea rd, he continues to be.â
Trump found himself increasingly isolated in mounting a response. He continued to struggle to hire a new criminal lawyer, and some of his own aides were reluctant to advise him about a response for fear of being dragged into a criminal investigation themselves.
Trump called Cohen on Friday to âcheck in,â according to two people briefed on the call. Depending on what else was discussed, the call could be problematic, as lawyers typically advise their clients against discussing investigations.
Cohen has publicly declared that he would defend the president to the end, but court documents show that prosecutors are building a significant case that could put pressure on him to cooperate and tell investigators what he knows.
The documents seized by prosecutors could shed light on the presidentâs relationship with a lawyer who has helped navigate some of Trumpâs thorniest personal and business dilemmas. Cohen served for more than a decade as a trusted fixer and, during the campaign, helped tamp down brewing scandals about women who claimed to have carried on affairs with Trump.
Cohen wants his lawyers to be able to review the files and withhold privileged material before prosecutors can see them. As an alternative, he asked that an independent lawyer be allowed to review the files first. A judge scheduled a follow-up hearing for Monday and ordered Cohen to attend. The judge, Kimba Wood, was upset that he was not in court Friday.
Cohen is being investigated for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and violations of campaign laws, according to people familiar with the matter.
In their search Monday, investigators also sought to obtain records relating to Cohenâs ownership of taxi medallions â" high-value assets that are often used as collateral for loans, according to people familiar with the matter.
With files from Tribune News Service, Bloomberg and the New York TimesRead more about: Delivered dailyThe Morning Headlines NewsletterSubscribe