While the case against former Donald Trump lawyer Michael Cohen is over, the search warrants and other documents unsealed Tuesday contain a series of bread crumbs telling us what may lie ahead in investigations by special counsel Robert Mueller and others.
First, more than 800 pages that were unsealed and a number of them were redacted. The bulk of the redactions appear in a section called "The Illegal Campaign Contribution Scheme.” Among the crimes to which Cohen pleaded guilty was a scheme involving payments to suppress allegations of Trump’s relationships with women to prevent the stories from influencing the 2016 presidential election. Cohen pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws by causing a corporate contribution and making an excess contribution.
The redactions in the Cohen documents were reviewed and approved by the court. Redactions are permitted to protect private information, such as bank account numbers and other personal identification information. Redactions also may be permitted temporarily to avoid alerting a defendant that he has been charged with a crime before he can be arrested, or to prevent jeopardizing a pending investigation by tipping off the suspects.
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Who might that be?
Now that Cohen has been convicted and sentenced, there is no logical reason to keep information about the campaign contribution scheme sealed from him. So it is fair to infer that the remaining redacted material relates to the investigation of other people who may be involved and have yet to be charged. Some of the other participants described in the charging document are unlikely to be the subject of continued redactions because of the status of the investigation regarding them. American Media, Inc., the parent company for the National Enquirer, for example, has entered into a non-prosecution agreement in exchange for its cooperation. David Pecker, AMI’s CEO, has reportedly received immunity for his cooperation.
More charges in campaign finance scheme?
That leaves “Individual 1,” described in the charging document as "the president of the United States," and, perhaps, Donald Trump Jr., who signed a check that Cohen says was reimbursement for the hush money payments, or anyone else whose involvement has not yet been disclosed. While we may not know who remains under investigation, these redactions mean that least some portions of the campaign finance scheme are still under scrutiny, and that more charges may be filed.
A second clue to emerge from the documents is that U.S. District Judge William Pauley III in New York asked last week for an update in about 60 days, on May 15, about whether the redacted material must stay redacted or can be publicly disclosed. Does that deadline suggest the parties and the court expect the investigation will be complete by then?
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team recently asked a court in Washington, D.C., for a similar 60-day delay until May 14 for filing an update in the case against Trump's former deputy campaign chair, Richard Gates. Mueller cited Gates’s cooperation in “several ongoing investigations” as a basis to delay his sentencing, following his guilty plea to conspiracy and lying to the FBI. Does this 60-day duration in now two cases signal the end of Mueller’s investigation?
A third interesting detail appears in one of the warrants, in which prosecutors request cell site location data from Cohen’s phone from Oct. 1 to Nov. 8, 2016, Election Day. Location data can help investigators by revealing the location of not just the phone but also the person using the phone. It is not clear why the government was interested in identifying Cohen’s location during that time period, but the data could be used to corroborate Cohen’s testimony about occasions on which he was present in Trump Tower for meetings, for example, or at the offices of AMI.
Cell corroboration for Cohen testimony
The requested time period matches up with the time during which Cohen says he was negotiating the non-disclosure payments. Corroboration of Cohen’s testimony with independent records, such as cell site location information, would be useful if he were to be used as a witness against other individuals who are to be charged.
The warrant documents also show how closely intertwined this case is with Mueller’s work. Although Cohen was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the investigation originated with the special counsel. The newly released documents show that Mueller’s team obtained search warrants for Cohen’s email accounts as early as July 2017. The case was transferred to SDNY sometime before February 2018, when that office obtained additional warrants for email accounts. Even after Cohen pleaded guilty to charges in the Southern District of New York, Cohen pleaded guilty to an additional charge brought by Mueller for lying to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
Any information that Cohen provides about why he lied and who else was involved in the negotiations can be shared with both offices. While Cohen declined to answer certain questions about matters under investigation when he testified before Congress, these documents suggest that there is more to his story.
Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, is a professor at the University of Michigan Law School. Follow her on Twitter: @barbmcquade
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: The bread crumb papers: Why Cohen document dump should worry Donald Trump and others