Mueller investigation probed if longstanding Trump fixer Cohen was unregistered foreign agent, search warrants reveal

Chris Riotta

New court filings reveal the extent of investigations Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office conducted against Donald Trump’s longtime fixer and former lawyer Michael Cohen – well before the infamous raid against him took place last year.

The special counsel received warrants nearly a year before the raid to begin reading Cohen’s private email correspondence, according to court documents that were unsealed on Tuesday morning and reviewed by The Independent.

Initially, the special counsel's office had launched a probe into whether Cohen was acting as an unregistered foreign agent, an allegation he has not been charged over.

When federal prosecutors raided Cohen’s properties in April of last year, they seized all sorts of material evidence as part of their investigation into Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russian interference in the general election.

According to exhibit 6 of the partially redacted records, prosecutors seized at least two DVDs and a USB flash drive. It remained unclear what significance any of this evidence has played in the special counsel probes.

However, one of the DVDs in question featured a date prominently displayed on a label reading “Cohen – 2018.03.07.” That date – 7 March, 2018 – was the same day numerous outlets reported on a secret restraining order Cohen had sought against Stormy Daniels, an adult film star who has alleged to have had an extramarital affair with Mr Trump. Another DVD featured a label reading “2-28-18 Cohen SW Returns – Google and 1&1.”

Cohen pleaded guilty over the summer to failing to report more than $4m (£3m) in income to the IRS, making false statements to financial institutions and campaign-finance violations stemming from the hush-money payments he arranged for Ms Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Cohen implicated Mr Trump in his guilty plea, saying the president directed him to make the payments during his 2016 campaign.

The records show the inquiry into Cohen had been going on since July 2017 – far longer than previously known – and that a big part of its focus was Cohen’s taxi businesses and misrepresentations he made to banks as part of a scheme to relieve himself of some $22m (£16.6m) in debt he owed on taxi medallion loans.

Tuesday’s release of the search warrant came nearly six weeks after US District Judge William H Pauley III partially granted a request by several media organisations that the search warrant be made public due to the high public interest in the case.

Many sections of the records dealing with the campaign-finance violations Cohen committed when he paid two women to stay silent about alleged affairs they had with Mr Trump were redacted. A judge ordered those sections to remain secret after prosecutors said they were still investigating campaign finance violations.

The judge acknowledged prosecutors’ concerns that a wholesale release of the document “would jeopardise an ongoing investigation and prejudice the privacy rights of uncharged third parties,” a ruling that revealed prosecutors are still investigating the campaign-finance violations.

The judge 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 authorised 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.

The FBI raided Cohen’s Manhattan home and office last April, marking the first public sign of a criminal investigation that has threatened Mr Trump’s presidency and netted Cohen a three-year prison sentence that he is scheduled to start serving in May. The agents, who also scoured Cohen’s hotel room and safe deposit box, seized more than 4 million electronic and paper files in the searches, more than a dozen mobile devices and iPads, 20 external hard drives, flash drives and laptops.

Additional reporting by AP