Mueller’s Probe of Cohen Dates to Mid-2017, New Documents Show

March 19, 2019, 2:34 PM UTC

Special Counsel Robert Mueller began looking into President Donald Trump’s one-time personal attorney Michael Cohen soon after beginning his investigation and prosecutors already had gathered considerable information about alleged campaign finance violations by the time FBI agents raided Cohen properties, newly unsealed documents show.

The affidavits used to justify the search warrants to seize Cohen’s emails, phones and other evidence during the April 2018 raids were released Tuesday by a court in New York. Many portions of the exhibits are still heavily redacted, signaling areas that may still be under investigation by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York and elsewhere.

Key Takeaways:

* Mueller began looking into Cohen two months after his appointment. The FBI got a search warrant for Cohen’s gmail account on July 18, 2017 for emails sent and received since Jan. 1, 2016. Prosecutors later got permission to look further back, to emails from mid-2015.

* Investigators appeared to have gathered considerable information related to campaign finances, details of which are still being withheld from the public. Several of the affidavits include a section called “The Illegal Campaign Contribution Scheme,” in each case followed by more than 18 pages blocked out in gray. Cohen has since said that Trump directed payoffs, in violation of campaign-finance laws, to women who claimed to have had affairs with him. The judge in Cohen’s case said he’d allow redactions related to ongoing probes.

* Cohen lied frequently about how much money was coming in: in addition to hiding about $5 million to get better loan terms, he hid income from his firm, Essential Consultants, and interest income of about $60,000 a month on a $6 million loan he made to a person whose name has been redacted, according to the investigators.

* Cohen lied to and omitted material information as part of transactions designed to cover about $22 million he owed on taxi medallion loans from the banks, the government said. Prosecutors said the investigation revealed that Cohen lied about his income from consulting work in 2017 and significantly understated his assets.

* Cohen used the value of his taxi medallions as collateral for some $20 million in loans. As the value of medallions began to decline in 2015, Cohen renegotiated the repayment schedule, but by October 2016, he had trouble making his monthly payments. Cohen informed the banks that he had found a buyer for the medallions, which would bring him enough cash to pay the $21.4 million balance on his loans. The proposed sale never closed. Throughout 2017, Cohen’s position with the banks deteriorated, along with the value of the medallions. Sterling, one of the banks that worked with him, transferred the loan to its default unit.

* The filings also allege Cohen made a side deal for that buyer, whose name is blacked out, to pay an above market price for the medallions. That would help Cohen convince the banks that the medallion sale would allow him to repay his $20 million loan in full. In exchange Cohen agreed to pay the prospective buyer $3.8 million to make him whole. In January 2018, Cohen denied to a representative of Sterling that he had entered into any such deal, according to the documents.