Federal prosecutors began investigating Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's longtime personal lawyer, much earlier than previously reported -- and used a law the president signed weeks earlier to gain access to Cohen's emails, according to newly released court documents.
The documents show that Cohen, who has been sentenced to three years in prison on multiple charges of fraud, campaign finance violation and perjury, was under investigation by the FBI as early as July 2017, nine months before agents raided his home and office last April.
The documents show that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team obtained four search warrants for Cohen’s emails and iCloud account before referring much of the investigation to the U.S. attorney's office in the Southern District of New York in February of 2018.
That month, SDNY prosecutors obtained a search warrant for Cohen’s Gmail account. Google, however, “declined to produce data that it stored on computer servers located outside of the United States,” according to a court affidavit submitted by the FBI.
Weeks after that effort was rebuffed, Trump signed the CLOUD Act as part of a $1.3 trillion spending bill aimed at averting a government shutdown. The law gave law enforcement agencies more access to data stored overseas.
After the law was signed, prosecutors sought another search warrant in April for the data that Google had refused to hand over, arguing that “providers are required to disclose data even if it is stored abroad” under the new law.
A judge approved the warrant, giving investigators access to Cohen’s emails, contacts and cloud-stored files. His office and home were raided later that month.
Court documents also show that Cohen was under investigation for acting as an unregistered foreign agent after he admitted to receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from foreign companies to lobby the Trump administration on their behalf. Cohen has not been charged with that crime, even though prosecutors discovered he had been paid more than $580,000 by a company linked to sanctioned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, an ally of President Vladimir Putin.
While many of Cohen’s crimes were related to his private business interests, information about the campaign finance violations to which he pleaded guilty were redacted in the newly released court documents. Cohen has admitted that he illegally paid hush money during the campaign to women who alleged they'd had affairs with Trump, and has testified that he did so on Trump's behalf.
The documents include nearly 20 pages in which prosecutors detailed their evidence in seeking access to Cohen’s phone and email records. Nearly all those pages have been redacted.
The SDNY wrote to a judge that the FBI agents "are investigating a criminal violation of the campaign finance laws by Michael Cohen, a lawyer who holds himself out as the personal attorney for President Donald J Trump. As detailed, there is probable cause to believe that REDACTED.”
National security attorney Bradley Moss wrote on Twitter that Trump should be “utterly terrified” that there are so many redacted pages “that exclusively concern ‘the illegal campaign contribution scheme.’”
“The threat of additional indictments hitting the president’s inner family or business circle from the Southern District of New York, rather than Mueller’s team, is real, and it is significant,” Moss later told Newsweek.