According to redacted documents, Special Counsel Robert Mueller initiated his probe of Michael Cohen, who served as Trump’s attorney, for fraud in his personal business dealings and for potentially acting as an unregistered foreign agent at least nine months before FBI agents in New York raided his home and office, according to documents released Tuesday, as was reported by the Associated Press.
Cohen eventually pled guilty to both tax and bank fraud, offering false statement to Congress while under oath and campaign finance violations. The voluminous amount of redacted search warrant applications and other documents revealed new details about the precise timing and magnitude of the investigation into Cohen’s business dealings, according to the AP report.
According to the unsealed documents the investigation into Cohen had been initiated on or around July of 2017. A significant part of its focus was Cohen’s taxi businesses as well as misrepresentations he made to banks as part of a nefarious plot to absolve himself of around $22 million in debt he owed on loans for taxi medallions.
AP also reported that government attorneys were also seeking information about money that was being funneled into Cohen’s bank accounts from consulting contracts he’d signed after the 45th president had prevailed in the 2016 election. The AP reported that some of those payments were from companies with strong foreign ties, including a Korean aerospace company and Columbus Nova, an investment management firm affiliated with Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg. Cohen was ultimately not charged with failure to register as a foreign agent.
According to a CNN report, the Cohen materials outline how in October 2016 Essential Consultants was established, and then how in January 2017, money began to flow in monthly from Columbus Nova LLC. The monthly installments were for $83,333 and totaled $583,332 from January, 2017 to August 2017.
The report went on to say that the government, in its documents, states that LLC is “an investment management firm controlled by Renova Group, an industrial holding company based in Zurich, Switzerland that is controlled by Russian national Viktor Vekselberg.”
Viktor Vekselberg is an oligarch with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was sanctioned in early 2018 for activities including election interference. The sanctions prohibit Vekselberg from traveling to the US.
CNN reported that Michael Cohen withdrew money from his shell company Essential Consultants account for “largely personal purposes” — including fees from “the Core Club,” which is a private social club on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
The report also indicated that Mueller’s justification for those warrants were “several different courses of conduct by Cohen, including, among other things, false statements to financial institutions relating to the purpose of an account he opened in the name of Essential Consultants LLC and the nature of funds flowing into that account, and activities undertaken by Cohen on behalf of certain foreign persons or foreign entities without having registered as a foreign agent,” according to an FBI investigator who wrote to a judge, piggybacking on Mueller’s pursuit.
Among the sections that of the documents that were redacted concerned campaign finance violations that emerged from the hush money that Cohen had forked over to two women (porn actress, Stormy Daniels and Playboy model, Karen McDougal) in an effort to buy their silence about alleged affairs they had with Trump. A judge ordered those sections to remain under wraps after prosecutors said they were still investigating campaign finance violations.
Lanny Davis, former special counsel to Bill Clinton and an attorney representing Cohen, said the release of the search warrant “furthers his interest in continuing to cooperate and providing information and the truth about Donald Trump and the Trump organization to law enforcement and Congress,” as was reported by AP.
The FBI raided Cohen’s Manhattan home and office last April, according to the AP report, marking the first public sign of a criminal investigation that has threatened Trump’s presidency and netted Cohen a three-year prison sentence he’s 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.
Both Cohen and Trump cried foul over the raids, with Cohen’s attorney at the time calling them “completely inappropriate and unnecessary” and the president taking to Twitter to declare that “Attorney-client privilege is dead!”
A court-ordered review ultimately found only a fraction of the seized material to be privileged.
The AP also reported that the release on Tuesday of the search warrant came nearly six weeks after U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III partially granted a request by several media organizations, including The Associated Press, that the search warrant be made public due to the high public interest in the case.
David E. McCraw, vice president and deputy general counsel for The New York Times, said he was hopeful Pauley would approve the release of additional materials in May after the government updates the judge on its investigation.
“The documents are important because they allow the public to see first-hand why the investigation was initiated and how it was conducted,” McCraw said in an email, according to the AP.
The judge acknowledged prosecutors’ concerns that a wholesale release of the document “would jeopardize an ongoing investigation and prejudice the privacy rights of uncharged third parties,” a ruling that revealed prosecutors are still investigating the campaign-finance violations.
On February 27, Cohen delivered blockbuster testimony before a congressional panel about his business dealings with Trump throughout the years he had been employed by the former businessman as well as during the 2016 presidential campaign and in the first months of his presidency two years ago.
His testimony occurred about two months before he is set to begin a three-year prison term for financial crimes, campaign finance violations and lying to Congress.
At the time of Cohen’s testimony Trump was in Vietnam for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un. Yet and still, Trump launched a verbal barrage on Cohen for his damning testimony on Twitter, saying he “was just disbarred by the State Supreme Court for lying & fraud. He did bad things unrelated to Trump. He is lying in order to reduce his prison time.”
Here are some of Cohen’s comments from his prepared statement at the opening of the hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform as was provided by VOA News.
“Never in a million years did I imagine, when I accepted a job in 2007 to work for Donald Trump, that he would one day run for president, launch a campaign on a platform of hate and intolerance, and actually win. I regret the day I said ‘yes’ to Mr. Trump. I regret all the help and support I gave him along the way.”
“I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump’s illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience. I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat.”
Cohen said he was providing the congressional panel with several pieces of evidence to support his account. Cohen described one of them as “a copy of a ($35,000) check Mr. Trump wrote from his personal bank account after he became president–to reimburse me for the hush money payments I made to cover up his affair with an adult film star and prevent damage to his campaign.”
He also submitted “a copy of an article with Mr. Trump’s handwriting on it that reported on the auction of a portrait of himself he arranged for the bidder ahead of time and then reimbursed the bidder from the account of his non-profit charitable foundation, with the picture now hanging in one of his country clubs.”
Cohen admitted lying to Congress in previous testimony, saying, “I lied to Congress about when Mr. Trump stopped negotiating the Moscow Tower project in Russia. I stated that we stopped negotiating in January 2016. That was false our negotiations continued for months later during the campaign.”
“In conversations we had during the campaign, at the same time I was actively negotiating in Russia for him, he would look me in the eye and tell me there’s no business in Russia and then go out and lie to the American people by saying the same thing. In his way, he was telling me to lie.”
“To be clear: Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it. He lied about it because he never expected to win the election. He also lied about it because he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars on the Moscow real estate project.”
“Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great, not to make our country great. He had no desire or intention to lead this nation only to market himself and to build his wealth and power. Mr. Trump would often say, this campaign was going to be the ‘greatest infomercial in political history.’ He never expected to win the primary. He never expected to win the general election. The campaign for him was always a marketing opportunity.”
“A lot of people have asked me about whether Mr. Trump knew about the release of the hacked Democratic National Committee emails ahead of time. The answer is yes. Mr. Trump knew from (political adviser) Roger Stone in advance about the WikiLeaks drop of emails. In July 2016, days before the Democratic convention, I was in Mr. Trump’s office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone. Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone. Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with (WikiLeaks founder) Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect of “wouldn’t that be great.'”
“Mr. Trump is a racist. The country has seen Mr. Trump court white supremacists and bigots. You have heard him call poorer countries ‘shitholes.’ In private, he is even worse. He once asked me if I could name a country run by a black person that wasn’t a ‘shithole.’ This was when Barack Obama was president of the United States. While we were once driving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago, he commented that only black people could live that way. And, he told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.”
“Mr. Trump is a cheat. It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed among the wealthiest people in Forbes and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.”
“Mr. Trump is a conman. He asked me to pay off an adult film star with whom he had an affair, and to lie to his wife (first lady Melania Trump) about it, which I did. Lying to the first lady is one of my biggest regrets. She is a kind, good person. I respect her greatly and she did not deserve that.”
Trump claimed a bone spur in his foot to avoid serving during the Vietnam War in the 1960s, but Cohen said, “When I asked for medical records, he gave me none and said there was no surgery. He told me not to answer the specific questions by reporters but rather offer simply the fact that he received a medical deferment. He finished the conversation with the following comment. ‘You think I’m stupid, I wasn’t going to Vietnam.”
“I find it ironic, President Trump, that you are in Vietnam right now, “ said Cohen at the time.
(VOA, AP & CNN)
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