Federal court unseals Michael Cohen search warrants, further detailing his Russian ties

Posted at 9:06 AM, May 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-22 11:17:15-04

A federal court in Washington, DC, has unsealed five search warrants that special counsel Robert Mueller obtained while investigating Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer and fixer.

The newly unsealed documents show how Mueller had a judge's permission to follow the money from Russian sources to Trump's personal lawyer, and had reason to look into Cohen's extensive contacts with Russian government-linked individuals, some of which began on the day Trump won the presidency.

The documents are from 2017, before Mueller referred the Cohen investigation to federal prosecutors in Manhattan, and generally show how Mueller was allowed to dive into Cohen's email accounts, including his Trump Organization email address.

In a search warrant application from July 2017, prosecutors outlined how Cohen started communicating with a Russian-connected company on Election Day. Over the next year, there were more than 1,000 calls and text messages between Cohen and the CEO of that company, Columbus Nova.

In the filing, Mueller's team made it clear that Cohen began contacting the company immediately after the election: "Telephone records show no such text messages or telephone calls between COHEN's cellular telephone and the CEO of Columbus Nova prior to November 8, 2016."

Columbus Nova is an American company linked to Viktor Vekselberg, a prominent Russian oligarch. In the documents, prosecutors noted his "various connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin."

Despite being investigated for acting as a foreign agent, Cohen was never charged with that crime. He pleaded guilty to other crimes, including tax evasion, campaign finance violation, and lying to Congress and reported to prison earlier this month.

The search warrants show that Mueller moved on Cohen very quickly after taking over the investigation in May 2017 and investigators were armed with significant financial information from his bank. Mueller's team also followed reporting in the press about Cohen's interactions.

Mueller intensified his investigation into Cohen after reviewing records provided by his bank that raised concerns. Cohen had previously told the bank that he opened a new account to store consulting income he received from wealthy Americans. Instead, the account started filling up with money from "numerous deposits from foreign businesses and entities," Mueller's team wrote in a July 2017 filing.

Cohen's ties to many of these foreign companies is already well-documented. But the search warrants provide some new details about his transactions, including a contract he negotiated with a Kazakhstan-based bank to pay him a $150,000 monthly consulting fee. Cohen's links to the bank spilled into public view earlier this year during his dramatic daylong public hearing on Capitol Hill.

Cohen took money from companies during the early stages of the Trump administration. He also used the account, which was for Essential Consultants LLC, to facilitate hush money payments to women who accused Trump of affairs before he was a candidate for president. Trump denies those allegations.

The basic reasoning for Mueller's searches of Cohen was previously referenced in related warrants unsealed in New York federal court, which prosecutors used after they received the Cohen case from Mueller. In both sets of court documents, chunks of the documents are still redacted, especially the sections about the hush-money scheme to pay off the two women who have accused Trump of affairs. An investigation related to the contributions appears to still be ongoing, and the details will remain under seal and will remain so for at least another two months, according to judges' orders in both courts.

The continued confidentiality suggests that federal prosecutors continue to investigate the Trump Organization.