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Trump Attorney Cohen Is Subject Of Months-Long Federal Criminal Investigation

President Trump's longtime attorney Michael Cohen is the subject of an ongoing federal criminal investigation, prosecutors disclosed in court documents on Friday.
Mary Altaffer

President Trump's longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen was the subject of a months-long criminal investigation before the FBI raided his home and office this week, according to court documents.

Federal prosecutors made that disclosure on Friday in responding to a request by Cohen for a judge to restrict the government's ability to review the evidence the FBI collected in those raids.

Judge Kimba Wood shouldn't agree, contended the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York.

A Justice Department "filter team" should go ahead, prosecutors argue, in reviewing the evidence and determining which is protected under attorney-client privilege and which could be material in a potential future criminal case.

Prosecutors have been working with a grand jury to investigate Cohen for months, they write, and they have obtained secret warrants on his "multiple different email accounts."

Although the U.S. Attorney's Office conceded on Friday that it has not yet filed charges, prosecutors wrote they are "constrained from disclosing certain facts that would provide the court with a more complete factual background."

Even so, prosecutors said they have provided Cohen and his lawyers with documents that describe the federal criminal statutes under which Cohen is being investigated.

The court documents on Friday say that investigators have been focused on Cohen's "personal business dealings," not his work as an attorney on behalf of Trump. Only attorney-client materials are shielded by the privilege — and then there are exceptions involving crime or fraud — and prosecutors say they have not recovered any communications between Cohen and Trump.

"Although Cohen is an attorney, he also has several other business interests and sources of income," prosecutors wrote. "The searches are the result of a months-long investigation into Cohen and seek evidence of crimes, many of which have nothing to do with his work as an attorney, but rather relate to Cohen's own business dealings."

Accordingly, they argue, most of the material seized by the FBI does not involve attorney-client privilege and could figure in a future court case.

Trump complained this week after the Cohen raid that the FBI's actions meant attorney-client privilege was " dead" and that he was the victim of a " TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!"

Cohen's attorney said this week that the New York investigators and attorneys who have been working on the case were referred by Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller, who is based in Washington, D.C.

It isn't clear yet, however, whether the business dealings described in court documents on Friday might have any connection to Mueller's investigation into whether any Americans conspired with Russia's attack on the 2016 presidential election.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Philip Ewing is an election security editor with NPR's Washington Desk. He helps oversee coverage of election security, voting, disinformation, active measures and other issues. Ewing joined the Washington Desk from his previous role as NPR's national security editor, in which he helped direct coverage of the military, intelligence community, counterterrorism, veterans and more. He came to NPR in 2015 from Politico, where he was a Pentagon correspondent and defense editor. Previously, he served as managing editor of Military.com, and before that he covered the U.S. Navy for the Military Times newspapers.
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