Donald Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen has been under criminal probe for months, US says

Attorney Michael Cohen, US President Donald Trump's long-time personal attorney, in New York, US on April 12, 2018.
Attorney Michael Cohen, US President Donald Trump's long-time personal attorney, in New York, US on April 12, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG)  – A months-long investigation into President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen’s business dealings led to this week’s searches of Cohen’s residence, hotel room, office, safety deposit box and two cell phones, US prosecutors told a judge in a court filing.

Cohen claims the seizures will undermine attorney-client privilege. His lawyers asked a US judge on Friday (April 13) to let them review the information before FBI investigators go through it so they can highlight what’s covered by privilege.

Prosecutors countered saying Cohen’s request is just a delaying tactic.

There’s an ongoing grand jury probe being conducted by the FBI and federal prosecutors in Manhattan. It is independent of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the US elections, the prosecutors said.

Investigators are seeking 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,” prosecutors said. 

Investigators have reason to believe “that Cohen has exceedingly few clients and a low volume of potentially privileged communications,” they said.

The US attorney’s office in Manhattan had obtained earlier search warrants on multiple different email accounts maintained by Cohen, and reviewed them for privileged material, the prosecutors said.

“Zero emails were exchanged with President Trump,” they wrote. 


The prosecutors explained that they had to obtain the evidence through a search, “given that the crimes being investigated involve acts of concealment by Cohen,” it wouldn’t have worked to issue a subpoena.

Cohen has wide-ranging business interests, including in New York city taxi companies. The attorney has been known for decades as Trump’s “fixer.” He arranged a US$130,000 (S$170,000)  payment to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, to keep her quiet about an alleged sexual tryst she had with Trump in 2006.

When asked on Friday whether Cohen was still Trump’s personal attorney, press secretary Sarah Sanders said she wasn’t sure.

Evidence gathered in the probe so far shows that the “overwhelming majority” of material seized during the raid won’t be privileged, prosecutors said in their memo. The government said it’s not even apparent that Cohen has any attorney-client relationships with anyone other than Trump – and that there is “reason to doubt” that his communications with the president regarding Daniels are protected.

“Among other things, President Trump has publicly denied knowing that Cohen paid Clifford, and suggested to reporters that they had to “ask Michael” about the payment,” the prosecutors wrote.

The government was responding to a request for a temporary restraining order blocking prosecutors from reviewing materials seized during the raid until Cohen’s lawyers can determine if any information is covered by attorney-client privilege.

While it’s not clear exactly what was seized, the materials likely include documents concerning negotiations to pay Daniels, an adult-film actress who says she had an affair with Trump, her attorney said.

Cohen also helped a top Republican donor negotiate a payment to a former Playboy Playmate. The fundraiser, Elliott Broidy, agreed in late 2017 to pay US$1.6 million (S$2 million) to the woman, who said she had been impregnated by him, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Broidy, in a statement Friday, said that he retained Cohen in the matter after the lawyer approached him about it. The agreement was first reported to the Wall Street Journal.