Politics

Federal prosecutors are still investigating campaign finance issues even after Trump ex-lawyer Michael Cohen's guilty plea

Key Points
  • Federal prosecutors are continuing to investigate issues related to the campaign finance crimes that brought down Michael Cohen, the former personal lawyer and fixer for President Donald Trump, new court documents show.
  • That continued interest by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan presents yet another area of legal peril for Trump, whom Cohen has said directed him to facilitate the secret hush-money payments to two women in 2016.
  • Judge William Pauley, responding to a request from multiple media organizations, said Thursday he would unseal some — but not all — of the documents relating to search warrants executed by the FBI last April on Cohen's residences and office.
President Donald Trumps former attorney Michael Cohen arrives at US Federal Court in New York on December 12, 2018, where he is expected to be sentenced after pleading guilty to a number of charges. 
Corey Sipkin| AFP | Getty Images

Michael Cohen might be headed to prison, but federal prosecutors are continuing to investigate issues related to the campaign finance crimes that brought down the former personal lawyer and fixer for President Donald Trump.

That continued interest by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan presents yet another area of legal peril for Trump. Cohen has said Trump directed him to facilitate secret hush-money payments to two women shortly before the 2016 presidential election, which led to Cohen's prosecution.

The fact that prosecutors have an "ongoing investigation" stemming from those payouts was underscored Thursday in an order by U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley in Manhattan.

Pauley, responding to a request from multiple media organizations, said he would unseal some — but not all — of the documents relating to search warrants executed by the FBI last April on Cohen's home, office and hotel room where he and his family are residing during renovations at their home.

Those documents would explain in detail why prosecutors thought at the time that Cohen — and possibly others — may have committed crimes.

Pauley said the information that will remain hidden from public view when the documents are unsealed includes information about ongoing investigations by prosecutors, "including those relating to or arising from Cohen's campaign violations."

Pauley noted that "wholesale disclosure of the Materials would reveal the scope and direction of the Government's ongoing investigation."

He added that making such information public could lead "uncharged individuals to coordinate or tailor their testimony and interactions" with investigators, and lead to "witness tampering, harassment, or retaliation" if the identities of cooperating witnesses became known.

Pauley gave prosecutors until Feb. 28 to propose redactions in the search warrant documents. After that, Pauley will order the prosecutors to file the redacted documents publicly with the court clerk.

Months after the search warrants were executed, Cohen, 52, pleaded guilty to financial crimes, lying to Congress and the campaign finance violations. He was sentenced to three years in prison and is set to begin that term March 6.

Cohen in August admitted facilitating payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, at the direction of Trump, to keep them quiet about their alleged affairs with Trump. Cohen said the payments were made to prevent the women's stories from affecting the outcome of the presidential election.

Trump has denied having sex with either woman and also has denied directing Cohen to pay them.

But Cohen's legal advisor Lanny Davis has noted that Trump could be at risk for prosecution given Cohen's claims.

In addition to the campaign finance-related issues, prosecutors in the Southern District of New York also are investigating Trump's big-spending inauguration committee for possible crimes.

Earlier this week, prosecutors in that office served officials on that committee with a subpoena ordering them to turn over documents detailing who donated money to the committee, spending and other information. The subpoena also reportedly seeks information about foreign donors to the committee. It is illegal for foreigners to give money to an inaugural committee.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is conducting a separate inquiry into Russian agents interfering in the presidential election, possible collusion by the Trump campaign and possible obstruction of justice by Trump.

The president has denied any wrongdoing by his campaign or himself.