19 blacked-out pages of Cohen search warrant suggest legal peril for Trump

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President Donald J. Trump listens during a briefing on drug trafficking at the Southern Border in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on Wednesday, March 13, 2019 in Washington, DC.

Newly released documents that were used to get search warrants for former Trump attorney Michael Cohen include a lengthy section related to an "illegal campaign contribution scheme" that is completely redacted.

The obscured section could underscore President Donald Trump's legal peril in investigations by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, according to some legal experts.

The 19-page blacked-out section falls within the hundreds of pages of search warrant materials made public Tuesday by the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of New York.

Read one of the search warrant applications here

The warrants were used for executing FBI raids on Cohen's home and office in April. Cohen later pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance law through his involvement in hush-money payments made to two women ahead of the 2016 presidential election, both of whom claim they had affairs with Trump years earlier.

Cohen connected Trump directly to these payments, saying in congressional testimony that the then-presidential candidate "asked me to pay off an adult film star with whom he had an affair, and to lie to his wife about it, which I did."

Cohen was referring to porn star Stormy Daniels, who signed a $130,000 nondisclosure deal set up by Cohen that silenced her from discussing her alleged dalliance with Trump, which she says occurred in 2006 at a Lake Tahoe celebrity golf tournament.

Trump should be "utterly terrified" that the section of the warrants concerning a scheme he has been directly implicated in was entirely redacted, said national security lawyer Bradley Moss.

The search warrants were made public with redactions following a request in Cohen's case from multiple media organizations, which Judge William Pauley granted in a court order in February.

"This Court concludes that disclosure of the materials with redactions strikes an appropriate balance between the strong presumption of public access to search warrant materials and the countervailing interests identified by the Government," Pauley wrote in his order.

"In particular, the Government represents that aspects of its investigation remain ongoing, including those pertaining to or arising from Cohen's campaign finance crimes," the judge added.

Former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman told MSNBC on Tuesday that the redacted sections in the warrants could be related to "the rights of uncharged third parties." He said those uncharged individuals could include Trump, former RNC deputy finance chair Elliott Broidy and Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr.

"Things are still very much focused" in that area, Litman said.

During Cohen's recent congressional testimony, Cohen presented to Congress a $35,000 check signed by Trump Jr. and Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg that he said was meant as a reimbursement for the hush-money deal with Daniels.

Cohen had negotiated a $1.6 million hush-money deal that Broidy had with Playboy model Shera Bechard in exchange for her silence about her affair with him. That deal came to light after the April raids.

Broidy's lawyer Chris Clark, when asked about Litman's comments, said, "I don't know who he is and he obviously doesn't know what he's talking about. Maybe that's why I've never heard of him."

Trump Jr.'s attorney, Alan Futerfas, did not immediately returned a CNBC request for comment.

Even before the search warrant documents were made public, Preet Bharara, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said "the particular legal peril" for Trump is his former lawyer and fixer's claim that the campaign finance violations were made at Trump's direction.

"The Southern District of New York endorsed that claim, that conclusion, in one of its documents that it submitted to the court," Bharara told MSNBC on Tuesday. "That says to me given that I know the folks who did all this — I actually hired them and they're all great, honorable, and hardworking people — that they believe that Donald Trump was involved in that crime."

Another former U.S. attorney, David Weinstein, told CNBC that the redactions may have been made because the federal prosecutors "believe it relates to someone has not been formally charged in an indictment."

Weinstein noted that the Justice Department currently operates under the principle that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

Weinstein said it's possible that the federal prosecutors censored sections of the warrants simply because they did not want to reveal certain law enforcement techniques. But he said his sole conclusion from the 19-page redaction is "that what's in there are direct references" to "then-candidate Trump."

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