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Special counsel sought Michael Cohen’s e-mails in 2017, documents show

The actions of Michael Cohen, seen leaving court in New York last year, had been under investigation by federal authorities for some time before his office was raided in 2018.
Mary Altaffer/Associated Press/File 2018
The actions of Michael Cohen, seen leaving court in New York last year, had been under investigation by federal authorities for some time before his office was raided in 2018.

NEW YORK — Federal authorities investigating Russian interference in the presidential election obtained search warrants for e-mails of Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, beginning in July 2017, according to documents released Tuesday that provide a glimpse into the earliest stages of the inquiry into the president.

The documents show that Cohen’s business dealings had already been the subject of an extensive investigation by the time FBI agents conducted a highly public raid on his home and office nine months later, in April of last year.

They also show how little the public knew about the Russian investigation in real time as prosecutors zeroed in on Cohen, revealing some of the investigative steps they took to obtain evidence through search warrants in Washington and New York.

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Prosecutors, for instance, unearthed bank payments from a New York investment firm tied to Viktor Vekselberg, a billionaire Russian businessman with ties to the Kremlin who met with Cohen in his Trump Tower office just days before the inauguration, the documents show.

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The public did not learn of those payments, or that Mueller’s prosecutors later interviewed Vekselberg, until almost a year later.

The records, including search warrants and materials related to the April raid, were among hundreds of pages of documents released in response to a request by The New York Times and other news organizations.

Lanny J. Davis, a lawyer for Cohen, said in a statement Monday night that the release furthered Cohen’s “interest in continuing to cooperate and providing information and the truth about Donald Trump and the Trump organization to law enforcement and Congress.”

One newly released search warrant said that the FBI and Manhattan federal prosecutors were investigating Cohen for a range of crimes, including defrauding several banks dating back to 2016 and a scheme “to make an illegal campaign contribution in October 2016 to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.” The warrant also indicated they were investigating him for wire fraud and conspiracy.

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The documents give a rough timeline of how the Cohen investigation unfolded. Starting in July 2017, two months after Mueller’s appointment, and stretching through November, his office obtained three search warrants for Cohen’s e-mails and another for his iCloud account from a federal judge in Washington.

By February 2018, Mueller’s office had referred aspects of its investigation to federal prosecutors in Manhattan. Two months later, the raid on Cohen’s office and home in New York took place.

Late last year, Cohen pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws, financial crimes, and lying to Congress in two separate prosecutions, one filed by the US attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York and the other by Mueller’s office.

Cohen, 52, apologized at his sentencing in December, blaming himself for “my own weakness and a blind loyalty” to Trump that he said had led him “to choose a path of darkness over light.”

Judge William H. Pauley III sentenced Cohen to three years in prison.

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Cohen testified Feb. 27 in a daylong public hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee about what he described as Trump’s lies about his business interests in Russia and his role in the payment of hush money to an adult film actress who claimed to have had an affair with Trump. Cohen called the president a racist, a con man, and a cheat.