fb-pixel;

Trump lawyer’s office, home raided in bank fraud inquiry

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating Michael D. Cohen (above) for possible bank fraud.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating Michael D. Cohen (above) for possible bank fraud.Al Drago/The New York Times/file 2017

NEW YORK — The FBI raided the office and hotel room of President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, on Monday, seizing business records, e-mails, and documents related to several topics, including payments to a pornographic film actress.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating Cohen for possible bank fraud, and the documents identified in the warrant date back years, according to a person briefed on the search. Potential campaign finance violations are also part of the inquiry, The Washington Post reported.

The prosecutors obtained the search warrant after receiving a referral from the special counsel, Robert Mueller, according to Cohen’s lawyer, who called the search “completely inappropriate and unnecessary.”

Advertisement



The search does not appear to be directly related to Mueller’s investigation but most likely resulted from information that he had uncovered and gave to prosecutors in New York.

“Today the US attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York executed a series of search warrants and seized the privileged communications between my client, Michael Cohen, and his clients,” said Stephen Ryan, his lawyer.

Ryan said the raid “resulted in the unnecessary seizure of protected attorney client communications between a lawyer and his clients.’’

Trump reacted angrily to the raid. “It’s a disgraceful situation,” he told reporters at the White House before a meeting with military leaders. He asserted that the FBI “broke into” Cohen’s offices and added, “I have this witch hunt constantly going on.”

Trump also called Mueller’s broad investigation into Russian election meddling and other matters ‘‘an attack on our country.’’

Cohen’s payments to the pornographic film actress, Stephanie Clifford, who is known as Stormy Daniels, are only one of many topics being investigated by the prosecutors in New York, according to a person briefed on the search. The FBI also seized tax documents and business records, the person said.

Advertisement



Agents raided space Cohen uses in the Rockefeller Center office of the law firm Squire Patton Boggs, as well as a room Cohen is staying at the Loews Regency Hotel on Park Avenue while his apartment is under renovation, the person said.

In order to obtain a search warrant, prosecutors must convince a federal judge that agents are likely to discover evidence of criminal activity.

The searches are a significant intrusion by prosecutors into the dealings of one of Trump’s closest confidants, and they pose a dilemma for Trump. He has dismissed Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt,” but these warrants were obtained by an unrelated group of prosecutors. The searches required prior consultation with senior members of Trump’s own Justice Department.

The searches open a new front for the Justice Department in its scrutiny of Trump and his associates: His longtime lawyer is being investigated in Manhattan; his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is facing scrutiny by prosecutors in Brooklyn; his campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is under indictment; his former national security, adviser Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying; and a pair of former campaign aides are cooperating with Mueller.

Mueller, meanwhile, wants to interview Trump about possible obstruction of justice.

The special counsel is also investigating a payment made to President Trump’s foundation by a Ukrainian steel magnate for a talk during the campaign, according to three people briefed on the matter. The inquiry is part of a broader examination of streams of foreign money to Trump and his associates in the years leading up to the election.

Advertisement



Investigators subpoenaed the Trump Organization this year for an array of records about business with foreign nationals. In response, the company handed over documents about a $150,000 donation that the Ukrainian billionaire, Victor Pinchuk, made in September 2015 to the Donald J. Trump Foundation in exchange for a 20-minute appearance by Trump that month through a video link to a Kiev conference.

Cohen solicited the donation, which was the largest the foundation received in 2015 from anyone besides Trump himself.

Regarding the search warrants for Cohen, it is not clear what Mueller saw that made him refer the matter to other prosecutors. But the searches show that Mueller does not believe he has the authority to investigate all manners of allegations against everyone in Trump’s orbit.

That is significant because Manafort’s lawyers have challenged Mueller’s mandate as overly broad.

President Trump spoke Monday at the White House.
President Trump spoke Monday at the White House.Susan Walsh/Associated Press

Cohen is a longtime lawyer and fixer who, in a decade at Trump’s side, has served as a reliable attack dog against real or perceived threats to Trump. His activities have been scrutinized as part of Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Cohen recently paid $130,000 to Clifford, who said she had an affair with Trump. Clifford has said she was paid before the election to buy her silence. She is challenging a nondisclosure agreement she signed barring her from discussing the matter.

The search is an aggressive move for the Justice Department, which normally relies on grand jury subpoenas to obtain records from people who are represented by lawyers and are cooperating with authorities.

Advertisement



Search warrants are more often used in cases in which prosecutors do not trust people to preserve or turn over the records themselves. Justice Department rules require prosecutors to first consider less intrusive alternatives before seeking records from lawyers.

The searches of Cohen’s documents hearken to the pre-dawn FBI raid of the home of Manafort’s. Those documents helped underpin his indictment last fall on money laundering, tax, and foreign lobbying charges.

Ryan said Cohen has cooperated with authorities and turned over thousands of documents to congressional investigators looking into Russian election meddling.

The seized records include communications between Trump and Cohen, which would likely require a special team of agents to review because conversations between lawyers and clients are protected from scrutiny in most instances.

Though Mueller’s team did not initiate the search, if prosecutors in Manhattan uncover information related to Mueller’s inquiry they can share that with Mueller’s team.

A Long Island native, Cohen began his career as a personal injury lawyer and taxi fleet manager. He joined the Trump Organization in 2006. He attracted attention in the Russia investigation after e-mails showed that a business associate of Trump, Felix Sater, pitched Cohen on a lucrative real estate deal in Russia.

The deal was supposed to be a Trump Tower in Moscow and Sater boasted to Cohen that the tower would get Trump elected president. “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote. “I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”

Advertisement



But the e-mails obtained by The New York Times show no response from Cohen, who told congressional investigators that he regarded Sater’s talk as puffery.

It is not clear how significant prosecutors view the payment to Clifford. Trump has denied knowing about the payment. And Cohen has said he paid Clifford out of his own money. Asked last week why Cohen made the payment, Trump replied: “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney, and you’ll have to ask Michael Cohen.”

Dawn Dearden, spokeswoman for the US attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, declined to comment on the search warrant. Peter Carr, a spokesman for the special counsel’s office, also declined to comment.

Squire Patton Boggs, the law firm that formed a strategic alliance with Cohen last year, said in a statement Monday that its ‘‘arrangement with Mr. Cohen reached its conclusion, mutually and in accordance with the terms of the agreement.

‘‘We have been in contact with federal authorities regarding their execution of a warrant relating to Mr. Cohen,’’ the firm said. ‘‘These activities do not relate to the firm and we are in full cooperation.’’

Cohen has acknowledged he facilitated the $130,000 payment in 2016 to Daniels, who claims she had a sexual relationship with Trump in 2006.

On Oct. 17, 2016, Cohen established Essential Consultants Limited Liability Co. as a vehicle for the $130,000 payment. Ten days later, on Oct. 27, the bank Cohen used in New York transferred the money to Daniels via a California bank account belonging to her lawyer, Keith Davidson.

Trump made his first comments about the payment last week, saying he did not know about the transaction.