Amid Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections, Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen came under federal investigation in April 2018. The former attorney had been a lawyer for the businessman-turned-politician from 2006 until May 2018.
In accordance with federal search warrant obtained by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, the FBI raided Trump’s so-called “fixer” at the law firm of Squire Patton Boggs, his home and his hotel room in the Loews Regency Hotel in New York City on April 9, 2018. Agents seized emails, tax records, business records on several topics, including payments to Stormy Daniels and Trump’s controversial Access Hollywood appearance. Getting the warrant approved from the Department of Justice proved to be difficult. The Interim U.S. Attorney, Geoffrey Berman, was recused. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray were both appointees of Trump and had supervisory roles. The FBI obtained the warrant after a referral from Mueller’s Special Counsel investigation. Following the raid, Squire Patton Boggs law firm ended its formal working relationship with Cohen.
The search included seizing materials that would normally be protected by attorney-client privilege, which is subject to a crime-fraud exception if a crime is suspected. According to this exception, attorney-client privilege is moot if an attorney and client are themselves used to further a crime, tort, or fraud. In Clark v. United States, the US Supreme Court stated that: “A client who consults an attorney for advice that will serve him in the commission of a fraud will have no help from the law. He must let the truth be told.”
However, Cohen and his lawyers argued that all of the thousands of seized items from the FBI raid should be protected by attorney-client privilege and therefore withheld from the prosecutors. Subsequently, U.S. District Judge Kimba M. Wood, appointed former federal judge Barbara S. Jones, to evaluate the entirety of the seized materials to determine attorney-client privilege. Jones deemed that only 14 of the 639 paper documents were privileged and out of the 291,770 electronic files seized, only 148 files should be withheld from the prosecution.The search warrant itself has been sealed, which makes it unavailable to the public.
A few days after the raid, the DC Bureau of McClatchy Newspapers reported that the Mueller investigation was in possession of evidence that Cohen had in fact traveled to Prague in August or September 2016. In the January 2017 Trump–Russia dossier, there are allegations that Cohen met with Russian officials in Prague, Czech Republic in 2016 to pay those who had hacked the DNC and to “cover up all traces of the hacking operation”.
Following the raid, Cohen once again denied having ever been to Prague. However, Mother Jones reported that Cohen had told them “I was in Prague for one afternoon 14 years ago”, which was a contradictory statement.
In May 2018, the BBC reported that Cohen had received a secret payment between $400,000 and $600,000 from intermediaries for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to arrange a meeting between Poroshenko and Trump. Both Cohen and the Ukrainian president’s office denied the allegations.
Shortly after, Rudy Giuliani announced that Cohen was no longer be serving as Trump’s lawyer. In July, seized tapes secretly recorded by Cohen of his conversations with Trump about hush payments to Karen McDougal were given to the New York Times.
In August 2018, investigators were in the final stages of their investigation on Cohen. After that, Cohen officially surrendered to the FBI on Aug. 21, 2018. The lawyer pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges: five counts of tax evasion, one count of making false statements to a financial institution, one count of willfully causing an unlawful corporate contribution, and one count of making an excessive campaign contribution at the request of a candidate for the “principal purpose of influencing [the] election.”
On August 22, 2018, The New York Times reported that court documents revealed that two senior Trump Organization executives were also involved in the hush money payments, and that Cohen “coordinated with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls” about the payments.
Although not officially cooperating with prosecutors, Cohen had sat for at least 50 hours of interviews with Mueller’s investigators and other investigators by mid-October 2018. Additionally, Cohen cooperated in a separate investigation made by New York State investigators surrounding the Trump Organization and Trump Foundation.
On Nov. 29, 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to the Senate Intelligence Committee and House Intelligence Committee in 2017 regarding the proposed Trump Tower Moscow deal in 2015 and 2016. Cohen had told Congress that the deal ended in January 2016, but it actually ended in June 2016. He also had said he had not received a response about the deal from the office of a senior Russian official when he actually had. For that offense, Cohen received a two-month sentence, which would be served concurrently with his three-year sentence for tax fraud and for giving false testimony.
On Dec. 12, 2018, U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III sentenced Cohen to three years in prison and a $50,000 fine. Cohen also had to pay $1.4 million in restitution and to forfeit $500,000. At his sentencing hearing, Cohen stated: “I take full responsibility for each act that I pled guilty to: The personal ones to me and those involving the president of the United States of America.”
In August 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight charges, including several counts of tax fraud and campaign finance violations.
The investigation led to him pleading guilty on August 21, 2018, to eight counts of campaign finance violations, tax fraud, and bank fraud. Cohen said he violated campaign finance laws on Trump’s direction and for the purpose of influencing the 2016 election. In November 2018, Cohen entered a second guilty plea for lying to a Senate committee about efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
Lanny Davis, Michael Cohen’s former attorney, issued a statement after Cohen’s sentencing. The lawyer said, “Michael has owned up to his mistakes and fully cooperated with Special Counsel Mueller in his investigation over possible Trump campaign collusion with Russian meddling in the 2016 election.”
Cohen is scheduled to report to prison on March 6, 2019.