New York (AFP) – President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen is under criminal investigation for his “business dealings” and has been a target of law enforcement for months, the Justice Department said Friday.
US Attorney Robert Khuzami, in a motion filed with a US District Court judge in New York, redacted the alleged criminal conduct for which Cohen is being investigated.
The Justice Department filing was in response to a request by Cohen for a temporary restraining order that would prevent prosecutors from reviewing certain material seized by the FBI on Monday.
FBI agents searched Cohen’s home, hotel room, office, a safety deposit box and seized two cellphones in a raid on Monday that drew a furious reaction the same day from Trump.
Trump denounced the FBI raid on “good man” Cohen as “disgraceful” and an “attack on our country.”
The New York Times, citing several people close to Trump, said the president called Cohen on Friday to “check-in” with his long-time lawyer and fixer.
The Justice Department motion revealed that “multiple different email accounts maintained by Cohen” had been secretly monitored by law enforcement for some time.
Cohen has been Trump’s personal lawyer for years and has acknowledged making a $130,000 payment before the 2016 election to porn star Stormy Daniels, who says she had a tryst with Trump a decade ago.
Some of the documents seized in the raids reportedly relate to payments to Daniels and another woman, a former Playboy model named Karen McDougal who also claims to have had an affair with Trump.
According to The Washington Post, Cohen may be under examination for possible bank fraud and for campaign finance violations.
Cohen’s lawyer cited attorney-client privilege in seeking to restrict access to “documents and communications related to numerous clients.”
– ‘One client – Donald Trump’ –
But the government said Cohen appears to have only one client — Donald Trump.
“The (US Attorney) and FBI have reason to believe that Cohen has exceedingly few clients and a low volume of potentially privileged communications,” the Justice Department said.
“It is neither apparent that Cohen, in his capacity as an attorney, has many, or any, attorney-client relationships other than with President Donald Trump,” it said.
“Although Cohen is an attorney, he also has several other business interests and sources of income,” the motion said, and the lawyer “is being investigated for criminal conduct that largely centers on his personal business dealings.”
“The searches are the result of a months-long investigation into Cohen, and seek evidence of crimes, many of which have nothing to do with his work as an attorney, but rather relate to Cohen’s own business dealings,” it added.
US District Court Judge Kimba Wood put off making any decision until Monday at the earliest but granted a request by Trump’s lawyer to be a party to the hearing.
Joanna Hendon, Trump’s lawyer, argued in court that Trump has an “acute interest” in the matter.
– Stormy Daniels lawyer in court –
Present in the courtroom Friday was Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, who is seeking to have the courts throw out a hush agreement prohibiting her from talking about her affair with Trump.
Trump has denied any knowledge of Cohen’s payment to secure Daniel’s October 2016 signature on a secret agreement preventing her from talking about the affair.
The raid on Cohen’s home and office came as special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe intensifies its focus on the president’s inner circle.
The US Attorney said the raid on Cohen was conducted on information supplied by the special counsel’s team but was an independent investigation.
Mueller’s team is examining possible collusion between Trump’s 2016 election campaign team and Russia, as well as allegations of corrupt behavior by Trump campaign lieutenants and of White House efforts to obstruct the investigation.
So far, 19 people have been indicted, including the chairman of Trump’s campaign and his former national security advisor.