During FBI raids on Michael Cohen's home, office, and hotel room in April, agents were able to recover mountains of shredded paper, and BuzzFeed News on Monday obtained some of the documents — including handwritten notes on a taxi business and odd letters from a woman described as a "vexatious litigant" who claimed she was stalked by President Trump in the '80s — that have been pieced back together.
Cohen, Trump's former personal lawyer, is under investigation by the Southern District of New York. During the raids, FBI agents gathered shredded paper, computers, cellphones, and other devices, ultimately ending up with almost four million documents and electronic files. Many of the documents BuzzFeed News viewed that had been put back together didn't make a lot of sense, because not all of the shredded pieces were found, but others were easy to read, like an invitation to a reception in Miami for Qatari business representatives.
BuzzFeed News also saw a document that was previously reported on by The Washington Post: the record of a $62,500 wire transfer made in March into a First Republic Bank account Cohen controlled, which is likely linked to a hush-money agreement Cohen set up with a woman who had an affair with GOP fundraiser Elliot Broidy.
In other Cohen news, his interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos aired Monday morning, and a friend told Vanity Fair he's feeling more comfortable speaking to reporters about what's happening in his life. This wasn't about sending secret messages to anyone, but rather Cohen "trying to get ahead of things," his friend said. "[He] started feeling like he may not be thought of as the villain anymore. This was about getting his voice heard before it's too late." Catherine Garcia
It's not Perry Mason or Law & Order, but there's plenty of drama in federal Judge Kimba Wood's Manhattan courtroom over which of Michael Cohen's seized files federal prosecutors will be able to see, and when. In court on Monday, President Trump's lawyer Joanna Hendon asked Wood to allow Trump first review of the materials, and when Wood rejected the stay — she is considering a neutral "special master" or a "taint team" of federal prosecutors — Hendon said she has no idea what to tell Trump about what's in Cohen's files. "You're getting into areas that we don't need to address now," Wood replied, according to Bloomberg News. But what's in Cohen's files is very much on the minds of Trump and his allies, Axios reports.
"Cohen is a potential Rosetta stone to Trump's final decade in private life," Axios' Mike Allen writes. "Cohen knows more about some elements of Trump's life than anyone else — because some stuff, Ivanka doesn't want to know."
"The guys that know Trump best are the most worried," a former Trump campaign official told Axios. "People are very, very worried. Because it's Michael [effing] Cohen. Who knows what he's done? ... People at the Trump Organization don't even really know everything he does. It's all side deals and off-the-books stuff. Trump doesn't even fully know; he knows some but not everything."
"The media is excited about what might emerge from Cohen's legal travails, and for good reason," Tim O'Brien, who wrote a book about Trump, counters at Bloomberg View. But nobody should "assume that his evident downfall portends doom for Trump's presidency." Cohen has only worked for Trump since 2006, and he never had a leadership role at Trump's business. If prosecutors ever become interested in Jason Greenblatt, Trump's company's general counsel who signed off on almost every significant deal, or CFO Allen Weisselberg, O'Brien writes, then Trump is in serious trouble. Peter Weber
When President Trump lashed out at Special Counsel Robert Mueller after the FBI raided the office, residences, and bank deposit box of Trump's personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, commentators pointed out that the prosecutor who authorized the raid was Geoffrey Berman, Trump's personally selected U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. But soon after taking the job in January, The New York Times reports, "Berman notified Justice Department officials in Washington of a possible appearance of conflict of interest in the then-undisclosed Cohen investigation, and officials concluded that he should be recused, according to people briefed on the matter."
It is unclear why Berman recused himself, the Times said, and its reporters could only rule out reasons he had to hand control of the investigation to his handpicked deputy, Robert S. Khuzami. Berman, a registered Republican who donated to and volunteered for the Trump campaign, is not known to have any ties to Cohen, did not recuse himself because he was a law partner with Trump supporter Rudolph Giuliani, and did not step aside because of Trump's unusual decision to personally interview him for the job, the Times said.
The White House now reportedly considers the Cohen investigation, which has been secretly going on for months, a bigger existential threat to Trump's presidency than Mueller's Russia investigation, and people who have worked in or observed the Manhattan federal prosecutor's office — sometimes "jokingly referred to as the 'Sovereign District,'" the Times says — don't disagree with the White House assessment. "The office has been historically known for its independence of the Justice Department," John S. Martin Jr., a former U.S. attorney in Manhattan and former federal judge, tells the Times. "That's what makes it so powerful in this investigation, and such a danger to Donald Trump." You can read more about Khuzami and the other people running the Cohen investigation at The New York Times. Peter Weber
On Friday, lawyers for Michael Cohen, President Trump's longtime lawyer and fixer, sought a temporary restraining order to prevent federal prosecutors from reading through the tranche of documents and electronic files the FBI seized from his office and residences on April 9, and in a filing Sunday night, Trump's lawyers asked to join in on Cohen's requested first review of the documents.
Prosecutor at the office of the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, which is leading the investigation into Cohen's activities, want to have a "taint" or "filter" team of prosecutors not connected to the investigation sort through the documents first to pick out any that might violate legitimate attorney-client privilege. Cohen and now Trump formally oppose that system. They are requesting that Cohen's lawyers, after their review, be made to "identify to the president all seized materials that relate to him in any way and provide a copy of those materials to him and his counsel," letting Trump say what he believes to be privileged information
"Fairness and justice — as well as the appearance of fairness and justice — require that, before they are turned over to the Investigative Team, the seized materials relating to the president must be reviewed by the only person who is truly motivated to ensure that the privilege is properly invoked and applied: the privilege-holder himself, the president," wrote Trump lawyer Joanna Hendon, a former prosecutor at the Southern District office, in Sunday night's filing. Cohen, who was not in court on Friday, has been ordered to appear for Monday afternoon's hearing.
Prosecutors said in court on Friday that Cohen performed "little to no legal work" for Trump, and they believe most of the material the FBI seized relates to his "personal business dealings," which wouldn't be covered by attorney-client privilege. Cohen has told at least one witness that Trump is his only client, the government said in a filing. Peter Weber
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman would have wanted "more than the bare-minimum proof of probable cause" before authorizing Monday's raids on President Trump's lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, Preet Bharara, who held the Manhattan federal prosecutor job before Berman, told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Tuesday night. "And so I predict, as we saw with Paul Manafort, that if they decided they had enough evidence to engage in a very aggressive, a very aggressive move, that the likelihood that Michael Cohen is going to be charged is high."
Former US attorney Preet Bharara says there is a high likelihood President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen will be charged after the FBI raided his office https://t.co/e8WtPWlWfc https://t.co/1rxhqG2YKo
— Anderson Cooper 360° (@AC360) April 11, 2018
That's very bad news for Trump, lawyer Michael Avenatti told Cooper. Avenatti said that he and his client in a case against Cohen and Trump, porn star Stormy Daniels, are fully cooperating with the federal prosecutors, and he predicted that Cohen will fold under the pressure.
Avenatti called Cohen's decision to talk to CNN's Don Lemon "moronic," explaining that "any experienced attorney would tell a client not to be speaking to the press the day after the FBI executes three search warrants on your homes and your offices. I mean, this is just crazy." It's also nuts that Trump "effectively put his own personal attorney in the crosshairs" by publicly denying all knowledge of the Daniels hush payment and referring all questions to Cohen, he added.
"He has set Michael Cohen up to be the fall guy, in my view," Avenatti said, "and there is now a false sense of security, I think, on behalf of the president that Michael Cohen's going to take the fall for this." A good "fixer" is smart and willing to go to jail for you, and "in my view, Michael Cohen doesn't fit either one of those requirements," he added. Trump "picked the wrong fixer, he trusted too many personal secrets with Michael Cohen, and I think Michael Cohen is going to fold like a cheap deck of cards on Mr. Trump and the results are going to be very, very bad." Peter Weber