Unsealed Docs Show How Mueller Started Probing Cohen Hush Money Payments

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Newly unsealed documents offer an in-depth look at how Special Counsel Robert Mueller found himself investigating Michael Cohen’s role in the Stormy Daniels hush money scheme within weeks of being appointed.

A July 2017 search warrant application shows what Mueller’s then-recently assembled team of federal investigators and prosecutors knew about Cohen in the investigation’s earliest stages.

The warrant application targeted a Gmail account belonging to Cohen, with federal investigators telling D.C. chief judge Beryl Howell that they were probing allegations of money laundering, foreign lobbying violations, and false statements to a financial institution. The two campaign finance counts to which Cohen eventually pleaded guilty were not included in the warrant application.

The documents reveal that the government immediately began working with TD Bank, where the bank account for Cohen’s Delaware registered firm Essential Consultants was located. Cohen used the company to funnel hush money to Daniels through her attorney, Keith Davidson.

Mueller referred to Daniels as “person 1” in the warrant application.

The document suggests that the special counsel team knew the general contours of the Daniels payoff scheme, in what Cohen later pleaded guilty to as a campaign finance violation, by July 2017. Specifically, Mueller appeared to be investigating where money that Cohen held was going, and why.

Thanks to the bank reports that federal prosecutors received, it appears Mueller’s team has already traced the path of the $130,000 that Cohen wired to Daniels via her attorney. The details, including that Cohen drew down a home equity line of credit to make the payment, were also in the special counsel’s possession at the time that it requested its first warrant in the case.

The warrant application also shows that the hush money scheme raised flags within the bank that made the transfer, in part because Cohen gave a false reason for opening the bank account he used to send the money.

Other elements of the warrant application reflect the special counsel’s approach at the time, in the early days of the probe.

Essential Consultants, the firm Cohen set up, had other clients, including a firm connected to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

For the special counsel, the payments from Vekselberg’s company was an example of “foreign transactions” that had “a Russian nexus.”

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