What We Now Know About The Nearly Completed Cohen Criminal Probe

TPM Illustration. Photo by Getty Images/ Drew Angerer
August 20, 2018 11:47 a.m.

Multiple news reports over the weekend helped fill in the details about the nearly completed federal criminal investigation into Michael Cohen.

The probe into President Trump’s former fixer, referred to the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office by special counsel Robert Mueller, is reportedly in its final stages. Charges could come by the end of this month, and will likely touch on campaign finance violations and loans Cohen received for his taxi businesses.

Key entities have been subpoenaed, witnesses have testified before a grand jury, and prosecutors have pored over the reams of documents and emails seized from Cohen’s premises.

All that remains to be seen is whether prosecutors cut a plea deal with Cohen, or hit him with everything they’ve got.

Taxi businesses likely key to charges

Prosecutors have homed in on financial dealings related to the once-lucrative taxi medallion businesses Cohen owned. As the New York Times reported in a blockbuster Sunday article, authorities are examining whether he misrepresented his income when applying for over $20 million in loans he obtained for those entities in December 2014.

In addition to those possible bank fraud charges, Cohen is under investigation for tax fraud for possibly underreporting on federal tax returns the hundreds of thousands of dollars he received in income from the medallions, according to the Times. Some of the payments he received were made in cash.

Key witnesses received subpoenas, gave testimony

Among the entities that have provided critical information to investigators: Sterling National Bank and the Melrose Credit Union, the two New York banks that provided the 2014 loans. The Times reported that the banks, which cater to the taxi industry, were cited in search warrants on the FBI raids carried out on Cohen’s apartment, home, and hotel room this spring.

Sterling has also received a grand jury subpoena in the case, according to the Times.

Cohen’s former partner in the taxi probe, Gene Freidman, is cooperating with the Cohen investigation as part of a generous plea deal he struck in his own unrelated tax fraud case.

Long Island accountant Jeffrey Getzel, who worked for both Cohen and Freidman, has already testified before the grand jury hearing evidence in the case, per the Times.

Timeline firms up campaign finance violation allegation

Both Cohen’s and President Trump’s legal teams have denied that the campaign finance law was violated when Cohen shelled out $130,000 to adult film star Stormy Daniels to keep her silent about the affair she claims she had with Trump. The money would’ve been paid regardless of the election and was therefore unrelated to influencing its outcome, they’ve argued.

But the Wall Street Journal on Thursday revealed important new details about the timing of the payment. Daniels’ then-attorney first came to Cohen in September 2016, asking to cut a hush money deal. Cohen wasn’t interested. But just one day after the “Access Hollywood” recording of Trump boasting about forcibly groping women came out, Cohen expressed interest in paying Daniels for her silence.

As the Journal reported, prosecutors see the recording as the “trigger” that prompted Cohen to buy Daniels’ story in order to prevent Trump’s weakened campaign from being damaged even further. Failing to disclose a campaign disclosure or providing an in-kind campaign contribution well over the $5,400 limit for individual donors would be a violation of federal law.

No guarantee that Cohen will strike a plea deal

Both Cohen and his attorney, Lanny Davis, have publicly suggested that they’d be interested in providing information to prosecutors in exchange for a lighter sentence.

The Times reported that any such plea deal would likely require Cohen to speak honestly about not only his case, but the special counsel probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Even if Cohen is willing to plead guilty in exchange for leniency, a possible deal could fall apart if his lawyers can’t agree with the government on the terms, or if prosecutors determine that he is unreliable witness or doesn’t have useful information to impart, according to the report.

Charges could be coming by the end of August

If no deal is reached, charges could be announced within days, the Times reported. People familiar with the case told the newspaper that prosecutors want to adhere to Justice Department guidelines against taking actions that could be seen to interfere with an election.

So prosecutors would likely announce charges before the end of August, or wait until after the Novembers midterm elections to make any moves in the investigation. They could also file an indictment under seal and wait until after the midterms to make it public.

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