March 19, 2019
Michael Cohen Investigation Began In July 2017, Unsealed Documents Reveal

The New York Times reports that unsealed documents reveal that federal authorities from the special counsel office started investigating Michael D. Cohen's emails as early as July 2017, which is just months after Donald Trump took office. In particular, the office of Robert S. Mueller III examined emails from January 2016 as a part of the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections.

The newly unsealed records reveal that Cohen's business dealings were already under the watchful eye of the special counsel investigation far before the FBI raid that made headlines last April. Some of the unsealed documents include warrant applications, search warrants, and supporting affidavits connected to the raid as well as underlying searches of Cohen's cellphone location data, email, and other electronic devices, as per The Hill.

One of the documents is an April 8, 2018, application for a warrant to search Cohen's office, home, hotel room, and two iPhones.

"In connection with an investigation then being conducted by the Office of the Special Counsel ('SCO'), the FBI sought and obtained from the Honorable Beryl A. Howell, Chief United States District Judge for the District of Columbia, three search warrants for emails and other content information associated with two email accounts used by Cohen, and one search warrant for stored content associated with an iCloud account used by Cohen."
Interestingly, federal prosecutors benefited from a new law signed by Trump, the CLOUD Act, CNN reports. This law gives U.S. law enforcement additional legal pathways to pursue data storage overseas, which the team used to obtain a search warrant for Cohen's Gmail account back in February 2018.
Lanny J. Davis, an attorney for Cohen, said that the release of the documents continues to advance Cohen's interest in cooperating and helping federal authorities learn the truth about Donald Trump and his organization.

CNN also reports that the documents reveal that Cohen was paid over $500,000 from a company called Columbus Nova LLC., which is linked to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. Specifically, he was paid monthly installments of $83,333 starting in January 2017, which totaled $583,332. Vekselberg has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and was sanctioned early in 2018 for various activities — including election interference — that prohibit him from traveling to the U.S.

The documents were unsealed by Judge Pauley, who wrote a 30-page opinion piece on February 7 detailing why some materials will be released, and others must remain sealed, at least for the time being.

"At this stage, wholesale disclosure of the materials would reveal the scope and direction of the government's ongoing investigation, the subjects of the inquiry and the potential conduct under scrutiny and other sensitive issues."