The (Unsealed Parts of the) Michael Cohen Investigation

As noted, the search warrants leading up to and used in the April 9 search of Michael Cohen have been partly unsealed. In this post, I want to lay out what we know about how the investigation into Cohen developed.

On July 18, 2017, Mueller’s team got a warrant on Michael Cohen’s Google activity from January 1, 2016 to July 18, 2017, for which they would already have obtained the call records showing whom he was emailing when using it and a preservation order. At the time, they were investigating:

  • False statements to a financial institution
  • Money laundering
  • Acting as an unregistered foreign agent
  • FARA violations

On August 8, 2017, Mueller’s team got a warrant for Cohen’s iCloud account.

On November 13, 2017, they got a warrant for activity associated with a business account, MCDPC, which was hosted by 1&1, as well as for Cohen’s Gmail account going back to June 1, 2015. On November 7, 2017 and January 4, 2018, Mueller got pen registers to obtain records of everyone Cohen was talking to in real time.

While sorting through that evidence, they appear to have discovered more of the bank fraud associated with his taxi medallions.

On February 2, 2018, Mueller provided SDNY a subset of content from Cohen’s iCloud. On February 8, 2018, Mueller referred some of the crimes they were investigating to SDNY, including the taxi medallion payments and other money laundering, and handed them a USB drive with the stuff obtained in those earlier email warrants (but not yet the iCloud one). That month, SDNY got some of the emails turned over as hard copies from third parties using a subpoena, and accessed the toll records for the emails. Before accessing the content, on February 16, 2018, SDNY got a d-order for header information for the two accounts handed over by Mueller. They also interviewed and acquired emails from a number of employees at Sterling, from whom Cohen was getting a loan. Then, on February 28, 2018, SDNY submitted affidavits to access the content handed over from Mueller and to obtain everything in the accounts from the interim period (that is, since November 14), as well as another Gmail and AOL account associated with the taxi medallion related bank fraud.

This suggests that while they had found his Essential Consultants bank account and recognized that he was using it for things he hadn’t informed the bank about, they were not yet focusing on hush payments as an illegal campaign donation.

On March 7, 2018, Mueller handed over the iCloud material to SDNY.

In early April, SDNY started a slew of legal process leading up to its search of Cohen’s properties.

According to the letter associated with this release, they got a warrant for out of jurisdiction materials on April 5 (reportedly for stuff held overseas). I’m still trying to find that in the attachments.

Then, on April 7, 2018, it obtained a warrant to search the existing collection for material related to illegal campaign finance.

Also on April 7, SDNY got a warrant for prospective and historical location data associated with Cohen’s AT&T phones for the periods from October 1, 2016 to November 8, 2016 and January 1, 2018 to present. The campaign finance crimes were the only ones specified in this warrant.

On April 8, SDNY got a warrant for Cohen’s condo, office, safe deposit box, and hotel, as well as two iPhones. This covered all the crimes to which Cohen pled guilty in SDNY, as well as his sleazy influence peddling with BTA, KAI, AT&T, and Novartis, but not Columbus Nova (I’ll return to this). They also got a warrant to use a Stingray to figure out which room he was in at the hotel (like the location searches on his phone, this was just for his campaign finance crimes). Then, on April 9, they went back and got another warrant for the specific room at Loews hotel.

In the materials from SDNY, some names are redacted. The biggest redactions (suggesting ongoing investigation) pertain to the campaign finance crimes, meaning Trump and Trump Organization are in trouble. There may also be redacted material associated with Cohen’s sleazy influence peddling.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

33 replies
  1. MattyG says:

    Crisp summary. Any hints the scope of hush money payments may extend beyond the 2 known cases?

  2. Toby Esterhase says:

    Was Cohen not charged with acting as an unregistered foreign agent and/or a FARA violation because of a lack of evidence or because of a timing issue?
    I admit that my ulterior motive in asking is my growing belief that this investigation is not headed toward charging any US citizen with conspiracy. Doesn’t Special Counsel’s investigation show all the signs of ending with a whimper?

    [Welcome back to emptywheel. Please use the same username each time you comment here so that community members get to know you. Thanks. /~Rayne]

  3. BobCon says:

    Why did they use a Stingray to find out where he was in the hotel? Why not ask the hotel or tail him?

    Were they being extra super cautious to avoid him being tipped off?

    • Eslinger says:

      StingRay stations aren’t very good at determining location, but can be used to tell if certain handsets are active within a particular region. This doesn’t require triangulation.

      It appears that they wanted to verify the presence of handsets that would then be physically secured by officers empowered by other warrants. If this is correct, they may have used StingRay location information simply to time a raid on Cohen when he was in possession of specific handsets.

      • BobCon says:

        Thanks, that makes sense.

        I suppose if the phones had different purposes that the agents knew about — one was work and one was personal, for instance — that might also be useful in figuring out what he was doing in different places.

    • Lopsotronic says:

      Stingray combined with vanilla GPS and other systems can be useful for establishing precise vertical location in a multifloor building. As mentioned previously the sweet spot is looking for individual phones in a zone.

  4. punaise says:

    Mikey’s Lament, to the tune of Summer Breeze (unSeals, and Craft):

    See subpoenas layin’ on the sidewalk, a little logic for the judge next door
    Mueller walked on up to the courthouse, through the screeners and across the floor
    Slammer squeeze, makes me toe line, blowing through the chasm in confine

    See the peers a-waitin’ in the jury box, (good: book him!) and a place for twelve
    Feel the handcuffs reaching out to hold me, in the evening when the trial is shelved
    Slammer squeeze, makes me toe line, blowing through the chasm in confine

    • Jockobadger says:

      Thanks SO much, Punaise! Seals and Crofts were part of my teen years – brought back a flood of memories.

      Nicely done, btw! I can just hear that last line perfectly! They were terrific.

        • Wajim says:

          Promise you will never ghost on us, punaise. Don’t know what I’d do, actually. Likely hide out in my workshop for a week, blasting Bush’s “Straight No Chaser,” and dodging the stink-eye from my spouse. That, a half-gallon of Jack, some spring water, and six bags of Hot Buffalo popcorn is what it would take to get over you.

            • punaise says:

              Too kind. BTW: sharing is caring!

              Until the powers that be show me the door, I’m afraid you’re stuck with me…

              (Didn’t know the Bush song – fairly dark, eh? I’m partial to Thelonious Monk’s song of the same name: a jazz classic.)

              • Wajim says:

                Kind, me? Never. I appreciate talent, wit, creativity, and intellect. And 12 bar blues, too. Dark? Bush? Ok, you got me there. Perhaps why I appreciate Bush, your work, and Wheel’s relentless spyglass and microscope reports on our present American crisis. You, punaise, along with the work of this blog and its larger community, help me keep hope in the face of our time’s particular and very ugly darkness. There’s grace in that. I merely recognize it.

                • punaise says:

                  The Bush song has a quiet urgency to it: mostly solo guitar licks and rhythm, with some tasteful strings, supporting wistful if somewhat bleak vocals. I kept expecting it t to burgeon into a full- throated stadium rocker – like many of that era – but it held back.

                • punaise says:

                  Ain’t but one way out lately, Lord I just can’t go out that door
                  Ain’t but one way out lately, Lord I just can’t go out that door
                  Cause there’s a blog down there, might be your blog, I don’t know

                  Lord, you got me trapped, Wajim, up on the second floor
                  If I get by this time I won’t be trapped no more
                  So raise your window maybe, I can ease out soft and slow
                  And Lord, the neighbors, no, they won’t be
                  Talkin’ that stuff that they don’t know

                  Lord, I’m foolish to be here on the first place
                  I know someone gonna walk in and take my place
                  Ain’t no way in the world I’m goin’ out that front door

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Toein’ the line may not make Mikey feel fine, but I’m pretty sure his mind will be the only place he’ll smell jasmine for quite some time.

      Many thanks for that delightful parody.

  5. Yogarhythms says:

    Empty calories never tasted so good. Breakfast of Champions: medallions of stingray, paired with vintage iCloud finished with cremebrulee USB. Cheers

  6. punaise says:

    News from the (legal academic) front. Daughter punaisette is studying at Berkeley Law.

    Former Congressman Bob Barr (whom I vaguely thought had sort of semi-rehabilitated himself as an independent after his awful key roll in the Clinton impeachment) was invited by the local chapter of the Federalist Society to speak on campus today. Turns out he is deeply involved in NRA and is an apologist for gun violence. In the wake of the Christchurch massacre students peacefully protested his speech. First Amendment prevails, as it should. But still: no shame.

  7. Tech Support says:

    One thing that I have been curious about since the raids were announced that has never been explored in print (that I’m aware of) is why Cohen was living/working out of a hotel room.

    Maybe it’s a misread on my part. If the room was in DC then I suppose the question is moot, but my understanding is that the hotel room was in NYC, and Cohen lives in NYC, so why the staycation?

    • CitizenCrone says:

      Tech Support —
      The Cohens had a water leak in several rooms of their house. They all moved to a hotel 2 blocks away while the House was being repaired.

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