Robert Mueller persuaded a judge within weeks of being made special counsel in 2017 that Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's legal "fixer", may have been secretly working for a foreign government.
Legal filings unsealed on Tuesday said investigators working for Mueller were granted access to Cohen’s personal email account on July 18th, 2017 on the basis that he may have broken several laws, including those on unregistered foreign agents.
Cohen's suspected efforts were not detailed in the documents. Cohen, one of Trump's closest advisers for a decade, was known to have been paid in 2017 for consulting work by a state-controlled South Korean aviation company and a bank in Kazakhstan.
The filings said Mueller’s investigators were looking in Cohen’s Gmail account for records on any “funds or benefits” he received from foreign governments or companies, as well as any files revealing efforts by Cohen to work on their behalf.
The court documents were released by a federal judge in New York, where Cohen pleaded guilty last year to campaign finance and personal financial crimes. They were originally filed by investigators in April last year to obtain additional search warrants.
It was not previously known that Cohen was suspected of crimes relating to representing foreigners without registering with US authorities, and no such charges were brought against him. Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison and is due to be jailed in May.
The filings released on Tuesday ran to hundreds of pages. More than 19 pages, apparently relating to the campaign finance scheme, were entirely blacked out, indicating that it remains under investigation.
Cohen directly implicated Trump in the scheme, which involved hush-money payments to women who alleged during the 2016 campaign that they had affairs with Trump. Some legal analysts have said Trump could be vulnerable to prosecution for the scheme once he leaves office. He denies breaking any laws.
The documents released on Tuesday gave a rare insight on the early actions taken by Mueller's office in the weeks after his appointment as special counsel on May 17th, 2017, following the president's firing of James Comey, the FBI director. Mueller was asked to look into any connections or coordination between Russia and Trump's team.
They showed search warrants obtained for Cohen’s email accounts gave investigators sweeping authority to look into related data including Cohen’s calendars, contacts and photographs. Investigators were also given permission to use Cohen’s fingers or face to unlock his electronic devices if necessary.
Following their successful July 2017 application, Mueller’s team secured several more warrants for Cohen. They were granted a search warrant for Cohen’s Apple iCloud account on August 8th, 2017, the filings said, and then obtained two more search warrants in November 2017 for two additional email accounts used by Cohen.
Mueller’s team passed some of its findings, which did not relate to their central investigation, up to justice department colleagues in New York. After prosecutors there were granted further warrants, FBI agents raided Cohen’s home, hotel room and storage facility and seized millions of documents.
Mueller’s investigation, which appears to be drawing to a conclusion, has roiled Trump’s first term in office and led to the criminal convictions of a series of former Trump advisers for financial crimes and lying to investigators.
It has also led to the indictment of more than two dozen Russians for interfering in the 2016 US election campaign, but no one from Trump’s campaign has been charged over activity relating to the election campaign.
Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, has been accused by Mueller of sharing private polling data with a colleague accused of having ties to Russian intelligence services. – Guardian