- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Special counsel Robert Mueller initially was investigating Michael Cohen for money laundering and violations of foreign lobbying laws, according to documents unsealed Tuesday, though President Trump’s former lawyer was never charged with those crimes.

The documents also revealed that Mr. Mueller’s probe began in summer 2017, earlier than initially believed — and well before Trump nemesis Michael Avenatti claimed to have forced scrutiny over Cohen’s payments to adult film stars.

The documents were part of the justification Mr. Mueller used to obtain search warrants to peek at Cohen’s communications, track his whereabouts, and conduct a raid of his home and office last year.

A first warrant was issued July 18, 2017, while Cohen was still serving as President Trump’s personal attorney. That warrant authorized a search of Cohen’s Gmail accounts.

A federal judge later approved a second warrant for data stored in Cohen’s iCloud account, the documents revealed. A third warrant authorized access to emails as far back as June 1, 2015, nearly two weeks before Mr. Trump declared his candidacy for the White House.

Cohen has since broken with Mr. Trump, pleaded guilty in federal court in New York to lying to Congress and breaking campaign finance laws for hush payments made to porn stars, and is cooperating with federal prosecutors.

Nineteen pages of the warrant documents related to the campaign finance violations were redacted in Tuesday’s release. Some analysts said those pages could suggest legal jeopardy for Mr. Trump, who Cohen says ordered and funded the payments to the porn stars.

The documents, released Tuesday, were unsealed as a result of a ruling from U.S. District Judge William Pauley in New York, partially granting a request from several news outlets to make the documents publicly available.

Some documents, including those provided to a D.C. federal court, remain unavailable to the public.

Of those made public, one warrant sought records of “any funds or benefits received by or offered to Michael Dean Cohen, by or on behalf of, any foreign government.”

Mr. Mueller also sought evidence about Cohen conducting “activities on behalf of, for the benefit of, or at the direction of any foreign government.”

Another document says the special counsel’s office has evidence Cohen made false statements to a bank and illegally lobbied on behalf of “certain foreign persons or entities.”

It is not clear why New York prosecutors brought charges related to the false statements, but foreign lobbying charges were never filed.

Mr. Mueller has indicted three individuals — former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his former business associates Rick Gates and Sam Patten — for violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Allegations that Cohen violated the foreign agents law played a role during his public testimony last month before the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican, accused Cohen of concealing the crime.

Cohen responded that he does not lobby or do government relations work.

But Mr. Meadows tweeted that he referred Cohen for criminal investigation for violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act, saying he was “illegally lobbying on behalf of foreign entities without registering.”

From the start, Mr. Mueller appears to have targeted Cohen for violating the act. The first search warrant, obtained in July 2017 for one of Cohen’s Gmail accounts, refers to evidence of “acting as a foreign agent,” according to the documents.

The documents revealed that between January 2017 and August 2017, an account opened by Cohen under the name Essential Consultants LLC received more than $583,000 from an investment group controlled by a Russian oligarch.

That oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, was questioned by Mr. Mueller’s team last year.

Essential Consultants also received a $150,000 payment from a bank in Kazakhstan. It is not clear if either payment is tied to the illegal lobbying violations.

That shell company is the same one used by Cohen to pay off the two porn stars who said they had extramarital affairs with Mr. Trump, which he has denied.

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