MICHAEL BALSAMO, Associated Press 04/12 – The FBI agents who raided the offices of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, sought records of his communications with the Trump campaign as part of what appeared to be an examination of his efforts to quell potentially damaging information about the candidate.
Several media organizations, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, also reported, citing unidentified sources, that the warrant also authorized agents to seize records related to the “Access Hollywood” tape, on which Trump was recorded making comments about kissing and groping women.
After the public release of the recording in October 2016, Trump dismissed his comments as “locker room talk.” In the weeks after, several women said publicly that Trump had subjected them to unwanted sexual advances.
FBI and Justice Department officials in Washington and New York have refused to discuss the case publicly, or say what crimes they are investigating.
Cohen, through his lawyer and in public statements, has denied wrongdoing. Trump has called the raids a “witch hunt” and “an attack on our country.”
Public corruption prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan are trying to determine, according to one person familiar with the investigation, if there was any fraud related to payments to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels.
McDougal, a former Playmate, was paid $150,000 in the summer of 2016 by the parent company of the National Enquirer under an agreement that gave it the exclusive rights to her story and would penalize her for speaking publicly about the affair. The magazine didn’t publish the story.
Cohen has acknowledged that he paid Daniels $130,000 in exchange for her promise not to talk publicly about an affair she said she had with Trump.
The warrants also sought business records on Cohen’s dealings in the taxi industry, according to one of the people with knowledge of the investigation who spoke with The Associated Press. Cohen owns several medallions for New York City yellow cabs that allow them to pick up passengers on the street.
The interim U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, Geoffrey Berman, who would ordinarily be overseeing the investigation, has been recused from involvement, leaving his top deputy, Robert Khuzami, in charge of the probe. Khuzami, a former head of enforcement at the Securities and Exchange Commission, only joined the U.S. Attorney’s office in January after he was brought in by Berman, who himself is still waiting to see if Trump will nominate him to have the job permanently.
Several former officials at the Federal Election Commission have said that payments made to women in order to effectively buy their silence about Trump could have violated campaign finance laws because it may amount to an unreported campaign donation.
Cohen has said neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was involved in the payments. He said he paid Daniels with money he had borrowed from a bank as part of a home equity line of credit.
The White House has consistently said Trump denies the affair.
Balsamo reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers Tom Hays and Jake Pearson in New York, and Chad Day, Eric Tucker, Tom LoBianco and Catherine Lucey in Washington contributed to this report.
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