Federal authorities investigating Russian interference in the presidential election obtained search warrants for emails of Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, beginning in July 2017, according to documents released Tuesday that provide a glimpse into the earliest stages of the inquiry into the president.
The documents show that Mr. Cohen’s business dealings had already been the subject of an extensive investigation by the time F.B.I. agents conducted a highly public raid on his home and office nine months later, in April of last year.
They also show how little the public knew about the Russian investigation in real time as prosecutors zeroed in on Mr. Cohen, revealing some of the investigative steps they took to obtain evidence through search warrants in Washington and New York.
Prosecutors, for instance, unearthed bank payments from a New York investment firm tied to Viktor Vekselberg, a billionaire Russian businessman with ties to the Kremlin who met with Mr. Cohen in his Trump Tower office just days before the inauguration, the documents show.
The public did not learn of those payments, or that Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors later interviewed Mr. Vekselberg, until almost a year later.
The records, including search warrants and materials related to the April raid, were among hundreds of pages of documents released in response to a request by The New York Times and other news organizations.
Lanny J. Davis, a lawyer for Michael Cohen, said in a statement on Monday night that the release furthered Mr. Cohen’s “interest in continuing to cooperate and providing information and the truth about Donald Trump and the Trump organization to law enforcement and Congress.”
One newly released search warrant said that the F.B.I. and Manhattan federal prosecutors were investigating Mr. Cohen for a range of crimes, including defrauding several banks dating back to 2016 and a scheme “to make an illegal campaign contribution in October 2016 to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.” The warrant also indicated they were investigating him for wire fraud and conspiracy.
The documents give a rough timeline of how the Cohen investigation unfolded. Starting in July 2017, two months after Mr. Mueller’s appointment, and stretching through November, his office obtained three search warrants for Mr. Cohen’s emails and another for his iCloud account from a federal judge in Washington.
By February 2018, Mr. Mueller’s office had referred aspects of its investigation to federal prosecutors in Manhattan. Two months later, the raid on Mr. Cohen’s office and home in New York took place.
Late last year, Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws, financial crimes and lying to Congress in two separate prosecutions, one filed by the United States attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York and the other by Mr. Mueller’s office.
Mr. Cohen, 52, apologized at his sentencing in December, blaming himself for “my own weakness and a blind loyalty” to Mr. Trump that he said had led him “to choose a path of darkness over light.”
Judge William H. Pauley III sentenced Mr. Cohen to three years in prison; he is scheduled to begin serving his sentence on May 6 after Judge Pauley granted him a two-month delay in his surrender date because of pending shoulder surgery and his need to prepare for testimony before three congressional committees.
Mr. Cohen testified on Feb. 27 in a daylong public hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee about what he described as Mr. Trump’s lies about his business interests in Russia and his role in the payment of hush money to an adult film actress who claimed to have had an affair with Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen called the president a racist, a con man and a cheat.
The search materials were made public at the order of Judge Pauley. Last fall, when The New York Times and other news organizations asked the judge to unseal the materials, the government opposed such action.
Prosecutors cited the “need to protect an ongoing law enforcement investigation” and the privacy of “numerous uncharged third parties.”
Judge Pauley ultimately ordered the government to provide him with a copy of the sealed materials and proposed redactions. On Monday, after saying he had reviewed and approved the redactions, he ordered the government to file the redacted copy on the public court docket.
The judge also said he would revisit the documents’ secrecy in the near future, directing prosecutors to provide him with a confidential update by May 15.
Follow Benjamin Weiser and William Rashbaum on Twitter: @BenWeiserNYT @WRashbaum
Adam Goldman contributed reporting.
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