The FBI sought records on the infamous Access Hollywood audio recording of President Trump boasting about sexual assault during a raid on the office and hotel room of Trump's personal attorney, The New York Times reported Wednesday. The president recently denied any knowledge of the payment Cohen made to Daniels to keep her story quiet.
At the time, Cohen was a top lawyer at the Trump Organization and not formally affiliated with the campaign. Cohen's attorney has said the search was carried out on behalf of the USA attorney's office in Manhattan in part because of a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller.
As part of the grand jury probe, they wrote, investigators had already searched multiple email accounts maintained by Cohen.
The details in court papers came as lawyers for Cohen and Trump sought to block the Department of Justice from examining records and electronic devices, including two cellphones, seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Monday from Cohen's residences, office and safety deposit box. "And anyone who has ever hired a lawyer a close third".
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The search warrant executed Monday sought all of Cohen's communications about payments or negotiations with adult-film star Stormy Daniels and ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal.
Prosecutors are investigating whether Cohen engaged in bank fraud, wire fraud and violations of campaign finance law, as The Washington Post previously reported.
Ordinarily, documents or communications seized from a lawyer by FBI agents would be reviewed by a team of Justice Department lawyers not directly involved in the investigation to determine which documents were relevant to the probe, and which should be off-limits to investigators because of attorney-client privilege.
"In the process of asking for that, they have to demonstrate why it is likely evidence of a crime", said Jennifer Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor who is executive director of Columbia Law School's Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity. Both women say they had affairs with Trump.
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But if officials believe an attorney could destroy the evidence, they can apply for a search warrant signed by the U.S. Attorney or Assistant Attorney General. Outside court, he said: "We have every reason to believe that some of the documents seized relate to my client".
Hendon asked for a delay in court proceedings until at least Monday, saying she needed to research the law.
Clifford's lawyer, Michael Avenatti, spoke briefly in court. He called Mueller's investigation "an attack on our country".
Those confidentiality rules can be set aside under certain circumstances if investigators have evidence that a crime has been committed. But the fact that the agents were seeking documents related to the tape reveals a new front in the investigation into Mr. Cohen that is being led by the United States attorney's office in Manhattan.
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The Washington Post published the video on October 7, 2016. Cohen said he paid Daniels $130,000 in exchange for her silence about her claim to have had a one-night-stand with Trump.