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Michael Cohen, U.S. President Donald Trump's former attorney, exits the United States Court house after his sentencing, in the Manhattan borough of New York City, on December 12, 2018. Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Search warrants linked to former Trump lawyer Cohen made public

WASHINGTON — Months before the FBI raided Michael Cohen’s office and hotel room, investigators were examining the flow of foreign money into his bank accounts and looking into whether the funds might be connected to a plan to lift Russian sanctions, according to court filings unsealed Wednesday.

The five search warrant applications, made in the early weeks and months of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation in 2017, were made public in response to requests from The Associated Press and other media organizations.

The warrants shed further light on how the longtime Trump fixer, who this month began a three-year prison sentence, tried to financially capitalize on his closeness to the president. The newly unsealed material doesn’t reveal further information about Trump’s own role in the crimes that put Cohen in prison.

The documents provide more detail about the early stages of Mueller’s investigation as agents and prosecutors examined whether any Trump campaign aides had conspired with Russia to sway the outcome of the 2016 election. At the time, Cohen was Trump’s personal lawyer and a close aide and confidant.

The warrant applications cover requests to search his email accounts, including one associated with the Trump Organization. Representatives for Cohen declined to comment Wednesday.

The documents show how investigators by the summer of 2017 had zeroed in on bank accounts for Essential Consultants, LLC, the company that Cohen formed and used to make hush-money payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels, who has said she had a sexual relationship with Trump a decade before the election.

Cohen has said he made that payment at Trump’s behest, which the president has denied along with the affair.

Investigators said in the warrants that after Trump was elected, the Essentials Consultants bank account received multiple deposits from foreign businesses and entities, including from companies they said had “significant ties to foreign governments or are entities controlled by foreign governments.”

Investigators were especially curious about deposits of more than $416,000 from an account linked to an investment management firm, Columbus Nova, LLC. The warrants link that firm, and the holding company that controls it, to Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oligarch with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In their application for the warrant, prosecutors said Cohen exchanged over 230 phone calls and 950 text messages with the CEO of Columbus Nova between Nov. 8, 2016, and July 14, 2017. There were no text messages or phone calls before Election Day in 2016, prosecutors said.

Columbus Nova has said in a statement that it is solely owned and controlled by Americans. It has described as false any allegation that Vekselberg used Columbus Nova as a conduit for payments to Cohen.

READ MORE: Records show FBI was investigating Michael Cohen long before raid

The warrant applications also make clear that investigators at the time were examining whether any of the fund transfers were connected to Cohen’s involvement in a plan, described months earlier in a New York Times story, to try to get the U.S. to lift sanctions on Russia.

Ultimately, Cohen was not charged with anything related to Russia or with illegal influence peddling.

He has acknowledged offering his insights into Trump’s administration to multiple corporate clients, but said he broke no laws in doing so.

Cohen is serving a three-year prison sentence on charges including tax evasion, lying to Congress and campaign finance violations related to the payments to Daniels and another woman who has alleged an affair with Trump, Karen McDougal.

Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo and Chad Day in Washington and Michael R. Sisak and Jim Mustian in New York contributed to this report.

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