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Experts react to report Trump lawyer Michael Cohen may soon be charged

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Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen.
AP
Photo/Richard Drew


  • Legal experts reacted to the major New York Times
    report
     that President Donald Trump’s former longtime
    lawyer Michael Cohen may soon face charges.
  • The Times reported Sunday that Cohen may be charged
    before the end of August.
  • One former federal prosecutor said such a quick
    turnaround from the initial April raid of Cohen’s properties to
    him being formally charged could signal his cooperation with
    the government.
  • Meanwhile, a prominent criminal defense attorney said
    the idea that such charges are “imminent” should be taken “with
    a grain of salt.”

Legal experts laid out to Business Insider what to make of the
major New York Times report Sunday
that President Donald Trump’s former longtime lawyer Michael
Cohen may face charges by the end of the month.

One former federal prosecutor said such a quick turnaround from
the initial April raid of Cohen’s properties to him being
formally charged could signal his cooperation, while a prominent
criminal defense attorney said the idea that such charges are
“imminent” should be taken “with a grain of salt.”

Cohen is the
focus
 of a criminal investigation in the
Southern District of New York into whether he violated
campaign-finance laws, committed bank fraud or wire fraud,
engaged in illegal lobbying, or
participated in other crimes. The FBI raided Cohen’s home, hotel
room, and office in April, seizing more than four million
documents from Trump’s longtime lawyer.

At the center of the
investigation
is the $130,000 hush money payment to porn star
Stormy Daniels, which Cohen facilitated just before the 2016
presidential election to keep her quiet about her allegation of
an affair with Trump in 2006 — an allegation Trump has denied.
The FBI sought documents related to that payment and similar
arrangements with other women.

Investigators have also taken
interest in some of Cohen’s business dealings, particularly as
they related to his once-sprawling taxi business.
Cohen and his wife built up a large taxi business on the back on
the 32 licenses they own. Those licenses are known as medallions.

The Times reported federal investigators are probing whether
Cohen committed bank and tax fraud through his taxi business,
writing that they have zeroed in on more than $20 million in
loans obtained by those businesses. The Times reported that
investigators are also examining whether any of the arrangements
Cohen helped negotiate with women who claimed to have affairs
with Trump violated campaign finance or other laws.

‘This may be a cooperation plea agreement’

The Cohen investigation has reached “the final stage,” as The
Times reported, with prosecutors weighing whether to file charges
before the end of August, two people familiar with the probe told
the publication.

Ken White, a criminal defense attorney, told Business Insider in
an email that while he accepts that Cohen is being investigated
for what The Times laid out in its report, he “would take
with a grain of salt the suggestion charges or resolution are
imminent.”

“That sounds sketchy,” he said.


Michael Cohen
Cohen.
Richard Drew/AP

The Times wrote that it’s still possible for Cohen to plead
guilty rather than face indictment, as the president’s former
attorney has hinted for much of the past two months that he is
willing to work with prosecutors and provide information related
to the president. It’s not known yet whether Cohen’s attorneys
have discussed such an agreement with prosecutors.

Roland Riopelle, a partner at Sercarz & Riopelle who
was formerly a federal prosecutor with the US Attorney’s Office
for the Southern District of New York, told Business Insider in
an email that the brief five-month delay between the FBI’s raids
and potential charges signals to him that “this may be a
cooperation plea agreement.”

“If the matter was contested, the delay could be longer before
charges were returned,” he said, adding that the recent “silence
from Cohen and his lawyers is also something that weighs in favor
of a cooperation deal.”

“The SDNY would not want Cohen and his lawyers wading into the
press the way they were, if a cooperation deal is in the works,”
he said. “Ultimately, however, it’s really hard to predict these
things or read tea leaves accurately. So any inferences must be
taken with a grain of salt.”

The outstanding questions

Mitchell Epner, an attorney at Rottenberg Lipman Rich
and a former federal prosecutor in the US Attorney’s Office for
the District of New Jersey, laid out the important questions
moving forward in an email to Business Insider.

First is whether Cohen is charged by indictment or by
information, the latter which would signal that Cohen “is
certainly pleading guilty on day one and may already have a
cooperation deal,” Epner said. If he is charged by indictment,
Cohen “may or may not eventually plead guilty and, if so, might
eventually cooperate.”

Another important question is what prosecutors are involved
in charging Cohen — specifically, whether anyone from special
counsel Robert Mueller’s office joins the team in the Southern
District of New York that has been handling the probe. Mueller,
who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016
presidential election, handed off the inquiry to the Southern
District of New York at first.

“If there are any people from the Special Counsel’s office, that
will strongly indicate that they are still trying to flip Michael
Cohen,” Epner said.

Lastly, Epner said if Cohen is charged, whether any of the
charges “factually overlap with” Trump will be key. 

The Times reported it’s unclear whether any of the potential
charges prosecutors may soon file are related to any work Cohen
did for Trump or his presidential campaign.

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