Records show special counsel zeroed in on Cohen early on

NEW YORK (AP) — Hundreds of pages of court records made public on Tuesday revealed that special counsel Robert Mueller quickly zeroed in on Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer, in the early stages of his Russia probe.

The heavily blacked-out records, released by a judge at the request of news organisations, show that Mueller was investigating Cohen by July 2017 — much earlier than previously known.

That was two months after Mueller was appointed to investigate Moscow’s election interference and practically a year before an FBI raid on Cohen’s home and office.

The full scope of Mueller’s interest in Cohen is not clear from the documents, which include search warrant applications and other records. More extensive files from the special counsel investigation remain under seal in Washington.

But the documents made public on Tuesday show that Mueller’s investigators early on began looking into possible misrepresentations Cohen made to banks to shore up his financially troubled taxi business.

President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen. – AP

They were also initially interested in money that was flowing into Cohen’s bank accounts from consulting contracts he signed after Trump got elected. Prosecutors were looking into whether Cohen failed to register as a foreign agent.

Some of the payments he received were from companies with strong foreign ties, including a Korean aerospace company, a bank in Kazakhstan and an investment firm affiliated with a Russian billionaire.

By February 2018, though, the records show Mueller had handed off portions of his investigation to federal prosecutors in Manhattan. And by the spring of 2018, those prosecutors had expanded their investigation to include payments Cohen made to buy the silence of actress Stormy Daniels who claimed to have had affairs with Trump.

The newly released documents indicate authorities continue to probe campaign violations connected to those hush money payments. Nearly 20 pages related to the matter were blacked out at the direction of a judge who said he wanted to protect an ongoing investigation by New York prosecutors.