Prosecutors preparing charges for Michael Cohen; could announce by end of August

Posted at 4:59 AM, Aug 20, 2018

Federal prosecutors are preparing criminal charges against President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen and could announce them by the end of the month, people familiar with the matter tell CNN.

The US Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York has been investigating Cohen for possible bank and tax fraud and campaign finance violations related in part to a $130,000 hush money payment made to silence porn star Stormy Daniels' allegations of an affair with Trump. Trump has denied an affair.

Investigators are also examining more than $20 million in loans obtained for Cohen and his family's taxi companies, The New York Times reported Sunday night, citing people familiar with the matter.

Criminal charges against Cohen would be a major setback to President Donald Trump because Cohen has long been in his inner circle. Cohen has prided himself over the years on his reputation as Trump's pit bull and once said he "would take a bullet" for Trump.

But Trump's longtime consigliere has since broken allegiance with his former boss. Cohen has expressed a willingness to cooperate with the investigation, but it isn't clear if prosecutors are interested in a deal or what information he has to offer them. The US Attorney's office operates under the guidelines of the Justice Department, which advises against indicting a sitting president.

The Cohen investigation was referred to the Southern District of New York by special counsel Robert Mueller. Should Cohen seek to make a deal to avoid indictment, it could require him to cooperate with any investigation prosecutors wish, including the Russia probe.

As of last week, Cohen hadn't met with prosecutors in New York, according to people familiar with the matter.

FBI agents raided Cohen's hotel room, office and home in April. At the time prosecutors said their investigation had been underway for months. The search warrant authorizing the raid referenced Cohen's taxi medallion business, the identity of banks that loaned him money and payments made to suppress negative information during the presidential campaign.

Investigators are finalizing the charges, but the timing of their announcement is fluid, the sources say. Prosecutors' plans to make a decision by the end of August was first reported by the New York Times.

The prosecutors who have been investigating Cohen have been mindful of the election cycle when weighing when to charge him, a person familiar with the matter told CNN, and as a result have considered bringing charges either before September or waiting to do so until after the midterm elections.

Cohen's attorney, Lanny Davis, declined to comment when contacted by CNN. A spokesman for the US attorney's office also declined to comment.

According to the Times, investigators are trying to determine whether Cohen misrepresented the value of his assets to obtain the loans from two financial institutions that have catered to the taxi industry. They are also scrutinizing whether he failed to properly report his income from taxi medallions to the Internal Revenue Service, the Times reported.

CNN previously reported that Cohen is under investigation for possible bank and tax fraud, that his taxi medallions are a focus of the investigation, and that one of the banks that made the loans was Sterling National Bank. The Times, citing financial records and people with knowledge of the matter, reported that the other financial institution is the Melrose Credit Union.