The U.S. District judge who presided over the Michael Cohen tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violation case in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) has denied the government’s request to redact certain materials now that the hush payment probe has ended without additional charges. The government asked for limited redactions to portions of the search warrant materials to “protect third-party privacy interests,” but Judge William Pauley denied that request, saying that the public has a right to know.
“On July 15, 2019, the Government submitted a status report and proposed redactions to the Materials ex parte and under seal. The Government now represents that it has concluded the aspects of its investigation that justified the continued sealing of the portions of the Materials relating to Cohen’s campaign finance violations,” Pauley wrote. “Although the Government agrees that the majority of the campaign finance portions of the Materials may be unsealed, it requests limited redactions to those portions to protect third-party privacy interests.”
“After reviewing the Government’s status report and proposed redactions, this Court denies the Government’s request. In particular—and in contrast to the private nature of Cohen’s business transactions—the weighty public ramifications of the conduct described in the campaign finance portions warrant disclosure,” the judge continued. “The campaign finance violations discussed in the Materials are a matter of national importance. Now that the Government’s investigation into those violations has concluded, it is time that every American has an opportunity to scrutinize the Materials.”
The judge ordered the materials to be “unredacted in their entirety, except that the names of law enforcement investigators, references to individuals who purportedly engaged in business transactions or contemplated business transactions with Cohen relating to taxi medallions, and personal information referenced in this Court’s March 18, 2019 Order.”
The government has been ordered to file its latest status report and the contested materials at 11 a.m. on Thursday. The only other exception: “The July 15, 2019 status report shall be unredacted in its entirety, except that limited references in the footnote to an uncharged third-party may remain redacted.”
Portions of the Cohen search warrants have already been unsealed, but, as you’ll see, much of the information is redacted.
The hush money probe, you may recall, related to payoffs of porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal to keep affairs with Donald Trump quiet before the 2016 election.
Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg and American Media Inc. (parent company of National Enquirer) CEO David Pecker both received immunity as part of the investigation. Donald Trump Jr.’s signature was on a hush payment check.
Cohen, who is currently serving out a three-year prison sentence in Otisville, New York, said in court that then-candidate Trump “directed him” to make the hush payments. Trump was referred to as “Individual-1” in SDNY filings.
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