Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump‘s former friend and fixer was scheduled to appear before the House Intelligence Committee during a hush-hush closed door session on Friday. Earlier this morning, that meeting was postponed. One hour later, a sealed document from special counsel Robert Mueller was filed in an ongoing against Cohen–away from public view.
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff made the announcement just before 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday.
“In the interests of the investigation, Michael Cohen’s testimony has been postponed until February 28th,” Schiff’s statement read.
Around 11:00 a.m. notification of the filing–a hallmark of brevity and mystery–in the case of U.S.A. v. Cohen made it’s way into the legal basement of the Southern District of New York (SDNY):
SEALED DOCUMENT placed in vault. (mhe)
Speculation quickly ran rampant.
Avowed Cohen foe Michael Avenatti immediately chimed in with his take–calling attention to his earlier prediction that Cohen was likely to be charged with a new slate of crimes.
“Michael Cohen will likely face new charges,” Avenatti tweeted early Tuesday morning. “Which is why he did not fully cooperate with SDNY previously – he is still hiding info and crimes. This ties into the Cohen financial info we released last year.”
Remarking upon his earlier prediction–and quote-tweeting himself–Avenatti said:
This tweet is starting to age very well. Especially in light of the sealed document that was just filed in SDNY. Cohen thought he could play games with prosecutors, not come 100% clean and then try and play John Dean. He was wrong. And I am going to enjoy every minute of it…
Appended to Avenatti’s original tweet was a CNN article regarding a recent subpoena handed out to President Trump’s inaugural committee. The story only mentions Cohen once, however, and does not explicitly indicate that he is likely to be subject to legal jeopardy viz. the inaugural committee probe.
As Law&Crime previously reported, the SDNY’s separate investigation into Cohen investigation likely led Mueller’s army of attorneys and New York prosecutors to look askance at Trump’s victory bash-throwing organization due to a recording of an apparent conversation between Cohen and Stephanie Wolkoff, a former aide to Melania Trump whose company received $26 million from the Trump inaugural committee.
Cohen was also a fundraiser for said committee. So, Avenatti’s prediction is certainly within the realm of plausibility as Cohen’s fingerprints are likely embedded in several aspects of the inaugural committee’s work–at least on the money side.
It’s unclear which of the special counsel’s inquiries–into Cohen or otherwise–are impacted by the secretive filing. Though filed in the SDNY, information on the document itself identifies the special counsel’s office as the plaintiff.
National security reporter Marcy Wheeler tends to think this means it isn’t related to the inauguration committee investigation.
Clarifying on this: This is the Mueller docket, not the SDNY docket. Which means it’s probably NOT inauguration committee related (which might get its own docket, when things get around to that). https://t.co/Fc2zsJBEk8
— emptywheel (@emptywheel) February 6, 2019
Cohen was charged in the SDNY for financial crimes and campaign finance violations. Mueller also charged Cohen with lying to Congress. Both sets of charges were dispensed of on the same day–December 12, 2018–in an SDNY court room.
Notably, this is the second time that a sealed document has been “placed in vault” in the SDNY related to Cohen.
On Wednesday, December 19, 2018, SDNY prosecutors filed another document away from public view. The timing of that filing was also seemingly less than coincidental–it was filed exactly one week after Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison for various financial crimes and campaign finance violations related to hush money payments made to Avenatti’s client Stormy Daniels as well as Playboy playmate Karen McDougal.
Update, Wed., 2:20 p.m.: the sealed document in question has been deleted from the Cohen docket. The docket entry says that the document was “incorrectly filed.” This is the message that now appears:
***DELETED DOCUMENT. Deleted document number 18 Sealed Document. The document was incorrectly filed in this case. (mhe) (Entered: 02/06/2019)
It’s not immediately clear if this means there never should have been a filing in this case or that there should have been but what was done was erroneous.
[Image via Spencer Platt/Getty Images]
Editor’s note: this story has been amended post-publication for clarity and to include additional links, plus the update you see above.