Michael Cohen, president Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, could be charged before the end of the month with bank fraud in his dealings with the taxi industry and with committing other financial crimes, two people familiar with the federal probe said Monday.
The people confirmed reports that federal prosecutors in Manhattan were considering charging Mr Cohen after months of speculation over a case that has been a distraction for the White House with the midterm elections approaching.
The people, who weren’t authorised to discuss the case and spoke on Monday on condition of anonymity, refused to answer questions about speculation that Mr Cohen still might strike a plea deal with prosecutors requiring his cooperation.
Unless there is a quick resolution to the case, it’s believed that prosecutors would put off a decision on how to go forward with the case until after the election in compliance with an informal Justice Department policy of avoiding bringing prosecutions that could be seen as political and influence voters.
Both the US attorney’s office and an attorney for Mr Cohen, Lanny Davis, declined to comment on Monday. There was no immediate response to a message seeking comment from Sterling National Bank, one of the institutions that loaned Mr Cohen money.
The New York Times reported on Sunday, based on anonymous sources, that prosecutors have been focusing on more than $20 million in loans obtained by taxi businesses that Mr Cohen and his family own.
Mr Cohen had gained notoriety as Mr Trump’s loyal ‘fixer’ before FBI agents raided his office and a hotel where he was staying while renovations were being done on his apartment in a Trump-developed building.
Prosecutors were initially silent about why Mr Cohen was under investigation. Some details became public after lawyers for Mr Cohen and Mr Trump asked a judge to temporarily prevent investigators from viewing some of the seized material, on the grounds that it was protected by attorney-client privilege.
The search of Mr Cohen’s files sought bank records, communications with the Trump campaign and information on hush money payments made in 2016 to two women: former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who received $150,000, and the porn actress Stormy Daniels, who got $130,000.
At the time, Mr Trump branded the raid “a witch hunt,” an assault on attorney-client privilege and a politically motivated attack by enemies in the FBI.
But the president’s initial support for Mr Cohen, though, degenerated over the summer into a public feud, prompting the speculation that, in order to save himself, Mr Cohen might be willing to tell prosecutors some of the secrets he’d help Trump keep.