DOJ sat on Michael Cohen’s records for years, then dumped them on Trump
DOJ sat on Michael Cohen’s records for years, then dumped them on Trump

Donald Trump’s impending trial in Manhattan over the Stormy Daniels money laundering scandal was unceremoniously postponed last week when federal prosecutors suddenly threw out 200,000 pages worth of evidence at his request.

But what was unknown — until now — is that the Justice Department has withheld such records from public release for years.

The surprise decision by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, who worked on a previous iteration of that investigation before Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg took over, threw the case into disarray just weeks before trial.

The fog makes everyone blame each other. The DA’s office says Trump played delay games by waiting until the last minute to request those records. Trump’s lawyers say the new files show prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence. Meanwhile, lawyers on the sidelines are questioning why the feds suddenly presented a new set of documents to the former president.

But an unspoken piece of that puzzle is that Michael Cohen, the one-time Trump confidant and go-between Bragg relied on to prove Trump broke the law, has been asking for many of those same records for more than two years — only to be confronted with stiff opposition from the Department of Justice.

Cohen, who believes the feds unfairly prosecuted him over the hush money deal by never prosecuting his former boss, teamed up with journalist Brian Karem to demand documents from the FBI and DOJ.

In December 2021, Karem filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents related to the investigation and prosecution led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, going the extra step of obtaining Cohen’s express permission to obtain information about him. After not hearing back from the feds, Karem sued.

In court documents, the FBI in New York eventually “identified over 450,000 pages of potentially incriminating material” and promised to release 500 pages per month to Karem starting in August 2022.

But that wasn’t until March 11 this year that the FBI has finally begun turning over those tapes to Cohen, which are marked “unclassified.” And when it did, the first batch was a measly 32 pages.

Michael Cohen.

Michael Cohen and his attorney Danya Perry arrive at Trump’s civil fraud trial in New York State Supreme Court in October 2023.

Spencer Platt/Getty

By comparison, the SDNY — that same week — had just sent a whopping 73,193 documents for the same investigation in Trump’s direction. The feds had fast-tracked a request from Trump’s lead defense attorney, Todd Blanche, seeking information that could undermine the Manhattan prosecutors’ case and undermine Cohen’s credibility.

Cohen believes the Justice Department was only prompted to turn over those 32 pages to him because it had already turned over 6,250 times more to the former president.

“Trump sent out a request for the documents in January, so this orange piece of shit in 45 days got documents that I’ve been waiting for years,” Cohen told The Daily Beast. “I’m angry that he was able to delay this case.”

Indeed, Blanche filed a formal application with the SDNY on January 22nd. A month later, the office’s politically appointed top federal prosecutor, Damian Williams, wrote a letter authorizing the release of those records to prosecutors so they could be reviewed and immediately turned over to Trump’s legal team.

Karem, a Washington columnist for Salon who hosts his own podcast, expressed his frustration that the Justice Department had worked so hard to slow him and Cohen down, but kicked into high gear when the former president came knocking.

“When Donald Trump says he has a two-tiered judiciary, that stupid bastard is absolutely right! Here’s the problem: He’s at the highest level and the rest of us aren’t,” he told The Daily Beast on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign communications director, Stephen Cheng, hit back at Cohen, who referred to the previous day’s news.

“Michael Cohen is a convicted perjurer and compulsive liar. Nothing he says can be taken as anything other than fiction. Just yesterday, a federal judge refused to reduce his sentence of supervised release because he continues to lie and cheat the system, including lying on the bench in the NYAG case and his AI-generated legal brief. No ethical prosecutor or judge can use Cohen’s testimony in any case,” Cheung said.

The DOJ did not respond to a request for comment.

In court, DOJ lawyers in Washington spent 24 months filing 18 “status reports” listing multiple reasons why the records simply weren’t yet available to Cohen and Karem, citing a “painstaking and intensive review” by federal prosecutors in the SDNY “who have other judicial and prosecutorial responsibilities.”

They also argued that the FBI could not simply turn over records documenting how agents went about their investigation, citing the need to seek “consultations” from more than 25 other government agencies “with overlapping holdings.”

Now that Karem sees the way the SDNY moved quickly to comply with Trump’s request in just a month and a half, he’s given up on the excuses he’s been getting for years.

“I don’t want to hear that you can’t produce it for me,” he said. “If Congress is going to tell us they’re for transparency, then make the government a little more transparent.”

By contrast, state court filings show the SDNY turned over 119,000 pages intended for Trump this month alone. A source familiar with the situation told The Daily Beast that total had risen to 200,000 pages this week.

The former president’s lawyers are using this recent development to accuse Bragg of withholding information related to the case — what would amount to whatever dirt the feds collected when they took the first bite of the apple and chose not to indict Trump. The move plays into Trump’s goal of discrediting Cohen.

Bragg’s office has vehemently denied violating court information-sharing rules, alleging the Trump team used a sneaky tactic by sending an eleventh-hour request for largely duplicate documents from the feds — a time when Assistant District Prosecutor Matthew Colangelo called it “a function of the defendant himself to delay.”

On March 8, Trump’s lawyer Blanche also asked the New York judge overseeing the hush money case, Judge Juan Murchan, to sanction the DA’s office for improperly redacting “SDNY and FBI materials” that could shed light on “details of their processing of requests for benefits and services from Cohen, [Stormy Daniels, and] any other witness.

On Monday, Colangelo wrote to a state judge that any complaints about redactions were false because Trump actually received unredacted versions of the same materials in one folder, a fact that “suggests that he is more interested in the production and publication of alleged violations of discovery than of using the material provided in preparation for trial in this matter.’

But as U.S. prosecutors and Trump defenders sparred over the sudden release of documents related to the FBI’s money laundering investigation, Cohen grew angry. He’s bemused that Trump could simply outflank his way to victory — beating Cohen in the race to get the man’s own government files.

Cohen called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate what he attributed to continued dislike of federal prosecutors in the office that pursued him so aggressively, but would not prosecute Trump while in the White House, largely because of a permanent opposition from William Barr, then Trump’s AG.

This scandal received little attention despite its monumental implications and was detailed by Jeffrey Berman, who headed the prestigious SDNY office at the time.

“The Southern District of New York believes it is above everyone and everything. They crudely refer to themselves as the “Sovereign” District of New York. They don’t have to. They threaten. They are forced. They’re lying,” Cohen fumed. “Then they get seven-figure jobs at top law firms.”

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