A federal probe into hush money payments made to protect Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign has concluded, according to a judge’s order released Wednesday.
At issue is an investigation led by the Southern District of New York connected to Michael Cohen, the former personal lawyer to Trump who is serving a three-year prison term in part for breaking campaign finance law. Trump himself was implicated in Cohen’s crimes, which involved hush money payments to women that federal prosecutors have said were designed to sway the presidential election.
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Cohen cooperated with federal prosecutors as part of his plea deal with the government, but their wider effort is now over, U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley wrote in a three-page order.
“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.
The judge, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, made the disclosure in a ruling on a related matter dealing with the release of sealed information contained in already-public search warrants tied to the Cohen case. Pauley rejected the government’s request to keep some of the search warrant materials in the Cohen case sealed and instead ordered it publicly released by 11 a.m. Thursday.
Pauley also said the government must publicly release a status report it filed earlier this week under seal that acknowledges the end of the wider Trump Organization campaign finance probe.
“The campaign finance violations discussed in the Materials are a matter of national importance,” Pauley added. “Now that the Government’s investigation into those violations has concluded, it is time that every American has an opportunity to scrutinize the Materials. Indeed, the common law right of access—a right so enshrined in our identity that it ‘predate[s] even the Constitution itself’—derives from the public’s right to “learn of, monitor, and respond to the actions of their representatives and representative institutions.”
It’s unclear who exactly has been under scrutiny in connection with the SDNY campaign finance probe, though Cohen testified to a House committee in February that he had maintained “constant contact” with New York-based federal prosecutors about several ongoing investigations, including probes into Trump.
Last week, CNN reported that officials at the Trump Organization haven’t had any contact with SDNY officials for more than five months, and a source tied to the president’s namesake company isn’t disputing that story.
A spokesman for the SDNY U.S. attorney’s office declined comment about the status of its campaign finance probe. Alan Futerfas, an attorney for the Trump Organization, said he was reviewing the judge’s order and declined further comment.
Jay Sekulow, a personal attorney for the president, welcomed the news. “We are pleased that the investigation surrounding these ridiculous campaign finance allegations is now closed,” he said in a text message. “We have maintained from the outset that the President never engaged in any campaign finance violation…Another case is closed.”
But outside observers were split on whether the end of the SDNY case actually represented a definitive all-clear for anyone under investigation in the hush money probe.
Several former federal prosecutors said Wednesday that Trump’s team does have reason to celebrate.
“A motion to unseal documents in a high-profile case such as this one strongly suggests that the matter has concluded,” said Gene Rossi, a former assistant U.S. attorney from Virginia. “If the converse, the documents would have been protected at all costs for investigative purposes. The government does not like to show its cards in an ongoing matter.”
However, Nick Akerman, a former SDNY prosecutor, said the judge’s disclosure about the hush money probe’s end doesn’t mean all the matters related to Cohen are also finished. He said there could still be federal investigations into violations at the Trump Organization dealing with tax laws, foreign bribery statutes or other matters.
David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor based in South Florida, also cautioned that Pauley’s order “simply means that their non-public investigation is over” but it doesn’t mean additional indictments can’t still be filed.
“Presumably, the government will assess the information they have gathered and either continue or end the ongoing grand jury investigation,” he added. Federal prosecutors could also share their information with the New York state attorney general on any parallel investigations.
“As the saying goes, it’s not over until they say it is over,” Weinstein said.