Judge: Michael Cohen campaign finance probe over

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FILE – In this Dec. 12, 2018, file photo, Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, leaves federal court after his sentencing in New York. Federal prosecutors have told a judge in New York Wednesday, July 17, 2019, that they have concluded their investigation into campaign finance violations committed by Cohen. U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III said that the conclusion of the case clears the way for the public release of sealed search warrant materials dealing with the investigation. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Federal prosecutors have told a judge in New York they have concluded their investigation into campaign finance crimes committed by President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen.

The closure of the case is the strongest suggestion yet that federal prosecutors have decided not to bring criminal charges against anyone besides Cohen in the scheme to use hush-money payments to protect Trump’s reputation during the 2016 presidential campaign.

U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III made the disclosure in a court filing Wednesday as part of a legal fight over whether to unseal search warrant materials dealing with the investigation.

For months, prosecutors had asked that the documents remain sealed because they were still probing payments Cohen helped orchestrate to two women — porn actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal — who claimed they had affairs with Trump.

While Cohen pleaded guilty last August to charges that the payoffs amounted to illegal campaign contributions, others involved remained uncharged, including Trump himself and executives at the Trump Organization and American Media Inc., the company that owns the National Enquirer.

Now, though, prosecutors have informed the court in a sealed filing that they’ve concluded the investigation, clearing the way for the release of documents related to the case.

The judge rejected a request by prosecutors to black out portions of the documents to protect third-party privacy interests, saying the records involved “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,” Pauley wrote.

He ordered the government to put the search warrant records related to searches of Cohen’s residence and office in the public record by 11 a.m. Thursday.

Trump has denied any sexual relationship with Daniels and McDougal and said any payments made to them were private in nature and not related to his campaign.

“We are pleased that the investigation surrounding these ridiculous campaign finance allegations is now closed,” Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said Wednesday. “We have maintained from the outset that the President never engaged in any campaign finance violation.”

The U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan declined to comment and wouldn’t answer questions about whether the completion of the investigation meant that no one else would be charged.

In December, Pauley sentenced Cohen to three years in prison for crimes including the campaign finance violations, lying to Congress and tax evasion.

He began serving the sentence in May, saying at the time it was an injustice that he was going to prison for crimes that benefited Trump.

In previous court filings, federal prosecutors in New York appeared to implicate Trump directly, saying that he directed Cohen to make the hush money payments.

However, the Justice Department has held that sitting presidents cannot be charged in the federal criminal justice system and instead can only be punished for misdeeds by Congress through the impeachment process.

“Case closed?” asked Cohen’s spokesman, Lanny Davis, in a statement questioning why Cohen was the only member of Trump’s company to be prosecuted and imprisoned.

“Especially since prosecutors found that virtually all of Michael’s admitted crimes were done at the direction of and for the benefit of Donald Trump. Why?” Davis said.

The records to be unsealed include search warrant applications that federal prosecutors made to judges in New York when they sought permission to raid Cohen’s home and office. In them, they outlined some of the evidence they had gathered about his alleged crimes.

Some of the documents were released publicly previously, but large sections related to the campaign finance probe were blacked out.

In requesting the records, The Associated Press and eight other media organizations had cited high public interest and a right to access.

Prosecutors had initially opposed the request, saying disclosure “would jeopardize an ongoing investigation and prejudice the privacy rights of uncharged third parties.”

News organizations in the legal action to unseal the documents included the AP, The New York Times and the parent companies of ABC and CBS News, CNN, the Daily News, The Wall Street Journal, Newsday and the New York Post.

Pauley said the record should be “unredacted in its entirety” except for limited references in a footnote to an uncharged third-party and the names of law enforcement investigators, references to individuals purportedly engaged in business transactions or contemplated business transactions with Cohen relating to his taxi business.

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Associated Press Writer Eric Tucker in Washington and Michael R. Sisak in New York contributed to this report.

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