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THREAD: What do the SDNY search warrant materials tell us?
1/ Today SDNY released unredacted versions of the search warrant materials in their campaign finance investigation that resulted in charges against Michael Cohen. You can read some of them at the link below. courtlistener.com/recap/gov.usco…
2/ Generally speaking, the materials show that federal law enforcement sought and conducted searches of a number of different locations, many of which have already been reported, such as Cohen's home, office, and hotel room. Other "locations" were his devices such as his iPhone.
3/ When the Feds seek a search warrant, the way that they present evidence to the judge is by submitting a sworn affidavit from a FBI agent setting forth the evidence that has been obtained in the investigation as well the agent's interpretation of that evidence.
4/ The purpose of the affidavit is to give the judge sufficient evidence to find that there is probable cause (which basically means a good reason to believe) that a federal crime was committed and that evidence of that crime exists at the location or device to be searched.
5/ It's very different than how a criminal trial would work. At trial, the standard is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Also an agent's interpretations and opinions about the evidence would not be admissible as evidence. They're included to help the judge interpret raw evidence.
6/ The majority of the evidence found in the affidavits has been the subject of reporting by news outlets in the past, and the overall picture that is painted is consistent with news reports as well as the case that federal prosecutors brought against Michael Cohen.
7/ But there are important new details. For example, there are phone records showing extensive communication between Cohen and Trump (and Hope Hicks, who was then the campaign's press secretary) in between Cohen's conversations with the lawyer who was representing Stormy Daniels.
8/ The timing of those communications is very revealing, particularly because Cohen and the lawyer (Keith Davidson) would also text in between calls. Cohen also called David Pecker, the head of AMI (the company that owned the National Enquirer) during the same sequence of calls.
9/ For example, during on October 8, 2016, Cohen had a call with Hicks and Trump, then Hicks, then Pecker, then Pecker's Chief Content Officer, then Hicks, then Pecker, then Trump, then the Chief Content Officer, and then the Content Officer texted Cohen confirming the deal.
10/ There is more detail about this sequence and others than I could write in this thread, but you can draw a clear inference -- based on the sequence of the calls -- that the calls were about the hush money payments. The FBI agent said he or she believed "some" of them were.
11/ This evidence backs up what many already concluded, which is that despite his public denials, Trump knew about the hush money payments.

Federal prosecutors regularly use call records like this, to show that the people using the phones were involved in a criminal scheme.
12/ For example, I regularly used phone records like this when I was a junior prosecutor handling large narcotics trafficking cases. The phone records showed relationships between suppliers, distributors, and couriers. I frequently used these records at trial to prove guilt.
13/ But it's important to understand the limits of that evidence. I always reminded juries that we didn't know what was said on the calls or who was using the phones. We just knew that a particular person's phone was in contact with another person's phone on that date and time.
14/ The beliefs/interpretations of the agent in the affidavit very solid (if anything, they are careful and cautious) and were proper. But they could not be admitted at trial.

That's why the cooperation of Cohen in this matter would be so important to make a case against others.
15/ It's one thing to have phone records on their own. It's another thing to have a cooperator testify as to what happened on the calls and then to have the phone records to back up his testimony. Suddenly the phone records are just supporting data instead of the main event.
16/ Supporting evidence that backs up the cooperator are what prosecutors need when a flipper has baggage, as Cohen does.

So why wasn't Trump charged? DOJ has a policy against indicting a sitting president. And it's worth noting that we don't know what Cohen told SDNY.
17/ The SDNY federal prosecutors did *not* give him credit for cooperating and believed he was not forthcoming about all of the criminal activity he was aware of, which would make it very hard for them to ask a jury to believe Cohen's testimony. Most prosecutors wouldn't do it.
18/ That part of the story is still unknown and may be for quite some time.

As for Hope Hicks, even putting aside the issue with Cohen, one likely reason why she wasn't charged is that the campaign finance laws require that she *knew* this scheme violated the law.
19/ Regarding Trump, it appears that SDNY developed evidence that he knew that this scheme violated the law, and at one point he previously discussed the relevant campaign finance law during a TV interview. Hicks is a different story and it could be hard to prove her knowledge.
20/ As for Trump, he has potential criminal liability and could be charged when he leaves office. Given that the statute of limitations for this crime and obstruction of justice would run in late 2021, the 2020 election has added significance for him. /end
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