After federal authorities raided Michael Cohen’s offices, hotel room, and home in early April, many speculated that his phone lines might also have been tapped. After all, if investigators had enough evidence to secure warrants for searching the properties of the president’s attorney, there was a decent chance they had the goods to listen in on his calls. And that presumption looked even more sound after federal prosecutors revealed in court filings that they had covertly searched Cohen’s email accounts.
Still, the bar for wiretapping a suspect is high — the government must convince a federal judge that there is good reason to believe its target is participating in an ongoing crime (as opposed to merely having committed one at some point in the past). And as of Thursday morning, there was no public confirmation that federal investigators had cleared that threshold.
So, when NBC News reported that they had, in fact, met that threshold Thursday afternoon, much excitement (and aggregating) ensued. But the network walked back that report hours later: Contrary to its initial write-up, federal investigators did not wiretap Cohen’s phone in the weeks before they showed up at his door; rather, they merely logged his calls using a pen register. Such a machine would have recorded the phone numbers that Cohen dialed, but not the contents of his conversations. Critically, the threshold of proof required to conduct a pen register is vastly lower than that necessary for a wiretap.
Exactly how long the pen register had been in place isn’t clear — but NBC reports that investigators logged at least one call between a line associated with Cohen and the White House.
In the days after the April raid, Trump’s legal advisers instructed him not to reach out to Cohen, because the Feds might be listening. But the president ignored that directive and gave his former “fixer” at least one post-raid ring.
Michael Cohen is officially being investigated for campaign-finance violations connected to a $130,000 hush payment he made to porn star Stormy Daniels, who allegedly had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006. But a thorough examination of Cohen’s digital and paper records could produce evidence of other, more serious offenses. The longtime Trump attorney helped broker deals for the mogul’s business for a decade — during which time the Trump Organization struck up partnerships with multiple suspected money launderers. Last month, The New Yorker’s financial reporter Adam Davidson wrote that he was “unaware of anybody who has taken a serious look at Trump’s business who doesn’t believe that there is a high likelihood of rampant criminality.”
On Wednesday night, the New York Times’ Michael Schmidt reported that the president’s lawyers were “nervous” because neither President Trump nor Cohen would tell them precisely what kinds of sensitive information they think is in the papers collected from the lawyer’s office and residences.
Correction: An earlier version of this post, citing NBC News, said that federal investigators had wiretapped Michael Cohen.