Federal prosecutors on Thursday acknowledged an "ongoing" grand jury investigation related to the case against President Donald Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, which they disclosed during an effort to keep search warrant material in that case sealed.
Since Cohen pleaded guilty to eight federal counts in August, prosecutors at the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York have been examining whether Trump Organization executives violated campaign finance laws -- an inquiry that stems from material in the charges against Cohen, CNN has reported.
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Among the matters to which Cohen pleaded guilty were two campaign finance violations tied to his work for Trump, including payments Cohen made or helped orchestrate that were designed to silence women who claimed sexual encounters with the then-candidate. (Trump has denied the affair claims.) As part of those charges, federal prosecutors described an effort by Trump Organization executives, who went unnamed in court filings, to help facilitate the schemes and reimburse Cohen.
Multiple news organizations, including CNN, have asked a judge to unseal material related to several search warrants that were executed during the course of the months-long investigation into Cohen. In arguing their opposition to making those documents public, federal prosecutors provided a peek into their ongoing investigative effort.
"[U]nsealing of the materials at the present time would interfere with this investigation," they wrote in Thursday's filing, which was made in response to an unsealing effort by The New York Times, "and would implicate significant privacy concerns for numerous uncharged third parties who are named in the materials."
Prosecutors disclosed in a footnote that they have not notified the uncharged third parties that are named in the material, "in part because disclosure of that fact to certain of the uncharged third parties would itself impair the ongoing investigation."
Prosecutors also said that, "at present, there is a significant interest in maintaining the materials under seal, because disclosure could prejudice an ongoing investigation in concrete, identifiable ways."
In response to a suggestion that the material could be made public with redactions, prosecutors argued against such a "time-consuming exercise in the midst of ongoing investigations," and said partially redacted material in the Cohen matter "would lead to rampant speculation."
"[T]he disclosure would almost certainly result in a very public guessing game in which the media and members of the public attempted to guess the identities of the uncharged parties described in the Materials -- [particularly] the campaign finance portions," prosecutors wrote. "This would leave those individuals in the unfair position of defending against speculation that they were or currently are under investigation."
Prosecutors also said that they had filed a separate brief under seal that contained additional details about their current investigative effort. "The supplemental submission identifies specific portions of the warrant affidavits and other facts pertinent to the ongoing government investigation," they said in another footnote in their public filing.
The judge isn't expected to rule on the effort to unseal the search warrant material before early November. Cohen is due to be sentenced December 12.