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Ahead of likely charges, Cohen looks to sell property, hire lawyers with plea expertise

At least two prominent law firms have made it clear they will not represent former Trump Organization lawyer Michael D. Cohen as he searches for a new legal team ahead of expected indictments, sources familiar with the interactions tell McClatchy.

And at least one wealthy friend was recently asked by Cohen to consider buying a pricey New York apartment that the embattled embattled Trump "fixer" with over a decade of business ties to Donald J. Trump is attempting to unload amid mounting legal bills, according to a source who spoke with the potential buyer. Cohen, his father Fima Shusterman and other family members own numerous properties in the New York area.

A lawyer who turned down overtures from Cohen’s camp said he did so because he wasn’t experienced in plea deals, which he said was one of the areas of strength Cohen had been seeking in new legal representation.

If Cohen agrees to cooperate with federal investigators in return for leniency, legal experts say, it could mean huge trouble for Trump, since the lawyer straddles both the political and business empires of the real estate mogul. While the U.S. Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York has reportedly been investigating Cohen's personal business dealings including a once-thriving taxi company, Cohen could become a star witness against the president if he became a government witness and had information pertinent to Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller's broad investigation into Russia's 2016 meddling in the U.S. election. It was Mueller's office that referred certain information about Cohen to New York prosecutors

His lawyers thus far in the investigation have been Stephen Ryan and Todd Harrison of the law firm McDermott, Will & Emery LLP. While many criminal attorneys represent defendants in most stages of a case — investigation, indictment, trial and plea bargain (if there is one) — some have reputations for being more skilled at fighting in court as opposed to negotiating the terms of a guilty plea.

Cohen delivered $130,000 in hush money shortly before the 2016 election to porn star Stormy Daniels, who says she had sex with Trump, an allegation that the president has denied. The failure to disclose the payments, when Trump's relationship with her might have affected the vote, could amount to a federal campaign finance violation. Cohen was also involved in various negotiations to put a Trump-branded tower in Moscow and other cities in the former Soviet Union.

Cohen also has been the subject of inquiries into possible bank fraud related to ataxi business in New York that Cohen began running years prior to joining the Trump Organization in 2006, according to The New York Times and numerous other media reports.

On April 9, the FBI raided Cohen's Rockefeller Center office and hotel room, seizing millions of records. Cohen and Trump have claimed that some should be kept from prosecutors because they are covered by attorney-client privilege. A review of the material to decide what is and is not covered by the privilege is supposed to be completed June 15.

That review may be giving Trump's legal team insight into what prosecutors have that could be used against the president.

"Trump's lawyers and Cohen's lawyers are working together as a team," said ex-federal prosecutor Nick Akerman, a partner at the law firm Dorsey & Whitney. "They're using the process to get discovery on what evidence the government has before any charges have even been brought."

Akerman added that he'd be surprised if much of the material is kept from the government because of the lawyer-client privilege. "Most everything that Cohen did for Trump was not as a lawyer," he said. "Obviously paying off porn stars is not legal advice."

Akerman noted that so far the overwhelming majority of materials under review by a court-appointed "special master" in New York were last week ruled to be non-privileged communications and are admissible in court since they largely don't represent legal work Cohen did for Trump. Last week the special master ruled that only 162 out of 300,000 so far were privileged legal work.

Kevin G. Hall: 202-383-6038, @kevinghall

Greg Gordon: 202-383-6152, @greggordon2

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