Michael Cohen

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, leaves his apartment to report to prison in Manhattan, on May 6, 2019.

NEW YORK — A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the release of documents relating to hush-money payments by Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen to two women who said they had sexual encounters years ago with the President, declaring the matter of “national importance.”

U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley in Manhattan ordered that the documents, used by federal prosecutors to obtain a search warrant for Cohen’s home and office last year, must be unsealed by 11 a.m. on Thursday.

Cohen, 52, pleaded guilty in 2018 to directing payments of $130,000 to adult film star Stormy Daniels and $150,000 to Playboy model Karen McDougal to avert a scandal shortly before the 2016 presidential election. Trump has denied having encounters with the women.

Cohen, Trump’s self-described “fixer,” in May began serving a three-year prison sentence for violating campaign finance law with the hush payments, making false statements to a bank, evading taxes and lying to Congress.

“The campaign finance violations discussed in the materials are a matter of national importance,” Pauley wrote. “Now that the government’s investigation into those violations has concluded, it is time that every American has an opportunity to scrutinize the materials.”

Prosecutors recently revealed that their investigation of the payments is over, Pauley said, meaning that the material can now be made public with minimal redactions.

The office of the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, which prosecuted Cohen, declined to comment. A lawyer for Cohen could not immediately be reached.

Pauley ordered many of the search warrant materials about Cohen’s personal business dealings unsealed earlier this year, but allowed documents on to the hush-money payments to remain secret because they were related to an ongoing investigation.

In November 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to separate charges brought by the office of former Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, who was investigating contacts between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia. Cohen admitted he lied to Congress about the extent of contacts between Trump and Russians during the campaign.

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