Within William Barr’s effort to undermine New York prosecutors

Mr. Barr’s role in the Cohen case also heralded his involvement in two other high-profile prosecutions of Trump associates: Michael T. Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser, and Roger J. Stone Jr., an operative. politician close to Mr. Trump, who was convicted of lying to Congress and other crimes.

Last month, Mr. Barr ordered prosecutors in Washington to drop the case against Mr. Flynn, who had twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about phone calls with the Russian ambassador. Mr. Barr also overturned a recommendation for sentencing by career prosecutors in Washington for Mr. Stone, which he deemed excessive, prompting the office to back down.

Even before he became the attorney general, Mr. Barr had criticized the special counsel’s investigation into whether Mr. Trump had obstructed justice, submitting an unsolicited memorandum to the Justice Department attacking what he called a “novel reading and legally unbearable of the law. “

Mr. Berman had been withdrawn from the case against Mr. Cohen for undisclosed reasons, leaving him in the hands of other senior prosecutors in his office. In August 2018, threatened by an indictment, Cohen pleaded guilty to personal financial crimes and campaign finance violations, one of which was due to a $ 130,000 payment to adult movie star Stormy Daniels.

In pleading guilty, Cohen pointed the finger at the president and said he had acted under Trump’s direction.

The New York Times previously reported that Mr. Barr had questioned the legal theory of campaign finance charges against Mr. Cohen, but it was not known that the attorney general went to the extreme of requesting the draft memorandum or raising his concerns more than once.

The memo, written by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, addressed the somewhat new use of the Southern District of campaign finance laws to indict Mr. Cohen. Before Mr. Cohen’s guilty plea, the only person known to face criminal charges for payments intended to keep negative information hidden during a political campaign was former Democratic senator and presidential candidate John Edwards, who was not convicted.