The news broke late yesterday that FBI investigators, based on a tip originating with Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation, raided the office, home and hotel room of Michael Cohen, the personal attorney to President Trump. The raid was carried out by the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, who is currently serving in an “acting” capacity since he was recently appointed by President Trump, though not yet confirmed by the Senate.
The AP reports on the raid:
Federal agents on Monday raided the office of President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen, seizing records on topics including a $130,000 payment made to porn actress Stormy Daniels.
A furious Trump, who in the last month has escalated his attacks on Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, said from the White House that it was a “disgrace” that the FBI “broke into” his lawyer’s office. He called Mueller’s investigation “an attack on our country,” prompting new speculation that he might seek the removal of the Justice Department’s special counsel.
The raid was overseen by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan and was based in part on a referral from Mueller, said Cohen’s lawyer, Stephen Ryan.
“The decision by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York to conduct their investigation using search warrants is completely inappropriate and unnecessary,” Ryan said in a statement. “It resulted in the unnecessary seizure of protected attorney client communications between a lawyer and his clients.”
A raid like this can get messy since most communication between an attorney and a client is privileged and cannot be disclosed, even to law enforcement, unless criminal activity is suspected. In this case, an outside group of attorneys will sort through the collected evidence and determine which evidence may be pertinent to FBI investigators, and which evidence must be returned or discarded because it contains privileged attorney-client communication.
It’s being reported that Cohen is being investigated for bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations. We don’t yet know if this is in relation to $130k in hush money paid to Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election, or if there is a separate campaign finance matter that has not been disclosed.
The President wasted no time this morning voicing his view on the situation, naturally via his favorite medium:
Attorney–client privilege is dead!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 10, 2018
A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 10, 2018
Harvard Law Professor, and noted legal analyst, Alan Dershowitz calls the raid “very dangerous” for attorney-client relations:
“This may be an attempt to squeeze Cohen,” he said. “He’s the lawyer, he’s the guy who knows all the facts about Donald Trump, and to get him to turn against his client.”
“This is a very dangerous day today for lawyer-client relations,” he added.
Dershowitz, who has drawn the ire of Democrats for defending Trump, said Mueller’s move is also dangerous because it gives the FBI the option of deciding what information seized from Cohen to pursue.
Dershowitz calls himself a “classical liberal,” though he has been very defensive of Donald Trump since the election, especially on the matter of the Mueller investigation which he sees as an overreach of power.
Business Insider is reporting that the raid may be associated not with the Stormy Daniels payoff, but with an alleged “donation” made to the Trump Foundation in 2015, which was orchestrated by Cohen:
The special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into a large donation a pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch made to the Trump Foundation in September 2015 after then-candidate Donald Trump gave a video talk at a conference in Kiev, Ukraine, The New York Times reported.
At the time, Trump was one of several Republicans vying for the 2016 presidential nomination. In August 2015, Doug Schoen, a political consultant who works for the Ukrainian billionaire and steel magnate Victor Pinchuk, personally contacted Trump to set up the speech, according to the report.
Trump accepted the request but reportedly did not broach the subject of any payment. However, his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is said to have called Schoen the next day to ask for a $150,000 fee from Pinchuk in exchange for the talk.
The President has also called the raid “an attack on our country,” which is some pretty strong rhetoric, even for Trump. The latest questions now swirl around whether the President will act by firing Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, or perhaps try to cut off Robert Mueller entirely and fire them both. Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is probably also on the outs with the President over this since a move of this magnitude would have to be approved up and down the Justice Department chain.
This story is still developing…
The Times is reporting that the raids are targeting payments that Cohen may have made to various women on Trump’s behalf, including Stormy Daniels:
The search warrant carried out by the public corruption unit of the Manhattan federal attorney’s office seeks information about Karen McDougal, an ex-Playboy model who claims she carried on a nearly yearlong affair with Mr. Trump shortly after the birth of his son in 2006. Ms. McDougal was paid $150,000 by American Media Inc., the Enquirer’s parent company, whose chief executive is a friend of Mr. Trump’s.
Agents were also searching Michael D. Cohen’s office for information related to Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, who says she also had sex with Mr. Trump while he was married. Mr. Cohen has acknowledged that he paid Ms. Clifford $130,000 as part of a nondisclosure agreement to secure her silence just days before the 2016 presidential election.
If this is indeed the case, the crimes may be related to campaign finance disclosures and how these payments were structured. Technically any payment that is made to benefit a federal election campaign is considered a contribution. This means that even if someone else paid off an individual out of their own pocket, that payment would need to be claimed by the Trump campaign as a donation if the result of the payment directly benefited the campaign somehow.
Still developing as more details trickle out…