If you've been wondering when Mueller was going to make his move on Trump's longtime personal lawyer and bagman Michael Cohen, that day was Monday, and the move was a full out FBI raid on Cohen's home, office, and hotel room to seize documents pertaining to Trump.
Michael Cohen, the longtime attorney of President Trump, is under federal investigation for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations, according to three people with knowledge of the case.
FBI agents on Monday raided Cohen’s Manhattan office, home and hotel room as part of the investigation, seizing records about Cohen’s clients and personal finances. Among the records taken were those related to a 2016 payment Cohen made to adult-film star Stormy Daniels, who claims to have had a sexual encounter with Trump, according to a fourth person familiar with the investigation.
Investigators took Cohen’s computer, phone and personal financial records, including tax returns, as part of the search of his office at Rockefeller Center, that person said.
In a dramatic and broad seizure, federal prosecutors collected communications between Cohen and his clients — including those between the lawyer and Trump, according to both people.
The raids — part of an investigation referred by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to federal prosecutors in New York — point to escalating legal jeopardy for a longtime Trump confidant who is deeply intertwined in the president’s business and personal matters.
I can't begin to tell you the level of criminality and probable cause needed to authorize an FBI raid on the personal lawyer of the occupant of the Oval Office. A federal magistrate signed off on this, Rod Rosenstein signed off on this, the US Attorney's office in Manhattan signed off on this, and just to make sure Rosenstein and Mueller referred this to the US Attorney's office rather than do this himself with his team. The bar for going after a attorney in a federal case where attorney-client privilege must be broken because of probable cause of evidence of criminal activity is sky high.
- Before obtaining a search warrant, investigators had to try to obtain the evidence in another way, such as by subpoena.
- The authorization for the warrant had to come from either the U.S. attorney or an assistant attorney general. (Rosenstein is deputy attorney general, a higher position than assistant attorney general.)
- The prosecutor had to confer with the criminal division of the department before seeking the warrant.
- The team conducting the search had to “employ adequate precautions” to ensure that they weren’t improperly viewing privileged communications between Cohen and his clients.
- The search team would have included a “privilege team,” including lawyers and agents not working the case, which would work to ensure that investigators conducting the search didn’t see privileged communications.
- The investigators had to develop a review process for the seized material.
Even with those checks in place, the U.S. attorney wasn’t guaranteed a warrant. Search warrants granted to U.S. attorneys are approved by magistrate judges serving in U.S. District Court.
The question of what qualifies as privileged communication is complex. Not every communication between an attorney and a client is included. One type of communication that’s excluded: communications between an attorney and a client that might be predicated on committing or covering up a crime.
In a phone call with The Post, law professor Robert Weisberg, co-director of the Stanford University Criminal Justice Center, explained where the lines might be drawn.
“There is a crime-fraud exception to attorney-client privilege,” Weisberg said. “The affidavits that went into the warrant application — and possibly direct conversations with the judge — would have had to give at least prima facie reason to believe that the communications, even where they were privileged, give some indication that Cohen was involved in committing or planning some kind of fraud.”
Needless to say, Trump is pissed.
If Trump's going to make his move on Mueller and Rosenstein, it's going to happen soon now. Again, taking attorney-client communications only happens when there's probable cause that a crime has been committed and that those communications are evidence of that crime, and that probable cause involves Donald Trump.
It would not have happened if it there wasn't rock-solid indication that Cohen was covering up fraud. That fact alone signals criminal activity by the man in the Oval Office, guys, and if you think that Trump has committed crimes in the last, oh, decade or so other than paying off hush money to a porn star using campaign funds, well the Feds have all of that now too. Merry Christmas!
Needless to say I cannot overstate how bad this is for both Trump and Cohen.
But the FBI’s seizure on Monday of privileged communications between Trump and his private lawyer, Michael D. Cohen — as well as documents related to a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels, the adult-film actress who has alleged a sexual affair with Trump — was a particularly extraordinary move that opens a whole new front in the converging legal battles ensnaring the administration.
Cohen is Trump’s virtual vault — the keeper of his secrets, from his business deals to his personal affairs — and the executor of his wishes.
“This search warrant is like dropping a bomb on Trump’s front porch,” said Joyce White Vance, a former U.S. attorney in Alabama.
Mark S. Zaid, a Washington lawyer, said the seizure of Cohen’s records “should be the most concerning for the president.”
“You can’t get much worse than this, other than arresting someone’s wife or putting pressure on a family member,” he said. “This strikes at the inner sanctum: your lawyer, your CPA, your barber, your therapist, your bartender. All the people who would know the worst about you.”
And yes, I believe Trump's people are making it very, very clear this means he's fried like a egg on a Baghdad summer sidewalk. This is a breach of his inner circle, a hole drilled into the Trump bunker. He's shaken to the core, and Trump will lash out.
Asked why he had not fired Mueller, Trump left the door open. “We’ll see what happens,” he told reporters. “Many people have said, ‘You should fire him,’ ” the president added.
We're very close now to a seminal moment in history, and not a pleasant one. Trump has already canceled his Latin American summit trip scheduled this week to instead monitor developments in Syria and around the world and VP Mike Pence will go in his stead. My guess? Trump is firing a crapload of something in the next 48 hours, whether it’s DoJ employees or Tomahawk missiles. Maybe both.
More on that later today.