FBI raid of Trump’s personal lawyer’s office

A high development in the US with the FBI raiding the home and office of Michael Cohen, a lawyer closely associated with Donald Trump. This doesn’t mean Trump has been found to have done anything wrong, but it looks a more serious situation for Cohen.

Reuters: FBI raids offices, home of Trump’s personal lawyer

The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Monday raided the offices and home of U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen, law enforcement sources said, in a dramatic new development in a series of probes involving close Trump associates.

Cohen’s lawyer, Stephen M. Ryan, said that U.S. prosecutors conducted a search that was partly a referral by the Office of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.

Mueller is investigating whether members of Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with Russia during the U.S. presidential election. Trump has called the probe a “witch hunt” and denied any collusion.

The raid could increase legal pressure on the president, because it involves the records of his longtime attorney and indicates a second center of investigations in Manhattan, alongside Mueller’s Washington-based probe.

Cohen has been at the center of a controversy over a $130,000 payment he has admitted making shortly before the 2016 election to porn star Stormy Daniels, who has said that she had sex once with Trump in 2006 and was paid to keep quiet about it.

Trump reacted with unusually harsh language to news of the raid.

“It’s a disgraceful situation. It’s a total witch hunt. I’ve been saying it for a long time,” Trump said.

Former federal prosecutor @renato_mariotti tweeted:

This is the most important paragraph of today’s article about the search warrant of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s office.

Every search warrant has a list of “items to be seized,” and a warrant for a lawyer’s office has to be carefully written. Communications between Trump and Cohen were within the narrow categories of documents listed in the “items to be seized.”

That suggests that the communications between Trump and Cohen related in some way to the federal crime for which Cohen is under investigation. A “taint team” will review these communications to determine which are privileged.

That means that Cohen is under investigation and that there is substantial evidence that evidence of a crime was at his office. It also means that federal prosecutors believed that they could not obtain the same records via subpoena. That’s unusual and interesting.

The United States Attorneys’ Manual (DOJ’s guidelines for federal prosecutors) disfavors search warrants of attorneys’ offices. Section 9-13.420 states that “prosecutors are expected to take the least intrusive approach” and should consider subpoenas instead of a warrant.

Section 13.420 requires authorization by the United States Attorney or Assistant Attorney General, consultation with the Criminal Division of the Justice Department, a search warrant that is as narrow and specific as possible, and procedures to safeguard privileged materials.

The reason that searches of attorney offices are disfavored is because they can be abused by prosecutors who want to intimidate defense counsel or obtain privileged information. That is why all of those safeguards exist, and the fact that they were overcome tells us something.

The fact that federal prosecutors obtained a search warrant tells us that they believed that they would not obtain the same records if they used a subpoena. That’s not only what 9-13.420 requires, but it’s also common sense–the prosecutors had an incentive to use a subpoena.

Cohen is an attorney who has his own lawyer. If the prosecutors used a subpoena, Cohen’s attorney would be obligated to go through all the documents and materials himself and produce only what’s relevant to the prosecutors. He would be responsible for organizing them as well.

Instead, prosecutors and FBI agents decided to take upon themselves the hefty task of seizing these documents, setting up complicated procedures to weed out privileged materials, and organize and digitize the documents. They wouldn’t have done that if they didn’t have to.

This suggests that they have some information about Cohen that suggests that he would destroy evidence, hide evidence, or otherwise deceive the prosecution team. So what does this mean for Trump? It’s an issue for him for at least two reasons.

First, his relationship with Cohen appears to go beyond a typical lawyer-client relationship, by Cohen’s own description. Communications between Cohen and Trump would be reviewed by a “taint team” that is separate and walled off from the investigators.

If the taint team found communications between Trump and Cohen that were not privileged, those communications could be used in the investigation. An example would be communications that are completely unrelated to legal advice, or communications furthering an ongoing crime.

Second, Trump should be concerned because Cohen appears to have significant potential criminal liability. He could potentially cooperate against Trump, although he appears unlikely to do so. Trump could pardon Cohen for any federal offense, but he cannot pardon state crimes.

Most importantly, because the search warrant was required to be “drawn as specifically as possible,” the fact that the FBI seized Trump’s communications with Cohen suggests that the FBI believed that those communications may provide evidence in their criminal investigation.

That should worry Trump. It doesn’t necessarily mean that investigators believe Trump committed a crime, but it suggests that they believe that his communications would have potentially contained useful evidence. He was, at least, in close proximity of a crime.

One question that is raised by this news that we cannot answer is why Mueller chose to refer this case to Manhattan prosecutors instead of handling it himself. Perhaps we will learn more in the days to come that could shed light on his decision.

 

20 Comments

  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  April 10, 2018

    How come the NYT had this story before anyone else? Mueller’s mob leaking again?

  2. David

     /  April 10, 2018

    Its getting a little out of hand. Trump has gone after the FBI/DOJ at the weekend over them refusing to cooperate with the oversite committee, the top tier of these departments and personally got into Rosenstein so perhaps this is a back off from the Feds.
    Sessions needs to be fired and someone needs to get control of this investigation its gone beyond serving any of the original purpose.

    • artcroft

       /  April 10, 2018

      Well to get into Cohen office the Feds needed a warrant. Those don’t come without a judge’s signature. A judge doesn’t sign them unless there is clear evidence that a crime has been committed. So unless you believe the president is above the law and we should all look away its because none of the little people’s business, then Muller is just doing his job.

      • David

         /  April 10, 2018

        “Muller is just doing his job.”

        What job is that again? What does this have to do with Russian collusion exactly?

        • JohnSelway

           /  April 11, 2018

          “What job is that again? What does this have to do with Russian collusion exactly?”

          You know how if the police are investigating a murder and discover the suspect may have committed other murders they widen the scope of the investigation? I think that answers your question. If Trump was discovered to have broken more than one law they’ll investigate them just the same. It is also possible Cohen had information relating to the Russian investigation.

      • Trevors_elbow

         /  April 11, 2018

        judges in the US are very political…… this smacks of fishing for something to use to pressure someone in to being a stoodge to bring Trump down….US poliyics is plain nasty

      • David

         /  April 11, 2018

        All judges are political appointments in the US, all you do is pick the right one to go to. Its not like the English sort we are lucky enough to have.

        • artcroft

           /  April 11, 2018

          blah blah blah. Got a link to provide actual evidence that law enforcement agencies in the US manipulate the courts like this. Or are you just spouting hot air.

          • Joe Bloggs

             /  April 11, 2018

            You should recognise David’s trademark groundless bloviations by now, Arty.

            David think about this for a minute: There is no way that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York would have sought or executed a search warrant against the president’s lawyer without overpowering evidence to support the action.

            For starters, the Justice Department is institutionally cautious about searches involving attorneys acting in their role as attorneys.

            Moreover, the Justice Department would have been additionally cautious about seeking any warrant against this particular lawyer—precisely because doing so makes clear that a ring is closing around the president. Going after a prominent person’s lawyer for matters related to his representation of the client is, after all, an aggressive act toward the client, not just toward the lawyer.

            The Justice Department simply would not take such an action lightly or without evidence that emphatically supports it. Add these prudential, legal and policy factors together and they cumulatively suggest that the evidence supporting the warrant application likely exceeds—probably by far—what is legally required.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  April 11, 2018

        How often do these judges refuse to issue a warrant?

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  April 11, 2018

          Judges there are elected, aren’t they ? Or is that my mistake ?

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  April 11, 2018

            Some are, some aren’t. It’s one of those things that are so complex that one wishes that one hadn’t looked.

            They don’t seem to be political appointments in a favours for favours way, though. They aren’t appointed by one person.

  3. Gezza

     /  April 10, 2018

    It just gets more and more fun. The leader of the democratic world & the only country that has divided it up into 9 separate military Commands and it’s a shit-hole.

    • MaureenW

       /  April 11, 2018

      Can you explain this for me please? Country divided into 9 ……

      • Gezza

         /  April 11, 2018

        Yes. Could have been expressed more clearly.

        “The self styled leader of the democratic world, & the only country with whose global military machine has multiple military bases everywhere & divided the globe up into 9 separate military Commands – and it’s a shit-hole.”

        Thanks for the clarification request.

        • MaureenW

           /  April 11, 2018

          Thanks for that, agreed – a shithole!!

          • Gezza

             /  April 11, 2018

            No worries. Sorry about the ‘with’, in line 2 of the para in quotes. Shouldn’t have been. Ma was earbashing me on the blower at the time I proof-read it.

            • Gezza

               /  April 11, 2018

              Christ!
              *Shouldn’t have been THERE.

              No excuses. That one entirely my fault.

  4. Griff

     /  April 11, 2018

    MAGA
    My Attorney Got Arrested