Last week Donald Trump threw his personal attorney and consigliere (fixer) Michael Cohen under the bus for the Stormy Daniels affair. Trump says he didn’t know his attorney paid $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels.
Also last week we learned that Michael Cohen was under investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller probe tracking down Trump business partners, with Cohen a focus of queries:
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators this week questioned an associate of the Trump Organization who was involved in overseas deals with President Donald Trump’s company in recent years.
Armed with subpoenas compelling electronic records and sworn testimony, Mueller’s team showed up unannounced at the home of the business associate, who was a party to multiple transactions connected to Trump’s effort to expand his brand abroad, according to persons familiar with the proceedings.
Investigators were particularly interested in interactions involving Michael D. Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal attorney and a former Trump Organization employee. Among other things, Cohen was involved in business deals secured or sought by the Trump Organization in Georgia, Kazakhstan and Russia.
The move to question business associates of the president adds a significant new element to the Mueller investigation, which began by probing whether the Trump campaign and Russia colluded in an effort to get Trump elected but has branched far beyond that.
It’s unclear how many properties or deals the Mueller team might be looking at; the Trump Organization’s foreign business relationships span the globe from properties in Panama, Brazil and Uruguay to Azerbaijan and Georgia. Trump’s children — Ivanka, Don Jr. and Eric — were parties to talks involving many of the dealings. Generally, the discussions revolved around licensing fees for use of the Trump name.
* * *
The New York Times reported on March 15 that Mueller had subpoenaed unspecified records from the Trump Organization. Days before that, the Washington Post reported that Mueller’s team was looking into a Moscow hotel deal for which Cohen brought to Donald Trump a letter of intent from a Moscow developer during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Today shit just got real for Michael Cohen.
In an unprecedented move, the FBI raided the offices of Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen for the U.S. Attorney office in the Southern District of New York. The matter was referred to that office from the Special Counsel. In order to get that subpoena, they had to present probable cause that a crime has been committed to the Department of Justice, and more importantly to a federal judge. They also had to have compelling evidence in order to get a subpoena approved for the president’s personal attorney. It is extremely rare that an attorney’s office is subject to this type of investigation, let alone the president’s persoanl attorney. To search Michael Cohen’s home and office, the FBI had to clear a higher-than-normal bar.
The New York Times reports, F.B.I. Raids Office of Trump’s Longtime Lawyer Michael Cohen:
The F.B.I. on Monday raided the office of President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, seizing records related to several topics including payments to a pornographic-film actress.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan obtained the search warrant after receiving a referral from the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, according to Mr. Cohen’s lawyer, who called the search “completely inappropriate and unnecessary.” The search does not appear to be directly related to Mr. Mueller’s investigation, but likely resulted from information he had uncovered and gave to prosecutors in New York.
“Today the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York executed a series of search warrants and seized the privileged communications between my client, Michael Cohen, and his clients,” said Stephen Ryan, his lawyer. “I have been advised by federal prosecutors that the New York action is, in part, a referral by the Office of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.”
Mr. Cohen plays a role in aspects of the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. He also recently said he paid $130,000 to a pornographic-film actress, Stephanie Clifford, who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump. Ms. Clifford is known as Stormy Daniels.
Mr. Ryan said Mr. Cohen has cooperated with authorities and turned over thousands of documents to congressional investigators looking into Russian election meddling.
The payments to Ms. Clifford are only one of many topics being investigated, according to a person briefed on the search. The F.B.I. also seized emails, tax documents and business records, the person said.
The seized records include communications between Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen, which would likely require a special team of agents to review because conversations between lawyers and clients are protected from scrutiny in most instances.
The Washington Post adds more detail. Trump attorney Cohen is being investigated for possible bank fraud, campaign finance violations, according to a person familiar with the case:
Trump attorney Cohen is being investigated for possible bank fraud, campaign finance violations, according to a person familiar with the case.
This story will be updated.
FBI agents on Monday raided the Manhattan office of President Trump’s private lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, seizing records about Cohen’s clients, including those related to a 2016 payment he made to adult-film star Stormy Daniels, who claims to have had a sexual encounter with Trump.
Among the documents seized were privileged communications between Cohen and his clients — including those with Trump, according to a person familiar with the investigators’ work. Investigators took Cohen’s computer, phone and personal financial records as part of the search of his office at Rockefeller Center, the person said.
The raid is related to an investigation referred by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to federal prosecutors in New York, according to Stephen Ryan, an attorney for Cohen.
* * *
Among the records seized by investigators were “protected attorney client communications,” according to Ryan.
Dawn Dearden, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, declined to comment. Peter Carr, a spokesman for the special counsel’s office, declined to comment. A White House spokesman declined to comment.
* * *
Under Department of Justice regulations governing the special counsel’s work, Mueller is required to consult with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein if his team finds information worth investigating that does not fall under his mandate.
Rosenstein, as the acting attorney general supervising Mueller’s work, has the responsibility of deciding whether to expand Mueller’s mandate to include the new topic or to refer it to a U.S. attorney’s office.
Vanity Fair adds that the FBI also raided Michael Cohen’s hotel room. SEARCHED AND SEIZED: F.B.I. AGENTS RAID MICHAEL COHEN’S NEW YORK HOTEL:
F.B.I. agents entered the New York hotel early Monday morning, as they made their way up to the room where the president’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen has been staying. A handful of them remained upstairs for several hours, according to a source familiar with the situation.
As you might expect, Donald Trump went off the rails over this and was unhinged today. He is threatening the Department of Justice, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and once again threatening to prosecute his political opponent Hillary Clinton. He called this “disgraceful” and his oft-repeated mantra “with hunt.” “Many people have said that you should fire him” (Robert Mueller), Trump said.
UPDATE: Trump Denounces F.B.I. Raid on His Lawyer’s Office as ‘Attack on Our Country’. Like King Louis XIV of France, this authoritarian believes “I am the state.” Trump’s tirade after the Michael Cohen raid, annotated.
Pro Tip: “Many people” means the GOPropagandists at FOX News. See Charles Blow today, Horror of Being Governed by ‘Fox & Friends’: “In a way, America is being governed by the dimmest of wits on the most unscrupulous of networks. The very thought of it is horror-inducing.” Trump’s propaganda minister at FOX News, Sean Hannity, will go totally insane over this. Will Trump follow his lead?
The prospects for a “Saturday night massacre” at the Department of Justice to get down to firing the Special Counsel just increased a hundred fold. We are on “Mueller Firing Watch” now.
UPDATE: Randall Eliason writes at the Washington Post, Michael Cohen is in serious legal jeopardy (excerpts):
When your lawyers need lawyers, it’s usually a bad sign. When your lawyers have their offices and homes raided, it’s a really bad sign…
We also know that a search warrant, unlike a grand jury subpoena, requires prosecutors to go before a federal judge to demonstrate probable cause that a crime has been committed and evidence of that crime can be found in the premises to be searched. Before approving a search of a lawyer’s office, a judge would want to be satisfied that there was some substance behind the prosecutors’ allegations. This is not just some prosecutorial fishing expedition; it bears the imprimatur of a federal judge.
We don’t know for certain the nature of the Southern District’s investigation. The potential crime outside of Mueller’s jurisdiction to which Cohen has been linked most directly relates to the $130,000 payoff to porn star Stormy Daniels just days before the presidential election. If Cohen made that payment himself or facilitated the payment from another individual or company, it could be deemed an illegal contribution to Trump’s campaign. There could be other alleged offenses, such as tax or bank fraud violations, surrounding any such payments as well. Or there could be other non-Stormy-Daniels-related allegations about Cohen’s conduct that have not yet surfaced publicly.
This was not just any search warrant; that the raid took place at a lawyer’s office further highlights the seriousness of the investigation. Searches of an attorney’s office are extremely rare and are not favored, due to their potential to impinge on the attorney-client relationship. Prosecutors must jump through multiple hoops to get such a warrant approved, both within their own office and at the criminal division of Main Justice. (Notably, this would likely have included approval by Trump’s own guy, the new interim U.S. attorney for the Southern District, Geoffrey S. Berman, who was just appointed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions this past January.)
Prosecutors are also required to consider less intrusive alternatives to a search warrant, such as a subpoena, if practical. Approval of a search warrant suggests prosecutors were able to demonstrate not only the gravity of the potential case but also the risk that evidence might be destroyed or otherwise go missing if they pursued a less aggressive option.
Cohen, and perhaps the president, will likely argue that this raid violates the attorney-client privilege. Indeed, on Monday evening, Trump said it was “a disgrace what’s going on.” In a search like this, prosecutors typically set up a privilege team or “taint team” of investigators not involved in the case to review potentially privileged documents and shield those from the team actually involved in the prosecution. There is an exception to the attorney-client privilege if communications to an attorney are used in furtherance of a crime or fraud [see The Crime-Fraud Exception to the Attorney-Client Privilege]; that could come into play here as well. And documents related to anything Cohen did on his own — after all, Trump has denied knowing about the payment to Daniels — are likely not privileged if they do not contain attorney-client communications. Documents are not automatically privileged simply because they passed through an attorney’s hands.
There may well be litigation concerning whether particular records seized during this search are protected by privilege. But seizing the records now allows prosecutors to ensure that the integrity of the evidence is maintained while those legal issues are sorted out.
Cohen, someone extremely close to Trump and who has been known as the president’s “fixer,” appears to have serious legal problems. If federal prosecutors feel they have enough on you to execute a search warrant, it’s never a good sign — just ask Paul Manafort. And to the extent that Cohen, part of Trump’s innermost circle, might have knowledge relevant to Mueller’s inquiry, we can’t rule out the possibility that his own legal troubles could induce him to cooperate in the Russia investigation.
Michael Cohen has said that he “would take a bullet for Donald Trump.” That’s braggadocio from a guy who likes to talk tough on behalf of his client. Cohen is now at risk of losing everything, including his law license, and his freedom in going to prison. Is Donald Trump really the hill he wants to die on? Cut a plea deal, Mikey.