Cohen: Does the raid pose a threat to Trump?
President Trump “has howled in all caps for nearly a year” about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, said Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey, and Robert Costa in The Washington Post. But his resentment reached a new level of fury this week, when FBI agents targeted the president’s longtime personal lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen, raiding his home, office, and hotel room. Cohen is reportedly under investigation for possible bank fraud, wire fraud, and campaign finance violations, stemming partly from his $130,000 payment before the 2016 election to porn star Stormy Daniels, who claims she had an affair with Trump. The raids—which were executed by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, on a referral from Mueller—were also focused on finding records of hush-money payments to other women, and whether Trump approved or repaid them. Trump denounced the raid as “an attack on our country.” Asked whether he’d fire Mueller, he replied, “We’ll see what happens.”
Securing a warrant to raid a lawyer’s office “requires unusual levels of approval,” said Ken White in The New York Times. In this case, federal prosecutors secured authorization from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and convinced a magistrate judge there was “probable cause” to believe they’d find “evidence of a federal crime”—and that Cohen might hide or destroy the documents if issued a subpoena. The attorney-client privilege that would normally protect Trump’s communications with Cohen is subject to a “crime-fraud exception” when the client and attorney are actively engaging in a crime. If Trump did direct his attorney to pay off Daniels—which he has denied—they may both have “committed a felony violation of campaign finance law,” said Norman Eisen, Noah Bookbinder, and Conor Shaw in Politico.com. And who knows what juicy information about Trump’s financial dealings Cohen “might be able to offer prosecutors—including Mueller—in exchange for a deal.”
Still, raiding the president’s lawyer “is an unprecedented move,” said Jonah Goldberg in NationalReview.com, and if prosecutors don’t come up with something damning, it will strengthen the narrative that this is a witch hunt. The big question is how Trump responds, said Stephen Collinson in CNN.com. Given his “extreme anger,” he may well try to fire Rosenstein and Mueller—which would spark a constitutional crisis. “There could be dark and unprecedented times ahead.”