Trump’s ‘fixer’ in growing legal jeopardy
Amid mounting alarm and anger from President Trump, a federal judge this week denied requests from his lawyers to review materials seized from his longtime personal lawyer and self-described “fixer,” Michael Cohen. Federal Judge Kimba Wood is weighing whether to appoint an independent lawyer to review the seized materials to see if any documents are shielded under attorney-client privilege before they are handed to investigators. The Justice Department revealed that Cohen had been under criminal investigation for several months over his business dealings when the FBI seized documents and hard drives from his office and home in early April. Among the records investigators were looking for were materials related to a $130,000 payoff to porn star Stormy Daniels and communications about the notorious Access Hollywood tape. Trump’s advisers believe that the investigation into Cohen poses a bigger and more imminent threat to the president than special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian collusion, The New York Times reported.
Cohen’s lawyers said he had only two other clients in the past year: Republican donor Elliott Broidy, for whom Cohen arranged a $1.6 million payoff to hush up an affair with a Playboy model, and Fox News star Sean Hannity. But prosecutors said Cohen appeared to do little legal work, which suggests that much of the Trump-related material recovered may not be covered by attorney-client privilege. McClatchy newspapers also reported last week that Mueller has evidence that Cohen secretly traveled to Prague in the summer of 2016. If true, it would corroborate a claim in the Steele dossier that Cohen headed there to meet with an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin regarding the election. Cohen has denied traveling to Prague.
What the editorials said
Trump’s past is finally catching up with him, said The New York Times. Cohen is typical of the “grifters, cons, sharks, goons, and crooks” he has associated with his entire career. But the threats and payoffs Cohen used to protect Trump when he was a real estate tycoon won’t work against federal prosecutors. This is no “witch hunt,” said The Baltimore Sun. The deputy U.S. attorney overseeing the investigation is Robert Khuzami, who spoke at the 2004 Republican National Convention. Hardly a “deep state” Democrat.
All of this is a long way from “the allegation that Trump is a front man for Putin,” said The Wall Street Journal. The collusion investigation has turned into a dumpster-diving expedition, with Mueller passing on referrals about porn-star payoffs and other unrelated issues. The best thing Trump can do now is follow the Bill Clinton model: Keep quiet and let the booming economy speak for itself. Too bad it’s advice he won’t take.
What the columnists said
The White House is right to be more worried about the Cohen investigation than Mueller’s probe, said Noah Feldman in Bloomberg.com. While the special counsel’s office has a relatively narrow mandate, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York can investigate any potential crimes “that Cohen may have committed on behalf of Trump.” And Trump can’t fire the career prosecutors now on the case, as he could Mueller. Trump can’t be indicted while in office, but he could be named as an unindicted co-conspirator in any charges against Cohen, the same way a grand jury named Richard Nixon in the Watergate cover-up. “That would tell the world that the president is a crook.”
“I’ve never thought ‘collusion with Russia’ posed jeopardy” to Trump, said Andrew McCarthy in NationalReview.com. But the Cohen investigation is a different story. The U.S. Attorney’s office almost certainly wouldn’t have jumped through the legal hoops needed to search a lawyer’s office unless it had evidence of serious crimes, ones that probably go far beyond potential campaign-finance violations for paying off a porn star.
This feels like a “turning point,” said Adam Davidson in NewYorker.com. Perhaps Trump will escape being personally linked to Russian collusion. But “I am unaware of anybody who has taken a serious look at Trump’s business who doesn’t believe that there is a high likelihood of rampant criminality,” from his ties to New York mafiosi to his dealings with known money launderers and fraudsters in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Russia. Cohen has been present for virtually all of it, and his records are in prosecutors’ hands. It could be that “we are now in the end stages of the Trump presidency.”