Trump Freaks Out Over Raid On His Lawyer’s Office
President Trump isn't reacting well to the raid on his attorney's office.
Not surprisingly, the President has not reacted well to yesterday’s news about the raid on the office and home of longtime Trump lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen, and it’s raised renewed questions about whether he might be considering moving against Justice Department officials he believes are biased against him:
WASHINGTON — President Trump angrily unloaded on his top law enforcement officials on Monday night, complaining that the F.B.I. “broke into” the office of Michael D. Cohen, his personal lawyer, and assailing two early-morning raids as a “disgraceful situation” and an “attack on our country in a true sense.”
The president repeatedly said that the raids were part of a “witch hunt” against him that has been conducted since he took office, and he mused about the possibility that he might soon fire Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel in the Russia inquiry.
“We’ll see what may happen,” Mr. Trump said as he began a meeting with senior military officials to discuss responses to a chemical attack in Syria. “Many people have said, ‘You should fire him.'”
The president railed against Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, for recusing himself in the Russia investigation, and he blasted the F.B.I. for failing to investigate Hillary Clinton, “where there are crimes.” He also lashed out at Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who is overseeing the Russia investigation.
Mr. Trump delivered the emotional tirade hours after federal officials raided Mr. Cohen’s office and hotel room, seizing business records, emails and documents, including information related to a payment that Mr. Cohen made to a pornographic film actress.
The raids were in part the result of a referral to federal officials by Mr. Mueller. Mr. Trump called Mr. Mueller’s team “the most biased group of people” and said that it contained mostly Democrats and some Republicans who worked for President Barack Obama.
“That is really now in a whole new level of unfairness,” Mr. Trump said of the raids involving Mr. Cohen. Officials said the White House learned about the raids from Mr. Cohen’s lawyer after they were carried out but before they became public knowledge.
Mr. Trump has long complained that the Russia inquiry was a politically motivated attempt to undermine the legitimacy of his election victory. And he has been highly critical of Mr. Sessions and the F.B.I. for failing to adequately investigate Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server.
But the aggressive move by federal officials against Mr. Cohen, the president’s longtime personal lawyer, appeared to strike a particularly sensitive nerve. Mr. Cohen, who works for Mr. Trump’s private company, has long been considered one of the president’s closest business confidants.
Mr. Trump reacted to the raids without any prompting from reporters, who had been brought into the Cabinet Room where the president was meeting with Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense; John R. Bolton, the new national security adviser; and other military officials to discuss the situation in Syria. As the cameras began rolling, Mr. Trump immediately condemned the actions against Mr. Cohen.
“So, I just heard that they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys, a good man, and it’s a disgraceful situation,” he said. “It’s a total witch hunt. I’ve been saying it for a long time. I’ve wanted to keep it down.”
It was unclear what Mr. Trump meant by saying he “wanted to keep it down.” He went on to criticize Mr. Mueller’s team for examining the president’s associates.
“They only keep looking at us. So they find no collusion, and then they go from there and they say, ‘Well, let’s keep going,’ and they raid an office of a personal attorney early in the morning, and I think it’s a disgrace,” Mr. Trump said.
The president also defended his decision to fire James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, saying that “I turned out to do the right thing because you look at all of the things that he’s done and the lies and you look at what’s gone on at the F.B.I.”
He criticized Mr. Rosenstein for having “signed a FISA warrant,” apparently a reference to the role Mr. Rosenstein played in authorizing the wiretap of a Trump associate in the Russia inquiry. Republicans have been highly critical of the warrant, saying the F.B.I. persuaded judges to authorize it on false pretenses.
Here’s the video of Trump’s statement late yesterday:
Trump also turned to the subject of a handful of early-morning tweets:
Attorney-client privilege is dead!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 10, 2018
A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 10, 2018
Trump’s tirade is, of course, entirely without merit and the idea that what’s going on here is any kind of partisan smear campaign is utter nonsense. As more than one person has pointed out in the time since news of the raid(s) broke, all of the major officials involved in applying for the warrant and carrying out the raid are Republicans and all but one of them was appointed to their current position by President Trump. Robert Mueller, for example, was appointed U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts by Ronald Reagan, served as an Assistant Attorney General under George H.W Bush, briefly served as Deputy Attorney General under George W. Bush, and was later nominated by George W. Bush to be F.B.I. Director, a position he held until 2013. Rod Rosenstein, who likely is the one who decided to refer the information that Mueller had uncovered to the Federal prosecutors in New York City, had been the U.S. Attorney for Maryland for all George W. Bush’s second term and continued to serve in that position for all of Barack Obama’s Presidency before being named Deputy Attorney General by Donald Trump. Finally, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, whose office carried out the raid yesterday, was appointed by President Trump and, according to numerous reports, is a lifelong Republican who donated the maximum. Overseeing it all, of course, is a Federal Judge, who would have had to sign off on any search warrant and who most likely carefully scrutinized the application given the fact that prosecutors were seeking to take the unusual, albeit not unprecedently step of seizing documents belonging to an attorney that could potentially be covered by the attorney-client privilege. Given all of this, Trump’s accusation that this is a “witch hunt” is obvious nonsense.
As for Trump’s offhand tweet about the attorney-client privilege, while this is obviously a concern any time law enforcement seeks to gain access to documents, communications, or records in the hands of an attorney that privilege is not absolute and there are exceptions to that rule. The one that is most notable in this case, of course, is the “crime-fraud” exception to the privilege. Generally speaking, the crime-fraud exception applies in situations where the client was in the process of committing or intending to commit a crime or fraudulent act and the communication was made with the intent to either further that crime or to cover it up. The exception would also apply in a situation where it could be shown that the attorney had stopped being an advocate or adviser and instead become a participant with their client in what amounts to a conspiracy to either commit a crime or to cover up a crime. Potential examples of the types of activity that would lead to the application of this exception to the privilege could include, but aren’t necessarily limited to, situations where a client attempts to get their attorney to knowingly suborn perjury, to destroy or conceal evidence, to engage in witness tampering, or to conceal income or assets. There are also other potential acts that could fall within the exception, although it’s worth noting that in all these cases the presumption will always be in favor of the application of the privilege and a prosecutor would need to be able to make a strong showing to get around it.
In Cohen’s case, it seems apparent that the motivation for the probe is two-pronged. First, of course, there is his involvement in the negotiation of the October 2016 agreement with adult film star Stormy Daniels that resulted in her receiving $130,000 to remain silent about her relationship with then-candidate Trump. As I’ve said before, the circumstances surrounding this transaction raise numerous questions that could implicate both Cohen and his client in potential charges of violating Federal election law, bank fraud, mail fraud, and other crimes. Additionally, Daniels alleged during her 60 Minutes interview that she was approached years prior to that agreement by a person who made physical threats against her if she revealed the details of her affair with Trump. On that front, the attorney representing Daniels has said he will soon be releasing a composite sketch of the person who confronted Daniels in that Las Vegas parking lot in the hopes of identifying him.
In addition to this, The New York Times reports that Robert Mueller is investigating Cohen in connection with payments by a Ukrainian man in exchange for a potential appearance by Trump:
WASHINGTON — The special counsel is investigating a payment made to President Trump’s foundation by a Ukrainian steel magnate for a talk during the campaign, according to three people briefed on the matter, as part of a broader examination of streams of foreign money to Mr. Trump and his associates in the years leading up to the election.
Investigators subpoenaed the Trump Organization this year for an array of records about business with foreign nationals. In response, the company handed over documents about a $150,000 donation that the Ukrainian billionaire, Victor Pinchuk, made in September 2015 to the Donald J. Trump Foundation in exchange for a 20-minute appearance by Mr. Trump that month through a video link to a conference in Kiev.
Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer whose office and hotel room were raided on Monday in an apparently unrelated case, solicited the donation. The contribution from Mr. Pinchuk, who has sought closer ties for Ukraine to the West, was the largest the foundation received in 2015 from anyone besides Mr. Trump himself.
The subpoena is among signs in recent months that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is interested in interactions that Mr. Trump or his associates had with countries beyond Russia, though it is not clear what other payments he is scrutinizing.
Mr. Mueller also ordered the Trump Organization to turn over documents, emails and other communications about several Russians, including some whose names have not been publicly tied to Mr. Trump, according to the three people, who would not be named discussing the ongoing investigation. The identities of the Russians were unclear.
The payment from Mr. Pinchuk “is curious because it comes during a campaign and is from a foreigner and looks like an effort to buy influence,” said Marcus S. Owens, a former head of the Internal Revenue Service division that oversees tax-exempt organizations. He called the donation “an unusual amount of money for such a short speech.”
Mr. Cohen did not respond to a request for comment. Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for the president, did not return several messages seeking comment, nor did a lawyer for the Trump Organization. When The New York Times revealedthe existence of the subpoena in March, Mr. Trump’s associates played it down as a routine court order to ensure the Trump Organization had handed over all the documents Mr. Mueller had demanded.
Mr. Mueller has also examined a deal Mr. Cohen was putting together with Mr. Trump to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Mr. Trump said last summer that Mr. Mueller should not look at his or his family’s finances beyond issues related directly to Russia.
But the special counsel’s investigators have questioned witnesses about whether money from the Persian Gulf had been used to finance Mr. Trump’s political efforts and asked for information on Mr. Pinchuk.
The inquiry into the Trump Organization’s payments from foreign nationals underscores how diffuse Mr. Trump’s sources of income have been over many years. And the destination of Mr. Pinchuk’s donation — the Trump Foundation instead of the president’s personal coffers — raised fresh questions about how the president handled the entity he set up to deal with charitable giving.
Mr. Trump’s foundation attracted scrutiny during the 2016 campaign over revelations about his lack of financial support for it and his use of it to pay legal settlements rather than fulfill pledges he made to give to charity. In 2007, Mr. Trump used $20,000 from the foundation to buy a six-foot-tall portrait of himself.
Two weeks after he was elected president, the foundation acknowledged in a tax form that it might have broken federal rules designed to prohibit self-dealing, when charities use their money to benefit principals in their organization.
The Times noted some of the content of Trump’s address to the conference:
The Kiev talk received little attention, with the scant coverage focused on the awkward nature of Mr. Trump’s delivery. He repeatedly stopped speaking, apparently believing he had to pause to give translators time to relay what he was saying.
“You need not wait for any translation,” Mr. Schoen finally told him.
Mr. Trump continued to pause and said he was having trouble hearing. “The sound system is terrible because there is a huge delay and feedback,” he said.
Mr. Trump used the appearance to criticize President Barack Obama amid deteriorating relations between the United States and Russia over its incursions into Ukraine, which had begun a year earlier. “Our president is not strong and he is not doing what he should be doing for the Ukraine,” Mr. Trump said, using the article before Ukraine, which is seen as insulting by some Ukrainians.
“Putin does not respect our president whatsoever,” he said of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
Clearly, the net is fairly large when it comes to Cohen and his relationship with Trump. Depending on what the raid uncovers, it could become larger.
Update: The New York Times is reporting that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein personally approved yesterday’s raid:
WASHINGTON — Rod J. Rosenstein, the veteran Republican prosecutor handpicked by President Trump to serve as deputy attorney general, personally signed off on Monday’s F.B.I. decision to raid the office of Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s personal attorney and longtime confidant, three government officials said.
The early-morning searches enraged Mr. Trump, associates said, setting off an angry public tirade Monday evening that continued in private at the White House as the president fumed about whether he should fire Mr. Rosenstein. The episode has deeply unsettled White House aides, Justice Department officials and lawmakers from both parties, who believe the president may use it as a pretext to purge the team leading the investigation into Russia meddling in the 2016 election.
While Mr. Rosenstein must sign off on all moves that Mr. Mueller makes, that is not necessarily the case for searches — like this one — that are carried out by other federal law enforcement offices. Justice Department regulations require prosecutors to consult with senior criminal prosecutors in Washington — but not necessarily the deputy attorney general — before conducting a search of a lawyer’s files.
The involvement of Mr. Rosenstein and top prosecutors in New York in the raid of Mr. Cohen’s office makes it harder for Mr. Trump to argue that his legal problems are the result of a witch hunt led by Mr. Mueller. In addition to Mr. Rosenstein, all of the top law enforcement officials involved in the raid are Republicans: Mr. Mueller, Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. Director, and Geoffrey Berman, the interim United States attorney in New York.
In other words, this was far from a witch hunt.