Well, the big news — other than what looks like imminent U.S. airstrikes on Syria that could easily lead to a major war involving multiple countries — is yesterday’s raids on the offices of Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Everyone has a theory. The anti-Trump #Resistance is sure the raid is related to Trump and money laundering. Or Cohen’s payment of $130,000 to Stormy Daniels. Or campaign finance violations. Or collusion with Russia.
Here’s exactly what’s going on: I have no clue, and neither does anyone else other than the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which conducted the raid, the judge who signed off on it and a few other insiders. “We don’t know specifically what the FBI was looking for when it raided the office of Michael Cohen,” acknowledged this story in the Washington Post. “We don’t know what they found; we don’t know what investigations might be bolstered or curtailed by the evidence they seized.”
Trump claims the raid was an abuse of attorney-client privilege and tweeted, “A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!” Whatever you think of Trump, his grandstanding, and his own disregard for legal niceties, everyone should be concerned about the raid on his lawyer’s office. If there wasn’t a very good reason, it would be a troubling matter because privilege is one of the hallmarks of our legal system.
This is not to say the raid won’t produce important information. It was executed by the office of the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, whose interim leader is Geoffrey Berman, a Trump appointee. It’s hard to reduce the raid to a witch hunt under the circumstances.
Furthermore, Cohen has been involved in shady activities throughout his public life. “Long before he became Donald Trump’s feared attack dog…Michael Cohen ran a small legal practice in Hell’s Kitchen,” recounts this article in BuzzFeed about some curious aspects of Cohen’s early career. “He was a one-man show and handled a little bit of everything, from personal injury cases to a Ukrainian investment fund to a fleet of taxis to a trust account he managed for clients.” Cohen’s been a jack-of-all-trades for Trump, more in the nature of a mob lawyer with general duties than a typical attorney who handles, say, contracts, or some other discrete part of a client’s portfolio.
But at this point, despite all the heavy breathing in the media and by Trump and his opponents, it’s impossible to know what the authorities were looking for during the raid, and hence to know whether it was appropriate. We’re basically dealing with the secret police, it’s important to keep in mind.
There’s been little indication of late that Mueller –who referred the raid to the Southern District for unknown reasons — is pursuing money laundering charges against Trump, and the most serious accusations in that regard predate his presidency. There’s been speculation about foreign money flowing into his campaign but very little evidence to confirm it did in any significant volume.
If the raid was related to the criminal prosecution of the president or his family, it should have been designed to obtain very specific election-related information that could not have been gotten via other methods. And if the information was not related to the election campaign, the matter should probably have waited until after Trump leaves office.
Was the raid about the payment Cohen made to Stormy Daniels? That’s a serious matter, but what do you get from a draconian step like a raid on the offices of the president’s lawyer that you couldn’t have gotten from a subpoena?
I know, everyone wants to get Trump, but attorney-client privilege is a serious matter. It seems odd that Cohen committed a crime big enough to justify the raid and seizing his client records, but not big enough to justify his arrest.
The bigger issue is the level of secrecy around the raid and the investigation. The need for secrecy is obvious but we’re left trusting that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies are doing the right thing. That’s a dangerous assumption.
Updated: This excellent post explains why it’s entirely possible that my concerns are entirely overblown. https://www.popehat.com/2018/04/09/the-search-of-trump-lawyer-michael-cohens-office-what-we-can-infer-immediately/