Talk­ing points

Does the raid pose a threat to Trump?

The Week (US) - - News 17 -

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 Na­tional Re­view.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.”

Co­hen: The ‘crime-fraud ex­cep­tion’

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