The FBI raid of the offices and home of Trump attorney Michael Cohen could render the president more vulnerable than the ongoing probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, multiple legal scholars said.
Reports have suggested that Trump could be close to firing special counsel Robert Mueller, which some speculate could have serious ramifications for the president.
However, it’s the raid on Cohen that’s most troublesome.
“Trump, you can’t have Cohen broker a non-disclosure and payoff to Stormy Daniels to keep her from talking about your affair and then deny you knew anything about it,” said Rep. Maxine Waters. “Your lies are catching up with you and the con won’t work … this may be your ‘Come to Jesus’ moment before impeachment.”
The outspoken Waters said everyone knows Cohen has been Trump’s “go-to lawyer and fixer,” protecting him in lawsuits and representing him in all sorts of “shady” dealings.
“I believe his office is a treasure trove of information,” said Waters, California Democrat. “No matter what [Trump] says, the acting U.S. attorney in Manhattan and a federal judge would not have agreed to this raid on Cohen unless there was sound reason to do so.
“Trump can complain all he wants,” she said. “The road leads to impeachment.”
Cohen was ordered to appear Monday before a federal judge in New York.
Trump’s attorneys called the federal searches of Cohen’s home, office, hotel room and cellphones last week “an operation disquieting to lawyers, clients, citizens and commentators alike.”
In a filing Sunday, the lawyers make it clear that the president opposes the wishes of one of the most significant U.S. attorney’s offices in the Justice Department. Instead, Trump backs his business colleague, who finds himself amid a monthslong criminal investigation.
CNN reported that the filing marks the first time the President’s legal representatives have waded into an ongoing criminal matter, an unusual but not unheard-of situation for past administrations.
Trump’s newly enlisted lawyers from the firm Spears & Imes in New York, who stepped into the case Friday, largely support the same stance as the President’s longtime personal attorney, Cohen, who is asking a judge to prevent federal investigators from using information seized without his review.
The federal prosecutors — operating out of Manhattan to investigate Cohen’s business dealings and separately from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian collusion — have said they would use a different set of government lawyers to review the materials seized, according to the CNN report.
That walled-off group, called a “taint team,” would look for possible breaches of confidentiality regarding Cohen’s interactions with his legal clients, commonly called attorney-client privilege, and prevent the Manhattan prosecutors from seeing that material.
Trump’s lawyers say any rush to review the documents for privilege “makes clear that the taint team will not zealously protect the president’s privilege.”
The Justice Department announced last week that Cohen had been “under criminal investigation” for months in New York relating to his business dealings.
CNN said the FBI seized recordings Cohen made of his conversations with a lawyer representing two women who had alleged affairs with Trump, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Cohen is under scrutiny in part for his role in seeking to suppress an alleged affair with Daniels, an adult-film actress, with hush money. The warrant sought information about that payment along with any information that connected Cohen with efforts to suppress the disclosure of Trump’s alleged affair with Playboy model Karen McDougal.
Trump and Cohen’s lawyers attempted to block federal prosecutors from using some of the records they obtained during the raid and filed a temporary restraining order.
The New York Times characterized the Cohen investigation as one of the most consequential corruption inquiries in a generation, notable even by the standards of the Southern District office, which has never been shy about reaching far beyond Manhattan to find headline-grabbing cases.
And the office’s longstanding reputation for nonpartisanship and autonomy — it is jokingly referred to as the “Sovereign District” — could make it less vulnerable to attacks from either the president’s allies or his critics, the newspaper said.
“The office has been historically known for its independence of the Justice Department,” said John S. Martin Jr., a former United States attorney in Manhattan and former federal judge. “That’s what makes it so powerful in this investigation, and such a danger to Donald Trump.”