The FBI’s raid on Michael Cohen’s office is a red flag for President Trump and suggests that Robert Mueller has compiled significant evidence of criminal activity by the president’s longtime personal lawyer, U.S. attorneys say, according to The Hill.
The legal experts say the raid was significant because the scope of the search indicates prosecutors suspected Cohen possessed a trove of evidence pointing to illegal activity that he would not have turned over to law enforcement voluntarily.
Cohen is suspected of possible bank fraud and campaign finance violations related, at least in part, to his payment of $130,000 to adult-film star Stormy Daniels two weeks before the 2016 presidential election. Daniels claims to have had an affair with Trump in 2006.
The president’s legal team argued to a federal judge in Manhattan Friday that the documents taken by the FBI are protected by attorney-client privilege.
But former federal prosecutors say the office of the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, which supervised the raid, could not have undertaken such a drastic action without extensive juridical review and compelling evidence as justification.
Raids on attorneys’ offices are rare and must follow strict guidelines set by the Department of Justice’s manual for U.S. attorneys.
Not only are there strict guidelines within the Department of Justice, but any judge who approves such a search is likely to demand a higher standard of justification.
Prosecutors in the case brought the search warrant to what they call “main Justice” in Washington for sign-off because Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, which oversaw the search of Cohen’s office, recused himself from the case. Berman, who was appointed to the post in January, had donated to Trump’s campaign.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the most senior official at the Justice Department who is also overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation, is reportedly signed off on the warrant request.
Federal prosecutors say Justice officials wouldn’t have gone forward with the raid on Cohen without solid evidence, given the political firestorm it was certain to create.
From The Hill:
Matthew Orwig, who was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, said the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York would not have proceeded with the raid without strong evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
“For a lawyer’s office, they would be particularly vigilant to make sure they had justifiable reason for doing that,” he said.
He said the standard would be even higher for the personal attorney of the president of the United States.
“It’s a very, very high standard,” he said.
Orwig says he remembers only a few times during his 15-year career as a prosecutor when his team felt compelled to gain a search warrant of a fellow attorney’s office.
He said Mueller’s legal team would likely not have referred the matter to the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York unless they strongly suspected Cohen of criminal wrongdoing.
The FBI’s decision to search Cohen’s office in Rockefeller Center as well as the Park Avenue hotel room where he was living indicates they suspected a wide array of incriminating documents spread in various locations, prosecutors say.
“The fact that they were able to go into his home and his office and all of these areas, tells me there was probably quite a bit in that probable cause statement,” said Tolman, the former U.S. attorney for the District of Utah.
“Apparently Michael Cohen did a whole lot of stuff for Donald Trump that had nothing to do with being a lawyer,” said Caroline Fredrickson, president of the American Constitution Society, a progressive legal advocacy group.
She said Cohen was reportedly involved of a number of deals for Trump that “didn’t involve giving legal counsel,” citing his pursuit of business deals in Russia.
“There’s no reason that kind of work or conversations about that with Donald Trump would be protected or be covered any kind of attorney-client privilege.”