The FBI on Monday raided the offices of Michael Cohen, one of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyers.
The New York Times reported that FBI agents seized records related to various topics, including payments made just before the 2016 presidential election to adult film star Stormy Daniels as part of a nondisclosure agreement.
Cohen paid $130,000 to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. She alleges that she had a one-night stand with Trump in 2006, 10 years before he ran for president.
Cohen’s own lawyer, Stephen Ryan, confirmed the raid to The New York Times. He said the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan obtained the warrant after receiving a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
Ryan also called the search “completely inappropriate and unnecessary.”
“Today the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York executed a series of search warrants and seized the privileged communications between my client, Michael Cohen, and his clients,” Ryan told the Times. “I have been advised by federal prosecutors that the New York action is, in part, a referral by the Office of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.”
According to the Times’ report, the search was not directly related to Mueller’s Russia probe, though he likely made the referral based on other information provided to him.
Cohen, one of Trump’s most dogged supporters, has turned over thousands of documents related to the Russia investigation. Mueller has dug into Cohen’s work on various Trump real estate deals.
Trump tweeted briefly twice Tuesday morning on the development:
Attorney–client privilege is dead!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 10, 2018
A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 10, 2018
In reporting Tuesday on the raid, a CNN host appeared at one point to defend the action and question Trump’s initial public comments.
“I don’t want to speculate on what they’re looking for without knowing and I also don’t want to go—there’s something that the president said that I think is really dangerous,” New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman told CNN. “And I think it is actually important to focus on where he described this as an attack on our country.”
“The president’s not listening to you,” CNN host Chris Cuomo told Haberman. “He’s tweeted twice … First, ‘Attorney-client privilege is dead!’ Now, once again, this is another institution he is attacking and it also is not true.”
Now a lot of people picked up on this. And [they] said, ‘I can’t believe they did this. This is illegal. You cannot go after the attorney-client privilege. It’s sacrosanct.’ It’s nice to see the legal profession respected for a change. However, that’s just not true.
CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin appeared to agree with Cuomo and said the raid on the office of the president’s lawyer should be considered normal.
“It is not true. And this is not the first lawyer’s office that’s ever been searched,” Toobin said. “It’s unusual, but it has been done many, many times.”
The way this works generally, when you search an attorney’s office, is you establish what you call a taint team which goes through all the documents. A group of lawyers, to determine which [documents] are covered by the attorney-client privilege and which are not.
That taint team then turns over to the investigators the documents that are appropriate to look at. The taint team is not involved in the investigation. They are the ones who just determine attorney-client privilege, then they check out of the case. The documents that they see that are covered by the attorney-client privilege, the investigators never actually see. That’s how searches of attorney’s offices generally work.
Speaking on Fox News Channel, George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley said Trump must tread lightly after the FBI raid.
Trump must be prepared for the scenario where his personal lawyer is used as “bait” against him to trip up in his dealings with Mueller, Turley said.
“The president has to be very careful,” Turley said Tuesday on “Fox & Friends.” “The greatest danger that he faces is not Michael Cohen as a defendant, but Michael Cohen as bait. The president was actually in a fairly safe place 48 hours ago. He was following his attorney’s advice. He was prepping for a negotiated and limited interview with Mueller.
“And then suddenly this happens,” Turley said. “And in many ways this could be as cunning as it is hostile on the part of [Deputy Attorney General] Rod Rosenstein.”
Rosenstein, the No. 2 official at the Justice Department, oversees Mueller’s probe because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from matters related to it because of his advisory role in the Trump campaign.
“It has a real threat for the president,” Turley said. “It expands the investigation, involves the Southern District that can prosecute it. But if the president reacts aggressively, he could end up triggering a far more serious problem for himself and his presidency.”
Turley said Trump opened himself up to the FBI’s action by not cutting ties with Cohen fast enough and by not ending the Stormy Daniels litigation:
I think, quite frankly, the president laid himself open for this. For months, some of us have been saying he needed to sever his contacts with Michael Cohen. Who, charitably, is not the most respected attorney in terms of his conduct. And he also needed to get out of the Stormy Daniels litigation. Neither of those things have happened. And the costs are mounting.
Now that doesn’t mean that the president is wrong for being aggrieved about his attorney being searched. That is always going to be something that is a fairly extreme step, but the president needs to focus on the threat
The threat here is if he reacts badly—if he reacts aggressively and fires Mueller, I think he’s going to magnify the dangers for himself and his presidency.