Citizen Cohen

Trump Maladministration

Trump supporters are whining that Michael Cohen is being treated like a mob lawyer. Yeah, he is, isn’t he? And probably for good reason.

Several op eds and analyses say it is extraordinarily difficult to get a search warrant on records from a lawyer unless there is really, really, really solid evidence that said lawyer is engaged in criminal activity. And there would have to be good reason to think that a subpoena wouldn’t do.

Whatever evidence federal prosecutors have collected concerning Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime attorney, it is most likely extraordinarily strong.

Before federal agents raided Cohen’s home, hotel room, and office Monday afternoon, they would have had to convince high-ranking officials at the Department of Justice and a federal judge that a search warrant was necessary to obtain the evidence sought.

“Doing a search warrant rather than a subpoena suggests the investigators thought Cohen, if given a subpoena, would possibly destroy evidence or withhold key evidence, particularly if it were incriminating,” Clinton Watts, a former FBI agent and a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said.

So, yes, raiding rather than subpoena-ing is what is done with mob lawyers who are thought to be themselves engaged in ongoing criminal activity. It would not be done if the lawyer were only representing someone thought to be guilty of ongoing criminal activity.

If Cohen were being raided only for material related to the Stormy Daniels payoff, it could be argued that he hadn’t been acting as Trump’s lawyer, since Trump himself said he didn’t know anything about it. But even then I don’t think they would have raided Cohen if they didn’t think he himself had reason to hide something pretty consequential from the law. Whether that “something” also incriminates Trump is not something we can know, yet.

Several news outlets are reporting this morning that yesterday’s raid was looking for information on payments to women, not just Stormy Daniels. But many people are skeptical that’s all the raid was about. As Josh Marshall wrote, what we know about the payment to Stormy Daniels and probably other women doesn’t rise to the level of gravity “to merit this kind of action.”

CNN is reporting that the FBI also sought information relating to Cohen’s ownership of taxi medallions. There have been rumors that Cohen’s taxi business is somehow connected to the Russian mob and various criminal activities. So maybe Cohen literally is a mob lawyer. But I can’t find anything more than rumors. There’s also talk of bank fraud, which might relate to where Cohen got the money to pay off Daniels et al., and campaign finance violations, which might relate to seeing the payoff money as campaign contributions, which I understand is a stretch.

ABC is reporting that the warrant was not sought by the U.S. Attorney from the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, because Berman (a Trump appointee who was interviewed by Trump for the job) actually is recused from the Michael Cohen investigation. The raid was handled by other people in Berman’s office and approved by a judge.

Now, why did Mueller hand off this investigation to the Justice Department and the Southern District of New York? It might really be that what Cohen is suspected of doing really isn’t related to Trump or the Trump campaign. But let’s assume that isn’t it.

Jed Shugerman writes at Slate,

Why might this U.S. attorney’s office have been involved? One answer is the most basic: a raid of at least two locations simultaneously—office and hotel—requires a lot of bodies and coordination. If you need that many FBI agents, you already need to coordinate with the local office for it to go smoothly. Former prosecutors say that Mueller might have referred this raid to the Southern District for logistical reasons alone. But he still chose to refer the investigation to this U.S. attorney’s office rather than simply use their logistical support.

What else might this move tell us about Robert Mueller’s thinking? First, remember that Mueller has learned that Trump has already tried to fire him, and the person who reportedlystopped him—White House counsel Don McGahn—is rumored to be on his way out of the administration.

The Post is reporting that the subject of the Cohen warrant was an investigation into possible bank fraud, wire fraud, and campaign finance violations, possibly related to a hush money contract with adult film performer Stormy Daniels. Mueller probably could have made a claim that Cohen already fell under his jurisdiction, which is to investigate Russian election interference, links between the Trump campaign and Russia, and “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” But it has been reported that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made the call to involve the U.S. attorney, and perhaps Rosenstein made a strategic calculation about Trump, or they agreed together. It seems, though, that both men know they need to spread Mueller’s work around as a hedge against his firing, and maybe even to try to deter Trump from firing him.

In other words, in order to shut down the investigation Trump would have to not just stop Mueller’s investigation, he’d also have to move against the Southern District of New York.

Republicans are warning Trump not to fire Mueller. Whether there is anything that can be done to protect Mueller is a matter of dispute.  But it’s not hard to imagine that Republicans in Congress really don’t want to deal with the fallout of another Saturday Night Massacre. Especially not in a midterm year.

Meanwhile, Mueller himself is making other news.

The special counsel is investigating a payment made to President Trump’s foundation by a Ukrainian steel magnate for a talk during the campaign, according to three people briefed on the matter, as part of a broader examination of streams of foreign money to Mr. Trump and his associates in the years leading up to the election.

Investigators subpoenaed the Trump Organization this year for an array of records about business with foreign nationals. In response, the company handed over documents about a $150,000 donation that the Ukrainian billionaire, Victor Pinchuk, made in September 2015 to the Donald J. Trump Foundation in exchange for a 20-minute appearance by hMr. Trump that month through a video link to a conference in Kiev.

Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer whose office and hotel room were raided on Monday in an apparently unrelated case, solicited the donation.

Oh, my. And did any of that $150,000 find its way into the Trump campaign, I wonder? Trump has already been caught using his “foundation” as a slush fund for self-dealing (which is something he’s accused Hillary Clinton of doing, without evidence).

Mr. Mueller has also examined a deal Mr. Cohen was putting together with Mr. Trump to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Mr. Trump said last summer that Mr. Mueller should not look at his or his family’s finances beyond issues related directly to Russia.

But the special counsel’s investigators have questioned witnesses about whether money from the Persian Gulf had been used to finance Mr. Trump’s political efforts and asked for information on Mr. Pinchuk.

So, Cohen could have lots of information on Trump that is very incriminating, indeed.

Here’s a rundown of Trump associates who are under investigation, under indictment, or have already pleaded guilty.

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Doug  •  Apr 10, 2018 @4:20 pm

    I've been learning over the last 24 hours. The DOJ must have Cohen cold for something and they may have written the warrant to collect proof of what they strongly suspect. The team combing the documents now is sorting into two piles – potentially relevant to the warrant and a second pile – immaterial to the warrant. The pile of relevant stuff is the ONLY stuff the prosecutors will see.

    Trump is a paranoid crook ad he's going to assume that Mueller will cheat and look at everything. My opinion is that on something this big, they won't bend the rules a millimeter. Trump's fear and reaction will be based on his belief that the DOJ has everything. What that may be I don't know – but Trump does.

    The goal, within the strict constraints of the warrant, may be to nail Cohen for crimes unrelated to Trump. A potential 20-year stretch would put the "fixer' in a let's-make-a-deal frame of mind. What Cohen then volunteers would be fair game for Mueller even though the proof of Trump's misdeeds wound up in the "not relevant to the warrant" pile.

    If Trump pardons Cohen for anything and everything – a lifetime get-out-of-jail pardon, a trial for obstruction AFTER Trump leaves office seems likely to this non-lawyer. 

    What's gonna happen when Mueller says he's ready to talk to Trump? 

  2. Tom_b  •  Apr 10, 2018 @4:42 pm

    Just for a little icing, let’s publicly threaten the Good Prosecutor:

    https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/10/politics/robert-mueller-donald-trump-white-house/index.html

    I guess with Cohen going down, Sarah Huckleberry Sanders is the most frightening minion he could deploy on short notice.

  3. Swami  •  Apr 10, 2018 @5:53 pm

    Not that it would have any impact on the legal aspects of the investigation, but it sure would be nice if Trump gave Jeff Sessions a good public tongue lashing for being such an idiot for not protecting Trump. That might seem a bit cruel and unwarranted to some, but in actuality it builds character.

  4. Swami  •  Apr 10, 2018 @5:53 pm

    Not that it would have any impact on the legal aspects of the investigation, but it sure would be nice if Trump gave Jeff Sessions a good public tongue lashing for being such an idiot for not protecting Trump. That might seem a bit cruel and unwarranted to some, but in actuality it builds character.

  5. c u n d gulag  •  Apr 10, 2018 @7:22 pm

    This Cohen case wasn't handed to the Southern District in NY for just Stormy and the others in this "bimbo eruption."

    That would be like shooting a housefly with a semi-automatic weapon.

    My guess is that Cohen has info not only on the tRUMP women, but tRUMP and the Russian men – and possibly on tRUMP and Russian women.  And Mueller and Rosenstein may have split the case against Cohen off so that Mueller doesn't look like he's  straying too far away from his original mandate, but also because "two head's are better than one" – in other words, by letting NY do it's work, the goal may be acccomplished quicker.

    What that goal my be, only Mueller and Rosenstein know.

    I think Mueller knows exactly what he's doing, whereas tRUMP is… well, tRUMP.

     

     

  6. uncledad  •  Apr 10, 2018 @8:51 pm

    I think the biggest problem with Trump is that we are in ourage overload, it never ends, one outrage after another, who can keep track much less hold anyone to account. Yesterday Trump said the raid on his attorney was an "attack on our country". To me the outrage ends right there, concentrate on that. After two hundred fifty years of wars and war dead he thinks his pornstar payoff going public is "an attack on our country". Who cares what the next scandal is, we've had all we need!

  7. Doug  •  Apr 11, 2018 @10:06 am

    If Trump fires Mueller/Rosenstein and the flack shuts down the investigation , the Cohen stuff is in a separate jurisdiction. If Trump shuts down both, I don't see how that's not prima facia obstruction of justice in a criminal sense. Congress won't impeach. When pressed I predict Sessions will declare DOJ "can't" indict a sitting president. Under that reasoning, the crime is still there when Trump is out of office. If a crime that blatant isn't pursued in a court of law, we are declaring the President is exempt from the law for life – that the presidency is a get-out-of-jail card.

    I haven't seen/read the theory that Mueller put the Cohen search in a second jurisdiction so that a presidential shutdown of the investigations in two places would seal a future criminal prosecution. It seems reasonable to me. 

  8. aj  •  Apr 11, 2018 @9:04 pm

    They say it has to do with "access Hollywood " tape.  So what does Cohen do? He threatens people. So when that came out October 2016, who did Cohen threaten? Even Harvard Lampoon got a Cohen threat call once.

  9. aj  •  Apr 13, 2018 @10:48 pm

    TPM is reporting that Mueller has evidence that yes, Michael Cohen did meet with Russian intelligence in Prague. I always knew Cohen was lying about that. He gave it away by claiming no stamp on his passport. of course the beauty of the EU is you don't have to do all that anymore.

  10. Swami  •  Apr 15, 2018 @5:08 pm

    Reports say that Cohen has been under investigation for months. Also I read where he might have a tap on his phone..Now that's a scary prospect! No wonder why Donny became so unhinged when he found out they had Cohen on the hook.