By Miriam Raftery
April 11, 2018 (Washington D.C.) – Prominent Republicans are speaking out to debunk claims made by President Donald Trump after the FBI raided the office and home of Trump’s long-time attorney Donald Cohen this week under orders of the U.S. Attorney’s office.
The New York Times first reported on the raid. The FBI seized emails, tax documents, financial records and information related to Cohen's $130,000 payment to adult-film star Stormy Daniels, including communications with President Trump. The investigation reportedly includes possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations.
Investigators may also be probing Cohen’s role as National Deputy Finance Chairman for the Republican National Committee and the link between Russian money and the Trump campaign, as well as some Congressional races, as well as his ties to a Russian oligarch who promised in writing to deliver the election to Trump if a Trump tower was built in Russia.
The GOP scrubbed all mention of Cohen off of its website hours after the FBI raid was announced.
Trump blasted the raid on Twitter as a “witch hunt” and claimed that the FBI broke into Cohen’s offices. Cohen himself refuted the latter claim, confirming that the agents had a warrant and were “professional and respectful” during the search, CNN reports.
Former Republican Congressman and conservative commentator Joe Scarborough also criticized the President, noting that the officials who approved the raid are Republicans, The Hill reports. He added, “Most of these players now that Donald Trump is attacking were appointed by Donald Trump.” Scarborough added that the raid was done not on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s behalf, “but on the behalf of the people of New York and the people of the United States of America.”
The raid was approved personally not only by a federal judge, but also by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a Republican appointed by Trump. It also reportedly was approved by FBI Director Christopher Wray, another Republican appointed by Trump, and went through the Justice Department headed up by Trump appointee Jeff Sessions. U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, another Trump appointee, recused himself from the Cohen investigation, ABC news reports, though his office coordinated with the FBI on the raid. Mueller, the special counsel, is also a registered Republican.
It is highly unusual to see raids of an attorney’s office and particularly unusual to see seizures of attorney-client communications, since such communications are usually subject to attorney-client privilege and cannot be used as evidence.
But there is a huge exception to that rule. To obtain a warrant to search a lawyer’s office, prosecutors must convince a federal judge that agents are likely to discover evidence of criminal activity. If a lawyer is conspiring with a client to commit or cover up a crime, such communications are not protected.
Cohen, who has been with the Trump organization since 2006, previously drew scrutiny in the special prosecutor’s Trump-Russia probe after emails revealed that Felix Sater, a Russian business association of Trump, pitched Cohen on a proposed Trump Tower in Russia.
Sater went so far as to boast that building a tower in Russia would get Trump elected as president. Sater wrote, “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this, I will manage the process.”
Cohen told a Congressional panel he thought those words were mere idle boasts.
As for Cohen’s admitted payment of $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels as settlement over her alleged affair with Trump, Cohen has claimed he mortgaged his home to make that payment without the President’s knowledge—a claim that prominent legal experts have said is incredulous.
If Trump in fact knew of the payment, he would likely be complicit in a crime of criminal conspiracy to violate campaign laws, in much the same fashion as former Democratic president candidate and Senator John Edwards, who was tried for conspiring to cover up a payment to his mistress.
We can expect Cohen’s attorneys to put up a vigorous defense asserting that seizure of his records violate attorney-client privilege. But it’s unlikely they will succeed. FBI sources have indicated that when attorneys’ offices have been raided in the past, in virtually every case, the attorney wound up in prison.
The Daily Wire reports that the Justice Department does, however, have an extensive process for vetting documents seized from attorneys. That process could include a judge, an independent attorney, or a team of legal experts assigned to screen out any material that would be privileged, passing on to the prosecutorial team only those materials not covered by attorney-client privilege.