Tracking the Developing Story About the FBI’s Raid of Michael Cohen’s Offices (Updated)

The major news of the day continues to be the unfolding story about the FBI’s raid on Michael Cohen’s offices and hotel room. Here at Political Animal we’ve decided to summarize what we know now and continue to update this post if there are further developments throughout the day.

To begin, here is how Bloomberg reported that the raids came about:

Mueller brought information involving Cohen to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who decided that the matter should be handled by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York rather than by Mueller’s team, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Under Justice Department regulations, Mueller is required to consult with Rosenstein about how to handle evidence and matters that fall outside his jurisdiction and authority. Mueller is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, whether anyone close to Trump colluded in it and whether Trump sought to obstruct justice.

That tells us that whatever Mueller and his investigators came across, it wasn’t directly related to their probe into whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the election.

Getting a warrant to search the offices of an attorney is clearly an unusual step. That might explain Trump’s reaction if he felt that whatever was in Cohen’s possession was safe from investigation. William Cummings provides a good summary of the legal process for taking such a step.

In order to get the OK to raid Cohen’s office, prosecutors would have had to get approval from high up — in this case from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — and demonstrate to a federal magistrate both probable cause and the need for a warrant instead of a subpoena (such as a concern that Cohen might destroy evidence), Litman explained.

In addition, the probable cause would have to relate to a crime centered on Cohen, not Trump or someone else. “You can’t use it as end run around to get to the client,” Litman said.

There will also be a “taint team” to examine everything before it is handed over to prosecutors to make sure that those conducting the case never see any material that might be “tainted” by attorney-client privilege.

The only way the prosecution would be permitted to examine any material that might otherwise fall under the attorney-client umbrella is if it is determined to be part of a crime jointly undertaken by the attorney and the client. But for the privilege to be nullified, Litman said the taint team would have to get the approval of the court to present the material to the prosecution.

Betsy Woodruff and Asawin Suebsaeng explain when a process like this is normally used:

Lawyers told The Daily Beast that raiding lawyers’ offices isn’t unheard of—but is generally used for lawyers who work with alleged members of organized crime, or for lawyers who are involved themselves in elaborate criminal schemes.

“It’s a tactic generally used against organized crime, against very serious, very serious criminals and lawyers who are operating outside of the protections of the law,” said Alan Dershowitz, a liberal attorney and frequent critic of Mueller’s tactics.

Trump’s reaction was explosive.

Here is how he responded when asked whether he would fire Mueller:

Mike Allen reports that someone close to Trump said, “He takes the Russia stuff as a political hit job. This was a personal affront. This was the red line of intrusion into personal financial matters.”

This morning we learned that the president has decided to cancel his trip to South America and Vice President Pence will go instead. The White House is suggesting that this will allow Trump to manage the reaction to Syria, but not many people are buying that one. If you remember, just yesterday Martin wrote that the White House was hoping this trip would provide a distraction to the release of James Comey’s book, scheduled to be published a week from today.

There is a lot to keep our eyes on as this story develops. One thing we’ll be watching is how Republicans respond. No doubt many of them are spreading the false notion that this was a breach of attorney-client privilege. But if the president is actually weighing the possibility of firing Mueller, Sen. Chuck Grassely (R-IA), chair of the Judiciary Committee, had a word of warning.

Martin and I will keep our eyes on this story as it develops, including speculation about what this all means. We’ll provide updates here throughout the day, so keep checking back. Feel free to add what you find in the comments.

UPDATES:

11:10 am (Nancy) Adam Davidson did a tweet storm reminding us of the role Michael Cohen played with the Trump family.

Michael Cohen is the most important non-Trump in the Trump business world. He oversaw nearly all the foreign deals as the Trump Org shifted its focus to sketchy third-tier overseas oligarchs. He was not part of the Trump Org legal team in any real sense. Trump Org lawyers either set up contracts for deals others had brought or they handled litigation. Cohen did neither. He was a deal maker. The only non-Trump deal maker doing all those international deals. He, Ivanka, and Don, Jr., were the entire global development team at a time when the company was exploring dozens of deals all over the world. If he were to flip, it would be Ivanka and Don, Jr. who should be most worried. We know, of course, that the Trump Org did business with corrupt politicians, sanctions-violators, money launderers, etc. The only open question is how much they knew about their partners’ activity. Cohen knows how much they knew. He knows what he told them…But Cohen had never acted as a regular attorney for Trump. He had always been the fixer/deal-maker. So, the move to his new private firm seems solely designed to provide attorney-client privilege. To get his documents out of the Trump Org and into a private office. This moment is what Trump has been terrified of and trying to avoid since long before Comey was fired and Mueller appointed. Short of Ivanka or Don, Jr. flipping, Cohen is the key witness.

I would simply remind you of what the Steele dossier said regarding Trump’s major concern.

11:50 am (Nancy): I suspect that this fallout from the raid won’t surprise anyone.

In the wake of an early morning FBI raid on his personal attorney, sources close to President Donald Trump and his legal team say the president is “less inclined” to sit down for an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team.

12:20 pm (Nancy) This is pretty big news:

12:35 pm (Nancy) Matthew Miller provides some levity amidst the truth.

12:55 pm (Nancy) We are starting to see stories about what was in the warrant used to search Cohen’s offices. For example, this is from the New York Times:

The F.B.I. agents who raided the office of President Trump’s personal lawyer on Monday were looking for records about payments to two women who claim they had affairs with Mr. Trump, and information related to the publisher of The National Enquirer’s role in silencing one of the women, several people briefed on the investigation said.

This is what CNN is reporting:

The search warrant behind Monday’s raids on the office and hotel room of President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, included a request for documents related to Cohen’s ownership of taxi medallions, two sources familiar with the matter tell CNN.

I would take all of that with a grain of salt. It is very possible that the people leaking the information are either part of Cohen’s legal team or others who have a particular agenda in mind. If we want to go with hunches at this point, I’d bet on this one:

1:10 pm (Nancy) Given that Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, is recused from the Cohen investigation, here the #2 in that office:

Robert S. Khuzami, who led the enforcement division of the Securities and Exchange Commission for four years during the Obama administration, was named on Friday as the deputy United States attorney in Manhattan…

The United States attorney’s office in Manhattan has traditionally been one of the most aggressive pursuers of cases involving white-collar and Wall Street crime, and Mr. Khuzami’s background means he could become one of the country’s top financial watchdogs.

But don’t let that reference to the Obama administration fool you.

Mr. Khuzami spoke at the 2004 Republican National Convention, in defense of the Patriot Act and in support of President George W. Bush’s re-election.

2:50 pm (Nancy) When asked yesterday whether he would fire Mueller, Trump said, “We’ll see what happens. But I think it’s really a sad situation when you look at what happened. And many people have said, ‘You should fire him.’” Today, this is what the NYT is reporting:

Mr. Trump’s advisers have spent the last 24 hours trying to convince the president not to make an impulsive decision that could put the president in more legal jeopardy and ignite a controversy that could consume his presidency, several people close to Mr. Trump said…

Mr. Trump considered firing Mr. Rosenstein last summer. Instead, he ordered Mr. Mueller to be fired, then backed down after the White House counsel refused to carry out the order, The New York Times reported in January. Mr. Trump is now again telling associates that he is frustrated with Mr. Rosenstein, according to one official familiar with the conversations.

In light of that, here is Senate Majority Leader McConnell addressing the question of whether or not congress should consider voting on a bill that would protect Mueller from being fired.

3:45 pm (Nancy) During the press briefing today, Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeatedly said that the president has the power to directly fire Robert Mueller.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .