When news broke that the FBI had raided the home and office of Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, that in itself was big news. After all, if Cohen was ensnared in any sort of criminal investigation, it would effectively amount to an investigation of Trump himself. For all of Trump’s bleating and screeting about this raid being an attack on attorney-client privilege, he forgets that if there is evidence that Cohen knew about or was involved in illegal activity on Trump’s behalf, the privilege would not apply.
On Friday, federal prosecutors in Manhattan confirmed what may have been the worst-kept secret in the political world–Monday’s raid was conducted as part of a federal criminal probe into Cohen’s dealings. CNN’s Evan Perez broke the story just before lunchtime on Friday. Watch here.
Cohen wanted to suppress much of the evidence that was seized in Monday’s raids on the basis of attorney-client privilege. He wants to have his lawyers review the material seized in the raids before prosecutors do so, and in lieu of that have a special master conduct a review.
In a 23-page reply, federal prosecutors stated that the raid was authorized after the FBI convinced a magistrate judge that there was “probable cause” to believe his home and office contained evidence “for which Cohen is under criminal investigation.” They also maintain that they already have “taint teams” in place to review the material in order to filter out privileged information.
Many of the specifics in the prosecutors’ response have been redacted, since this case is before a grand jury and no charges have been formally filed yet. However, we already have some idea what prosecutors were looking for. Sources close to the investigation told The Washington Post that they are investigating Cohen for possible bank fraud, wire fraud, and campaign finance violations.
According to The New York Times, among other things, investigators wanted more information on hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, both of whom claim to have carried on affairs with Trump. CNN reported that the FBI was also looking for evidence of Cohen’s efforts to suppress negative information about Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Prosecutors also revealed that the “overwhelming majority” of evidence seized in the raids were related to Cohen’s business dealings, and the attorney-client privilege would not apply to this material. In any event, they maintain that Cohen has told at least one witness that he has only one client–Trump. They have also obtained evidence that Cohen “is in fact performing little to no legal work,” and has exchanged no emails with Trump.
This may explain a stunning revelation made by Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, on Thursday afternoon. Cohen is also defending himself in a defamation suit filed by Daniels, and Cohen revealed that he plans to plead the Fifth. Watch here.
Avenatti also revealed that Cohen is seeking a stay in the defamation lawsuit, which he plans to challenge. Nonetheless, considering that Cohen is now under criminal investigation, it should come as no surprise that he’s taking the Fifth.
The Times reported on Friday that Trump considers the investigation into Cohen to be a greater threat than Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s efforts to hack the election. They have good reason to be afraid. Prosecutors are looking into Cohen’s role in the campaign, and have sought all communications between Cohen and the Trump campaign. Moreover, they know that this investigation isn’t going away, even if Trump is foolish enough to fire Mueller.
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