Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are treating Michael Cohen like hes a lawyer for the mob. Thats how seasoned white collar defense attorneys describe the raid on Cohens office, home, and hotel room conducted on April.
Cohen is President Donald Trumps longtime personal attorney. The news that FBI agents raided his office appeared to leave the president shaken, and he told a pool spray of reporters a few hours after it broke that he was now considering firing special counsel Bob Mueller. The raid was handled by the Southern District of New York, not Muellers office.
Lawyers told The Daily Beast that raiding lawyers offices isnt unheard ofbut is generally used for lawyers who work with alleged members of organized crime, or for lawyers who are involved themselves in elaborate criminal schemes.
Its 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 Muellers tactics.
Because of attorney-client privilege, communications between lawyers and their clients are almost always protected from investigators prying eyes. Almost. The exception is when investigators convince a federal judge they have probable cause that the lawyer is involved in a crime. When that happens and a search warrant is executedas happened todaythen a team of attorneys who arent working on the prosecution go through the communications first with an eye to protecting privileged communications that arent evidence of crime.
The only excuse for raiding a lawyers office is if the lawyer is potentially involved in crimeif theres probable cause to believe that the attorney is either involved in crime or his services are being used for that, said Sol Wisenberg, a white collar defense attorney at Nelson Mullins and former federal prosecutor.
David Rivkin, formerly an official at the Justice Department during the Reagan administration, said this kind of raid means federal prosecutors must believe Cohen is involved in some ongoing criminal offense.
It is remarkably unusual, he added.
Unusual, but not completely unheard of: These kinds of raids happen when lawyers are suspected of involvement in organized, complex criminal schemes. In 2014, for instance, law enforcement officials raided a law firm in Florida whose attorneys allegedly preyed on homeowners by conning them into joining lawsuits against big banks, according to HuffPost. And in 2013, officials raided a law firm with strong union ties that faced accusations of harassing public officials, according to the Los Angeles Times.
This is precisely the sort of development a complex investigation can have, said Josh Geltzer, formerly an attorney in the Justice Departments National Security Division, and that it would deeply infringe on the integrity of law enforcement in this country if the president were to respond by firing DOJ leadership or the special counsel himself.
The raid tactic drew quick criticism from the presidents outside allies and defenders.
It always raises serious civil liberties questions when the FBI seizes confidential lawyer-client material, said Dershowitz. And they say theres a firewall, but the firewall consists of FBI agents who sit and read the lawyer-client material. They may not turn it over to the prosecution, but they still are sitting and reading lawyer-client privileged material. And when I tell a client that whatever he tells me, Ill go to the grave with it, I dont expect an FBI agent to be reading it.
Victoria Toensingwho was briefly a contender to join the presidents legal teamtold The Daily Beast she thought the raid was part of a concerted effort to end Trumps presidency.
It is outrageous, and its an attempt to take down the president which is why Muellers got all Democrats on his staff, she said Toensing, who is representing the former spokesman for the Trump legal team, Mark Corallo. It is highly unethical.
Several members of Muellers team are Democrats, though he himself is a registered Republican.
They want to bring down the president, Toensing added. They think theyre saving the world.
Shortly after speaking with The Daily Beast, Toensing made the same argument on Lou Dobbs Fox Business program showone of the presidents favorite TV shows.
On Monday night, two White House officials told The Daily Beast that President Trump is personally and closely monitoring the situation regarding Cohen and the raideven as his attention is supposed to be focused on the evenings meeting with national security officials and military leaders on the Syria war.
So, I just heard that they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys, a good man, and its a disgraceful situation, the president told reporters at the White House on Monday night. Its a total witch hunt. Ive been saying it for a long time. Ive wanted to keep it down. Weve given, I believe, over a million pages worth of documents to the special counsel.
President Trump, in the process of defending Cohen and railing against the witch hunt, continued to publicly dangle the prospect of sacking the special counselwithout committing to any action yet.
Why dont I just fire Mueller? Trump said, responding to reporters. Well, I think its a disgrace, whats going on. Well see what happens. But I think its really a sad situation when you look at what happened. And many people have said you should fire him. Again, they found nothing and in finding nothing, thats a big statement.