Donald Trump’s personal lawyer needs a lawyer. That lawyer will also need a lawyer, who in turn will also need a lawyer. If this keeps up, a friend noted, we’ll have to change “MAGA” to “My Attorney Got Arrested.”
Michael D. Cohen, Trump’s long-time consigliere and Man Who Knows All Secrets had his world turned inside out like a laundered sock on Monday morning when the FBI basically raided every place he’s ever spent more than five minutes. Cohen’s home, office and hotel all got the treatment courtesy of the office of the United States attorney for the southern district of New York, operating off a tip from special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigative team.
Saying “no” was not an option. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger asking for Cohen’s clothes, boots and motorcycle, they took everything. According to The Washington Post on Tuesday, the searches are part of a “federal investigation for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations.” A goodly slice of the records seized pertain to adult film star Stormy Daniels and the 2016 payment Cohen made to her in order to buy her silence about an alleged sexual dalliance with Trump. Attorney-client communications between Cohen and Trump himself were also seized.
Possible collusion with Russia, election interference, obstruction of justice … so of course it’s all going to come down to Stormy. This boulder started rolling down the mountain for real a few days ago on Air Force One when Trump finally broke his silence on the Daniels matter and threw Cohen under the bus with the speed of a startled cheetah. I know nothing, said Trump. Ask the lawyer.
Cohen was left holding the bag on the $130,000 hush payment to Daniels, a fact that could make those charges of wire fraud, bank fraud and campaign finance violations all too real. Even Cohen’s admission that he paid Daniels himself without Trump’s knowledge, and Trump’s professed ignorance of the transaction, carries legal peril for Cohen: Acting on behalf of your client in legal matters without the client’s knowledge and consent is grounds for disbarment in the state of New York.
Merriam-Webster defines “Schadenfreude” as “Enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others.” When word got out that Cohen’s inner sanctums had been de-doored by the FBI, the schaden met the freude in the rye and danced the night away. Why? Michael Cohen has moved through the world like a mouthy wheat thresher, “fixing” and intimidating people who make trouble for Trump. He has few friends, and fewer admirers. Today, he has empty filing cabinets in his office and a ball of ice in his gut to show for his years spent as a wanna-be menace on behalf of the pretend-billionaire set. From Manhattan to DC on Monday, many people smiled into their martinis and waited for the latest update.
This is going to become about more than Stormy Daniels, and Trump knows it. His panic on Monday was palpable, and justly so. Michael Cohen is in deep trouble, and Donald is right there with him. Cohen knows where all the bodies are buried, having buried many of them himself. As Rick Wilson points out in The Daily Beast, Cohen “realizes how deep this hole can become if he doesn’t roll over. He doesn’t have the resources to defend himself, and Trump isn’t exactly known for paying his bills in the first place. Cohen is scared, and he’s not alone.”
What do you call a leader without followers? Just a guy taking a walk.
One jagged nugget of irony to be found in all this is the fact that the warrants came from the offices of New York’s southern district US attorney, now headed by a Trump appointee named Geoffrey Berman. As far as Trump is concerned, the rain started falling last year when his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, recused himself from the Russia probe. It will give Trump no joy to learn that Berman has also recused himself from the matter now consuming Michael Cohen, and that the warrants were approved by one of Berman’s underlings.
The tastiest bit of bitter history here is the office itself. Before Berman, the southern district US attorney was a world-class investigator and prosecutor named Preet Bharara. Among his many cases, Bharara was sniffing heavily around shady real estate dealings between Trump and some Russian oligarchs, many of whom have since played starring roles in Mueller’s ongoing investigation.
Very early in his presidency, Trump fired or demanded resignations from every serving US attorney in the country, including Bharara. All of Bharara’s cases, including those involving Trump and the Russians, came to a screeching halt. This was no accident: A Trump lawyer named Marc Kasowitz bragged about convincing Trump to fire Bharara because, as Kasowitz reportedly told Trump, “This guy is going to get you.”
It appears the southern district isn’t quite finished with “The Donald” just yet. Trump could complain to the boss, but the boss has recused himself. Lather, rinse, repeat.
At last, then, comes the simple astonishment of it all. Obtaining a valid search warrant for an attorney’s office is incredibly difficult given the strictures of the attorney-client privilege. Obtaining a search warrant for the offices, home and hotel of the personal attorney to the president of the United States is just slightly less difficult than dropping a warrant on God.
According to the US Attorneys’ Manual, obtaining these warrants required investigators to first try and acquire the evidence through other means like a subpoena. The US Attorney or a deputy had to approve the warrants. Approval from the criminal division of the Department of Justice was required, which means Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein also had to approve them. Firewalls and a “privilege team” had to be deployed to protect from infringement of the attorney-client privilege. Finally, the whole thing had to be signed off on by a US District Court judge.
They got it all. Damned if they didn’t. Even Richard Nixon’s lawyers didn’t see their offices and homes raided. In an administration without precedent, this was yet another Whole New Thing.
US political history is replete with needle-off-the-record moments when everything just stops with a screech. The firing of Archibald Cox, the testimony of John Dean, Joe Welch asking Joe McCarthy if, at long last, he had any sense of decency … those moments come, and every moment after is marked forever. This was one of those moments.
There is a certain eerie symmetry to the fact that Cohen was served with these warrants on the anniversary of the surrender at the Appomattox courthouse. If this were a Game of Thrones episode, it would be time to retreat to Maegor’s Holdfast with the Tears of Lys and a goblet of good wine. The Main Enemy has splintered the gate, and unfriendly footfalls can be heard on the stairs.
For the record, this is why so many of us were so strident in our belief that Donald Trump should never be allowed anywhere near the power of the presidency. The man is as crooked as a rhombus and has the temperament of a pit viper on a good day, and this is not a good day.
Trump is fit to be tied, frantic in his rage and fear, and as of this writing trembles on the verge of unleashing even more war upon the rubble in Syria … with John Bolton whispering in his ear all the while. No one in Washington is more eager than Bolton to take advantage of an unstable president’s lust to punish. This could be a big moment for the new national security adviser.
This could be a big moment for us all. Donald Trump’s lawyer’s lawyer’s lawyer’s lawyer’s lawyer better be ready for some late nights.