FBI agents have raided the home, office and Park Avenue hotel room of President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen. During the Monday morning raid, the FBI seized a slew of business records, emails and documents. The Washington Post reports Cohen is under investigation for bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations. Agents also reportedly seized documents related to a $130,000 payment Cohen made to adult film star Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels. Cohen has admitted to personally paying Clifford to keep her quiet about an alleged 2007 affair she had with Donald Trump. The payment, only days before the 2016 election, may violate federal election law. The raid was reportedly approved by the U.S. attorney of New York, Geoffrey Berman, who was handpicked by President Trump after Trump fired Preet Bharara. Berman is a former law partner of New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Monday’s raid came after a referral by special counsel Robert Mueller. President Trump reacted angrily to news of the raid Monday. For more, we speak with Marcy Wheeler, an investigative journalist who runs the website EmptyWheel.net.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: FBI agents have raided the home, office and Park Avenue hotel room of President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen. During the Monday morning raid, the FBI seized a slew of business records, emails and documents. The Washington Post reports Cohen is under investigation for bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations. Agents also reportedly seized documents related to the $130,000 payment Cohen made to adult film star Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels. Cohen has admitted to personally paying Clifford to keep her quiet about an alleged 2007 affair she had with Donald Trump. The payment, only days before the 2016 election, may have violated federal election law.
AMY GOODMAN: The raid was carried out by the U.S. attorney of New York. That’s Geoffrey Berman, who was handpicked by President Trump after Trump fired Preet Bharara. Berman is a former law partner of New York City’s Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Monday’s raid came after a referral by special counsel Robert Mueller. President Trump reacted angrily to news of the raid on Monday.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So I just heard that they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys. Good man. And it’s a disgraceful situation. It’s a total witch hunt. I’ve been saying it for a long time. I’ve wanted to keep it down. We’ve given, I believe, over a million pages’ worth of documents to the special counsel. They continue to just go forward. And here we are, talking about Syria. We’re talking about a lot of serious things, with the greatest fighting force ever. And I have this witch hunt, constantly, going on for over 12 months now, and actually much more than that. You could say it was right after I won the nomination it started. And it’s a disgrace. It’s frankly a real disgrace. It’s a—an attack on our country, in a true sense. It’s an attack on what we all stand for.
AMY GOODMAN: That was President Trump. He went on for many minutes, as he sat next to his new national security adviser, John Bolton, talking about possibly attacking Syria and maybe widening the scope, talking about taking on Iran and Russia. And we’re going to talk about those issues in a moment.
But right now we go to Michigan, where we’re joined by Marcy Wheeler, investigative journalist who runs the website EmptyWheel.net.
I mean, this is an incredible development, Marcy, the raiding of the office, the home and the hotel room, because his home is being renovated, of President Trump’s personal attorney. Now, is he personal attorney or his fixer? And that goes to what kind of information they can take. But what’s happening here, Marcy?
MARCY WHEELER: And not just fixer, he’s also involved in the Republican fundraising operation, so he’s got many hats. He’s also kind of a business deal maker.
So, getting approval for this kind of raid is pretty burdensome. I mean, you have to have high-level approval of this, would have had approval from Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, because he’s the one who said, “Go dump it into the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s lap.” But it does require some lead time. It requires a great deal of probable-cause evidence that there is a crime, that you will get evidence of a crime being committed.
And then, to raid a person’s attorney, you generally have to have evidence that there is what’s called the crime-fraud exception, meaning that the person in question—and here, we are probably talking Donald Trump—meaning that the person in question is using their attorney to commit a crime. The attorney is not providing them legal advice so much as helping them to commit a crime.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Marcy, in terms of the relationship, if any, of this particular raid to the ongoing Mueller investigation—clearly, Mueller decided that this was outside of his scope. But your sense of what possible connection there might end up being between the two?
MARCY WHEELER: Well, Mueller’s team did interview an unnamed business associate of Cohen, possibly last week, possibly even a grand jury appearance Friday. This was a recent report from McClatchy. And that person had been involved with Trump Organization deals with Michael Cohen. So that’s something that may be Trump-related and may have been in the works long enough to get approval for this raid.
But in addition, I think, as was mentioned in headlines, on Friday, Trump basically disavowed any involvement in the payoff to Stormy Daniels. And that, I suspect, put his relationship with Cohen on the Stormy Daniels payment on different footing, because by saying he didn’t know anything about it, he basically was saying that Cohen hadn’t been advising him personally for the payoff. And that either meant that they were lying, which is probably the case in any case, but also that it sort of disavowed any attorney relationship on behalf of Cohen for that payoff. And so, while that came too late to be the primary cause of the raid, of the way in which this was conducted, it probably didn’t help Trump at all, because it probably put Cohen in a different legal footing for that particular part of the raid, because there—I mean, The Washington Post and The New York Times both clearly say that it’s Stormy Daniels plus some other things.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, what happened here is quite unbelievable. It must be jarring for many, whatever their political persuasion, going after the home, the office, the hotel apartment of this lawyer. So, what they set up were these—can you explain what taint teams are, in all these cases? So, it’s not just three teams that are moving into three places. It’s at least six teams, because each team has to have a parallel team.
MARCY WHEELER: Well, it’s possible that one reason they moved this to SDNY, to the Manhattan U.S. attorney, is to use that person as a taint team generally. So, in other words, a taint team is a group of FBI agents who are uninvolved with the case in chief. And they will go and look at evidence and make sure that nobody actually prosecuting the target—so, in this case, Cohen, and eventually Trump—looks at stuff that is not included in the warrant. So, in other words, if Cohen was legitimately advising Trump, this is how you deal with the investigation. This is when you fire Mueller. This is who you should hire to deal with the information. That would be covered by attorney-client privilege. And the FBI agents, in searching through the materials that they were looking at—say, at the hotel room—would then put that aside, and no one from Mueller’s team would be able to look at it. So, in other words, it might be, as you said, that there are six teams. It might be that one reason Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein referred this to the Southern District, to the Manhattan U.S. attorney, is so that none of the agents actually doing the search were involved in a Mueller investigation.
And there’s one other thing, Amy. Mueller submitted filing last week in the Paul Manafort case, explaining basically how his authority works. And while most of the filing was targeted at Manafort’s challenge, there was language in there that Mueller specifically called out, saying, you know, “We’re allowed to go prosecute somebody, to investigate somebody, for a crime, with the intent of getting them to flip.” So, in other words, yes, the Stormy Daniels thing is interesting, but it may be that Mueller is investigating it as a crime that they can use to get Cohen to turn evidence, to flip on Donald Trump and testify to the rest of the Russian investigation stuff. So that’s something that will—it’s widely believed that the filing in the Manafort case will be broadly approved by the judge there, so Manafort’s challenge to Mueller’s authority will, in effect, be approving Mueller’s ability to go after other crimes to get targets to flip.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, of course, one of the claims that Cohen has made previously is that the money that he paid to Stormy Daniels came from a credit line on his home. So, is there any potential for that, those records, in terms of what was the financing of the $130,000, a part of this raid?
MARCY WHEELER: Absolutely. The banks involved in the payoff have submitted what are called suspicious activity reports. So, those banks have already said, “We don’t know what was going on with this payoff. There’s no legitimate use for it.” So, those records are almost—are surely already in government hands. But I—there must be more. I don’t think Mueller and the FBI and DOJ would carry out this raid in this manner just for the Stormy Daniels payment. So, there surely is more. And it may be other kinds of bank fraud. Again, Cohen, on top of everything else, is closely involved and was closely involved with some business deals with an entity called the Silk Road to set of buildings in the former Soviet Union. So, those might be of interest, as well. That deal kind of—they scotched that deal right before Trump became president. But it’s unclear what happened with the negotiations of it. So, that kind of thing may be the longer-term interest for Mueller with the Stormy Daniels thing, the sexier story, if you will, the more pertinent story, given what we’ve seen in the press recently.
AMY GOODMAN: His rant, that went on as he was talking about possibly attacking Syria—and we’re going to talk about that in a minute—he talked about the Democrats who are going after him, and the Republicans who had worked for Obama, you know, as he talks about the Special Counsel’s Office. But here it was led by Geoffrey Berman. And you write Geoffrey Berman is “a symbol of Trump’s abuse.” Explain.
MARCY WHEELER: Sure. So, one of—among the people that Trump fired, he fired all the U.S. attorneys in spring of last year. That’s fairly normal. But the way in which he did it, particularly with regards to Preet Bharara, who was the U.S. attorney in Southern District of New York, led people to believe that he was firing Preet because Preet was investigating him. He then, rather than nominating somebody else to take his place—he, first of all, interviewed both Geoffrey Berman and a candidate for Brooklyn—the Brooklyn U.S. attorney is investigating Jared Kushner—which is—which doesn’t happen. For the president to personally interview a U.S. attorney candidate suggests far too much personal involvement in that position. But Berman has not yet been nominated, so he’s basically serving as an interim position, and he doesn’t have Senate confirmation. The district court can remove him in a couple of weeks, actually, if they find that his appointment was inappropriate, and name somebody else. They could actually name Preet Bharara again. But his position, and particularly in what is the biggest or one of the biggest U.S. attorney offices in the country, it’s just not done.
And so, this is a guy who is not an ordinary U.S. attorney. And Trump hasn’t made any comment about firing him. That’s one of the reasons I think it’s pretty shrewd of Rosenstein to have referred this raid to him, because he’s ultimately the one to blame. He’s ultimately—he had to sign off on this raid. He’s the one whose prosecutors got it approved by judges in New York. So, he’s a symptom of the corruption, but by having him do the raid, he’s, in some ways, protection for Mueller and Rosenstein, because it is the closest U.S. attorney in the entire system to Trump who bought off on this raid, who approved this raid.
AMY GOODMAN: We just have 10 seconds, but Mueller has just made clear that Trump is not a criminal target, and yet his lawyer’s three places of existence—his home, his hotel room and his office, at 30 Rock, amazingly enough—have just been raided.
MARCY WHEELER: Well, it’s not clear that a sitting president could ever be a target. So, he may simply be saying, because Trump is still president, I can’t indict him. But it’s also very easy to move from being a subject to a target. So, I think that that statement to Trump’s attorneys, to his defense attorneys—and it was a month ago, basically—that statement has been overblown. He could become a target very quickly, particularly if the Republicans in Congress decide to get rid of him.
AMY GOODMAN: Marcy Wheeler, we want to thank you for being with us, investigative journalist who runs the website EmptyWheel.net. As President Trump ranted next to his new national security adviser yesterday, for many minutes, about what has taken place, he also talked about deciding in the next 24, 48 hours whether he’ll take out—whether he will take on Syria, and perhaps also make Russia and Iran pay the price, he said. We’ll see what that means in a minute, with Phyllis Bennis.