Much ink has been spilled about why an indictment of Trump attorney Michael Cohen could be a serious problem for the first family. As the only non-Trump dealmaker employed at the Trump Organization – and with a broad portfolio of responsibilities that has won him recognition as “Trump’s Roy Donovan” – Trump is reportedly worried that Cohen knows where “the bodies” (aka how much the Trumps knew about the activities of some of their less-savory partners from the former Soviet Union) are buried.
Since the raid, we imagine that several reports about evidence seized by the Feds have only served to heighten anxieties at the White House. Perhaps the most concerning was a report by CNN that Cohen had surreptitiously recorded conversations of private negotiations with attorneys for President Trump’s adversaries – which has raised questions about whether Cohen ever recorded his conversations with Trump. ABC later reported that audio recordings made by Cohen had been seized by the FBI.
The federal raid, carried out a week ago in New York City, sought bank records, information on Cohen’s dealing in the taxi industry, Cohen’s communications with the Trump campaign and information on payments he made in 2016 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal and to Daniels, both of whom allege relationships with Trump, people familiar with the raid told the Associated Press. The court proceedings Monday dealt with who gets to look at Cohen’s seized documents and devices before they are turned over to prosecutors.
Of course, as NBC News points out, Cohen could’ve made these recordings 100% legally – that is, if the conversations being recorded took place in New York State, which has a “one-party” consent recording law (of course, stealthily recording conversations with another lawyer could get Cohen disbarred – but even that is unclear).
But in a story apparently filed from Air Force One during President Trump’s trip to Mar-a-Lago, where he is meeting today with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Associated Press reports that West Wing staffers are now more worried about the potential aftershocks of the Cohen raid – including a likely criminal prosecution of Cohen by the Southern District of New York – than the outcome of Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
Many in the White House view the aftershocks of the Cohen raid as potentially more threatening than Mueller’s Russia probe, fearful of what skeletons may be in the lawyer’s closets, according to five officials and outside allies who all spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
“I agree with the consensus forming that it’s very dangerous for the president, probably the most serious thing yet,” said Sol Wisenberg, a defense attorney who was a deputy independent counsel during the Starr special counsel investigation into Clinton. “Even if you shut Mueller down some way, how do you shut down the Southern District (federal court)?”
While Cohen was a marginal figure during the Trump campaign, he has long been a power center in the Trump Organization. And it’s not only Trump’s aides who recognize the threat that a cooperative Cohen could pose: Trump is reportedly growing increasingly angry.
Trump’s anger at the probe has intensified, with him musing publicly about firing Mueller and the man who authorized the probe, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Those around Trump have hoped that this week’s visit to Mar-a-Lago, where he is generally happier, along with the tightly scheduled summit with Abe, would somewhat distract him from Cohen and from Comey’s ongoing publicity tour.
But White House aides have also expressed worry that they can control Trump less at his palatial Florida estate, where he is known to seek out counsel from club members and get revved up by their at-times provocative advice. One recent presidential dinner guest was Hannity, a longtime Trump ally whose connection to Cohen shed more light on the attorney who was more than just a lawyer for Trump.
Regardless of the outcome, the Cohen raid has already metastasized into a legal circus, as Cohen’s legal team is pushing to either secure a preliminary review of the documents seized by the bureau – or a review by a trusted third party – before they are handed over to federal prosecutors.
Yesterday’s hearing before Kimba “the Love Judge” Wood, a contender for attorney general under President Bill Clinton and a friend of billionaire investor George Soros, has ruled out Cohen’s lawyers push for a preliminary review, though it appears Wood is leaning toward appointing a “Master Partner” who would review the documents for privileged content.
And that’s only the beginning: Expect more leaks to follow, especially if Trump’s attorneys manage to remove a sizable portion of the “evidence” by successfully declaring it privileged.