As president, Donald J. Trump’s habit of flouting rules has, as might be expected, gotten a lot worse.
SCOOP: Trump called Michael Cohen Friday to check in. Defense lawyers often caution witnesses and subjects to no talk during an ongoing investigation because it appears like they may be conspiring together. W/@maggieNYT @mattapuzzo https://t.co/smqbQDXpVE
— Michael S. Schmidt (@nytmike) April 13, 2018
Even without knowing the content of the call, the fact it happened is problematic.
President Trump phoned his longtime confidant, Michael D. Cohen, to “check in” on Friday as lawyers for the two men went to court to block the Justice Department from reading seized documents related to Mr. Cohen’s decade of work for Mr. Trump, according to two people familiar with the call.
It is not clear what else they discussed in a call that came days after a series of F.B.I. raids. Depending on what was said, the call could be problematic for both men, as defense lawyers often advise their clients not to talk to each other during investigations. Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen still were trying to determine what exactly was seized.
When threatened, Trump tends to act erratically. A quick scan of his Twitter account—for those who can access it—proves as much. Friday’s disclosures from federal prosecutors must have sent him into overdrive.
The raids were even broader than have been previously reported. Prosecutors said the raids were part of a months long investigation into Mr. Cohen. In addition to searching Mr. Cohen’s office and hotel room, prosecutors also obtained warrants to seize material from his cellphones, tablet, laptop and a safe deposit box, according to people briefed on the warrants.
“The searches are the result of a months long investigation into Cohen, and seek evidence of crimes, many of which have nothing to do with his work as an attorney, but rather relate to Cohen’s own business dealings,” federal prosecutors wrote in court papers filed on Friday.
The court papers also disclosed that prosecutors — before the raids on Monday — had already obtained secret search warrants for several of Mr. Cohen’s email accounts as part of what they said was a grand jury investigation.
The nature of the raid was already cause for concern: A raid this extensive and secretive against an attorney is, to put it mildly, unusual and likely indicates there’s already a strong case against him. At a minimum, it would suggest that there’s reason to believe his communications with clients contain evidence of an ongoing crime, as review of those documents would otherwise be inadmissible.
Searching a law office is one of the most sensitive — and most heavily reviewed — activities the Justice Department conducts. It is rare to seek documents from lawyers in any case, but doing so by search rather than subpoena is unusually aggressive and is typically reserved for cases when prosecutors believe that the lawyer would conceal or destroy evidence if asked for it.
Trump’s attorney threw up every imaginable objection during the hearing on Friday.
A hurriedly scheduled court appearance in Manhattan on Friday reflected that worry. The seized documents could shed light on the president’s relationship with Mr. Cohen who has helped steer him through some of his thorniest personal and business dilemmas. Joanna C. Hendon, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, asked a federal judge to temporarily prohibit the Justice Department from reviewing those materials until the matter can be litigated.
Unfortunately for his attorneys, Trump’s proven less than amenable to advice, whether it be about congratulating Russian President Vladimir Putin or acting in his own best interests.
Of course, the phone call wasn’t Trump’s only stab at swaying the course of the criminal investigation today. He also pardoned Scooter Libby, who, as Kerry Eleveld noted, “just happened to be represented by [a] lawyer Trump sought to hire,” and as Mark Sumner pointed out, was taken down by Jim Comey.
It’s not just about backward-looking jabs or current favors. As Laura Clawson argues:
Donald Trump ismaking a statementabout presidential pardon power and his willingness to use it in defense of executive branch misdeeds—or in defense of the misdeeds of his former campaign advisers and staffers. He’s telling his associates who are currently under special counsel Robert Mueller’s microscope that he’s got their backs if they’ve got his.
Clawson’s were not the only brows raised. Asha Rangappa, who teaches National Security Law at Yale, also took note.
Isn’t one of the threads that Mueller is exploring in his obstruction case that Trump dangled pardons to people who might be able to provide critical evidence? https://t.co/cERe6oFzKH
— Asha Rangappa (@AshaRangappa_) April 13, 2018
Trump encouraged the worst kind of scrutiny a few times over today. Of course, Fridays have rarely been boring under this administration.