The long arm of the law reached deep into the myriad and questionable actions of the world of president Donald Trump Monday with FBI raids on the home, office and hotel suite of attorney Michael Cohen, seizing records, computer files and more on actions focused on bank fraud, campaign fraud and more.
The raids sent the volatile Trump into full frenzy mode, claiming the actions were an attack “on America,” not just him and raising, as always, the notion that he may try to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, even though the raids came from the heart of the Justice Department.
“The search warrant is like dropping a bomb on Trump’s front porch,” Joyce White Vance, former U.S. attorney in Alabama, told The Washington Post Monday night.
FBI agents, armed with search warrants authorized by a federal judge, swooped into Trump’s “inner sanctum,” hauling away records on Cohen’s questionable deal with porn star Stormy Daniels (aka Stephanie Clifford) to keep quiet about an affair with Trump s well as memos, letters and other materials that delve into the private, inner workings of a president who personally profits from companies he owns that deal with the government, hides his tax returns and cries “witch hunt” whenever anyone questions is actions and motives.
“It’s a disgraceful situation,” Trump declared Monday. “I have this witch hunt constantly going on. This is a whole level of unfairness.”
The raid came from federal prosecutors in New York, not Mueller, but decided to do so after reviewing information provided by him. They seized Cohen’s computer, phone and financial records, including tax returns, as part of the search of his office at Rockefeller Center.
Those close to the Justice Department say the raids “escalate” the legal jeopardy for Cohen, who is privy to Trump’s business and personal matters. One source says investigators have been collecting information for weeks and have focused on his bank records, which suggest they see a connection with misuse of funds, illegal bank transfers and other actions to mislead bankers.
The collected materials include detailed information on the $130,000 payment to Daniels in October 2016 — just before the presidential election where Trump won an upset victory over Hillary Clinton.
The search warrants required approval from top officials of the Justice Department, including acting Manhattan U.S. attorney Geoffrey S. Berman and assistant attorney general Rod Rosenstein.
“A search warrant for a law office is extremely rare,” Stephen Gillers, a professor at the New York University School of Law, told The Washington Post. “Lawyers are given the courtesy of producing documents in response to a subpoena or a request unless the government believes a lawyer will destroy or conceal the objects of the search.”
Questions have surfaced over the “shell” company, Essential Consultants, LLC, to cover the trail of the $130,000 from a home line of credit account of Cohen to Daniels. Cohen’s New York bank — First Republic — flagged the transaction as suspicious and reported it to the Treasury Department and a second bank — City National Bank in Beverly Hills — raised questions about it with Keith Davidson, a lawyer for Daniels.
The inquiries apparently raised questions about other banking activities that Cohen may have handled for Trump and other clients.
Cohen is a central figure in Russia-related episodes under investigation by Mueller — negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and a questionable meeting with Trump campaign officials in New York with that emails suggest was an attempt to obtain “dirt” on Clinton.
Mueller is also investigating a $150,000 payment, solicited by Cohen, for The Trump Foundation from Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk after a 20-minute video appearance by Trump to a conference in Kiev in September 2015. The New York state attorney general later suspended actions by the foundation after discovering it was making personal payments to Trump instead of donations to not-for-profit entities.
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