The Department of Justice had to go to extraordinary lengths in order to carry out the raid on President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen.
The Department of Justice had to go to extraordinary lengths to carry out the Monday raid on President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
And the lengths to which the Justice Department had gone showed just how big a deal the raid is, and, as experts said, how it is such "bad news" for Cohen.
The FBI on Monday morning raided Cohen's Manhattan office, his home, and his hotel room, as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Vanity Fair reported. The FBI was apparently acting on a referral from the special counsel Robert Mueller.
The agency took records related to several topics, including the $130,000 hush-money payment to adult-film star Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 presidential election, The Times reported. Federal prosecutors obtained a search warrant after Mueller sent a referral, said Cohen's lawyer, Stephen Ryan.
The Washington Post reported that Cohen was under investigation for possible bank fraud and violations of election law. Meanwhile, The Times wrote that the raid did not appear to be directly connected to Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, but that the information he provided was likely uncovered as part of his investigation.
FBI officials took emails, tax documents, and business records, a person briefed on the raid told The Times. Cohen left the Trump Organization in early 2017 and has served as a personal lawyer to the president since.
Ken White, a former federal prosecutor, explained for Reason why the raid was such a big deal.
One reason was that the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, which obtained the warrant, thought that not only was there enough evidence to obtain such a warrant but also that there was enough to get a warrant of a lawyer's office for their client communications, as investigators sought communications between Cohen and Trump.
"That's a very fraught and extraordinary move that requires multiple levels of authorization within the Department of Justice," he wrote, adding that federal agents "are only supposed to raid a law firm if less intrusive measures won't work."
Such a raid requires both high-level approval and an "elaborate review process."
Authorization for such a warrant comes from either the district's US attorney or an assistant attorney general, as The Washington Post wrote.
Another reason the raid was important was that a federal magistrate judge signed off on the warrant. That means a judge found probable cause to believe that the locations subject to the raid contained specific evidence of a federal crime.
"[T]he Magistrate Judge knew that this would become one of the most scrutinized search warrant applications ever, and because the nature of the warrant of an attorney's office is unusual, you can expect that the Magistrate Judge felt pretty confident that there was enough there," White wrote.
"Again: this is a big deal," he said, adding, "This is historic."
Neal Katyal, US solicitor general under former President Barack Obama, tweeted that the entire episode is "bad news for Cohen."
"[I]t’s a big deal that Cohen was raided," he said. "DOJ only raids once they have concluded that lesser options (like cooperation) aren’t working and that there is a risk that evidence may be destroyed, etc. A raid requires approval from someone high-up."
Eric Columbus, a former Obama administration official who served in the Justice Department, told Business Insider that key actors involved with the warrant were Trump administration appointees. Geoffrey Berman, the interim US attorney for the Southern District of New York, was appointed to his role by Attorney General Jeff Sessions while Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and FBI Director Christopher Wray were nominated by Trump. Two of the three, Berman and Wray, were personally interviewed by Trump for the jobs.
"It shows this is just about the polar opposite of a Deep State plot!" he said.
As The Washington Post's Robert Costa tweeted, the president's inner circle is "taken aback" by the Cohen raid.
"Rattled," Costa wrote. "Worry the president has a small legal team that lacks a heavy hitter. Worry that Mueller is making big moves and, in essence, prodding the president to finally sit down for an interview."
Trump lashed out at news of the Cohen raid, telling reporters at the White House he may move to end Mueller's investigation. Trump called the raid a "disgraceful situation" and "an attack on our country" and "what we all stand for."
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Berman was appointed by Trump. He was appointed by Sessions.