The FBI raid of President Trump's longtime lawyer Michael Cohen on Monday signals that the probe into the Trump campaign is spreading far beyond issues in the 2016 election, and that even one of the president's closest allies might not be safe.
Federal agents hauled away Cohen’s bank records, emails and other documents, including privileged communications between Cohen and his legal clients; documents relating to former Playmate Karen McDougal and porn star Stormy Daniels, who have run into legal drama for speaking about alleged affairs with Trump; and records relating to Cohen’s ownership of several New York City taxi licenses.
They were searching for evidence of bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations, according to The New York Times, which broke the story.
The search was executed pursuant to judge-issued warrants, according to Cohen’s personal attorney Stephen M. Ryan. Ryan said in a statement that prosecutors were acting on “a referral by the Office of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller," who is leading the investigation into the Trump campaign's suspected Russia ties.
The searches of Cohen’s office and hotel suite do not appear to be directly related to Muller’s Russian meddling inquiry. As the Times pointed out, they were most likely tied to other information that emerged from the probe. In order to obtain a search warrant, investigators must convince a judge that there is probable cause to believe evidence of criminal activity exists in the place they seek to search.
Because this search involved an attorney, pre-approval from senior Justice Department officials in Washington is required, according to Justice Department regulations. Approval is not granted unless “there is a strong need for the information or material and less intrusive means have been considered and rejected," the regulations say.
Mueller's probe has led to charges or guilty pleas for several Trump associates, including former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, for alleged offenses such as money laundering and lying to the FBI. No one tied to the Trump campaign has been formally accused of colluding with Russia to manipulate the election.
When asked in 2011 by ABC News to describe his role with Trump, Cohen said: "It means that if somebody does something Mr. Trump doesn't like, I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr. Trump's benefit. If you do something wrong, I'm going to come at you, grab you by the neck and I'm not going to let you go until I'm finished.”
Cohen attempted to organize a Trump presidential run in 2012, and was a key organizer of his 2016 campaign, according to the Washington Post.
Trump, who has called Mueller's probe a "witch hunt," called the raid on Cohen "a disgraceful situation."