- Thomson Reuters
- The FBI’s raid on President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer’s home and office Monday took Washington by storm.
- There is one other known, high-profile instance in the last year in which the FBI targeted someone in a criminal investigation tied to Trump in the same manner: former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
- The common thread between the Cohen and Manafort raids: investigators believed, with high confidence, that neither man could be trusted not to conceal, destroy, or move evidence outside the court’s jurisdiction.
- Three months after the Manafort raid, Mueller’s office slapped him with a 12-count indictment. He was later charged with dozens of other financial crimes.
On Monday morning, FBI agents armed with a search warrant raided the home and office of Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and closest confidant. They seized documents, electronic devices, personal financial records, and attorney-client communications, including those between Cohen and Trump.
The raids sent shockwaves through Washington, and legal analysts were unequivocal in emphasizing the enormity of their implications for Cohen and Trump, both of whom could face significant legal exposure depending on what investigators uncover.
There is one other high-profile instance over the last year in which the FBI went after a subject in a criminal investigation tied to Trump with the same aggression: former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
The FBI conducted an early-morning raid on Manafort’s Virginia home last July by knocking on his bedroom door at the crack of dawn. They left with various records, including tax and foreign banking documents.
Both Cohen and Manafort were cooperating with investigators at the time of the raids, which begs the question: what prompted such an aggressive tactic by the FBI?
According to legal experts and former federal prosecutors, there’s one explanation: investigators did not think either man could be trusted.
“They obviously had reason to believe they could not trust Cohen enough to subpoena him and wait for the response,” said Jeffrey Cramer, a former US attorney in Chicago who spent 12 years at the Department of Justice. “So they just went in, and that is hugely significant.”
Harry Sandick, a former assistant US attorney from the Southern District of New York, echoed that point.
Search warrants like the one used in the Cohen and Manafort raids – which some legal experts characterize as a “no-knock” warrant – are “executed early in the day and by large teams of armed federal agents,” Sandick said.
The FBI typically uses this approach in cases related to organized crime, drug dealing, and public corruption. It is less common in white-collar investigations unless prosecutors fear that a subject or target may destroy, conceal, or move evidence outside the district’s jurisdiction.
Cohen has been referred to at different times as Trump’s fixer, “pit bull,” and consigliere. In addition to facing legal scrutiny for possible bank fraud and campaign finance violations, Cohen is a subject of interest in at least four investigative threads related to Trump.
- Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters
Meanwhile, when the FBI asked to raid Manafort’s home last year, “Mueller and his staff may have decided that, despite the claims of cooperation from Manafort’s lawyer, Manafort could not be trusted to provide all of the documents requested by subpoena,” wrote Harvard Law School professor Alex Whiting, who served for a decade as a federal prosecutor at the Department of Justice and the US Attorney’s office in Boston.
“If Mueller’s team thought that there was any risk that Manafort would hide or destroy documents, that would be a strong reason to proceed with a search warrant,” he added.
Prosecutors had to meet an even higher standard of proof in Cohen’s case, given his status as a lawyer.
The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which obtained the Cohen warrant, thought that not only was there enough evidence to obtain such a warrant but also that there was enough to seek attorney-client communications, such as those between Cohen and Trump.
“That’s a very fraught and extraordinary move that requires multiple levels of authorization within the Department of Justice,” wrote former federal prosecutor Ken White. He added that federal agents “are only supposed to raid a law firm if less intrusive measures won’t work.”
Cramer noted that the US attorney’s office would have had to clear a slew of internal hurdles, which do not necessarily exist for the average citizen, to obtain the search warrant on Cohen before it went to a federal judge.
“So clearly, the affidavit was strong enough to warrant this kind of action,” he added.
The Cohen raid was not conducted by investigators working for Mueller. Instead, FBI agents working for the US attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York carried out the operation after apparently getting a referral from Mueller.
Cohen is already a subject of scrutiny in Mueller’s investigation, which is examining whether Trump or his associates colluded with Moscow to tilt the 2016 US election in his favor. The Southern District’s role in the raid remains unclear, but several legal analysts suggested the fact that the raid wasn’t carried out by Mueller’s agents indicates Cohen is the subject of not one, but two criminal investigations.
Three months after FBI agents raided Manafort’s home last year, Mueller indicted him on 12 counts related to money laundering, tax fraud, conspiracy against the US, and failure to register as a foreign agent. Manafort was later slapped with additional charges like tax and bank fraud, all of which center around his lobbying work in Ukraine.
Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges.