Michael Cohen is the keeper of Trump’s secrets. Are they about to be exposed? Emily Hohler reports.
Monday’s FBI raids on the office, home and hotel room of Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s long-time personal lawyer and “fix-it guy”, “spiked” Trump’s “rampant indignation” over the Robert Mueller probe to “previously unseen heights”, says Stephen Collinson on CNN. In a series of escalating tweets, he described the raids as “disgraceful”, an “attack on our country”, and a “TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!”, his “preferred moniker” for Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Trump has “howled in all caps for nearly a year as the Justice Department has delved deeper and deeper into his orbit”, but this seizure opens a “whole new front in the converging legal battles ensnaring the administration”, say Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Robert Costa in The Washington Post. Cohen is the president’s “virtual vault – the keeper of his secrets”.
Will Trump be found guilty?
The raids present Trump with perhaps the “most direct danger yet”, agree Norman Eisen, Noah Bookbinder and Conor Shaw in Politico. The evidence sought by investigators reportedly relates to bank fraud and campaign-finance violations. It seems Cohen may have lied to obtain a $130,000 home-equity credit line so he could buy the silence of Stormy Daniels in the run-up to the 2016 election (the porn star alleges she had a sexual encounter with Trump).
If true, this constitutes a crime punishable by up to 30 years’ imprisonment. And because the payment was probably an “in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign”, it could also amount to “a wilful violation of campaign contribution limits”, punishable by up to five years in prison. The matter was referred by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, implying that it is not, as yet, “directly related” to the Russia investigation.
But it’s still “serious”. If Trump was knowingly involved, he may also be guilty. That the US president is “one filing cabinet of seized evidence away from possible exposure to a felony charge” is a “remarkable thing”. The raids, which CNN’s senior political analyst David Gergen believes are unprecedented, are an aggressive move. The requirements for a warrant to override attorney-client privilege are onerous. “They must have been able to present evidence that was hugely compelling to take a step like this.”
Anger at the rule of law
The fact that Trump has lashed out at Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, former FBI director James Comey and Geoffrey Berman this week suggests that he is angry less at individuals than at the “rule of law itself”, says David Graham in The Atlantic.
On Monday, he “all but threatened to fire” Mueller. The whole point of a special counsel is to insulate an investigation from political pressure. Trump has “violated the spirit” of the rules. His “beef” with Sessions, who recused himself from the Russian probe in accordance with Department of Justice guidelines, is that Sessions cannot now “interfere politically” to protect him.
Trump may deem Mueller’s team the “most biased group of people… I have ever seen”, but most of those in “Trump’s doghouse” are Republicans, including every man in the above list. Believing that they are part of a “Democratic cabal” is delusional. His comments clearly show that he is engaged in a campaign “against the rule of law”. When Trump says this is “an attack on our country” and on what “we all stand for”, he’s right. “He’s just wrong about who’s doing the attacking.”
Tweet could spark escalation in Syria
President Trump has warned Russia in an “incendiary tweet” to “get ready” for missile strikes in Syria in response to last weekend’s chemical weapons attack on the rebel-held city of Douma, in which more than 45 people died, says Patrick Wintour in The Guardian.
At the UN on Tuesday, Russia and the Western allies were unable to agree how to deal with the attack, although Trump had already promised a “forceful” response, calling out Russian president Vladimir Putin for backing Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, says Eli Watkins on CNN. Almost exactly one year ago the US struck a Syrian airfield following a similar chemical-weapons attack.
In a TV broadcast on Tuesday evening, Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon warned that any US missiles would be shot down and the launch sites targeted. Alexander Zasypkin said he was referencing a statement by Putin and the Russian chief of staff. Such a step could “trigger a major escalation”.
Trump’s administration is “boxed into a corner”, says Ishaan Tharoor in The Washington Post. Trump loves “winning”, but there’s no winning in Syria. He can rage all he likes – and even declare mission accomplished in the fight against Isis – but he has “neither a plan nor the appetite to stop Assad’s brutal consolidation of power”. Given Russian involvement, a limited US military intervention was, and still is, unlikely to dislodge Assad. The alternative, a “full-blown” war, is unpalatable.
The situation is volatile, says The Daily Telegraph. Relations between Moscow and Nato countries are already tense for other reasons, including electoral interference and the Salisbury poisoning. Armed conflict with Russia must be avoided, says The Times. If this stage is “mismanaged, Syria could turn out to be a graveyard not only for its suffering citizens, but also for a Western alliance, torn between timidity, frustration and indecision”.