‘Attack on our country’
Who thinks lawyer Michael Cohen’s story about his $130,000 payoff of the porn star who says she had a sex fling with his client, Donald Trump, sounds fishy? Seems like the FBI and federal prosecutors do.
Armed with warrants, the feds raided Cohen’s Manhattan office, home and hotel room Monday for records on Stormy Daniels, among other topics, according to several reports.
How did Trump take it? Very personally, and then some.
“It’s an attack on our country, in a true sense,” Trump said. “It’s an attack on what we all stand for.”
The raids were ordered by the U.S. attorney in Manhattan — Trump administration appointee Geoffrey Berman — based at least partly on a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller, according to Cohen’s lawyer.
That suggests Mueller came across information and decided, with his Justice Department boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, that it should be pursued separately from the special counsel’s already wide-ranging investigation, which is centered on Russia’s election meddling.
Mueller, Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions were the targets of Trump’s wrath Monday. Asked if he might try to get Mueller fired — which could precipitate a constitutional crisis — Trump said, “We’ll see what happens. I think it’s disgraceful. ... This is a pure and simple witch hunt.”
Lots to look at
Cohen is under investigation for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations, according to The Washington Post.
Trump’s longtime fixer has said he used his own funds for the hush-money payment to Daniels shortly before the 2016 election. The timing has spurred questions of whether it was, in effect, an unreported campaign contribution.
Cohen has said neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign reimbursed him, but he has ducked questions of whether he got his money back from anyone else. Trump has said he didn’t know about the payment. The material seized in the raids includes communications between Cohen and Trump, the Post said.
Cohen’s New York bank flagged the payment for Daniels to the Treasury Department as suspicious, according to The Wall Street Journal.
In his own probe, Mueller has been looking at Cohen’s Russia-related roles, such as promoting a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow.
Checking their privilege
The raids suggest the searches got high-level approval because investigators typically don’t seize documents from attorneys due to the sensitivities surrounding attorney-client privilege, The Wall Street Journal (pay site) reported.
The privilege isn’t absolute, former federal prosecutor William Cowden told the Journal. “You can’t use an attorney to commit a crime, so those things can be investigated.”
Facts notwithstanding, Trump wailed on Twitter early Tuesday: "Attorney–client privilege is dead!" and a minute later blurted, "A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!" -- leaving at least one reader to wonder if three exclamation points sounds louder than one.
The gall is emolumental
Trump’s family business asked the president of Panama last month to override his country’s courts and intervene on its behalf during a dispute for control of a Trump-branded luxury hotel in the Central American country.
The letter from Trump Organization lawyers suggested that the Panamanian government, not the hotel’s rival management team, could be blamed for any wrongdoing. But the appeal to President Juan Carlos Varela apparently was unsuccessful. Ethics experts called the attempt a blatant mingling of Trump’s business and government interests, The Associated Press reported.
“This could be the clearest example we’ve seen of a conflict of interest stemming from the president’s role as head of state in connection with other countries and his business interests,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of The Project on Government Oversight.
Janison: Trump Tower flare-up
The weekend blaze that killed a longtime resident and injured six firefighters at Trump Tower has reignited a controversy from two decades ago, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.
Trump was part of a chorus against legislation in New York City that would have required residential high-rises built in the 1980s to be retrofitted with sprinklers.
Before it was learned that a person had been killed, Trump congratulated himself on Twitter for the fire being contained to one apartment in the “well built building.”
Fire department investigators said Monday that while the building had working smoke detectors — one in the ductwork triggered the alarm — the victim’s apartment did not have any.
As he began a meeting with military leaders, Trump said, “We have a lot of options militarily” to respond to the apparent chemical attack on civilians in Syria “and we’ll be letting you know pretty soon.”
He vowed to respond “forcefully” and warned that Russia or any other nation found to share responsibility will “pay a price.”
Down on the farm
Trump’s strong showing among farmers helped him win in 2016. Now the president wants them to take one for the team as China threatens retaliatory tariffs on U.S. agricultural exports.
“These are great patriots. They understand that they’re doing this for the country,” Trump said ahead of a Cabinet meeting. “And we’ll make it up to them. And in the end, they’re going to be much stronger than they are right now.”
Pruitt hasn’t cleaned up good
Trump’s exoneration-by-tweet of his EPA chief Scott Pruitt over a pile of ethics issues hasn’t closed the matter.
The head of the Office of Government Ethics sent a letter to the EPA seeking more information. David Apol described as “extremely concerning” reports that officials who questioned Pruitt’s conduct and spending were purged.
“If true, it is hard to imagine any action that could more effectively undermine an agency’s integrity than punishing or marginalizing employees who strive to ensure compliance with the laws and regulations that safeguard that integrity,” Apol wrote.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders indicated the White House isn’t done either. “There have been a number of questions raised. And again, we’re continuing to review that,” she said.
What else is happening
- Mueller is investigating a $150,000 payment made to Trump’s foundation in 2015 by a Ukrainian steel magnate for a brief speech by Trump over a video link, The New York Times reported.
- Trump said he expected his planned meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un to happen in May or early June. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to make a deal on the de-nuking of North Korea,” the president said.
- Arizona is sending 225 members of the state’s National Guard to the Mexican border, joining 250 from Texas. Trump said he wants 2,000 to 4,000 guard members on the border to help deter illegal immigration and drug trafficking.
- Mexico said it will review all cooperation with the United States, a sign of frustration over Trump’s treatment of the country, Reuters reported.
- Former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen co-authored a Washington Post Op-Ed warning that instead of reducing the deficit during a time of economic strength, Trump’s tax cuts “turned that economic logic on its head.”
- The White House isn’t putting a media strategy in place for when a book by former FBI Director James Comey comes out next week, Politico reports. Officials there figure Trump could blow up any prepared talking points with a single tweet.