Trump’s stormy path ahead

Trump’s stormy path ahead
The FBI has reportedly raided the offices belonging to attorney Michael Cohen. He is the personal lawyer of US President Donald Trump and a trusted member..

The FBI has reportedly raided the offices belonging to attorney Michael Cohen. He is the personal lawyer of US President Donald Trump and a trusted member of Trump’s inner circle.

This is a stunning development as it means that a federal judge believed that there was “probable cause” to justify issuing a warrant against Cohen.

Background

Robert Mueller as a special counsel to oversee the investigation into the Russian interference and related matters. He is also investigating whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the elections.

In the past few months, the special counsel has brought charges against multiple people within the Trump campaign. Former Chairmen of the Trump presidential campaign, Paul Manafort and his former business associate Rick Gates have been indicted on 12 counts including conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, false statements.  Gates has pleaded guilty to criminal charges brought forward by the Muller special council investigation. Over the course of the investigation, Mueller has also indicted 13 Russians.

In addition, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI about meetings with Russia's ambassador right before Donald Trump became president.

US President Donald Trump has often criticized the investigation and has maintained that there has been no wrong doing from his part. He has also repeatedly noted that the investigation would end soon. It was reported in January 2018, Attorney General, Jeff Sessions was interviewed by the special counsel.

Under the special counsel, 19 indictments and guilty pleas have been recorded.

Latest development

According a news report from the CNN, special counsel team headed by Mueller have questioned some Russian oligarchs with regards to the investigation. They are trying to decipher whether funds were illegally funneled from Russia into Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The report states that an oligarch has already been searched and his electronic devices scanned. He had been searched when his private jet had landed in New York. Another was stopped in the middle of a US trip – however it is not clear whether he was searched in the process. 

Analysis

Michael Cohen & Stormy Daniels

Michael Cohen is a Manhattan based lawyer, who has worked with US President Donald Trump and his family for many years. He spoke about his relationship with the President in 2011 noting, “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.” Most recently, he was in news because he said he paid $130,000 of his own money to a porn star, Stormy Daniels, who had claimed to have had an affair with Trump.

On April 10th, 2018, news emerged that the FBI had conducted a raid on the offices of Michael Cohen. It was reportedly carried out after a referral from the special counsel, Robert Mueller. It was not clear that the raid related to Mueller’s investigation of alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. A source revealed to CNN that some of the documents that were seized were connected to Stormy Daniels.

US President Donald Trump reacted to the news noting that this was a “witch hunt”. He said that it was “an attack on our country in a true sense. It’s an attack on what we all stand for.” “It’s a disgraceful situation, it’s a total witch hunt, I’ve been saying it for a long time,” Trump said.

Trump also admitted that he might fire Robert Mueller in a bid to end this investigation. Even Republican lawmakers in the past have supported Mueller’s authority and have warned the president against firing him in order to end the investigation. "Why don't I just fire Mueller?" Trump responded Monday night to a question from a reporter. "Well, I think it's a disgrace what's going on. We'll see what happens. Many people have said you should fire him. Again, they found nothing. And in finding nothing, that's a big statement."

Amid the latest revelations, the New York Times reported that the special counsel was looking into a $150,000 payment to Trump's foundation in 2015 by a Ukrainian billionaire. The donation in question was made by Victor Pinchuk.

Counterpoint

 Trump has often contested that the FBI investigators are biased against him. He was also behind the firing of former FBI chief James Comey. He once again iterated that this was politically motivated and blamed the democrats. “This is the most biased group of people. These people have the biggest conflicts of interest I have ever seen. Democrats -- all. Either Democrats or a couple of Republicans who worked for President Obama. They're not looking at the other side -- Hillary Clinton... all of the crimes that were committed, all of the things that happened that everybody is very angry about from the Republican side and the independent side. They only keep looking at us. "

Assessment

Our assessment is that this is an aggressive approach employed by Mueller’s team. The fact that a US President’s personal lawyer was subjected to a federal law enforcement raid, suggests that the team had to show enough evidence to persuade a federal judge to issue a warrant. This suggests that the team believes they have evidence of strong criminal wrongdoing.

There is now a real concern that Trump may try to derail all of the investigation by firing Mueller. However, even within his own party, the investigation has support and multiple Republican senators have spoken against the firing of Mueller.

The third point that has to be highlighted is what this means for the Trump presidency. It has been reported that Trump has had problems securing legal counsel willing to represent him in this case. It is unlikely that top counsel can be persuaded after the latest developments. If investigators are able to prove criminal culpability within the Trump campaign, that would be a catastrophic blow to the Trump presidency. Additionally, depending on the outcome of the mid-term elections slated for this year, it would also play in a role in whether or not the controversial leader is impeached.

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