President Trump’s advisers have concluded that a wide-ranging corruption investigation into his personal lawyer poses a greater and more imminent threat to the president than even the special counsel’s investigation, according to several people close to Mr. Trump.
.. Mr. Trump found himself increasingly isolated in mounting a response. He continued to struggle to hire a new criminal lawyer, and some of his own aides were reluctant to advise him about a response for fear of being dragged into a criminal investigation themselves.
.. In addition to searching his home, office and hotel room, F.B.I. agents seized material from Mr. Cohen’s cellphones, tablet, laptop and safe deposit box
.. Prosecutors revealed in court documents that they had already secretly obtained many of Mr. Cohen’s emails.
Mr. Trump called Mr. Cohen on Friday to “check in,” according to two people briefed on the call. Depending on what else was discussed, the call could be problematic, as lawyers typically advise their clients against discussing investigations.
.. The lawyers fear that Mr. Cohen will not be forthcoming with them about what was in his files, leaving them girding for the unknown.
.. Mr. Cohen argued that he or an independent lawyer should be allowed to review the documents first.
.. Joanna C. Hendon, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, said in court. “I’m not trying to delay. I’m just trying to ensure that it’s done scrupulously.”
Mr. Cohen’s lawyer, Stephen Ryan, wrote in a court filing that the search “creates constitutional concerns regarding officers of the executive branch rummaging through the private and privileged papers of the president.”
.. Prosecutors argued that the previously seized emails revealed that Mr. Cohen was “performing little to no legal work, and that zero emails were exchanged with President Trump.” They said their investigation was focused on Mr. Cohen’s business dealings, not his work as a lawyer.
.. And the New York search warrant makes clear that the authorities are interested in his unofficial role in the campaign.
.. Prosecutors demanded all communication with the campaign — and in particular two advisers, Corey Lewandowski and Hope Hicks
.. Mr. Cohen had secretly made, but he told people in recent days that he did not tape his conversations with Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen frequently taped conversations with adversaries and opposing lawyers
.. Trump has considered firing Mr. Mueller, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein.
.. prosecutors said they had found evidence of fraud and a “lack of truthfulness”
.. Mr. Trump has viewed any investigation of his business and private life to be off limits to prosecutors, but the search warrants make clear that investigators consider those topics part of their case.
President Trump’s personal attorney Michael D. Cohen sometimes taped conversations with associates, according to three people familiar with his practice, and allies of the president are worried that the recordings were seized by federal investigators in a raid of Cohen’s office and residences this week.
.. Investigators were also looking for any records related to adult-film star Stormy Daniels and ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal, who both received payments after alleged affairs with Trump.
.. Legal experts said Cohen’s taped conversations would be viewed by prosecutors as highly valuable.
“If you are looking for evidence, you can’t do any better than people talking on tape,” said Nick Akerman, a former Watergate prosecutor.
Such recordings “would be considered a gold mine,” said Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University who specializes in legal ethics.
“The significance is 9.5 to 10 on a 10-point scale,” he added, noting that investigators know “that when people speak on the phone, they are not guarded. They don’t imagine that the conversation will surface.”
Federal investigators would not automatically get access to any tapes that might have been seized in the raids. First, the recordings would be reviewed by a separate Justice Department team and possibly by a federal judge.
.. Cohen wanted his business calls on tape so he could use them later as leverage, one person said. Cohen frequently noted that under New York law, only one party had to consent to the taping of a conversation, this person added.During the 2016 race, Cohen — who did not have a formal role on the campaign — had a reputation among campaign staff as someone to avoid, in part because he was believed to be secretly taping conversations.
.. One outside Trump adviser said Cohen may have begun recording his conversations in an attempt to emulate his boss, who has long boasted — often with no evidence — about secretly taping private conversations.
.. “Back in the early 2000s, Trump used to tell me all the time that he was recording me when I covered him as reporter for the New York Times,” O’Brien wrote.
.. But after Trump sued him for libel shortly after his biography came out, O’Brien’s lawyers deposed Trump in December 2007 — during which Trump admitted he had not, in fact, clandestinely taped O’Brien.
“I’m not equipped to tape-record,” Trump said in the deposition. “I may have said it once or twice to him just to — on the telephone, because everything I said to him he’d write incorrectly; so just to try and keep it honest.”
Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the federal raid on Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s home and office shows the Russia probe continues to focus on people other than the president.
Spicer warned Trump to “let the process play out” when it comes to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged collusion between the president and Russia.
“I’d urge the president to listen to his counsel,” Spicer said. “The investigation continues to not focus on him or [on] collusion.”
Spicer said Trump should not worry about speaking about the actions of other subjects of the probe, like Cohen and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort... [The Obama administration asked the RNC and DNC to express confidence in the election security, but had talked to Illinois officials and others about Russian attempts to hack their elections. ]
Attorney-Client privilege would not apply if there is unlawful activity between the lawyer and client.