The ongoing meta-scandal over President Trump's astounding corruption reached perhaps its highest level to date Tuesday, when the FBI raided the offices and hotel room of his personal attorney — and the Republican Party's Deputy National Finance Chair — Michael Cohen. Agents reportedly picked up documents related to l'affaire Stormy Daniels, but also some other things that haven't been made public yet.
This only adds to the chaos of a presidency that is already entangled in multiple corruption scandals and bleeding top-level personnel by the day. This administration is falling apart.
As Marcy Wheeler points out, Trump himself made things dramatically worse for Cohen when he earlier denied that he knew anything about the $130,000 in alleged hush money paid to Daniels, or the non-disclosure agreement supposedly signed on her behalf. Signing a contract on behalf of a client without their knowledge is grounds for disbarment in New York state. (But on the other hand, if Trump did know about the NDA and hush money — and let's be honest, he pretty much had to have known — then that very likely puts him afoul of one of the remaining shreds of campaign finance law.)
More broadly, as several legal analysts argued, raiding the offices of the president's personal lawyer is not something law enforcement would do on a whim. The suspicion of criminal activity must have been all but ironclad — especially given how the raid happened. It was the product of information uncovered by the Mueller investigation, but not carried out by his team. He passed off a tip to the Department of Justice, which must have referred it to the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman — who replaced Preet Bharara after a highly unusual personal interview with Trump.
Berman has never been formally nominated for the post, thus doing an end-run around Senate confirmation, where Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) had promised to block him over the interview issue. (Incidentally, that sort of abuse of the temporary appointment procedure to avoid Senate confirmation is quickly becoming a signature of this administration.)
However, ABC reported that Berman recused himself from the case and did not sign off on the raid. Then The New York Times reported that it was Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who did do the signing off, and the raid was primarily focused on payments to Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who says she was paid $150,000 to keep quiet about an affair with Trump in 2006. The president is reportedly furious and considering whether to fire Rosenstein.
After the raid, Trump unleashed a tirade that was equal parts unhinged and operatic whining:
I have this witch hunt constantly going on for over 12 months now … that is a whole new level of unfairness … 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 … [President Trump]
He then speculated he might fire Mueller soon.
Attorney–client privilege is dead!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 10, 2018
This is not the behavior of an innocent person. And it only adds to the chaos of an administration where the EPA chief is under intense criticism for a breathtaking array of scandals, and the chief of staff, John Kelly, is reportedly considering resigning.
If either one quits, they will join former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, former Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh, former Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland, former White House Communications Director Michael Dubke, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, former National Security Council Adviser Derek Harvey, former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, former White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon, former Special Adviser on Regulatory Reform Carl Icahn, former White House deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka, former Director of Oval Office Operations Tom Schiller, former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, former Deputy White House Chief of Staff Rick Dearborn, former Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, former Assistant to the President Omarosa Newman, former Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Brenda Fitzgerald, former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, former Chief Economic Adviser Gary Cohn, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, former Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, former top lawyer John Dowd, and just Tuesday morning, former Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert in the fast-growing ranks of ex-Trump staffers (and that is not a comprehensive list).
The departure of John Dowd is especially of note, as Trump now has vanishingly few competent legal minds at his disposal, and is apparently having trouble finding a replacement.
Now, if Trump were to fire Mueller, congressional Republicans would almost certainly do nothing to punish him, much less vote to impeach. But for an administration to be able to exercise power, it must have staff and resources, especially the time and attention of the president himself.
The administration could do much damage yet, but its grip on the major levers of power appears shakier by the day.