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How Significant Is It That The FBI Searched Michael Cohen's Office?


President Trump is not happy about the FBI's raid on the office of his personal attorney Michael Cohen. The president tweeted about the raid this morning, saying, quote, "a total witch hunt." And, in another tweet, "attorney-client privilege is dead!" Getting a warrant to search an attorney's office is not easy. Judges have to be convinced that it isn't just a way for prosecutors to intimidate defense attorneys or access confidential information. So how significant is it that the FBI was able to search Michael Cohen's office? We are joined now by Renato Mariotti. He's a former federal prosecutor, and he recently ran as a Democratic candidate to be Illinois attorney general. He has been writing about this issue, the FBI raid on Michael Cohen's establishments, and he joins me now. Thanks so much for being with us.

RENATO MARIOTTI: Thank you. Happy to be here.

MARTIN: Explain what exactly the bar is that prosecutors had to clear here to get this warrant.

MARIOTTI: Well, for any warrants, prosecutors have to obtain evidence that shows that there was a good reason to believe a crime occurred and that evidence of that crime was at the place that they're searching. So in this case, they had to show that a crime had been committed. In this case, there was reports by The Washington Post that it was bank fraud and campaign finance violations. And then they had to show a judge that evidence of that crime was that Michael Cohen's office. Now, above and beyond that, this is an unusual and special warrant because this is a search warrant of an attorney's residence.

MARTIN: Right.

MARIOTTI: And that is unusual in that there are special rules that the Justice Department has for those search warrants. So...

MARTIN: It's an even higher bar, presumably.

MARIOTTI: Much higher bar. So let's say you're a prosecutor in Manhattan at the Southern District of New York, and you want to get a search warrant of an attorney's residence. Instead of just going to your supervisor and getting your supervisor's approval and then going to the judge, you actually have to get the United States attorney himself, who is somebody appointed by President Trump who is overseeing the entire office. Then you actually have to consult with the criminal division in Washington, D.C., and get approval from senior officials there. And then you have to make sure - there's a number of guidelines within that the Justice Department has, but one of them is that the search warrant has to be written as narrowly as possible so that you make sure that you're not gaining more evidence than you need.

MARTIN: So this isn't exploratory. They had to know what crime they believe has been committed, and they have to know that there is evidence on these locations.

MARIOTTI: Exactly. Right. And they have to specify what types of evidence that they're looking to seek, and they have to be as specific as possible about what evidence that they want to seek.

MARTIN: Let me ask you, in seconds remaining, what does it mean that this raid originated from special counsel Robert Mueller, but it was an order actually executed by the U.S. attorney's office in New York and not the Mueller investigation?

MARIOTTI: We don't know for sure. But one thing, there was reports by Bloomberg that Rod Rosenstein made the decision that the Southern District of New York would take the case. Could be that it's unrelated to a lot of the other work Mueller's doing. It could also be that the team that is handling the case, in other words, the team that is going to review this for attorney-client privilege to make sure that the investigators don't review anything that is privilege, is in the Southern District of New York.

MARTIN: All right. Renato Mariotti, he's a former federal prosecutor, explaining to us the significance of the FBI raid on Michael Cohen's offices. Thank you so much for your time and for helping us understand this. We appreciate it.

MARIOTTI: Thank you. Have a good one. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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