It appears to me nothing illegal or unethical or disgraceful has occurred. Prosecutors know about white collar crime, and they are just following the money. Attorney-client privileges are not absolute, meaning what is a lawyer’s computer or cellphone can never be seen by law enforcement officers. But it has to be done through the courts based on probable cause. Court decisions acknowledge the need for confidentiality in the defense of clients and this has resulted in more rules in law office searches, designed to protect privileged information. There are exceptions. President Trump has stated repeatedly he had no knowledge of hush money being paid to Stormy Daniels or the contract, so the client-attorney privilege is gone in this particular matter.
The potential criminal charges against Trump’s personal lawyer are bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations. This is serious stuff. The search warrant was executed on part by a referral from Robert Mueller’s office. The decision to seek a warrant was in the office of the Southern District of New York. The lead US Attorney for the Southern District is Geoffrey Berman, who is a recent Trump appointee. Only the courts can approve a warrant based on probable cause. All the specifics on the rationale for the search warrant are confidential by law. The American people do not have the right to know everything – and that’s how our justice system has always operated for the good.
Before anything is given to prosecutors, there must be an initial neutral examination of the seized material as explained below, and more completely in the second link:
The critically important interests protected by the attorney-client and work product privileges can be preserved only if the seized materials are examined by a neutral judicial officer, or by a Special Master appointed for this purpose, to determine which materials are or are not encompassed within the privileges. Such a safeguard is essential, as a number of courts have recognized.
This means what was seized by the FBI, is in the control of a court appointed neutral judicial officer. The person would have no connection to Michael Cohen, the Justice Department or the Southern District of NY.
Will Michael Cohen sue for irreparable harm to his practice? Absolutely. Will he get the blessings from the legal establishment to push back? Maybe. Will he be indicted? I haven’t a clue. Will this help Mueller’s investigation? Ditto.
There’s a whole pile of other questions, which no one on the outside can answer. For the time being, it appears to me nothing illegal or unethical or disgraceful has occurred.
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Challenging the Law Office Search, Weinberg and Homan, 1996.
The above link in from 1996. The Fourth Amendment provides all Americans the right against unreasonable searches. The sixth amendment provides the right to legal counsel. Many of the rules governing legal search warrants have been the result of various court cases. The protections available through the Fourth Amendment were strengthened by the Mapp v. Ohio court decision, which made excluded all evidence obtained illegally to be used in any court proceeding in the US (exclusionary rule). If the FBI breaks into an office, without first obtaining a legal search warrant, then none of the information from the search is admissible.
Privilege belongs to the client. If Trump had stated that Cohen acted on his behalf, then he could use attorney-client privilege to shield Cohen. Instead, he denied knowing anything about the payoff, so the claim of privilege evidence is gone. It also appears that more liberal judges, tend to be give more weight to client’s rights in attorney-client privileges, than to the law enforcement’s needs. The Andresen v. Maryland case upheld the legitimacy of the search warrant over the dissent of Brennan and Marshall.
I’m really don’t think “fuses” is the right word. Robert Mueller really separated his probe from Michael Cohen case, when he handed it off the the Southern District office. It seems Trump wants to lump them together as one grand conspiracy.