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Legal troubles mount for a troubled president

By Askia Muhammad -Senior Editor- | Last updated: Apr 19, 2018 - 12:12:01 PM

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U.S. President Donald J. Trump
WASHINGTON—As if President Donald J. Trump didn’t already have enough aggravating problems—escalating military tensions in Syria, Iran and North Korea; a potentially ruinous trade war with China; scandals, mismanagement, and vacancies throughout his cabinet; more criminal indictments and convictions among his associates in his first year in office, than Presidents Obama, Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Carter, and Ford had combined in their 26 years in office—as if he didn’t already have enough to worry about, President Trump woke up April 9 to the news that F.B.I. agents out of the U.S. Attorney’s office in New York, had served search warrants on the home, office and hotel room of Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s private lawyer.

In a series of surprise raids, the agents seized documents, computers, cell phones, and possibly audio tapes related to a $130,000, so-called “hush payment” to Stormy Daniels, an adult-film actress who alleges she had a sexual affair with Mr. Trump in 2007.

“This search warrant is like dropping a bomb on Trump’s front porch,” Joyce White Vance, a former U.S. attorney in Alabama told The Washington Post. And the president was reportedly “infuriated” by the development, an offshoot of the ongoing investigation of allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections, now being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which have haunted Mr. Trump since he took office.

For his part, Mr. Trump has called the special counsel investigation a “witch hunt.” After the searches, he stepped up attacks against Mr. Mueller’s probe, as though crippling the investigator would make Mr. Trump immune to prosecution. “He’s certainly not above the law, and it’s pretty clear that the noose is tightening,” Dr. Clarence Lusane, chair of the Political Science Department at Howard University told The Final Call.

This is an image of the first page of a four page memo released by the House Intelligence Committee, Feb. 2. On April 13, House Republicans released a partisan and bitterly disputed memo that they say shows surveillance abuses in the early stages of the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia. The memo, prepared by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, says there was “a troubling breakdown of legal processes” in the Russia investigation. Photo: House Intelligence Committee via AP
“It can’t get closer to President Trump than his lawyer, probably even closer than his family members, in terms of a detailed knowledge of what Trump has been up to for the last decade or so, and all of the potential criminality that’s being investigated, this struck at the center of the Trump world. So I would imagine that Trump is extremely worried,” said Dr. Lusane.

“I think Trump is in trouble,” Gloria Browne Marshall, associate professor of Constitutional Law at John Jay College of Law in New York City, told The Final Call. “He could be in trouble directly or indirectly. He claims he knew nothing about why this money was paid. He claims he knew nothing about any money coming out of Cohen’s office. If Cohen didn’t tell him, then he could be indirectly implicated in whatever Cohen is doing.”

“It’s almost certain that Donald Trump has committed all kinds of obstructions of justice and other acts that would be deemed illegal,” said Dr. Lusane. “I think that the president actually did do (something, which is why) he’s in trouble today.”

On top of his serious legal troubles, Mr. Trump suffers from having a low reputation among his political opponents, and around the world. “Just think about it. The president of the United States just said yes to a $25 million fraud suit—Trump University—emoluments, obstruction, collusion, and then you combine all of that with incompetence, with someone you don’t think has a moral center, whose narcissism is so unbounded,” Princeton University Professor Eddie Glaude told NBC News. “That he will make the decision with regards to Syria; that he will make the decision with regards to North Korea. And so I think about hard working everyday people, whether they are white, black, brown, purple or yellow, having to live in a country that is in decline, and the face of that declination is a B-list reality actor.”

That low opinion is shared by a former federal official who personally knows, and worked with the president. In a new book published April 17, former FBI Director James Comey compares Donald Trump’s presidency to a “forest fire that can’t be contained.”

In newly-published excerpts of the book, “A Higher Loyalty,” Mr. Comey compares President Trump to Mafia bosses he once worked to send to prison, writing: “This president is unethical, and untethered to truth and institutional values. His leadership is transactional, ego driven and about personal loyalty.”

Mr. Comey’s book comes 11 months after the president fired him, allegedly because Mr. Comey refused to quash an investigation into Mr. Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

The raid on Mr. Cohen may have yielded evidence—letters, emails, etc.—that Mr. Trump knew what Mr. Cohen was doing with money, and in particular “hush money” allegedly paid to Ms. Daniels; to former Playboy model Stephanie MacDougal; and now to a former doorman at Trump Tower, who had a “tip” about a Trump “love-child” born out of wedlock with a housekeeping worker.

Lawyer-client privilege might be a problem concerning evidence taken from Mr. Cohen, said Prof. Browne-Marshall. “That’s pretty hard to overcome, that’s why this is extraordinary, to raid a lawyer’s office, but lawyers’ offices have been raided by the government before. They’re raiding a business office in order to find information about illegal activities.

“You can’t say, I’m not going to tell people, even though I know you committed this crime, because you’re my client,” she continued. “Because then there is conspiracy to the crime. The lawyer can be a co-conspirator in a crime. Maybe that’s what they’re looking for, evidence that Cohen is a co-conspirator in a crime.

If Mr. Cohen is charged as a co-conspirator, it might trigger an unusual constitutional crisis, Ms. Browne-Marshal continued. “If Cohen is a co-conspirator, for which he could be indicted and charged with being a co-conspirator in crime, if the other co-conspirator is Donald Trump, that raises the issue that was left over from the case of Nixon v. the United States, because in that case, they made the decision on whether Nixon had to turn over the tapes, the Supreme Court did not reach the issue, as to whether or not a sitting president can be charged as a co-conspirator in a crime. That issue is still outstanding.

“I think it will come down to not only what Mueller already has, but to what the Mueller investigation will gain from raiding Cohen’s office,” she said.