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The Cohen Case Alone Cannot Stop Donald Trump

Michael Cohen, the longtime personal lawyer for Donald Trump, at Trump Tower in New York City.(Richard Drew / AP)

Keep calm and raise hell. The forces of truth and justice may be closing in on President Trump, but there is no reason to believe they can triumph without massive displays of outrage in the streets and at the polls.

Potentially the most serious threat Trump has ever faced came last week when FBI agents raided the office, home and hotel room of his longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. By all accounts, Cohen’s role for the president and the Trump Organization has been that of a “fixer” who brings in deals and makes problems go away.

As everyone knows by now, Cohen “facilitated” payment of $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels to buy her silence about the sexual tryst she says she had with Trump. And according to a lawsuit filed by former Playboy model Karen McDougal, Cohen was involved behind the scenes in cementing a $150,000 agreement that squelched her story of a 10-month affair she says she had with Trump.

But the president’s sex life may be the least of his worries on the Cohen front. For more than a decade, Cohen was in a better position than anyone—arguably, even Trump’s children Ivanka, Donald Jr. and Eric, who also worked in the family firm—to know the intimate details of Trump’s business dealings.

Was the Trump Organization buoyed by an influx of Russian money, as Donald Jr. once claimed? Were there Russian contacts that have not yet been disclosed? Did Trump or his campaign collude with Russians to meddle in the election? In its real estate sales, did Trump’s firm take the required precautions against money laundering by shady characters? Did Trump’s swashbuckling business style, of which he so often boasts, ever cross the line into illegality?

Cohen can likely provide answers. If necessary, FBI agents may refresh his memory with the audio recordings they allegedly seized of Cohen’s phone conversations.

“Attorney-client privilege is dead!” Trump tweeted after learning of the raid. “A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!”

Touchy, touchy.

On the rare occasions when federal authorities raid an attorney’s office, they must go through elaborate and rigorous procedures. A judge has to approve the search warrant, which requires a showing that evidence of specific crimes will likely be found. Documents seized are examined by a special “taint team” of prosecutors who have had no previous involvement in the case and whose only role is to redact materials covered by attorney-client privilege before passing the rest to the principal investigators. The Cohen raid was authorized not by special counsel Robert Mueller but by the office of the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York. None of this is good news for Cohen—or for Trump.

The other development that reportedly has the president in a rage is the scathing verdict on his character delivered by former FBI director Jim Comey in a newly published book and an interview with ABC News.

All right, Comey does come off as something of a sanctimonious tool. But his book’s account of Trump’s repeated demands for a pledge of personal loyalty and wholly inappropriate attempts to interfere in the Russia investigation ring true. In the ABC interview, Comey charged that Trump was “morally unfit to be president.”

Comey compared Trump to a mafia boss—“It’s the family, the family, the family, the family”—and said there is “some evidence” that the president committed obstruction of justice. Asked by George Stephanopoulos whether he believes the Russians “have something” on Trump, Comey replied, “I think it’s possible.”

For those of us who agree with Comey’s judgments about the president and welcome the vise-like pressure on Cohen, all of this is emotionally satisfying. But so what?

The White House asserted last week that Trump has the power to fire Mueller, and clearly he would love to do so. Trump could also seek to neuter Mueller’s probe by firing his supervisor, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and installing someone more pliant.

If Trump took either of these actions, would Congress stand up to him? Not this Congress. Not unless millions protested across the nation to demand action. Massive demonstrations might work—but also might not.

The only sure way of guaranteeing that this aberrant administration is investigated, held accountable and properly restrained is to put Democrats in control of one or both houses of Congress. A new Washington Post poll shows that the Democratic edge over Republicans ahead of the midterm election has narrowed. Instead, it needs to grow.

Only you and I can stop Trump. It’s all about November.

Eugene Robinson
Contributor
EUGENE ROBINSON uses his twice-weekly column in The Washington Post to pick American society apart and then put it back together again in unexpected, and revelatory, new ways. To do this job of demolition and…
Eugene Robinson

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