Will Trump divert attention from Cohen Raid by attacking Syria?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Matt Apuzzo of the New York Times reports that FBI agents produced a warrant at the offices in the Rockefeller Center of Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, that allowed them to gain access and to spend hours going through and confiscating documents and equipment.

Trump lambasted the search to an audience of senior military officers as attack on our country in a true sense.” He characterized it as a “witch hunt,” “unwarranted,” conducted by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and his team of “the worst people,” and made possible only by what he said was Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ unconscionable decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Trump mused in public about firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which he said “many people” had urged him to do.

Getting a warrant to go into an attorney’s office is highly unusual because attorney-client privilege is protected under the law. It is only typically done when the FBI has reason to suspect that a subpoena would be ignored or would result in the destruction of the requested documents. The FBI team will have had privilege experts along with it to make sure they did not exceed the authority of the warrant. Going into the office would have had to be signed off on by a judge, by Geoffrey S. Berman, the US attorney of the southern district of New York, and by someone fairly high up at the Department of Justice, likely deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, or someone just below him in rank.

The legal search, under a warrant, came about because Special Counsel Robert Mueller came across suspicious information about Cohen in the course of his investigation of possible election collusion between the Trump campaign and the government of the Russian Federation. The inquiry into Cohen seems not to be related to Russia, which is why Mueller passed it to the FBI. It likely concerns the $130,000 hush money payment Mr. Cohen made twelve days before the November, 2016, election to pornographic film performer Stephanie (“Stormy Daniels”) Clifford regarding her tryst with Donald Trump, .

My own guess is that whatever Mueller tipped the FBI about goes beyond the possible violation of electoral laws by Mr. Cohen, inasmuch as a payment to Ms. Clifford intended to influence the course of the election would technically be illegal. Such a case would be very difficult to prove. It is likely that, in addition, Mueller came across evidence of some financial transaction that was more clearly illegal and more easily prosecuted.

The Rockefeller Center search comes just as Trump is threatening a strike on Syria in response to the alleged regime use of poison gas at Douma, a district of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus, on Saturday. Indeed, the meeting with military officers at which he complained about the “witch hunt” against him was held in part to consider options for Syria.

There is some danger that Mr. Trump will launch a more robust Syrian operation than initially envisioned in order to take attention off the Stormy Daniels scandal. This tactic was immortalized in the 1997 film, “Wag the Dog,” about a president who starts a war to take attention away from a sex scandal on the eve of an election.

Any attempt by Trump to get up a major military campaign in Syria, however, would run into strong Russian opposition. Russian officials are already warning with some stridency against a US strike. If all that Trump does is send down some Tomahawk missiles on some Syrian base, the way he did in 2016, then that is likely to be ineffectual with regard to the ongoing conflict in Syria. The al-Assad regime, backed by Russia and Iran, is gaining control of more and more territory and has now removed all credible threats to the capital, Damascus. It seems likely that in the absence of some dramatic change on the ground, al-Assad’s regime will reassert fragile and brutal control over virtually the entire country within a couple of years.

Trump, however, is a wild card in this issue.

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Bonus video:

Donald Trump: FBI Raid On Atty. Michael Cohen ‘An Attack On Our Country’ | The 11th Hour | MSNBC

16 Responses

  1. I agree very highly with a post at Daily Kos — look at the video with the sound off. Trumpie is not happy or projecting, as he was in his campaign rallies. Look at his body language, especially his eyes which can’t look anyone else in the eye. He’s terrified, indulging in his favorite fantasies in a desperate attempt to scrub this reality.

    Do fasten your seatbelts and update/upgrade your emergency supplies, this obsessive narcissist con-man looks ready to explode.

    • Good point on body language. Eyes darting may indicate he is simply thinking and ‘searching’ for words. However, note the way he protectively clasps his arms around himself, and which issues seem to provoke it. It could be the room is cold, but neither Bolton or Pence is so uncomfortable.

  2. It is a tried and tested method used by many governments facing a crisis, when in trouble divert attention to a foreign adventure which normally rallies the crowds. It will also help the British prime minister in the aftermath of the Brexit and the Skripal affair, and the French president whose country is practically paralyzed with strikes, and French pilots are also going to join the railway strikers and other labor unions. The French and the British governments have expressed their support for a military action against Syria.

    The problem that the British government faces is that last time when Prime Minister David Cameron asked the Parliament to approve military action in Syria, the motion was defeated, and there is no guarantee that a majority in the parliament would support it this time. It would be interesting to see if Mrs. May agrees to join a military attack without a vote in the parliament. It was clearly stated on the British media this morning that if America alone launches a strike it would be “unilateral”, but if Britain and France join in too it would mean that President Trump has the support of the “international community”. Now we know what international community means.

  3. Terming the FBI search warrant raid on the offices and premises of President Trump’s PERSONAL attorney an ‘Attack on our country’ invokes visions of MILITARY INTERVENTION at the DOJ, not Syria.

  4. Speaking of diversions. Border-assigned National Guard troops can easily be redeployed to quell any peaceful protests should FAUXNews find them annoying or ‘An attack on Our Country’.

  5. There is no way Sessions, who fired McCabe, was unaware this was coming.
    Ostensibly, this move was not connected with Russiagate.
    Did Sessions sign off? ,,, or maybe just wink & nod while passing the buck?

  6. Note Chump fired Preet to preclude such a radical act, but the new USAt apparently wasn’t sufficiently vetted for blind loyalty. Seems like a win-win, if Trump goes overboard in attacking Syria.. what could be too much with the murderous snake Assad?? The last time, Russia/Syria sent planes to the same gassed village the next 3 days and wiped it off the map while Americans were celebrating Chump’s toughness. I hope Trump goes after the Syrian pilots (Russians too are eminently deserving after their depredations and mass attack on Americans), but a cruise missile into a lower floor or Assad’s Palace would have 1000x the effect of anything else. With the Bannon/Trump NSC hacks being replaced by the Bolton NSC hacks, I wonder if the whole focus of the “reprisal” will be switched to Iran. To really distract from Mueller firing or Indictments, Trump needs a real War and Iran fits his pinhead misconceptions.

  7. The main stream media has begun the process of softening up the public for both a Syria “intervention” and a Meuller firing by running multiple stories and talking head discussions, ad nauseum, about both. When/if either or both eventuate, the public is already immunized against outrage. Ho hum.

  8. Yup. Syria is an easy target. Putin and Trump will come up with a list of soft targets to attack. Trump will launch an attack that will last 2-3 days, just enough to take away some of the attention from the raid. Trump will claim that we are there to protect the kids. Meanwhile we can’t protect the kids here in America from domestic terrorism and crappy water lines.

  9. Wow, the donalds war crimes as well! He’ll be in good company with cheyenne’s little side kick, at The Hague!

    Another war with out congress’s ok!

  10. I think that unless there are severe, choking, sanctions that “we” can implement against Assad and Putin, that it is time to destroy the Syrian Air Force and impose a no fly zone over all of Syria. This should be/could be done by NATO, including Turkey, plus Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and other middle eastern allies.

    • And hand the country over to the likes of Jaish al-Islam and the former Jabhat al-Nusra?

      Is NATO supposed to send in ground troops as well, in order to prevent those bloodthirsty militants from slaughtering and exiling `Alawis, Christians, etc.?

      Whatever happened to the requirement for a declaration of war by the U.S. Congress in the face of a threat to or attack on the homeland?

      Whatever became of that ‘war on terrorism’ against the ilk of Osama bin Laden, running amok in Syria since 2011/2012?

  11. In answer to the question, no he won’t bomb Syria as a distraction. He sent the tweet, advising the was going to bomb Syria to give Russia a heads up and set up a situation which will cause the Americans to not bomb Syria. The Brits and France won’t move on it on their own. They may contract out the work to Israel but that would be about it.

    The first bombing of Syria after the first chemical attack, didn’t do much damage but to do it a second time may piss of Putin. Trump really doesn’t care about the people of Syria. He had a momentary lapse, and got over it. Chemicals on children, he doesn’t care. Trump, in my opinion, only cares about himself and how well he does and how he can entertain himself.

  12. Its Friday night and boy was I wrong. The bombing began about supper time, B.C. time. oh, well ………..wrong again……..

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