Mr. President, Beware Of The Wolf Trap


Below is my column in The Hill newspaper on the greatest danger for President Donald Trump in the raids on his personal attorney’s office, home, and hotel room.  Michael Cohen’s real threat may be as bait — either by design or default.  It is the perfect Wolf Pit and Trump could prove the ultimate prize if he is not restrained in his reaction to the raid.  The most significant blows for his Administration has been the result of Trump’s responses to events.  The most obvious was his disastrous decision to fire Comey in the middle of the Russian investigation.  Already, the Cohen raid has reportedly pushed Trump away from speaking with Mueller.  Cohen has already maximized the damage to himself and his client. He may now have derailed the effort of Trump’s D.C. legal team to prepare him for a sitdown with Mueller on four categories.  At the same time, Trump is reportedly back to threatening that he might fire Mueller or Rosenstein or Sessions.  Despite the overwhelming view of experts and Republican leaders that such a move would highly damaging to his Administration and could trigger impeachment proceedings, there is still a palpable fear that that Trump could take such a self-defeated course.

Here is the column:

The image of FBI agents carting away computers and records of Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal lawyer, is just the latest cringeworthy moment from the life and times of the attorney. Few would be surprised by Cohen being criminally charged. However, Cohen’s greatest danger to Trump may be not as a defendant but as bait.

Consider the curious aspect of this referral: A year ago, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had no problem with expanding Robert Mueller’s mandate to allow him to investigate and order a “no-knock raid” on former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Those crimes were far removed from the original purpose of the special counsel investigation, and included business transactions linked to his work in Ukraine and conduct years before the election.

Media is reporting that Mueller went to Rosenstein with the evidence against Cohen for fraud and other offenses in Russia and Ukraine, including campaign finance violations in the very election that is the subject of the original mandate. Yet, now, Rosenstein reportedly wanted Cohen investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. If so, why? The offenses are far closer to Trump and the campaign than those allowed against Manafort.

This is why the referral to the Southern District was a move that may be as cunning as it is hostile. The timing and the manner of the raid have all of the characteristics of a wolf pit, and Trump — not Cohen — could prove to be the prize. For centuries, farmers dug pits with sharp spikes at the base, and place branches over the hole. They placed a piece of meat on the branches to attract the wolf, so that it would fall into the pit.

As I have previously written, Mueller does not appear to have a compelling criminal case against Trump for collusion with the Russians. Indeed, Trump remains a “subject,” not a target, an unchanged status after more than a year of investigation and multiple cooperative witnesses. If Trump simply stays where he is, under cover, he could well run out this investigation without a charge. But that depends on him staying there.

Cohen, however, may be just the right carrion to draw this wolf into the open. Until the raid, Trump appeared, finally, to be following the advice of his lawyers in the White House and preparing for a negotiated interview with Mueller. One day after reportedly starting to prepare for that interview, the president was thrown into a rage over the raiding of his personal lawyer’s office.

Suddenly, Trump was back on camera denouncing Mueller, Rosenstein, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, fired FBI director James Comey and others, as well as discussing the possible firing of Mueller. Most competent lawyers agree that firing Mueller, like the disastrous firing of Comey, would present an existential threat to Trump’s presidency.

Like any good wolf trap, this set-up, first and foremost, protects the hunters. By referring the matter, Mueller and Rosenstein protected themselves from criticism of expanding the investigation. At the same time, they brought into the mix U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, who Trump interviewed and nominated, as well as a neutral magistrate who signed the search warrant.

Any evidence gathered by Berman would be shared with Mueller and could be prosecuted directly in the Southern District. Moreover, even if Trump fired Mueller, he would have to move against the Southern District to shut down this investigation. That would play directly into calls for impeachment. The point of a wolf pit is that the more the wolf thrashes around, the more he harms himself.

What must be endlessly frustrating to Trump’s legal team in Washington is that this controversy continues to be driven by the likes of Cohen. All of the lawyers around Trump have struggled mightily to control the damage caused by Cohen. Now, Cohen may force the next steps and put Trump at even greater peril. To make matters worse, Trump would fall into this particular trap with a lawyer who may have tossed away any protections for his client.

To use that privilege, you first have to confirm you are acting as a lawyer and not as a friend, fixer or business associate. Cohen seemed to relish his mixing of those roles, and that fluid, ambiguous role could now strip him and his principal client of the privilege. Cohen’s bizarre concept of representation is so convoluted and conflicted that, after months of litigation, we still are unclear as to whether Cohen was acting for himself or his client or his shell company in paying off adult film star Stormy Daniels just days before the election.

Cohen signed the now-infamous nondisclosure agreement with Daniels on behalf of “EC LLC,” which is basically himself. He allegedly never conferred with Trump or got his consent for paying $130,000 in hush money. Moreover, Cohen has talked about securing $20 million in penalties from Daniels for himself, not for Trump.

Even when a valid, clear attorney-client relationship exists, that privilege can be set aside in cases of crime or fraud. That is precisely what Cohen is being investigated for, in transactions extending from California to Russia to Ukraine. Already, Mueller not only has used that exception to strip away privilege from Manafort but he effectively turned Manafort’s attorney, Melissa Laurenza, into a witness against her client.

Cohen now could be looking at serious criminal exposure and, if charged with campaign-finance and fraud violations, only two men will be able to deliver him from the quagmire of his own making: Trump and Mueller. The president could ultimately pardon Cohen, while the special counsel could give him a deal. Some at the Justice Department may be counting on Trump’s aggressive tendencies to do the rest. In running to Cohen’s rescue, the president could easily find himself the prize rather than the predator in this conflict.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

237 thoughts on “Mr. President, Beware Of The Wolf Trap”

  1. “Wolf trap” = American legal system

    Never speak to any officer of the law under any circumstances, ever. No matter what.

  2. The only way to keep this game of justice far is to have a lottery every 5th or 6th case. Hand out cards to each defendant. One card has a mark on it. Everyone turns in their card. The one with the mark on it is acquitted on the spot and is free to go.
    If we use this system then prosecutors can be called human.

  3. I honestly think we’ve had way too many years to think about the Kennedy assassination to think we know how our government really handles major problems.

    1. Kennedy was shot dead by Lee Harvey Oswald, a no account who worked for the Texas School Book Depository.

      1. See that’s the point. There have been a million other suggestions that invalidate the legitamcy of your suggestion.
        You apply waaaay too much logic to a dilemma.
        Avergae folks know just enough to blur your distinct analysis.
        Here we are.

        1. Roscoe – we all know there was a second shooter on the grassy knoll.

          1. Yes, it is amazing how many non-events people claim to know.

            Consider what Socrates said about knowledge.

          2. No, we don’t. Nor do we know that the CIA was involved, or that JFK is still being kept alive in a coma.
            Or was that Elvis?

            Cordially, Bill

            1. WildBill,..
              The movie “Bubba-Ho-Tepp” explains what really happened to both JFK and Elvis.

                1. No…an aged Elvis and JFK are roomates in a nursing home.
                  Ossie Davis plays the aged JFK.

                  1. I think there was some spirit that they were fighting …a mummy’s spirit, or something like that.
                    Beem a while since I’ve seen it.

            2. wildbill99 – Elvis was last seen working at a Circle K in Arizona. 😉

          3. There was a shooter and a handler on the grassy knoll and a shooter and a handler behind in the Dal-Tex Building plus the “Umbrella Man” on the sidewalk with the go/no-go signal and some security and transport personnel in the area. There were four or five shots for effect and possibly some rounds or blanks as misdirection. The defect in the curbing may have been caused by another shooter or a ricochet.

            1. Ha Ha….Pretty funny…

              “I won’t insult your intelligence by suggesting that you really believe what you just said”

              William F. Buckley

      2. Also, I was just making an observation about how the current flock of resisters, blind resisters at that, have a large amount of garbled hear say engrained in their political noggins, regarding, Kennedy, King and Kennedy to make them question anything the government does to suppress the “Truth”. is SOP.

      3. Kennedy was shot dead by Lee Harvey Oswald,

        That sir was shown to be a MFKin Lie of 54 years when on Oct 26, 2017 Trump released the govt records that showed clearly there was more then one shooter.

        1. Oky1 is an Infowars fan…
          That’s where he gets the whacky conspiracies, LOL.

          1. Bill,

            The JFK assassination & Coup the US people’s govt is now a proven real Conspiracy.

            What’s Wacky is the people that even confronted with the truth still can’t give up on the lies they were told decades ago.

            It’s ok with me though as I know enough people now know the facts & they too clearly see the wacky as well..

            1. Oky1

              You believe what you see on Infowars.

              How can I take you seriously, especially when you’re pushing a whacky conspiracy theory?

      4. JFK fired Allen Dulles after the Bay of Pigs. JFK abandon the CIA troops to slaughter on the beach. Bobby attacked the Mob. The Mob wanted Cuba back. JFK swore to break the CIA into a thousand pieces. J. Edgar Hoover hated JFK and kept the dirt on everybody. Oswald was the “patsy.” The CIA ran the same operations internationally and had much experience. Dulles, Hoover, some mobsters and oil men were in Dallas for a dinner the night before. LBJ had Earl Warren hire Allan Dulles for the Warren Commission. Talk about the “deep state.” A coup d’etat in America. A massive cover up. The first doctors to treat JFK stated that they placed a tracheotomy in an “entrance wound” in the front of the throat.

        1. Were the Bilderbergers involved?

          Any aliens?

          Are you a fan of Infowars too?

    2. See Chappaquiddick for another Kennedy story. I don’t trust movies for their accuracy but the data that is known is published. I think the young need to recognize that powerful politicians aren’t always what they are assumed to be.

      My question has always been how Teddy managed to get out of the car if she couldn’t? The rescuers, eight hours later, had a hard time getting her out as well.

      1. No, the diver who pulled her body out did so in a matter of minutes. Evidently the pressure on the vehicle doors from the water prevented her from opening the doors (were they power windows? Why not the windows?) and she’d located an air pocket and made use of it. He thought she’d probably lived for a couple of hours and could have been rescued.

        Never read Kennedy’s testimony. I assume he managed to get the door open while the car was airborne and that it shut after he’d climbed out.

        Again, there was a cottage nearby with people in residence and the lights on and he traipsed right past it.

        1. Nutchacha,…
          Teddy Kennedy gave a televised account of what he said happened about a week after the accident.
          There is a video of this online.
          He claimed that he dove back under the water several times in attempts to free Kopecne.
          And then that he swam the distance back to the shore near the hotel he was staying in, laid down and fell asleep in exhaustion.
          It was more likely that he was calling advisors, maybe meeting with some, wondering how to handle this situation.
          I don’t think he reported it for several hours, maybe 6-8? hours.
          I think by then his BAC would not have incriminated him, if they bothered to test him at all.
          It seems likely that he was drunk when he drove off the narrow bridge, got the hell out of there, and called friends and advisors for advice.

        2. “I assume he managed to get the door open while the car was airborne and that it shut after he’d climbed out.”

          That is a theory and you can buy it. Ted was driving the car and went over the low bridge and in that amount of time managed to jump out and the door happened to shut tight. How many seconds do you think it took from the time he realized the car was going off the bridge to the time the car hit the water?

          Based on later estimates of speed and distance did he have 2 seconds to perform the act? I would think for the theory to be reasonable he may have opened the door and been thrown out when it hit the water. He should have ended up in jail and we would all have been better off.

      2. Allan,…
        The jolt from the drop off the bridge may have put Kennedy and his passenger in different areas of the car.
        If the car filled rapidly with water, that might also have been a factor in who was closer to a door or an open window.
        And complicated getting Kopecne out, if Kennedy was in fact diving back in to save her.
        One correction….Kennedy DID walk by a number…4?…of houses and walked back to the party.
        He said he got two friends who returned with him to the scene, and said they continued to try to pull her out.
        It was AFTER that when he swam to the shore near his hotel, and claimed he fell asleep.
        It was 10 hours before he reported the accident
        …at just about the same time that he called it in, someone else had spotted the car in the water.

  4. Nutchacha,..
    You are correct; Sater was a key figure at Bayrock, which worked closely with Trump on a number of developments.
    There was a Dec. 17, 2007 New York Times article:
    “Real Estate Developer with hand in Trump Projects rose from Tangled Past”.
    The working relationship between Sater and the Trump Organization seems to have been well-known at that point.
    Sater ( and I presume Bayrock) had offices in Trump Tower.
    I don’t know what Trump knew about Sater’s background and when he knew it, but Sater’s long time friend Cohen was likely to know.
    It’s not clear, from what I’ve read, at what point Cohen went to work for Trump.
    Several artickes said Cohen became chief legal counsel in 2011, without mentioning if that’s when he started.
    VOX reports that he became an executive in the Trump Organization in early 2007.
    When Trump’s name is on a project and Trump refers to a project as ” my development”, it might not be clear that it may be only his name is on the project.
    In a failed Florida project, where Sater and his firm seemed to be behind the project, I think Trump was sued along with Bayrock.
    Jumping forward to the present, Sater is now saying that he never even met Putin.
    I don’t know if the reports that he’s cooperating with Mueller’s team are true, or what he might have told them.
    So Sater’s defense might be that he was exaggerating and in his comments about Putin involvement.
    And Trump has said he barely knew Sater, but their business ties would seem to indicate otherwise.
    Cohen can always state that
    he, not Trump, was the one who had contact with Sater on behalf of Trump Organization if he wants to insulate Trump.
    If those defenses ( Sater was hyping a Putin role, Trump barely knew Sater) collapse, then Sater’s long-term role as an informant would cause real concern in the Trump camp.
    ( I think it the stock fraud case his testimony helped comvict about about 20 people he conspired with in that scheme….evidently, Cosa Nostra, not Russian mobsters as I said earlier.)

  5. Prof. Turley:

    Cohen, however, may be just the right carrion to draw this wolf into the open


    If Trump simply stays where he is, under cover…

    I find it deeply troubling that you liken Trump to a wolf, and that he should stay under cover.

    Firstly, it brings to mind the children’s story of Peter and The Wolf, where Peter and the hunters are protagonists, the wolf an antagonist.

    Secondly, recommending that Trump remain undercover seems to imply that you think Trump has something to hide.

    Hmmm….perhap a better metaphor or allegory to describe the Trump/Cohen legal dilemma is in order…unless of course you really do think Trump is guilty as sin like his personal lawyer.

    New development:

    Cohen, by the way, apparently plans to plead the 5th in his legal drama with Stephanie Clifford and her attorney Michael Avenatti (as per Mr. Avenatti’s reference to such, on Nicolle Wallace’s Deadline Whitehouse this afternoon – talk about “must see TV”!).

    Trump also has shut down any thought of an interview with Robert Mueller.

    “Curiouser and curiouser!”

  6. “If Trump simply stays where he is, under cover, he could well run out this investigation without a charge. But that depends on him staying there.”
    This is the crazy world we live in where you have to fear the government might may a case … any case … against you if you tell the truth. A system of laws that makes everybody guilty of something isn’t a system of laws at all. It’s what JT calls a “wolf trap” used by those in power to trap those they despise and, in turn, excuse those they like. It’s the very definition of arbitrary power which is, of course, the very definition of tyranny. The man either committed a crime or he didn’t. It shouldn’t depend on the whim of the prosecutor to dream up some abstruse crime to get a guy he doesn’t like. Never wonder why folks hate the G-man.

    1. Scarify the federal criminal code, and you won’t have all these ‘abstruse crimes’. Of course, Congress accomplishes nothing. (And, while we’re at it, we might recalibrate federal sentencing guidelines, so federal sentences resemble the median of state sentences for like crimes).

    1. I knew John Rawls. Professor Rawls was a friend of mine. You’re no John Rawls.

  7. “Mr. President, Beware of the Coup D’etat.”

    Rod Rosenstein illegally appointed a special counsel “investigation of nothing” and “fishing expedition.” Robert Mueller illegally perpetuated Rosenstein’s insidious conspiracy as an “investigation of nothing.” Hatchet man Mueller’s “fishing expedition” is in search of anything critical of the duly elected President as the “insurance policy” against a Trump election win referred to by Strzok and Page in “Andy’s office.”

    The Christopher Wray, DOJ/FBI “deep state” is in contempt of Congress having refused to respond to its subpoena for evidence.

    The coup was corruptly expanded into the FDNY which arbitrarily and illegally nullified “attorney/client and executive privilege” (the coup claims that Trump’s attorney who is an attorney is not an attorney and that a third party paying for an NDA to make a candidate look better violates campaign finance law while paying for a haircut to make a candidate look better does not).

    Incredibly, the coup d’etat against the duly elected President follows a pre-exonerated non-investigation of Hillary Clinton’s manifest gross mishandling of classified material, international racketeering, perjury, corruption and destruction of evidence, all of which was delineated by then FBI Director, James Comey.

    Congress must conduct a consolidated and accelerated Class-Action or Mass-Action Impeachment of Sessions, Wray, Rosenstein, Mueller and the many other members of the DOJ/FBI “deep state” for malicious prosecution, subversion, election tampering, abuse of power, usurpation, corruption and treason as the aforementioned DOJ/FBI “deep state” conducts a coup d’etat in America. Congress must restore dominion of the Constitution or allow its destruction.

    1. “When you strike at a king, you must kill him.”

      ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

      Mr. Obama, your coup d’etat had better succeed lest the good citizens discover your most prodigious scandal in American political history.

        1. President Obama is attempting to overthrow Trump.

          LOL. Stupid conspiracy theory of the week.

    2. Hells bells, George, where do you dredge (or drudge) up crap like this? Crazy conspiracy theories, good for a laugh 😂 😂 😂 but not much else.

      But thanks for the laugh, anyhow.

    3. Thought for the day: Can Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld sue Rosenstein and Mueller for stealing their idea of making a show about nothing?

  8. Mueller is making an ass of himself and playing a very dangerous game. However, Trump need to only take written questions from Mueller.

  9. @Natacha April 12, 2018 at 1:16 PM
    “JT discusses the strategery (Dubya word) of all of this, but skirts around the real issue, which is that Trump is dirty, pure and simple. Dirty as to his lack of personal integrity, lack of ethics, and dirty as to his business dealings and the manner in which he got away with ‘winning’ the ‘victory’.”

    What do you fancy that this emotional, prejudicial diatribe accomplishes in terms of influencing anyone who doesn’t already share your animosity for Trump?

    Or is that beside the point, inasmuch as you see yourself just as an energetic cheerleader for the Anti-Trump Team, and you’re just trying to keep the team’s fans fired up?

    1. Ken: the point is that the real issue isn’t prosecutors setting a wolf trap for poor little Donnie. It’s that Donnie has it coming. If he wasn’t dirty, if he had ethics, if he hadn’t cheated to “win” the “victory”, if he hadn’t spent years playing dirty in business dealings, if he hadn’t been involved in sexual peccadillos and payoffs to paramours, if he and his cronies didn’t constantly lie about most things, there would be nothing to investigate or prosecute him for. Contrary to the daily spin from Fox News, investigating The Donald is not some illegal attempt to undermine the 2016 election, or an attempted coup. He’s being brought to justice for breaking the law. And, no, the Justice Department and the FBI aren’t part of some deep state conspiracy, either. And no, HRC and Bill Clinton aren’t equally guilty of anything, but even if they were, this has nothing to do with Trump.

      FYI: the “Anti-Trump Team” includes most Americans. A poll of “most admired” released just today shows Barak Obama as polling at more than double Trump’s rating.

      1. ” He’s being brought to justice because he broke the law”.
        That’s not a very convincing claim by Natacha unless she specifies which law(s) Trump broke, and the evidence for charging him and “bringing him to justice”.
        The suspicisions, accusations, and “beliefs” about Trump aren’t evidence.

      2. @Natacha April 12, 2018 at 3:00 PM
        “Ken: the point is that the real issue isn’t prosecutors setting a wolf trap for poor little Donnie.”

        You seem to be content with believing the worst about Trump and don’t seem to have even looked at the voluminous evidence that he is the target of a coordinated and illegitimate effort to neutralize him as president.

        His many character flaws, peccadilloes, and sharp business practices in the past aren’t within Mueller’s investigative mandate, and Mueller doesn’t appear to have come up with any evidence whatever that Trump or anyone in his campaign colluded with the 3 Russians who reportedly spent $100,000 in a 2-billion-dollar presidential campaign.

        If what’s been made available to you just here in this forum isn’t enough to open your mind to the evidence pointing to such an effort to bring down Trump, then nothing I can say will be likely to have any effect on your strongly prejudiced judgement of his fitness to be president.

        I’m confident it won’t pacify you, but if he succumbs to the manipulation that Ann Coulter warned him to resist (among others), he may yet sufficiently mollify his enemies in the Military-Industrial-Intelligence Complex for them to offer him a temporary place in the Fold.

  10. On Topic concerning Constitutional Law: “We are practitioners and professors of international law. Under international law, military strikes by the United States of America and its allies against the Syrian Arab Republic, unless conducted in self-defense or with United Nations Security Council approval, are illegal and constitute acts of aggression.

    The unlawful killing of any human being without legal justification, under every legal system, is murder. And an act of violence committed by one government against another government, without lawful justification, amounts to the crime of aggression: the supreme international crime which carries with it the evil of every other international crime, as noted by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1946.

    The use of military force by a state can be used in self-defense after an armed attack by another state, or, with the approval of the United Nations Security Council. At present, neither instance would apply to a U.S. strike against Syria.

    We understand the urge to act to protect innocent civilians. We strongly condemn any and all violence against civilians, whoever the perpetrators. But responding to unlawful violence with more unlawful violence, bypassing existing legal mechanisms, is a road to a lawless world.”

    find at Washington’s Blog

    BTW, The Congress has been informed they will receive notice of our war action in Syria. That’s nice but not Constitutional.

    1. unless conducted in self-defense or with United Nations Security Council approval, are illegal and constitute acts of aggression.

      There is no such thing as international law and complaining that a political actor’s doings in the internatioal arena are ‘illegal’ is a nonsense statement.

      1. @Nutchacha is insufferable April 12, 2018 at 2:17 PM
        “There is no such thing as international law and complaining that a political actor’s doings in the internatioal arena are ‘illegal’ is a nonsense statement.”

        Are you alluding to “American Exceptionalism” on cocaine, here? Please explicate.

  11. “Girlfriend of Maltese professor at centre of Trump-Russia allegations says he is missing”

    “The 31-year-old unnamed Ukrainian told Buzzfeed she had not heard from Joseph Mifsud since October despite him being the father of her newborn child • She claims Mifsud met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov”

    1. Quartz 11/1/2017 “Papadoupolis spent 3 mos. at the London Center of International Law Practice before joining the Trump campaign.” Mifsud was also associated with the Center.

        1. Excerpted from the article linked above:

          “The idea that he could have tried to facilitate contacts with Russian officials is “not at all” far-fetched, says a former employee at the London Centre of International Law Practice (LCILP), where Mifsud held a senior role. “Everyone he’s dealt with is foreign ambassador of this country or that country.”

          The source described the firm, which was founded in 2014, as constantly in search of, and seemingly never obtaining, big contracts. Mifsud’s role at LCILP was to bring in potential clients—ideally governments whom the company could advise on international law, the former employee said.

          George Papadopoulos also spent three months at the company, before joining the Trump campaign. It’s not clear whether he and Mifsud connected through the firm. Papadopoulos and LCILP director Nagi Idris are friends on Facebook. Idris is a British national, originally from Sudan, and has been director of 18 companies at various times since 2001, according to Companies House filings.”

          Director of 18 companies since 2001? How about director of one company that has 18 shell companies in the business of laundering dirty Russian money? Would you believe . . . ?

          1. Off topic- but, of interest, “Marshall DeRosa is denying any accusations of racism and white supremacy after receiving generous grants from the Koch Foundation”. DeRosa said, “critics fail to discern the difference between his admiration for the Confederacy with condoning slavery.”
            The following information has been reported by media- DeRosa invited James Tracy to give a lecture, “CIA in the Media”, to his class. Tracy’s blog is Memory Hole, which features conspiracy theories. DeRosa taught at the League of the South (an organization that the SPLC subsequently labeled a “hate group”). Abbeville Institute is described as its successor. DeRosa has a link to the institution.

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