There is much speculation as to the significance of the search of the offices and hotel room of President Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen. To obtain a search warrant, prosecutors must demonstrate to a judge that they have probable cause to believe that the premises to be searched contain evidence of crime. They must also specify the area to be searched, the items to be seized and, in searches of computers, the word searches to be used.
At least that’s the constitutional requirement in theory, especially where the Sixth Amendment right to counsel is involved, in addition to the general Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches. Yet, in practice, judges often give the FBI considerable latitude, relying on the “firewalls” and “taint teams” they set up to protect the subject of the search from violation of his or her constitutional rights.
But the firewalls and taint teams are comprised of government agents who themselves may not be entitled to read or review many of the items seized. It is an imperfect protection of important constitutional rights. That’s why Justice Department officials must be careful to limit the searching of lawyers’ offices to compelling cases involving serious crimes. We don’t know at this point what the prosecutors are looking for but, if it relates to payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels, that would not seem to justify so potentially intrusive a search of Cohen’s confidential lawyer-client files.