On Sunday, lawyers for the president made an extraordinary request: They believe that Trump’s legal team should be able to review the documents themselves. Legal experts regard the request as extraordinary and unlikely to succeed, though the entire case is extraordinary, from the nature of the raid, to the fact that the president is involved, to Trump’s battles with his own Justice Department.
The fact that Trump would attempt such a maneuver shows how rattled he is by the Cohen investigation. That’s remarkable, given the seriousness of the Mueller probe, which involves a foreign power meddling in American elections, tens of millions of dollars in alleged money laundering, multiple Trump aides pleading guilty to lying to the FBI, and an investigation into whether the president himself obstructed justice, the most serious legal jeopardy for any commander in chief since Bill Clinton.
Trump is clearly agitated about Mueller, but that investigation does not seem to have gotten under his skin like the Cohen raid, which hasn’t even resulted in charges yet. That is in keeping with his longstanding sensitivity about anyone peering into his business. When faced with inquiries about his business, Trump tends to work the refs or to try to distract attention. When that fails, he buys his way out of trouble, paying fines that, while substantial in absolute terms, do negligible damage to his bottom line.
For example, during the presidential campaign, Trump had a conniption fit about Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was overseeing a case about Trump University, the fraudulent real-estate seminar Trump ran. He argued that Curiel should be removed from the case and was irreparably biased because of his Mexican heritage. Ultimately, Trump settled the case for $25 million.
Trump’s outburst at Curiel was jarring, especially at the time: It was a brazenly race-based attack on the independent federal judiciary. With two more years of experience watching Trump, however, it appears to be less an aberration than his modus operandi, both in terms of the racial rhetoric and attack on the judiciary, as well as the frantic response to anything that could challenge his private business dealings.
Trump again demonstrated this defensiveness when he refused to release his taxes, as every presidential nominee in recent memory had done, and although he initially obfuscated by claiming he was under audit (which he never proved) and would release them once the audit was complete, it became clear that this was mere pretense, and Trump had no intention of releasing the documents, which could provide valuable information about his business deals.
After being elected, Trump refused to divest himself from his company or to establish a blind trust, instead opting for a partial detachment that ethics experts said answered none of the concerns about conflicts of interest that a blind trust is designed to remedy.