The country is entering a dangerous moment—the moment of actual confrontation between the president of the United States and those who would investigate him.
This moment has been deferred for months through a combination of strategies. The president’s lawyers convinced their client for a spell that the investigation would wrap up and clear him if he just cooperated. Investigators refrained from antagonizing the president; they did not leak disparaging material about him or those close to him. They framed their indictments narrowly so as not to suggest more than they were immediately prepared to allege. Even as they moved forward, investigators left room for the president and his defenders to put off any showdown.
The result was that, for months, a confrontation has loomed over American political culture, but has ripened slowly and, while in plain view, in a fashion that has permitted people to avert their gaze. Those who wanted to deny that the confrontation was coming at all could convince themselves that perhaps Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation would peter out; perhaps it would reveal only misconduct by expendable hangers-on in the president’s entourage; perhaps it would reveal only politically embarrassing conduct rather than conduct that required elements within the executive branch to lock horns over whether the special counsel would be meaningfully permitted to accuse the president.
On Monday, however, the space for such denial began to shrink markedly—and the time span for deferral of the confrontation has shrunk as well.
I will put this as bluntly as I know how: There is no way that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York would have sought or executed a search warrant against the president’s lawyer without overpowering evidence to support the action. The legal standard for such a search requires only probable cause that criminal activity is taking place. Under normal circumstances, which these are not, the prudential and policy factors counseling against such an action would be powerful.