The Michael Cohen raid shows that Mueller doesn’t really have any limits on his investigation

  • Special counsel Robert Mueller is required to consult with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein if his team finds information that does not fall under the purview of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election.
  • Rosenstein can decide to pass any such information along to a US attorney’s office.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has, in an indirect way, officially reached the inner circle of President Donald Trump.

Monday’s raid on Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen’s office and residences has left the president both angry and rattled.

“It’s a disgraceful situation,” Trump told reporters on Monday. “It’s a total witch hunt. I’ve been saying it for a long time.”

Trump has said that a move by Mueller’s team to investigate his personal finances and businesses would be a step too far outside of the special counsel’s authority. While the raid of Cohen’s office and residences by FBI agents on Monday is not necessarily tied to Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election, it is a result of Mueller’s authority as the special counsel.

Under rules governing the special counsel’s work, Mueller is required to consult with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein if his team finds information that does not fall under the purview of his investigation, according to The Washington Post.

“If he finds evidence of a crime that is within the scope of what Director Mueller and I have agreed is the appropriate scope of this investigation, then he can,” Rosenstein said in an interview with Fox News in August 2017. “If it’s something outside that scope he needs to come to the acting attorney general, at this time me, for permission to expand his investigation.”

Responsible for overseeing the special counsel’s investigation into Russia, Rosenstein has the authority to decide whether or not to include the new information within the scope of Mueller’s probe. If he decides not to, Rosenstein can refer the information to a US attorney’s office.

That is exactly what happened on Monday. The Southern District of New York, which conducted the seizure of Cohen’s financial records and documents, reportedly received a tip from the special counsel, who came across this information in his investigation. In addition, Rosenstein gave the green light on the raid on behalf of the Justice Department.

When Mueller was appointed as special counsel, Rosenstein permitted him to investigate Russia interference in the 2016 election and other matters that could develop from the investigation. Mueller was also given the power by Rosenstein to investigate other charges such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses.

The FBI’s raid on Cohen may end up having no connection to the special counsel’s investigation into Russia, but it has exemplified the reach that Mueller’s probe can have.