I'm anti-Trump, just to get that out of the way, but I'm also curious about the legal aspects. I hope this falls enough under political and not legal but if you think it's better for the legal board, feel free to move.

Mueller recently got a warrant and "raided" - I don't like the word raided when a warrant is obtained, but that's the word most articles are using, so he raided Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen - all legal, all well and good.

Fox News and Team Trump is saying that Mueller has no business going after campaign finance violation in a Russia-collusion investigation. My question is, is that correct, or does the FBI have an obligation to seek out any crime?

I know that if it's the police, and they think I might be guilty of murder, they get a warrant, they search my apt, they don't find a murder weapon but they do find my bag of illegal drugs, that there's a good chance I'll be charged for possession of illegal drugs. Perhaps the same thing applies to Mueller that he "can" use whatever he finds.

Is there a law that defines whether Mueller should go after anything, or is he legally or perhaps ethically bound to only pursue Russian collusion? (He could have searched Michael Cohen's office for Russian collusion, and that may even be what was presented to the judge when they got the warrant) I'm not sure.

I'm just curious if, when it's the FBI investigating a politician, is anything they find fair game (like cops searching my house after obtaining a warrant), or are there legal or ethical reasons why Mueller should stick 100% to possible Russian collusion, and, as team-Trump suggested, pass the campaign finance stuff to another agency/person? (I'm guessing that the FBI would investigate campaign finance violations, so it would be passed on within the FBI).

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    Comments deleted. Please don't use comments to answer the question. Post a real answer instead. Also, this is not the place to discuss the quality of Fox News. For more information about how to use comments, see the help for the commenting privilege.
    – Philipp
    Apr 14, 2018 at 16:15

6 Answers 6


The "raid", which is the execution of a search warrant, is under the jurisdiction of the US Attorney's Office of the Southern District of New York, not that of the Mueller investigation. Mueller presumably referred whatever prompted the warrant to Rosenstein (deputy US Attorney General and his direct supervisor) specifically because it doesn't necessarily fall under the scope of his investigation.

Note that we don't know the exact nature of the evidence presented to get the warrant beyond it being something related to "campaign finance violations, bank fraud, and wire fraud". While Cohen has presented it as being about the 130k Stormey Daniels payment after the fact, there is no indication from any other source involved that its strictly limited to that.

To get the warrant, the approval of Rosenstein (deputy AG), the head of the DOJ criminal division, the US Attorney for SDNY (though he recused himself from this for some reason, so whoever substituted for him), and a federal magistrate judge or district judge are required.

The standards for executing a search on an attorney is much higher than for other people precisely because of attorney-client privilege. It's usually done only when there's expectations of evidence tampering/destruction or that measures like a subpoena wouldn't be answered in good faith. In fact sometimes it might even involve things like single blinding the evidence by using two teams to examine the documents after they are obtained. The fact that there was a search at all instead of something like a subpoena suggests that the evidence already available before the search is very strong; Cohen is probably about to have a very bad time.

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    I realize you say the warrant was under the jurisdiction of SDNY, but I still think it would be worth quoting “Mueller recently got a warrant and ‘raided,’” directly and saying no, he did not. At most, Mueller passed along some evidence he had to SDNY, and they got a warrant and “raided.” Mueller’s involvement in the actual warrant and search was nil, and that should be made clear, since that appears to be a pretty major misunderstanding.
    – KRyan
    Apr 12, 2018 at 13:52
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    This answer would greatly benefit from some sources Apr 12, 2018 at 15:48
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    @JimmyJames It addresses the question of Mueller's authorization exactly. The answer is "Mueller is not authorized to pursue this kind of investigation - and he isn't doing it." Apr 12, 2018 at 16:49
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    @JimmyJames: Perhaps I understood your comment "The search was a direct result of Mueller's actions..." to say something other than what you intended? I understood it to mean that you thought that because Mueller uncovered evidence of a possible crime not related to the Russia investigation, that evidence should simply be ignored, instead of being passed on to different investigators.
    – jamesqf
    Apr 13, 2018 at 4:38
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    Rosenstein's authorization for the Special Counsel (Mueller) includes language such as being permitted to investigate "any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation". Mueller found such matters, went to Rosenstein for direction on how to proceed, and Rosenstein gave the matter to SDNY. It seems to be as simple as that. Apr 13, 2018 at 17:44

"Rosenstein gave him broad authority not only to investigate "any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated" with Trump's campaign, but also to examine "any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation." [emphasis mine]

No, there is no limit that requires Mueller to ignore evidence of other crimes. As noted in the article above: "But even if Mueller came across something potentially criminal that was beyond his scope, 'it's not like he can just walk away from it. They can't just ignore these things.'"

Order 3915-2017

special counsel order

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    But the key point in this case is that, contrary to what the question claims, it wasn't Mueller's team that searched Cohen's office, presumably because Mueller felt (or was told) that it specifically wasn't within his remit. Apr 12, 2018 at 14:05
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    That is not true. Section (d) of the authorization document states that Mueller has to discuss any crime that doesn't fall within his "Jurisdiction" as layed out by the Attorney General with the AG, who can then determine if it should be added to the Jurisdiction, or given to an authority that can prosecute it. This is apparently what happened as it's the US Attorney's Office of the Southern District of New York job to execute the warrant and that office seems to be leading whatever results from the findings.
    – hszmv
    Apr 12, 2018 at 14:06
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    I believe @hszmv is talking about Title 28 of the Code of Federal Regulations
    – Denis
    Apr 12, 2018 at 15:52
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    @JimmyJames: Why then did Mueller give it to the logical prosecutor to have jurisdiction, after consulting with D-AG, who would be the AG for this purpose? That's exactly what section (d) is about. Unless Stormy Daniels was playing a long game of Russian Sleeper agent, any crime related to their affair and legal agreement is not within Mueller's jurisdiction.
    – hszmv
    Apr 12, 2018 at 19:51
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    @hszmv: according to published reports, Mueller did not "give" anything to the office of the US Attorney for SDNY. He reported his findings to the Attorney General's office, which referred the matter to SDNY for further investigation. SDNY went to a judge, obtained a warrant, and conducted the raid in concert with the FBI. Understand - as a special council Mueller is not allowed to ignore criminal conduct simply because it doesn't fall under his mandate. He has a duty to refer such matters to the AG for further investigation. Failure to do so could be a violation of law in itself. Apr 13, 2018 at 13:16

That's really irrelevant, since Mueller did not order the raids or get the warrants.

What happens, and often happens is that, while investigating crimes, investigators sometimes find evidence of other crimes.

They can:

  1. Pretend that the crimes never happened, which might be a crime, in and of itself.
  2. They can expand their investigation and go after the person for those crimes, or
  3. They can pass that information along to another law enforcement person, division or agency to pursue. This is called a "referral."

Mueller's team alerted the FBI and justice department that they found this evidence, as they are duty-bound to do. They were instructed not to pursue it, but to refer it to appropriate groups, and THOSE groups followed up.

If I were in a white-collar financial crimes division, investigating someone for corporate espionage, and found evidence of participation in a child pornography ring on their computer, I think people would be hard-pressed to argue that I should not pass that information along to other law enforcement people.

And, yet, that's pretty much the standard that Fox News is trying to present as appropriate.


Some legal experts (Alan Dershowitz for one, IIRC) would say that Rosenstien exceeded his own authority by not referring the Cohen matter to Sessions, the Attorney General.

The argument is that, while Sessions has recused himself in matters related to Russian interference in the election, that recusal does not give Rosenstein, in his supervisory role toward the Special Prosecutor, the power to execute AG authority (in that supervisory role), except in those areas where Sessions recused himself.

However, in Session's public statements (March 2, 2017) about his recusal, he said the following:

During the course of the last several weeks, I have met with the relevant senior career Department officials to discuss whether I should recuse myself from any matters arising from the campaigns for President of the United States.

Having concluded those meetings today, I have decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.

So one must conclude that for Rosenstein to retain his supervisory role in this matter, then it must be about "the campaigns for President of the United States."

As to why Mueller decided to hand this over to the US Attorney's Office of the Southern District of New York, it isn't clear that this was necessary, except that it might provide the legally required firewall that will allow Mueller's team to only receive information taken from Cohen that is relevant to illegal campaign activity, where Cohen may be incidentally involved in an alleged crime.

Also, in 1974, Congress amended the existing Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) to provide that the Federal Election Commission shall administer and enforce FECA laws. So it is also argued (by some on Fox) that neither the DOJ nor the FBI have any jurisdiction in these types of matters.

The rebuttal is that violations that are "knowing and willful" are considered criminal, in which case the DOJ would have jurisdiction. If the violation is not "knowing and willful" then it is a civil matter handled by FEC enforcement. Determining whether the 'knowing and willful" bar has been met is a controversial subject with many points of view.

Therefore, Mueller and Rosenstein must have determined that there is probable cause to believe a "knowing and willful" criminal violation took place.

  • Does the Federal Election Commission have the power to investigate election law violations, or do they work through the relevant US Attorney's office and the FBI? Apr 13, 2018 at 13:21
  • @BobJarvis - The cynical answer is "none of the above, they do nothing, pretty much." Apr 13, 2018 at 14:46
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    Not sure about the argument about Rosenstein exceeding authority by referring to the SDNY office, regardless of how Session's recusal is parsed. I'm not aware of any requirement that issues outside of the boundaries of the Mueller investigation, which this was determined to be, require personal sign-off by the AG. The implication that it does because it's the President's personal confidant is entirely unethical. This warrant is about Cohen, not Trump. More of a general comment, and this comment in no way is refuting anything in the answer. Apr 13, 2018 at 14:50
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    One of the better answers here. Mueller's route is surprising and look incredibly partisan from distance. Of course, the details are not known and it is all speculative as of now, but Mueller's conduct does not seem to be helping.
    – IsThatTrue
    Apr 13, 2018 at 19:43

In any form of government, which is based on the rule of law, law enforcement is obliged to persecute any crime they become aware of, either directly themselves, or by passing the lead-material/evidence on to the appropriate agency.

The only imaginable exception to the principle stated above, would be if the lead-material/evidence was acquired in an unlawful way. But that would be up to the courts to decide.

  • Can you support that claim about law enforcement being 'obliged' with a source?
    – JJJ
    Apr 19, 2019 at 14:01
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    This is simply untrue. It is simply unfeasible for law enforcement to prosecute all crimes- they have to choose because there aren't enough hours in the day to go after them all.
    – Jim Clay
    Apr 19, 2019 at 15:14

My understanding of the probe is that Mueller's group is empowered to go after any and all criminal activity discovered during the course of the investigation. In spite of the probe being centered around Russian meddling in the election, the FBI can pursue campaign finance / money laundering investigations.

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    Welcome to Politics Stack Exchange. Please understand that we can not blindly believe everything people post. In order to make your answer trustworthy, try to find some reliable source which says what the Mueller group is empowered to do.
    – Philipp
    Apr 13, 2018 at 7:54

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