Some legal experts say it's quite possible. They say Trump's denial that he had knowledge of the Daniels payment, combined with denials by Cohen and Cohen's lawyer David Schwartz, meant both sides had effectively said the matter didn't involve attorney-client communications. And given that the standard for raiding a lawyer's office is higher, that could have bolstered the case for the raid.
Former federal prosecutor Patrick Cotter said the dual denials “allowed the prosecutors seeking the search warrant for Cohen’s office to tell the approving court that the two people on Earth who might have claimed that anything related to Cohen’s actions in that regard were covered by attorney-client privilege are now both on-record denying that.”
Cotter added: “Trump’s statement certainly made it much easier to get the warrant for at least those materials related to the Stormy situation.”
Georgetown University law professor David Super said the denials “absolutely” raised the prospects of a raid.
“It also gave prosecutors a reason to believe that Cohen was acting on his own rather than in a representational capacity,” Super said.
That said, other experts were more skeptical. They stressed that these types of raids take immense planning and that, even if Trump's comment might have factored in somehow, it was probably in the works for weeks.
“The decision to raid Cohen’s office is a very big deal, and it would not turn on any offhand comment by Trump,” said former federal prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg, who added: “In addition, government agents would be hard-pressed to maintain that [Trump's] statement was considered truthful.”
Former top Justice Department aide Harry Litman said he also doubted that the raid turned on Trump's comments, and he also said investigators would still have to treat the situation as if they were dealing with privileged materials — including of other Cohen clients.
“Put otherwise, the basic calculus — legal and tactical — of whether to do the search wouldn’t have varied based on the supposition that maybe they’d get lucky and find some non-privileged incriminating documents,” Litman said.
Even if Trump's denial didn't help tip the scales on the raid, though, it could affect a potential criminal case against Cohen — and eventually, investigators may hope, a deal for Cohen to cooperate with Robert S. Mueller III's Russia investigation. (Mueller's team didn't carry out the raid, but it did provide a referral to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York. And nothing would prevent the U.S. attorney's office from securing his cooperation with Mueller as part of a plea deal.)
Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that “attorney-client privilege is dead,” but his comments Thursday suggested that he and Cohen never conversed about the Daniels payment. That would mean, as Super suggested, that Cohen wasn't acting as Trump's legal representative in the case and that he couldn't argue for such a protection — at least relating to the Daniels case.
Added Cotter: “You can’t be providing legal advice and services if you are not acting as a lawyer, nor can you be providing attorney-client protected legal services to a client completely unaware of what you are doing.”
Perhaps this is at least part of the reason the White House and Trump spent so long conspicuously avoiding answering such a basic question.