The FBI raided the offices and home of U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen on Monday, law enforcement sources said, in a dramatic new development in a series of probes involving close Trump associates.
Cohen’s lawyer, Stephen M. Ryan, said that U.S. prosecutors conducted a search that was partly a referral by the Office of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.
Mueller is investigating whether members of Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with Russia during the U.S. presidential election.
“Today, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York executed a series of search warrants and seized the privileged communications between my client, Michael Cohen, and his clients,” Ryan said in a statement.
“I have been advised by federal prosecutors that the New York action is, in part, a referral by the Office of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller,” Ryan said.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump called the raid “disgraceful.”
“I just heard that they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys — a good man — and it’s a disgraceful situation,” he said. “It’s a total witch hunt. I’ve been saying it for a long time.”
Trump said Mueller’s team is biased and reiterated his view that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should not have recused himself from overseeing Mueller’s probe of alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. election.
Monday’s raids were first reported by The New York Times.
Paid from his own pocket
Cohen has been at the centre of a controversy surrounding a payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, who has alleged that she had sex once in 2006 with Trump and was paid money shortly before the 2016 election to keep quiet about it.
Cohen did not immediately respond to Reuters for a request for comment. A spokesperson for Mueller had no comment.
A source familiar with the investigation said that among the items the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan sought in the raids were information on the origins of a $130,000 US payment to Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
Cohen has said that he paid the $130,000 settlement money from his own pocket through a personal home equity loan. Trump, in comments to reporters on Air Force One last week, said that he did not know about the payment.
The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office on Monday also sought any emails between former White House communications director Hope Hicks and Cohen about a false and misleading account that Trump helped prepare of a June 9, 2016, meeting between Trump’s son Donald Trump, Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner and a group of Russians who had promised “dirt” on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, another source familiar with the investigation said.
Such emails would not be covered by attorney-client privilege, this source said, because Cohen did not represent Hicks.
Ryan, in his statement, called the search warrants executed by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan “completely inappropriate and unnecessary.”
“It resulted in the unnecessary seizure of protected attorney client communications between a lawyer and his clients,” he said.
Ryan said that Cohen has co-operated with authorities and turned over thousands of documents to congressional investigators for their own probes into Moscow’s alleged efforts to influence the U.S. election.
The New York Times, citing a source, said FBI agents seized emails, tax documents and business records.