NEW YORK — FBI agents raided the Manhattan office of President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen on Monday, reportedly confiscating a cache of records relating to a payment he made to porn star Stormy Daniels in exchange for her silence about having sex with Trump.
Federal prosecutors got a search warrant for Cohen’s Midtown office after receiving a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller, according to Cohen’s lawyer, Stephen Ryan.
Ryan said the raid was not linked to Mueller’s probe into Russian election meddling, but likely related to information his team had uncovered and flagged for prosecutors in New York.
The raid was “completely inappropriate and unnecessary,” Ryan said in a statement, adding that it “resulted in the unnecessary seizure” of records protected by attorney-client privilege.
Trump called the raid a “disgraceful situation” and “an attack on our country.”
“It’s an attack on what we all stand for,” Trump told reporters during a press conference at the White House Monday night.
Trump went on to rip Mueller’s team of investigators as “the most biased group of people I’ve ever seen.” The president wouldn’t rule out firing the special counsel.
“Why don’t I just fire Mueller? Well, I think it’s a disgrace. We’ll see what happens,” Trump said.
Cohen’s attorney did not elaborate on the nature of the seized documents, but a person briefed on the raid told The New York Times that agents confiscated emails and business records relating to a $130,000 payment Cohen made to Daniels 11 days before the 2016 election. Daniels says she took the payment in exchange for keeping quiet about having sex with Trump in 2006.
Experts noted that the raid bodes badly for Cohen — and, perhaps, for Trump as well.
The president may have violated federal election laws if he in any way coordinated or had knowledge of the payment to Daniels. Trump has denied any knowledge of the payment.
But the search warrant could likely only have been approved because prosecutors had strong evidence to suggest that Cohen and Trump have been involved in something illegal, according to Bradley Simon, a criminal defense attorney who previously worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in Brooklyn.
“It appears as if Cohen has gone beyond simply providing counsel. It sounds like he’s become a co-conspirator,” Simon told the New York Daily News.
Jeffrey Cohen, a Brooklyn-based family lawyer who has followed the Trump-Daniels scandal closely, noted that it’s very unusual for judges to approve search warrants targeting communications protected by client-attorney privilege.
“This suggests that Cohen was used, either knowingly or unknowingly, to further a crime or fraud,” Jeffrey Cohen told the Daily News. “This is very bad news for Michael Cohen and it may be very bad news for Donald Trump.”
In addition to Mueller, Trump attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama during his press conference.
“They’re not looking at the other side,” said Trump, surrounded by Vice President Pence and newly minted national security adviser John Bolton. “They’re not looking at Hillary Clinton and all the horrible things that she did and all of the crimes that were committed. They’re not looking at all of the things that happened that everybody is very angry about.”
Both FBI and Mueller’s office declined to comment.
Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, speculated that the raid could signal a dramatic development for Trump and Cohen.
“An enormous amount of misplaced faith has been placed on MC’s shoulders,” Avenatti tweeted, using an acronym for Cohen’s name. “If he does not hold up, this could end very very badly for DJT and others.”
Daniels is currently battling Trump and Cohen in court over a nondisclosure agreement that she signed in exchange for the $130,000 hush payment.
The 39-year-old porn star charges that the agreement should be nulled because Trump never signed it. Avenatti filed a motion Monday demanding that Cohen and Trump testify under oath to set the record straight about how much the president knew about the hush payment to Daniels.
Cohen acknowledged earlier this year that he made the payment, but has refused to explain why or whether he was ever reimbursed by Trump or his campaign.
In his first public repudiation of Daniels’ steamy claims, Trump told reporters onboard Air Force One last week that he had no knowledge of Cohen’s payment. When asked if he knew of the nondisclosure agreement, Trump demurred: “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney.”