The FBI on Monday raided the office of Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime personal attorney, provoking a bitter rebuke from the president that the special counsel’s Russia probe had entered a “whole new level of unfairness.”
The agents seized scores of records from the lawyer’s Manhattan office that included documents related to money paid to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels. They hauled off paperwork and electronic files that included tax records and business papers, leaving it up in the air what exactly the FBI was searching for.
The raid signaled a major escalation in Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, as it took a giant step closer to the president.
Mr. Cohen’s attorney, Stephen Ryan, questioned Mr. Mueller’s tactics, calling them “completely inappropriate and unnecessary.”
“It resulted in the unnecessary seizure of protected attorney-client communications between a lawyer and his clients. These government tactics are also wrong because Mr. Cohen has cooperated completely with all government entities, including providing thousands of non-privileged documents to the Congress and sitting for depositions under oath,” Mr. Ryan said.
Mr. Trump called the raid “a disgraceful situation.”
SEE ALSO: Donald Trump calls FBI raid on Michael Cohen a ‘witch hunt’
“It’s a total witch hunt,” Mr. Trump fumed during a meeting with Pentagon officials about Syria. “I’ve given over a million pages in documents to the special counsel. They continue to just go forward, and here we are talking about Syria. We’re talking about a lot of serious things.”
He said the relentless investigation, which continued and expanded despite finding no evidence of collusion with Russia, was “an attack on our country in a true sense. It is an attack on what we all stand for.”
Mr. Ryan confirmed that the raid grew out of Mr. Mueller’s investigation, which was launched to explore suspected Trump campaign collusion with Moscow’s efforts to influence the 2016 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,” Mr. 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.”
The raid was first reported by The New York Times.
The records seized from Mr. Cohen’s Manhattan office were communications between Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen, including emails, tax documents and business records, according to the report.
SEE ALSO: Donald Trump slams Michael Cohen FBI raid
The FBI could be looking for evidence related to the $130,000 paid to Stephanie Clifford, the real name of the woman better known by her porn moniker. She said she had a sexual affair with Mr. Trump in 2006 and was paid by Mr. Cohen just before the 2016 election to keep quiet about the relationship.
Mr. Trump said last week that he didn’t know about the payment to Ms. Clifford or the source of the funds.
“You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen,” the president told reporters. “Michael is my attorney. You’ll have to ask Michael.”
If Mr. Trump had coordinated or had knowledge of the payment, it may be a violation of federal election laws or perhaps involve tax implications. If he didn’t, it might pose more problems for Mr. Cohen.
Mr. Trump’s supporters cried foul at the unusual move of targeting a president’s personal attorney.
“It is inexcusable that Special Counsel Robert Mueller would recommend that President Donald Trump’s attorney-client privilege be violated in one more example of the win-at-any-cost attitude by this rogue prosecutor,” said Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government. “It is beyond comprehension how Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would have allowed the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan and the FBI based in Manhattan to become pawns in Mueller’s Constitution-destroying game. Rod Rosenstein should not still have a job by the end of this week. This prosecutorial insanity to has to end.”
The aim of the search remained a matter of speculation, as did how Mr. Cohen fit into Mr. Mueller’s probe.
The raid resembled past dramatic and aggressive moves by Mr. Mueller’s investigation. In August, the special counsel oversaw an FBI raid on the Alexandria, Virginia, home of Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Agents in that case entered Mr. Manafort’s house before dawn to seize documents and other materials.
Ms. Clifford’s attorney, Michael Avenatti, said he had forecast troubles for Mr. Cohen.
“An enormous amount of misplaced faith has been placed on MC’s shoulders [in my opinion]. If he does not hold up, this could end very very badly for DJT and others,” he said on Twitter, regarding the news of the FBI raid.
• Dan Boylan contributed to this article.