President Donald Trump reacted angrily Monday after the FBI seized records from his longtime personal attorney, calling the law enforcement actions “disgraceful” and part of “an attack on our country.”
An attorney for Trump lawyer Michael Cohen said earlier Monday that federal investigators had executed a series of search warrants and seized records. Cohen’s lawyer, Stephen Ryan, said the actions were taken following a “referral” from special counsel Robert Mueller.
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“I just heard that they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys, a good man,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “It’s a disgraceful situation. … I’ve been saying it for a long time. I have this witch hunt constantly going on.”
“It’s an attack on our country,” Trump said. “It’s an attack on what we all stand for.”
The FBI action on Monday came amid a swirl of questions about Cohen’s role in a variety of matters related to Trump, including a pre-election payment of $130,000 to an adult film star who claimed to have had an affair with Trump a decade earlier. Cohen’s activities have also come under scrutiny by congressional investigators looking into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The full range of locations the FBI raided on Monday in looking for Cohen’s records was not immediately clear. News reports said Cohen’s law office at Rockefeller Center in New York was raided, as well as his Park Avenue apartment. Vanity Fairreported that agents entered a hotel room Cohen had been using at the Loews Regency Hotel in Manhattan.
In addition, a Washington law firm Cohen had been working with until recently — Squire Patton Boggs — told POLITICO that their relationship had ended, but confirmed that investigators also contacted the firm about a search warrant for Cohen’s records.
“The firm’s arrangement with Mr. Cohen recently reached its conclusion, mutually and in accordance with the terms of the agreement,” a statement from the firm said. “We have been in contact with federal authorities regarding their execution of a warrant relating to Mr. Cohen. These activities do not relate to the firm and we are in full cooperation.”
In his statement, Cohen’s attorney faulted the use of search warrants to seize attorney records — an unusual tactic because of the danger of intrusion on material protected by attorney-client privilege.
“The decision by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York to conduct their investigation using search warrants is completely inappropriate and unnecessary,” Ryan said. “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 nonprivileged documents to the Congress and sitting for depositions under oath.”
Trump on Monday did not rule out the possibility that he might fire Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump’s campaign was involved.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “Many people have said you should fire him.”
During a photo opportunity for a meeting he was holding with military advisers to discuss a potential strike against Syria, Trump reacted to reporters’ queries by spending several minutes expressing frustration with the latest searches and the ongoing Mueller investigation.
Trump reiterated accusations of political bias against the special counsel’s staff and expressed dissatisfaction with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
“This is the most biased group of people, these people have the biggest conflicts of interest I’ve ever seen,” the president said. “Democrats all — or just about all, either Democrats or a couple of Republicans that worked for President Obama,” Trump said. “They’re not looking at the other side. They’re not looking at the Hillary Clinton — horrible things that she did and all of the crimes that were committed.”
The president also repeated his view that Sessions betrayed him by taking the attorney general nomination without disclosing that he would recuse himself from the investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
“He made what I consider to be a very terrible mistake for the country, but you’ll figure that out,” Trump declared.
The search warrants for Cohen’s records were almost certainly approved by Rosenstein and other senior officials at the Justice Department. Rosenstein has said he is keeping close tabs on Mueller’s investigation. In addition, due to the sensitivity about attorney-client records, Justice Department regulations require that search warrants aimed at a lawyer be approved by leadership in the department’s Criminal Division.
Spokespeople for Mueller’s office, the U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday’s raids, which were first reported by The New York Times.
The current head of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan is Geoffrey Berman, who was appointed on an interim basis by Sessions in January. Trump advisers have indicated he wants to nominate Berman to the job on a permanent basis but no formal nomination has happened, due to opposition from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and public silence from Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Cristiano Lima and Josh Meyer contributed to this report.