FBI raids Trump personal lawyer Cohen’s offices, President calls it witch-hunt

Cohen’s own attorney Stephen Ryan said agents were working in part on the request of special counsel Robert Mueller, the independent prosecutor investigating links between Russia and the Trump campaign.

world Updated: Apr 10, 2018 22:15 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
FBI raid,Donald Trump,Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen, personal attorney for US President Donald Trump, arrives to appear before Senate Intelligence Committee staff as the panel investigates alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election, on September 19, 2017.(Reuters File Photo)

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on Monday raided the New York office and hotel room of Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s long-time personal lawyer, confidant and fixer, who has admitted to paying an adult film star to keep quiet about her affair with the US president years ago.

Agents carried away records and documents on various issues including the payment of $130,000 of hush money by Cohen to Stormy Daniels, the porn star whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, in the run up to the November 2016 elections, reports citing unidentified officials said.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that agents were also looking for information regarding Karen McDougal, an ex-Playboy model who has claimed she had a year-long affair with Trump. She was paid $150,000 for her story by a news publication that never ran it.

The raid was carried out against search warrants obtained by prosecutors of the office of the US attorney of the Southern District of New York, on a referral from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is probing Russian meddling in 2016 presidential elections and alleged collusion by the Trump campaign.

They targeted Cohen’s office in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Plaza and a hotel room where he has been staying with his family as their home undergoes renovation.

The referral was understood to indicate that Mueller’s team had passed on the information because it was not covered by its mandate.

No official explanation were offered for the raids, but news reports indicated investigators could potentially be looking at bank fraud and wire fraud as well as possible violations of election finance laws.

The raids were confirmed by Cohen’s lawyer, Stephen Ryan, who said in statement, “Today the US 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.”

The communications with “clients” seized could include those with Cohen’s most important client, the president.

“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 added.

A very angry President Trump linked the raid to the Russia probe in remarks to reporters before a national security meeting at the White House, deploying the phrase “witch-hunt”, which he had used several times before, to attack Mueller’s probe.

Trump said the FBI “broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys” and called it “a disgraceful situation … a total witch-hunt …a whole new level of unfairness”.

He added, “It’s an attack on our country, in a true sense. It’s an attack on what we all stand for.”

The president also attacked attorney general Jeff Sessions, once again, for recusing himself from the Russia probe.

Cohen has claimed he paid Daniels out of his own pocket — using a home equity line of credit to finance — as part of a non-disclosure agreement signed by her, and that Trump was not aware of it.

The lawyer had also said he was not reimbursed either by the president or the Trump Organization.

The president and the White House have denied Trump had an affair with Daniels in 2006 that she claimed included a sexual encounter in his hotel room during a golf tournament for celebrities, and has routinely directed questions about the payment to Cohen.

Daniels has sued to be freed from the non-disclosure agreement, arguing it was not valid as Trump did not sign it.

While there is nothing criminal about the affair or the payment, legal and election law experts have said if the money was paid to keep Daniels quite about the affair ahead of the election and which Cohen claimed to have paid it himself, it could be construed as election campaign finance contribution that was way above the permissible limit.

Cohen, in keeping with his public persona of a tough and loyal Trump aide, has waged a very public battle with Daniels and her attorney through friends and lawyers who defend him aggressively in interviews and open debates on prime time television.

The fact that the raid took place on the basis of search warrants issued by a judge meant there was probable cause of a crime having been committed, according to legal experts.

First Published: Apr 10, 2018 08:34 IST