U.S. President Donald Trump railed again Tuesday about FBI raids on his personal lawyer Michael Cohen's New York office and a hotel where he had been staying, calling them "a total witch hunt."
Federal Bureau of Investigation agents executed search warrants Monday and seized financial documents and other records possibly related to Trump's contacts with Cohen, who paid $130,000 in hush money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels shortly before Trump's 2016 election to keep her quiet about the 2006 one-night affair she claims to have had with Trump. Trump has said he had no knowledge of the payment.
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The U.S. leader said that with the raids, "Attorney-client privilege is dead," the U.S. legal principle under which most private conversations between lawyers and their clients cannot be used in court against them unless they were conspiring to commit a crime.
As news of the raids surfaced Monday, Trump called it "a real disgrace. It’s an attack on our country, in a true sense. It’s an attack on what we all stand for."
He called the raids a "whole new level of unfairness," on top of the nearly yearlong criminal investigation being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the election aimed at helping Trump win and whether Trump obstructed justice to thwart the probe.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Tuesday, "The president has been clear, he thinks this has gone too far." Sanders said Trump has the power to fire Mueller, but she gave no indication the president plans to oust him or other officials connected to the ongoing probe.
People with knowledge of the case told The Washington Post that Cohen is under investigation for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations.
CNN and the New York Times reported that investigators raiding Cohen's files were looking for records about the payment to Daniels, the porn star.
In addition, the news outlets reported investigators were looking for any documents related to a separate $150,000 payment three months ahead of the election to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who says she had a 10-month affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007, a purported relationship Trump has denied. The McDougal payment came from American Media, the parent company of a tabloid newspaper and whose chief executive is a friend of Trump's.
Cohen's attorney, Stephen Ryan, said the search was based in part on a referral from Mueller to federal prosecutors in New York, including U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, who was appointed by Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in January.
"The decision by the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York to conduct their investigation using search warrants is inappropriate and unnecessary," Ryan said in a statement. "It resulted in the unnecessary seizure of protected attorney-client communications between a lawyer and his clients."
Ryan added that Cohen has cooperated with investigators.
Michael Avenatti, the pornographic film star's attorney, said on Twitter, "A well-regarded Republican appointed US Atty obtaining valid search warrants, approved by a judge, that are then carried out by career, upstanding FBI agents doing their job to search for the truth is NOT A WITCH HUNT. Period."
Although Mueller's probe is focused on Russian election interference, under law he would need approval from top Justice Department officials if he discovered something else during his investigation that he deemed worth pursuing.
Since Sessions recused himself from the Russian election probe, Deputy AttorneyGeneral Rod Rosenstein would have been the one to ask judges to approve the FBI raid on Cohen's office.