Donald Trump declared an “attack on our country in a true sense” was under way after FBI agents conducted a raid on the office of his longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, on Monday.
The raid was carried out after a referral from the special counsel, Robert Mueller, to New York-based federal prosecutors, a lawyer for Cohen said. It was not clear that the raid related to Mueller’s investigation of alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Yet in an extraordinary scene inside the White House late on Monday, Trump connected those dots and more, saying the raid represented part of an ongoing attack on him engineered, he said, by “the most biased group of people” with “the biggest conflicts of interest I’ve ever seen”.
He called it “an attack on our country in a true sense. It’s an attack on what we all stand for.”
Agents also raided a home and hotel room used by Cohen, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Stephen Ryan, a lawyer for Cohen, released a statement that said: “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.” He did not name Trump.
Trump said the raid on Cohen “really is now in a whole new level of unfairness”, but he did not respond directly to questions of whether he would seek to have Mueller dismissed.
Unusually affronted by the move against a member of his inner circle, it seemed, Trump described the raid as an extension of a conspiracy against him that had “started right after I won the nomination”.
“It’s a disgraceful situation, it’s a total witch-hunt, I’ve been saying it for a long time,” Trump said. Mueller’s investigation so far has produced 19 indictments or guilty pleas.
Monday’s raid led to the seizure of records including communications between Cohen and Trump, Cohen’s lawyer said in a statement.
Also seized were documents relating to a $130,000 payment Cohen has admitted making to the porn actor Stormy Daniels, according to the New York Times, which first reported the raid. Daniels is in a protracted legal battle with Trump to tell the story of their alleged relationship.
“I think it’s a disgrace what’s going on,” Trump said. “We’ll see what happens … Many people have said you should fire him.”
The president was following news coverage of the raid closely, CNN reported. Cohen is closer to Trump’s inner circle than anyone previously to have such a sharp brush with prosecutors, although Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been interviewed by Mueller’s team, and Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, has been interviewed by congressional investigators.
Cohen said the payment to Daniels was “facilitated” by him personally and was not made on behalf of the Trump campaign. A watchdog group has brought a lawsuit alleging that the payment to Daniels was in fact an illegal campaign contribution.
“The decision by the US attorney’s office in New York to conduct their investigation using search warrants is completely inappropriate and unnecessary,” said Ryan in his statement. He said Cohen had cooperated fully with government prosecutors.
Prosecutors connected with Mueller have previously obtained email correspondence and other documents tied to Cohen, who has worked closely with Trump for more than a decade on particularly sensitive matters.
Those matters included Trump’s alleged relationship with Daniels, in which a large payment was made on the eve of the 2016 election as she was preparing to go public with her story of an affair with Trump; and efforts to build a Trump tower in Moscow.
Cohen was interviewed privately in October 2017 by members of the House intelligence committee, which has since shuttered its investigation of the Russia affair.
The FBI conducted a pre-dawn raid of the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s Virginia home in July 2017. Manafort has been charged with multiple crimes including money laundering and bank fraud, to which he has pleaded not guilty.
On Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted two short messages: “Attorney–client privilege is dead!” and “A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!”
What is more alarming is that the president of the United States continually undermines and attacks the nation’s leading law enforcement organization, along with the media and anyone else whom threatens him. He continually divides Americans, rather than unites, and his unwillingness to investigate election tampering by an outside, hostile nation should be viewed as collusion with the enemy. Yet the Republican controlled congress, along with millions of Americans, continue to allow and empower the president’s divisive, and perhaps illegal behavior.