President Donald Trump on Monday night denounced a search of his personal attorney Michael Cohen’s office as an “attack on our country” following reports that Manhattan federal prosecutors had seized privileged materials from the lawyer who made a payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.
Trump’s comments followed disclosure of the raid earlier in the day by Stephen Ryan, Cohen’s lawyer. Cohen has been embroiled in the Russia probe and is under scrutiny for making a $130,000 payment to keep Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, from revealing what she said was an affair with Trump.
Speaking to reporters before a scheduled meeting with military advisers, Trump said of the raid, “It’s an attack on our country . . . what we all stand for.” He also called it “a disgraceful situation” and said, “I have this witch hunt constantly going on.”
The nature of the probe was not disclosed, and Manhattan prosecutors declined to comment. But Ryan Monday afternoon said it was partly based on a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller, and complained that Cohen had cooperated with investigations swirling around Trump.
“The decision by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York to conduct the 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.”
The aggressive targeting of Cohen — whose office, home and hotel room were searched, according to news reports — could open up a new set of legal perils for Trump, whom Mueller already is scrutinizing in his probe of Russia’s role in the 2016 election.
Cohen’s payment to Clifford to keep quiet in the days before the 2016 election has led to questions about whether it should have been reported as an election expenditure. Trump has said he didn’t know about the payment.
Cohen also has faced questions in the Russia probe, including events surrounding a proposal for a “Trump Tower Moscow” project he worked on for the Trump Organization in 2015 and early 2016. Cohen has said the project went nowhere and was unrelated to Trump’s candidacy.
The Associated Press reported that some documents seized Monday related to the payment to Clifford, but the breadth of materials taken wasn’t clear. Legal experts said that in a law office search prosecutors use a special team to insulate privileged communications with clients, but materials involving crime and fraud aren’t privileged.
“This process is always very contentious and often heavily litigated,” said Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, a white-collar defense lawyer with the Manhattan firm, Dorsey & Whitney.
In his comments Monday night, Trump was asked about why he hadn’t followed through on past threats to fire Mueller. He responded, “We’ll see what happens.”
Trump also repeated complaints about being probed while prosecutors never charged Hillary Clinton over her email practices as secretary of state.
“They’re not looking at the other side, they’re not looking at Hillary Clinton,” Trump said. “ . . . They’re only looking at us.”