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Trump Blasts 'Total Witch Hunt' After FBI Raids His Longtime Attorney's Office

Apr 9, 2018
Originally published on April 10, 2018 12:53 pm

Updated at 8:15 p.m. ET

President Trump unloaded on both Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, hours after federal agents raided the office of Trump's longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen.

"It's a disgraceful situation. It's a total witch hunt," Trump said on Monday. "When I saw this, when I heard about it, that is a whole new level of unfairness."

It was not immediately clear why investigators targeted Cohen, but Cohen's lawyer said the raids followed a referral from Mueller. The New York Times, which first reported the raid, said that it does not appear as though the Cohen search was directly linked to the Russia investigation.

The Times and the Washington Post reported Cohen is under investigation for possible bank fraud.

Nonetheless, a visibly agitated Trump, speaking to reporters before he met with military and national security officials about the ongoing situation in Syria, put blame on Mueller and Sessions.

Trump called Mueller's team, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and any potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, "the most biased group of people."

"These people have the biggest conflicts of interest I have ever seen. Democrats — all. Either Democrats or a couple of Republicans who worked for President Obama," Trump said. Mueller is a Republican, and the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York was appointed in January.

As to whether he would fire Mueller, Trump gave his frequently used "we'll see what happens" response, reiterating that he believed that the investigation was "a pure and simple witch hunt" that should have been wrapped up long ago.

"Why don't I just fire Mueller? Well, I think it's a disgrace what's going on. We'll see what happens," Trump said.

The president went on to attack Sessions — his own appointee — for recusing himself from the Russia investigation in March 2017. The recusal put Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in charge of the probe, and he appointed Mueller in May.

"The attorney general made a terrible mistake when he did this and when [he] recused himself or he certainly should have let us know if he was going to recuse himself and we would have put a different attorney general in," Trump said. "So he made what I consider to be a very terrible mistake for the country. But you'll figure that out."

Cohen's attorney Stephen Ryan argued the FBI had overstepped its bounds in seizing "privileged communications" between Cohen and his clients.

"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 in a statement.

He continued: "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 non-privileged documents to the Congress and sitting for depositions under oath."

Michael Moore, a former U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, told NPR that for investigators, "the possibility of evidence destruction is likely at the forefront of their concern."

"Remember that they are also gathering evidence and testimony from other sources, so they may already be in possession of corroborating evidence," Moore said. "That's what makes this move in the investigation so interesting. For example, there is a reason that search warrants were issued for the particular locations."

The FBI, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York and the special counsel's office declined to comment on the search.

Cohen has worked for Trump for many years and is closely tied in with many of his business and personal matters.

For example, Cohen has admitted he paid adult film actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 just weeks before the 2016 election. Daniels called that part of a concerted effort to stop her from going public about what she says was a 2006 tryst with Trump.

The president denies any liaison with Daniels and denies he knew about the payment. Trump told reporters on Air Force One recently to ask Cohen about it.

The president also said he didn't know where Cohen got the $130,000 to give to Daniels. Cohen has said he used his own "personal funds."

Cohen also was the point of contact between the Trump Organization and government officials in Russia at a time when Trump wanted to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Cohen acknowledged sending an email to Russian President Vladimir Putin's personal spokesman to ask about starting discussions about a major new real estate project in the Russian capital — discussions that Cohen said never got underway.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

We learned late this afternoon that federal agents have gone into the office of President Trump's longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen. This was confirmed by Cohen's attorney. President Trump called the raid a disgraceful situation. NPR's Ryan Lucas is covering this and joins us now.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.

KELLY: All right, you've got your hands on a statement from Michael Cohen's attorney confirming this FBI raid. What does the statement say?

LUCAS: Well, Cohen's lawyer is a man by the name of Stephen Ryan. And in this statement - provided some greater detail as to what exactly transpired today. So he says the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York executed a number of search warrants against Cohen today. This would have been in New York. He says that federal agents seized what he called privileged communications between Cohen and his clients. Remember here that one individual that Cohen works with is of course President Trump.

KELLY: Sure.

LUCAS: And interestingly, Ryan says that he was advised that the raids are in part, quote, "a referral by the Office of the special counsel." That's Robert Mueller. He says that these...

KELLY: So the Russia probe.

LUCAS: Well...

KELLY: Maybe.

LUCAS: Maybe - we don't know yet. There's a lot of stuff to clear up here. So Cohen's attorney, Stephen Ryan, said these raids were inappropriate and unnecessary. He says the tactics are wrong, says that Cohen has cooperated completely with the government and government investigators, that he's provided documents and has sat for depositions. At the moment, the U.S. Attorney's Office is not commenting. So the only confirmation that we have, of course, is from Cohen's attorney.

KELLY: Is this one statement. Michael Cohen, of course, has worked for Trump for many years from well before his, you know, election as president and ascension to the White House. Michael Cohen knows a lot. I mean, remind us of the background here.

LUCAS: Well, as you said, Cohen has worked for the president for a long time. It's a very close relationship. Cohen has actually been quoted in the press at one point as saying that he misses the sort of daily interaction that he used to have with President Trump - longtime personal lawyer for the president, worked for The Trump Organization as well, almost seems to act as a fixer for the president.

He's been, you know, tied up in a lot of business affairs as well as kind of personal business of the president over the years. And, of course, he's tied into the Russia investigation through his work for The Trump Organization and talks that were ongoing in late 2015, early 2016 about a possible Trump Tower in Moscow. That deal ultimately collapsed.

KELLY: Now, the reason Michael Cohen has been in the headlines a lot recently is a totally different thing. This is the Stormy Daniels matter, the allegations of an affair between Stormy Daniels, adult film actress, and President Trump, allegations that the president has denied. But is there a sense that this raid today has anything to do with that matter?

LUCAS: Right now there's not a lot of clarity as to what exactly it relates to. It could be the Stormy Daniels threat. It could be something tied up with the special counsel's Russia investigation. It could be something else. We don't know at this point. The FBI has not commented on this. There's been no comment from the U.S. Attorney's Office. And of course in Stephen Ryan's statement - that's Michael Cohen's lawyer - there wasn't clarity as to what exactly it was tied to.

So that will hopefully become clearer over time. But there are a lot of various threats here. You mentioned Stormy Daniels, of course the alleged $130,000 payment that Michael Cohen made to her. And that, of course, is tied up in the courts now.

KELLY: The question that's also on my mind is the why question. Michael Cohen's lawyer says Cohen has been cooperating. He's handed over thousands of documents already. If that's true, why would the FBI need to do a raid?

LUCAS: Well, there may have been concerns about potential destruction of evidence. If this is indeed about attorney-client privileged communications, that takes us to another level. Various possibilities here, but there's not - again, not a lot of clarity at this point. Hopefully more details will come out as the evening and days of this week proceed.

KELLY: And we shall wait for you to bring them to us. That's NPR's Ryan Lucas reporting on this FBI raid today targeting President Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen. Thanks a lot.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.