The FBI raided the office of Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and confidant, Michael Cohen, on Monday seizing records related to the $130,000 payment he made to porn star Stormy Daniels days before the election, Cohen’s lawyer confirms to PEOPLE.
A White House official tells CNN that Trump, with whom Daniels alleges a sexual relationship that the payment was meant to cover up, had been watching TV reports of the FBI raid and knew about it before the news broke.
“So I just heard they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys. It’s a disgraceful situation. It’s a total witch hunt,” the president told the White House press pool at the start of an afternoon meeting with military leaders.
“I’ve given over a million pages in documents to the special counsel. They continue to just go forward and here we are talking about Syria, we’re talking about a lot of serious things and I have this witch hunt constantly going on … . When I saw this, when I heard about it, that is a whole new level of unfairness.”
Also among the documents seized were privileged communications between Cohen and his clients, including those with Trump, a person familiar with the investigators’ work tells The Washington Post. Cohen’s computer, phone and personal financial records were seized during the search of his office at Rockefeller Center, this person tells the Post.
The raid, which was first reported by The New York Times, came after federal prosecutors obtained a search warrant following a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller, according to Stephen Ryan, an attorney for Cohen. Ryan, in a statement to PEOPLE, called the search “completely inappropriate and unnecessary.”
“Today the U.S. 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,” Ryan said in the statement. A spokesman for the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District declined to comment to PEOPLE.
Ryan said he was advised by federal prosecutors “that the New York action is, in part, a referral by the Office of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.” Cohen himself did not immediately return PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels
The New York Times reports that the search does not appear to be directly related to Mueller’s investigation, but likely resulted from information he had uncovered and gave to prosecutors in New York.
Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, said in a Tweet regarding the raid: “An enormous amount of misplaced faith has been placed on MC’s shoulders IMO. If he does not hold up, this could end very very badly for DJT and others.” MC and DJT appear to be referencing Cohen and Trump, respectively, by their initials.
The payment to Daniels was made just days before the 2016 election, and she claims it was hush money to keep her quiet about the affair. Cohen has admitted making the payment, but denies it broke any campaign finance laws.
Trump denied for the first time last week knowing about the payment and told reporters: “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. You’ll have to ask Michael.”
Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen
Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, filed a lawsuit in March claiming that a nondisclosure agreement she signed regarding the alleged affair is invalid because Trump never signed it.
Avenatti on Sunday filed a renewed motion to depose Trump and Cohen over the payment. Avenatti announced the filing over Twitter:
Avenatti also seeks an expedited trial in Daniels’ case to void the NDA.
Earlier Sunday, Avenatti tweeted a photo of a forensics expert believed to be working with Daniels to identify the individual she claims threatened her and her infant daughter in 2011 with physical violence if Daniels didn’t keep quiet about the affair with Trump:
Monday’s action by federal agents appears to be extensive. Vanity Fair reports that a hotel room at the Loews Regency on the Upper East Side, where Cohen has been staying, was also raided, while ABC News reports that his home was searched. (It’s not clear whether his hotel room and his home are different locations.)