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“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,” said Stephen Ryan, Cohen’s attorney. “I have been advised by federal prosecutors that the New York action is, in part, a referral by the Office of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.”
Two officials briefed on the raids confirmed the action to ABC News. The U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI declined to comment.
The purpose of the raid remains unclear, but a source close to Cohen said the FBI seized documents related to the Stormy Daniels matter and many other things.
President Trump reacted to news at a meeting with senior military leadership at the White House on Monday evening, describing the raid as a break-in to reporters and calling it “a disgraceful situation” and “a total witch hunt.”
Cohen has come under scrutiny after acknowledging that he made a $130,000 payment to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels as she was shopping her story of an alleged affair with Trump in 2006 to major media outlets shortly before the 2016 election. Daniels filed a lawsuit against Trump in March arguing that the so-called hush agreement, the existence of which was first revealed by The Wall Street Journal, is invalid because Trump never signed it.
Cohen has said that he paid the $130,000 out of his own pocket and that neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign were involved in the transaction. Trump recently denied any knowledge of the payment and referred inquiries to Cohen, but Daniel’s attorney Michael Avenatti continues to insist that Trump “absolutely knew” about the agreement.
“We very much look forward to testing the truthfulness of Mr. Trump’s feigned lack of knowledge concerning the $130k payment as stated on Air Force One,” Avenatti wrote on Twitter following Trump’s comments. “As history teaches us, it is one thing to deceive the press and quite another to do so under oath.
Ryan objected to the raid, which he said could intrude on privileged communications between Cohen and his legal 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. “It resulted in the unnecessary seizure of protected attorney client communications between a lawyer and his clients.”
Squire Patton Boggs, one of the firms whose office was raided on Monday, released a statement indicating that Cohen no longer works at the firm, though it is unclear when Cohen and the firm parted ways.
“The firm’s arrangement with Mr. Cohen reached its conclusion, mutually and in accordance with the terms of the agreement,” the statement reads. “We have been in contact with Federal authorities regarding their execution of a warrant relating to Mr. Cohen. These activities do not relate to the firm and we are in full cooperation.”
One official told ABC News that Justice Department lawyers were well aware they would have special legal hurdles to deal with by seizing attorney-client records. It’s not an issue that’s taken lightly and was certainly not an oversight, the official said.
Cohen has also been questioned by lawmakers as part of a separate congressional probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. During that questioning, sources have told ABC News, Cohen was asked about a proposal pitched to the Trump Organization during the 2016 campaign to pursue development of a Moscow tower bearing Trump’s name.
In decrying the Monday raid, Ryan revealed that Cohen has already spoken to the government “under oath” but did not detail the context of those meetings.
“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,” Ryan said in a statement