Federal agents executed "a series of search warrants" on President Donald Trump's longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen on Monday, according to Cohen's lawyer, and prompting outrage from Trump.
"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," Cohen's lawyer, Stephen Ryan, said in a statement. "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."
Trump responded to the news of the searches — calling it "a disgraceful situation" — before meeting with his top military leadership.
"I have this witch hunt constantly going on," the president said, adding, "It's an attack on on our country, in a true sense. It's an attack on what we all stand for."
Referring specifically to the Cohen news, Trump told the assembled pool reporters, "When I saw this, when I heard it ... I said, 'That is really now in a whole new level of unfairness.' ... They raided the office of a personal attorney early in the morning. It's a disgrace. So we'll be talking about it more."
The special counsel's office and the US Attorney's Office in Manhattan declined to comment on the execution of the warrants. The search of Cohen's office was first reported by the New York Times.
In his Monday evening comments, Trump returned to several regular sources of his criticism, calling the Special Counsel's Office "the most conflicted group of people I have ever seen." He also continued his long-standing attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions for having recused himself from the Russia investigation, saying, "he made what I consider to be a very terrible mistake for the country." Trump also said no one "is looking at the other side," referring to his oft-raised interest in Hillary Clinton's deleted emails and "many, many other things."
According to the Wall Street Journal, the office, home, and Manhattan hotel room of Cohen were searched. Multiple outlets, including the New York Times, reported on the office search, and Vanity Fair reported on the hotel search.
"The decision by the US Attorney’s Office in New York to conduct their investigation using search warrants is completely inappropriate and unnecessary," Cohen's lawyer, Ryan, said in his statement. "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."
Cohen, who was a senior lawyer with the Trump Organization until after the election, did not respond to a request for comment.
In recent months, Cohen's name has mainly been in the news in relation to his role in signing a settlement agreement with Stormy Daniels on behalf of the company he set up to pay her $130,000 in exchange for her to stay silent about her alleged relationship more than a decade ago with Trump. Daniels, the adult film star whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, has sued Trump and the company, as well as Cohen, in an attempt to have the agreement tossed out.
According to the US Attorneys' Manual, the set of guidelines for federal prosecutors, seeking a warrant to search an attorney's office is unusual and requires specific standards to be met. Alternative means of obtaining the information must be considered, the warrant application must be approved by the relevant US attorney or assistant attorney general, and the federal prosecutor involved must consult with DOJ's Criminal Division. What's more, if the warrant is relating to the representation of clients, even more restrictions apply — including that Criminal Division authorization is required.
The US attorney for the Southern District of New York is Geoffrey Berman, who was the White House's pick for the important job — but he is not there through the traditional process of a presidential nomination and Senate approval.
Instead, Berman was one of several people Sessions appointed on Jan. 3 to US attorney positions under a law that allows Sessions to appoint US attorneys on an interim basis. Berman can serve in the position on that authority until May 3. A Trump supporter and former law partner at Rudy Giuliani's firm, Berman reportedly met with Trump about the role — but he was never nominated for it, a move that could have faced opposition from the Senate's Democratic leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.
After May 3, the district court for the district — so, the Southern District of New York — has the authority under the law to appoint a US attorney until the vacancy is filled. That appointment could, in theory, be Berman — but there is no guarantee that it would be. Trump, meanwhile, is yet to announce a nominee for the position.
This story has been updated with more information about the current US attorney in the Southern District of New York.
Chris Geidner is a Supreme Court correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Chris Geidner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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