WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump reprised his angry attacks on law enforcement on Tuesday following FBI raids targeting his personal lawyer that were related to a federal investigation into possible collusion by Trump campaign aides with Moscow.
In two brief Twitter messages, Trump lamented that “attorney-client privilege is dead,” and denounced a “total witch hunt,” apparently restating his long-held view of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. He did not elaborate.
FBI agents executed a series of search warrants on Michael Cohen’s office and home on Monday, law enforcement officials said. One source said Cohen was under investigation for activity including possible bank and tax fraud and possible campaign law violations.
The raids, which Trump denounced on Monday as disgraceful, were a dramatic new development in a series of probes involving close Trump associates.
The investigations have dogged Trump since he took office last year, prompting him to publicly criticize Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, and to suggest periodically that he might try to have Mueller dismissed.
Cohen’s lawyer, Stephen M. Ryan, said on Monday that prosecutors seized communications between Cohen and his clients based in part on a referral by Mueller. The special counsel was appointed by the Justice Department last year to investigate alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election and potential collusion by Trump’s campaign.
The attorney-client privilege Trump referred to is intended to encourage open communications between lawyers and their clients, so that lawyers can provide sound legal advice. But the privilege is not absolute, and there is an exception for communications made to further a crime.
Cohen has come under scrutiny over a $130,000 payment he made shortly before the 2016 election to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, who has said that she once had sex with Trump and was paid to keep quiet about it. Last week, Trump said he did not know about the payment.
“A well-regarded Republican appointed US Atty (attorney) obtaining valid search warrants, approved by a judge, that are then … carried out by career, upstanding FBI agents doing their job to search for the truth is NOT A WITCH HUNT. Period,” said Michael Avenatti, a lawyer for Daniels.
Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, has sued Cohen to be released from a nondisclosure agreement over the alleged 2006 liaison with Trump.
Monday’s events renewed concerns that Trump could try to have Mueller removed, which critics have said would amount to interference in the investigation.
“The raid is seismic,” Democratic U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal told MSNBC on Tuesday, adding that such searches by the Federal Bureau of Investigation indicate the possibility that a crime was committed.
Ryan said on Monday the raid was inappropriate and that his client has cooperated with all government authorities.
Moscow has denied U.S. intelligence agencies’ findings that it meddled in the 2016 presidential campaign and sought to tilt the race in Trump’s favor. Trump has denied any collusion by his campaign.
Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Frances Kerry