WASHINGTON • Federal agents raided the Rockefeller Centre office and Park Avenue hotel room of President Donald Trump's long-time personal lawyer Michael Cohen on Monday morning, seizing business records, e-mails and documents related to several topics, including a payment to a pornographic film actress.
Mr Trump, in an extraordinarily angry response, lashed out hours later at what a person briefed on the matter said was an investigation into possible bank fraud by Mr Cohen.
Mr Trump accused his own Justice Department of perpetrating a "witch hunt" and asserted that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) "broke into" Mr Cohen's office.
The President, who spoke at the White House before meeting with senior military commanders about a potential missile strike on Syria, called the FBI raid a "disgraceful situation" and an "attack on our country, in a true sense".
The prosecutors obtained the search warrant after receiving a referral from the special counsel in the Russia investigation, Mr Robert Mueller, according to Mr Cohen's lawyer, who called the search "completely inappropriate and unnecessary".
The search does not appear to be directly related to Mr Mueller's investigation, but most likely resulted from information that he had uncovered and given to prosecutors in New York.
In his tirade against the FBI, Mr Trump mused about the possibility that he might soon fire Mr Mueller. Last June, the President vented internally about wanting to fire Mr Mueller, but was talked out of it.
"We'll see what may happen," Mr Trump said on Monday.
"Many people have said you should fire him."
The President once again railed against Mr Jeff Sessions, the Attorney-General, for recusing himself in the Russia inquiry, and blasted the FBI for failing to investigate his former presidential election rival Hillary Clinton, "where there are crimes".
He criticised Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Russia investigation, and called Mr Mueller's team "the most biased group of people", who he said were mostly Democrats and some Republicans who had worked for former president Barack Obama.
"That is really now on a whole new level of unfairness," Mr Trump said.
Resuming his attack yesterday, the President lamented in two brief Twitter messages that "attorney-client privilege is dead" and denounced a "total witch hunt".
The payment to the pornographic film actress, Ms Stephanie Clifford, who is known as Stormy Daniels, is only one of many topics being investigated, according to a person briefed on the search. The FBI also seized e-mails, tax documents and business records, according to a person briefed on the matter.
Agents raided the space Mr Cohen uses in the Rockefeller Centre office of the law firm Squire Patton Boggs, as well as a room he is staying in at the Loews Regency Hotel in Park Avenue while his apartment is undergoing renovation, the person said.
To obtain a search warrant, prosecutors must convince a federal judge that agents are likely to discover evidence of criminal activity. The searches are a significant intrusion by prosecutors into the dealings of one of Mr Trump's closest confidants.
Mr Mueller is also probing a US$150,000 (S$196,600) payment Ukrainian billionaire steel magnate Victor Pinchuk made during the United States presidential campaign to the Donald J. Trump Foundation for the American real estate developer to give a 20-minute speech via video link.
NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS