Federal investigators wiretapped phone lines of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen: NBC

US President Donald Trump did not initially know that his personal lawyer had paid $130,000 to adult-film star Stormy Daniels but later learned about the payment, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Thursday.
Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen (centre) leaving court in New York on April 26, 2018.
Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen (centre) leaving court in New York on April 26, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Federal investigators wiretapped the phone lines of US President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen before the FBI seized records and documents in a raid last month on his offices, hotel room and home, NBC News reported on Thursday (May 3).

NBC, citing sources familiar with legal proceedings involving Cohen, said it was unclear how long the wiretap had been authorised, but it was in place in the weeks before the April 9 raids in New York targeting the lawyer.

At least one call between a phone line associated with Cohen and the White House was intercepted, NBC quoted one source as saying.

The raids were part of a federal criminal investigation of Cohen in New York in part over a US$130,000 (S$170,000) payment he made to adult film star Stormy Daniels a month before the 2016 US presidential election to keep her quiet about a sexual encounter she said she had with Trump in 2006.

Earlier on Tuesday, Trump said on Twitter that Cohen was reimbursed for that payment through a monthly retainer, not campaign funds, to stop “false and extortionist accusations” Daniels has made about a sexual relationship with the president.

The wiretapping of Cohen, if confirmed, would represent the latest ominous development for Trump, who faces legal difficulties on several fronts.

The investigation of Cohen is an offshoot of the ongoing probe by US Special Counsel Robert Mueller into potential collusion between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia and whether Trump has unlawfully sought to obstruct the investigation. Russia and Trump deny any collusion.

Daniels also has filed two lawsuits against Trump.

It was not immediately clear when the warrant for surveillance was obtained or what evidence the Federal Bureau of Investigation had to support its request.

Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor who is a member of Trump’s legal team, told the Washington Post that, if true, the wiretaps would be “not appropriate,” according to a Twitter post by a Post reporter.

“You mean, I call up my lawyer and the government is wiretapping him?” Giuliani asked in comments to the Post.

“...They’ve already eviscerated the attorney-client privilege. This would make a mockery of it.”

Attorney-client privilege generally shields communications between a lawyer and a client.

Giuliani did not immediately return a call for comment from Reuters.

A spokesman for the Manhattan US Attorney’s office, which is handling the Cohen investigation, declined to comment.

Cohen and a lawyer for him did not immediately respond to requests for comment.