President Donald Trump was clearly furious Monday about the news that the FBI had raided the office and hotel room of his longtime lawyer Michael Cohen.
“I just heard that they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys ― a good man. And it’s a disgraceful situation. It’s a total witch hunt. I’ve been saying it for a long time,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday evening.
Trump has long maintained that special counsel Robert Mueller needs to end his investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election ― and whether there was collusion with the Trump campaign.
While the Cohen raid came as a referral from Mueller’s team, it was not officially part of his investigation. It was executed by the office of the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. And the man running that office, interim U.S. attorney Geoffrey Berman, is a Trump appointee whom the president personally met with.
Mueller is required to consult with his boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, if he comes across information worth investigating that does not officially fit with his mandate of looking into Russia’s role in the 2016 election. Rosenstein then can refer the matter to a U.S. attorney’s office.
It’s not easy to search a practicing lawyer’s office. As The Washington Post reported, “To serve a search warrant on a practicing attorney, federal prosecutors are required to obtain approval from top Justice Department officials. That means the acting U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Geoffrey S. Berman, … as well as Justice Department officials in Washington, probably signed off.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed Berman to the job in January. Berman has a reputation among his friends and co-workers as a sharp, hard-working lawyer. And he’s certainly not part of any Democratic cabal out to get Trump: He donated $5,400 to Trump’s presidential campaign.
Berman also met personally with Trump when he was up for the job, according to CNN.
Trump fired the previous U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, just three months into his presidency. Bharara rejected Trump’s overtures to establish a direct line of communication, and he told the White House he did not find the contact appropriate. Less than a day later, Trump fired him.
Bharara said that he has confidence that if his old office is handling the investigation into Cohen, it won’t be the partisan hit job the president is trying to claim it is.
“If the reporting is true, particularly the part about this being approved by the Southern District of New York Attorney’s Office, which I used to lead, are all people who are Republican, and all people who have basically been handpicked by Donald Trump,” Bharara said.
The Washington Post reported Monday that Cohen is under federal investigation for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations ― likely in connection with his payment to porn star Stormy Daniels. Cohen has acknowledged paying her $130,000 shortly before the election so that she would not talk about the sexual relationship she claims she had with Trump in 2006.
The president has said he knew nothing about the payment.