Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein personally gave the green light for the FBI to raid the hotel room and office of President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen on Monday, The New York Times first reported.
Rosenstein oversees special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election. The Cohen raid came, in part, from a referral from Mueller’s team.
The raid was executed by the office of the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. The man running that office, interim U.S. attorney Geoffrey Berman, is a Trump appointee whom the president personally met with when he was up for the job. Berman also donated $5,400 to Trump’s presidential campaign.
ABC News reported Tuesday that Berman, however, has been recused from the Cohen matter.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office would not comment on Berman’s role or whether there was an investigation into Cohen at all.
Trump was clearly furious about the news that the FBI had raided Cohen’s office and hotel room.
“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.
Although Trump has repeatedly declared that he subject to a partisan “witch hunt,” Rosenstein is a Republican. (Trump, inaccurately, has claimed he is a “Democrat from Baltimore” and has considered firing him.) Mueller and Christopher Wray, the head of the FBI, are also Republicans.
The root of Trump’s frustration lies with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump expected Sessions to protect him, and he has never forgiven him for recusing himself from all matters related to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. That decision left Rosenstein ― a man who is harder for Trump to control ― in charge of the investigation.
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.”
The Washington Post reported Monday that Cohen is under federal investigation for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations. The FBI was looking for documents about payments to two women who say they had affairs with Trump, according to The New York Times.
Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model, said she was paid $150,000 in 2016 by the parent company of the National Enquirer not to discuss the situation. That company is run by a longtime Trump friend.
Cohen has acknowledged paying adult film star Stormy Daniels $130,000 shortly before the election. Daniels has said the money was to keep her from talking about the sexual relationship she claims she had with Trump in 2006. The president has said he knew nothing about the payment.
Berman has served as interim U.S. attorney since January. 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.
CORRECTION: The headline of a previous version of this story indicated that Berman was behind the raid. The story has been updated to reflect subsequent reporting indicating Rosenstein signed off on it and Berman reportedly had been recused from the matter.