NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — It was a busy day in the White House Monday, as President Donald Trump met with military advisors to strategize about a possible strike on Syria after this weekend’s suspected deadly chemical attack.
Trump also lashed out after federal agents carrying court-authorized search warrants seized documents from his personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
That’s according to a statement from Cohen’s attorney, Stephen Ryan. He says the search warrants were executed by the office of the U.S. Attorney for Southern District of New York but they are “in part” related to special counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation.
“The decision by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York to conduct their investigation using search warrants is completely inappropriate and unnecessary,” Ryan said in a statement. “It resulted in the unnecessary seizure of protected attorney client communications between a lawyer and his clients.”
The move ignited the president’s anger, with Trump calling it a “disgrace” that federal agents “broke into” the office of his personal attorney. He also called special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation “an attack on our country.”
“It’s a total witch hunt I’ve been saying it for a long time,” Trump said.
The raid creates a new legal headache for Trump even as he and his attorneys weigh whether to agree to an interview with Mueller’s team, which in addition to investigating potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign is also examining whether the president’s actions constitute obstruction of justice.
The president was also asked if he would fire the special counsel, offering only “we’ll see” in response.
The law enforcement action will almost certainly amplify the public scrutiny on the payment to the actress, Stormy Daniels, which was made just days before the 2016 presidential election. Trump told reporters last week that he did not know about the payment.
Still, the existence of a referral from Mueller’s office to the Manhattan U.S. Attorney suggests that the matter isn’t related to Russia.
Under Justice Department regulations, Mueller is required to consult with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein when his investigators uncover new evidence that may fall outside his original mandate. Rosenstein then will determine whether to allow Mueller to proceed or to assign the matter to another U.S. attorney or another part of the Justice Department.
A spokesman for Mueller’s office did not immediately return a call seeking comment. The U.S. attorney’s office also had no comment.
Ryan did not elaborate on the documents that were taken from Cohen’s office but said he has cooperated with investigators, including meeting last summer with lawmakers looking into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Cohen has more recently attracted attention for his acknowledgment that he paid Daniels $130,000 out of his own pocket just days before the 2016 presidential election. Cohen has said neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Daniels and he was not reimbursed for the payment.
Trump answered questions about Daniels for the first time last week, saying he had no knowledge of the payment made by Cohen and he didn’t know where Cohen had gotten the money. The White House has consistently said Trump denies the affair.
Daniels has said she had sex with the president in 2006. She has been suing to invalidate the nondisclosure agreement she signed before the election and has offered to return the $130,000 she was paid in order to “set the record straight.”
Daniels argues the agreement is legally invalid because it was signed by only Daniels and Cohen, and was not signed by Trump.
Last month, Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, sent letters to the Trump Organization demanding the business preserve all of its records relating to the $130,000 transaction. The letter demanded they preserve all emails by Cohen that mention Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, as well as any emails and text messages related to the alleged relationship. He sent similar demand letters to two banks — City National and First Republic — asking they preserve documents connected to the transaction.
Avenatti also enclosed an email showing Cohen had used his Trump Organization email address in correspondence with a representative from First Republic. In the email, the representative said funds had been deposited in Cohen’s account.
Agents searched Cohen’s residence and office, a person familiar with the matter told CBS News.
Cohen is Trump’s longtime personal lawyer. He has been under heavy public scrutiny in recent months for his payment of $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels, who claims to have had an affair with Trump in the mid-2000s.
The New York Times first reported on Monday’s raid, which came as the president mulled a possible response to an apparent chemical attack on civilians in Syria by the Assad regime.
“We are very concerned,” Trump said. “When a thing like that can happen — this is about humanity.”
CBS News has not independently verified video which appears to show survivors struggling to breathe after what witnesses say was a chlorine gas attack in the suburbs of Damascus Saturday.
At least 40 people were killed. Russia, the Assad regime’s key ally, says they found no evidence of a gas attack, while the Syrian government has denied involvement.
“Only a monster targets civilians and then ensures there are no ambulances to transfer the wounded,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said.
Trump says all military options are on the table, while Russia’s ambassador to the U.N. warned there would be “grave repercussions” if the United States carries out an attack against Syrian government forces.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)