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FBI raids office of Trump lawyer who paid off Stormy Daniels

Michael Cohen paid $130,000 to the adult film actress shortly before the 2016 presidential election.

FBI agents on Monday raided the office of longtime Trump lawyer Michael D. Cohen, in search of documents related to a payment he made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in 2016. (CREDIT: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
FBI agents on Monday raided the office of longtime Trump lawyer Michael D. Cohen, in search of documents related to a payment he made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in 2016. (CREDIT: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

FBI agents raided the office of longtime Trump lawyer Michael D. Cohen on Monday. The property seized includes documents related to a $130,000 payment he made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, a.k.a. Stephanie Clifford, just before the 2016 presidential election.

According to The New York Times, the raid was instigated following a referral from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. The Times report specifies that the raid “does not appear to be directly related to Mr. Mueller’s investigation” but more likely was the result of information Mueller separately gave to prosecutors in New York.

Other items seized during the raid included personal emails, tax documents, and business records, a person with knowledge of the investigation told the Times.

Vanity Fair‘s Emily Jane Fox also reported on Monday afternoon that the FBI had raided Cohen’s hotel room at the Loews Regency on Park Avenue in New York, with a handful of agents present at the scene for several hours. According to CBS’ Pat Milton, agents additionally stormed the lawyer’s New York residence in search of documents and “other material” as specified in a court warrant.

Cohen’s attorney blasted the raid as inappropriate, in a statement shortly after the news broke.

“The decision by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York to conduct their investigation using search warrants is completely inappropriate and unnecessary,” attorney Stephen Ryan said. “It resulted in the seizure of protected attorney client communications between a lawyer and his clients. These government tactics are also wrong because Mr. Cohen has cooperated completely with all government entities, including providing thousands of non-privileged documents to the Congress and sitting for depositions under oath.”

Cohen’s role in the Stormy Daniels controversy stems back to October 2016, when Cohen made a $130,000 payment to the actress, reportedly as part of a signed non-disclosure agreement that barred Daniels from speaking out about an alleged affair she’d had with President Trump in July 2006, a year after he married his third wife, Melania. Daniels and her lawyer have since claimed that the NDA is moot because it was signed by Cohen on behalf of the third-party LLC that he set up to pay the actress. Trump did not sign the document himself.

As the Wall Street Journal reported in January, Cohen, a top Trump Organization lawyer, later denied that any such affair had taken place, but admitted to making the payment out of his own pocket.

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Since that time, the controversy has exploded: in March, NBC News reported that Cohen had used his personal Trump Organization email to facilitate payment arrangements with Daniels. According to a source with knowledge of the investigation, Cohen also used that email address to correspond with Daniels about the NDA during the election. That same month, Cohen told ABC News that he had used his home-equity line of credit to arrange the $130,00 payment.

“The funds were taken from my home-equity line and transferred internally to my LLC account in the same bank,” he said at the time.

Monday’s FBI raid may signal that federal officials now have access to documents which could prove any of the alleged links between Cohen, Daniels, and possibly Trump, if they exist, though Cohen maintains that the president had no part in the matter.

Later in March, Brent Blakely, a lawyer for Cohen, sent a cease and desist letter to Daniels after the actress appeared on 60 Minutes. In the letter, Blakely claimed that Daniels had defamed Cohen in the interview by suggesting he had threatened her not to go public about the affair back in 2011. Daniels, however, never made such a claim, as transcripts later showed, although the actress did recount an instance in which a man confronted her into a parking lot in Las Vegas, threatening her and her infant daughter unless she agreed to “forget the story.”

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On Monday afternoon, Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, weighed in on the FBI raid, saying he had predicted things would only get worse for Cohen during an interview with MSNBC last week.

“An enormous amount of misplaced faith has been placed on [Michael Cohen’s] shoulders IMO,” he tweeted Monday. “If he does not hold up, this could end very very badly for [President Trump] and others.”

Cohen’s part in the special counsel’s ongoing Russia investigation is more murky: in January 2017, Cohen’s name appeared in the now-infamous Steele Dossier, which contained allegations of conspiracy and misconduct between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. The document, compiled between June and December 2016, alleged that Cohen traveled to Prague in August 2016 to meet with Russian agents and “clean up the mess,” in an attempt “to prevent the full details of Trump’s relationship with Russia being exposed.”

Cohen has repeatedly denied that he ever made the trip. As Vanity Fair noted, in January this year, Cohen filed defamation lawsuits against both Fusion GPS, the opposition firm which commissioned the dossier, and BuzzFeed News, which published the dossier online, claiming he had “sustained significant financial and reputational damages.”

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This article was updated to correct and clarify that Monday’s FBI raid was based on information Special Counsel Mueller gave to prosecutors in New York, rather than information from Cohen.