President Trump on Monday blasted the FBI for raiding the office of his personal attorney Michael Cohen, calling it a “disgrace” and a “pure and simple witch hunt.”
“It’s a real disgrace,” Trump told reporters at the White House as Vice President Pence, national security adviser John Bolton and other officials looked on. “It’s an attack on our country in a true sense. It’s an attack on what we all stand for.”
The president spoke shortly after an attorney for Cohen announced that federal investigators executed a series of search warrants to seize records from Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer.
The attorney, Stephen Ryan, said federal prosecutors in New York acted on a “referral” from special counsel Robert Mueller.
The fiery comments from Trump immediately led to speculation that the FBI raid on Cohen’s office could lead Trump to take steps to fire Mueller, a step lawmakers in both parties have repeatedly warned the president would lead to a constitutional crisis.
“We’ll see what happens. … Many people have said ‘you should fire him,’ ” Trump said when asked if he will ax Mueller. “Again, they found nothing and in finding nothing, that’s a big statement.”
The special counsel’s office reportedly made the referral with the approval of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, whom Trump criticized for signing a surveillance warrant for his former campaign adviser Carter Page.
If Trump were to try to get rid of Mueller, he would need a signoff from Rosenstein, who oversees the special counsel’s office because of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s decision to recuse himself.
Trump once again took aim at the Russia probe led by Mueller, calling his team “the most biased group of people” for refusing to investigate 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server during her time as secretary of State.
“We’ve had that hanging over us from the very, very beginning,” the president said. “And yet the other side, they’re not even looking. And the other side is where there are crimes, and those crimes are obvious.”
The president was clearly angry and frustrated at the raid, which reportedly seized records on topics that included a $130,000 payment Cohen made to porn star Stormy Daniels, who says she had sex with Trump in 2006.
Trump said last week he was unaware of the payment.
Speaking with his arms folded and shoulders slumped, Trump brought up the raid unprompted during a previously scheduled meeting with military leaders to discuss the apparent chemical weapons attack in Syria. He used the word “disgrace” to describe it at least five times.
The raid is a sign that federal authorities are conducting a criminal investigation involving Cohen, but the focus of the probe remains unclear. The search warrant for the raid of Cohen’s office was approved by the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, which is led by Geoffrey Berman, a Trump appointee.
Watchdog groups have sued the Trump campaign alleging that the payment to Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, may have violated campaign finance laws.
Cohen has also come under scrutiny from investigators looking into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, in part due to his involvement with a failed plan by the Trump Organization to build a tower in Moscow.
Trump repeated his belief that investigators have “found no collusion whatsoever with Russia” and took aim at a wide array of targets he feels are responsible for the probe, including Sessions.
The president said Sessions “made what I consider to be a very terrible mistake for the country” by recusing himself from the Russia probe, a decision that helped lead to the appointment of Mueller.
Monday’s raid underscored how the mounting legal woes surrounding Trump are weighing on the president.
Trump remarked that stocks plunged on Monday afternoon, something he blamed on the news of the Cohen raid. News of the Cohen raid broke 30 minutes after markets closed.
“The stock market dropped a lot today as soon as they heard the noise, you know, of this nonsense that was going on. It dropped a lot. It was up — it was way up. It dropped quite a bit at the end,” he said.
The raid — and Trump’s response to it — also overshadowed his plans to counter the chemical attack in Syria, which killed at least 40 people.
Trump said the attack will be “met forcefully” and indicated a decision will come Monday night.