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FBI raid on Cohen focused on payoffs to women claiming affairs with Trump

Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general.
Pete Marovich/The New York Times
Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general.

WASHINGTON — The FBI agents who raided the office of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Monday were looking for records about payments to two women who claim they had affairs with Trump, and information related to the publisher of The National Enquirer’s role in silencing one of the women, several people briefed on the investigation said.

The search warrant carried out by the public corruption unit of the New York City federal attorney’s office seeks information about Karen McDougal, an ex-Playboy model who claims she carried on a nearly yearlong affair with Trump shortly after the birth of his son in 2006. McDougal was paid $150,000 by American Media Inc., the Enquirer’s parent company, whose chief executive is a friend of Trump’s.

Agents were also searching Michael D. Cohen’s office for information related to Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, who says she also had sex with Trump while he was married. Cohen has acknowledged that he paid Clifford $130,000 as part of a nondisclosure agreement to secure her silence just days before the 2016 presidential election.

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Cohen’s lawyer, Stephen Ryan, on Monday called the raids “inappropriate and unnecessary.” In an email on Tuesday, he referred back to that statement.

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Rod Rosenstein, the veteran Republican prosecutor hand-picked by Trump to serve as deputy attorney general, personally signed off on Monday’s FBI decision to raid the office of Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney and longtime confidant, several government officials said.

The early-morning searches enraged Trump, associates said, setting off an angry public tirade Monday evening that continued in private at the White House as the president fumed about whether he should fire Rosenstein. The episode has deeply unsettled White House aides, Justice Department officials and lawmakers from both parties, who believe the president may use it as a pretext to purge the team leading the investigation into Russia meddling in the 2016 election.

Trump’s advisers have spent the last 24 hours trying to convince the president not to make an impulsive decision that could put the president in more legal jeopardy and ignite a controversy that could consume his presidency, several people close to Trump said. The president began Tuesday morning with a pair of angry tweets, calling the raids “A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!” and venting that “attorney–client privilege is dead!”