FBI officials who raided the office and residences of President Donald Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen this week specifically sought his communications with Trump, an indication that investigators are scrutinizing the role of the then-candidate in 2016.
In their search warrant, federal investigators asked Cohen to turn over any communications the two men had about a 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape that captured Trump boasting about grabbing women’s body parts, according to a person familiar with the investigation. The recording surfaced weeks before the 2016 election.
Investigators also sought any communications Cohen had with Trump and campaign aides about “potential sources of negative publicity” in the lead-up to the election, the person said.
The warrant indicates that federal prosecutors may be examining interactions Trump might have had with his longtime attorney about tamping down unflattering stories as he sought to win the White House. At the time, Cohen was a top lawyer at the Trump Organization and not formally affiliated with the campaign.
White House officials declined to comment. Stephen Ryan, an attorney for Cohen, did not respond to requests for comment. He has called the raids “inappropriate and unnecessary” and said prosecutors improperly obtained privileged information.
The interest in Cohen’s communications with Trump suggests that the investigation is delving into the president’s actions, legal experts said. “If they’re specifically going after communications between the president and Cohen, it confirms the investigation does relate to the president in some way,” said Randall Eliason, who teaches white-collar criminal law at George Washington University Law School.
Trump has expressed fury that prosecutors could have obtained communications he had with his lawyer, posting on Twitter this week, “Attorney-client privilege is dead!” Legal experts said Trump’s communications with Cohen that do not involve seeking legal advice would not be covered by that protection. Prosecutors can also obtain privileged communications between an attorney and client if they have evidence those interactions further a crime or fraud.
“In the process of asking for that, they have to demonstrate why it is likely evidence of a crime,” said Jennifer Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor who is executive director of Columbia Law School’s Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity.
The investigation of Cohen, which was referred by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, appears to be focused in part on the lawyer’s involvement with payments made to two women who alleged affairs with Trump.
Cohen has acknowledged paying $130,000 to Stormy Daniels, who said she had a sexual encounter with Trump and signed a nondisclosure agreement promising not to discuss the matter. Cohen has insisted there was no relationship, but that he sought to keep a damaging story from emerging regardless.
Prosecutors are investigating whether Cohen engaged in bank fraud, wire fraud and violations of campaign finance law. It is unclear what role, if any, Cohen played in the “Access Hollywood” recording.
In the tape, Trump is heard bragging in vulgar terms about groping and kissing women without their consent.
“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump says in the video, speaking to “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush. “You can do anything.”
The recording was an outtake from a segment that the entertainment-news program shot in 2005 when Trump had a cameo on “Days of Our Lives.” Trump, who at the time was starring on NBC’s “The Apprentice,” was making a guest appearance — playing himself — on the NBC soap opera.
The Post revealed the existence of the recording on Oct. 7, 2016.
On that day, Trump first sought to play down the comments as “locker-room banter,” but later that night he apologized for his remarks.
Cohen had no formal role on the campaign, and Trump and his top campaign aides sought to limit his involvement. Still, Cohen was able to fill certain political voids, and he raised money for the campaign and later for Trump’s inaugural committee.
Perhaps equally significant for Trump was Cohen’s presence on television, particularly after the “Access Hollywood” tape, when the candidate had few defenders.
“I have never heard Mr. Trump say anything even remotely close to the statements that I heard,” Cohen said about the tape in one appearance on CNN. “When I first heard that there was a tape that was going to be coming out, I said it’s got to be fake because — and I spend thousands of hours with Mr. Trump a year. And I can tell you I have never heard him say anything, anything even close to that.”
The New York Times contributed to this report.