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FBI raids offices, home of Trump personal lawyer

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WASHINGTON — The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Monday raided the offices and home of US President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen, law enforcement sources said, in a dramatic new development in a series of probes involving close Trump associates.

Mr. Cohen’s lawyer, Stephen M. Ryan, said that US prosecutors conducted a search that was partly a referral by the Office of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.

Mr. Mueller is investigating whether members of Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with Russia during the US presidential election. Mr. Trump has called the probe a “witch hunt” and denied any collusion.

The raid could increase legal pressure on the president, because it involves the records of his longtime attorney and indicates a second center of investigations in Manhattan, alongside Mr. Mueller’s Washington-based probe.

Mr. Cohen has been at the center of a controversy over a $130,000 payment he has admitted making shortly before the 2016 election to porn star Stormy Daniels, who has said that she had sex once with Mr. Trump in 2006 and was paid to keep quiet about it.

“It’s a disgraceful situation. It’s a total witch hunt. I’ve been saying it for a long time,” Mr. Trump said at the opening of a meeting with military and national security advisers to discuss Syria.

Mr. Trump cannot fire Mr. Mueller directly, but he could order Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the special counsel’s probe, to end it, or Mr. Trump could fire Mr. Rosenstein if he refuses.

In a Tweet, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer warned Mr. Trump against interfering.

“If @realDonaldTrump is thinking of using the FBI raid to fire Special Counsel Mueller or otherwise interfere with the chain of command in the Russia probe, we Democrats have one simple message for him: don’t,” Mr. Schumer said.

Under federal regulations, if Mr. Mueller comes across information that is not directly related to his Russia-focused investigation, he must confer with Mr. Rosenstein. Mr. Rosenstein could direct Mr. Mueller to either investigate the issue himself or refer it to another law enforcement authority.

The raids were first reported by The New York Times.

“Today, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York executed a series of search warrants and seized the privileged communications between my client, Michael Cohen, and his clients,” Mr. Ryan said in a statement. “I have been advised by federal prosecutors that the New York action is, in part, a referral by the Office of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.”

Federal prosecutors are investigating Mr. Cohen for possible bank and tax fraud, and for possible campaign law violation in connection with the Stormy Daniels payment.

Federal agents also raided a room at the Loews Regency Hotel on Park Avenue in Manhattan where Mr. Cohen has been staying while his apartment is being renovated, The New York Times reported. — Reuters