Donald Trump

FBI monitored Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s phones before raid and intercepted White House call, report says

It was not clear when the warrant for surveillance was obtained or what evidence the FBI had to support its request

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 May, 2018, 3:13am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 May, 2018, 9:41pm

US federal investigators monitored the phone lines of US President Donald Trump’s long-time lawyer, Michael Cohen, before the FBI seized records and documents in a raid last month on his offices, hotel room and home, NBC News reported on Thursday.

At least one of the calls was made between Cohen and the White House, NBC said, citing an unnamed source and adding that it was unclear how long the monitoring had been authorised, but that it was in place in the weeks before the lawyer’s offices and home were raided on April 9 and documents seized.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told a news briefing she could not verify the NBC report and said she had not talked to Trump about the phone monitoring issue.

The initial NBC report said Cohen’s phones had been wiretapped, but later corrected that to say that the FBI was only monitoring the source of calls and weren’t listening in.

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The raids were part of a federal criminal investigation of Cohen in New York in part over a US$130,000 payment he made to adult film star Stormy Daniels a month before the 2016 US presidential election to keep her quiet about a sexual encounter she said she had with Trump in 2006.

Earlier on Tuesday, Trump said on Twitter that Cohen had been reimbursed for that payment through a monthly retainer, not campaign funds, to stop “false and extortionist accusations” Daniels has made about a sexual relationship with the president.

The monitoring of Cohen, if confirmed, could represent the latest ominous development for Trump, who faces legal difficulties on several fronts. 

The New York investigation is an offshoot of the continuing investigation by US special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow. 

Both Russia and Trump deny any wrongdoing. Daniels also has filed two lawsuits against Trump.

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It was not immediately clear when the warrant for surveillance was obtained or what evidence the Federal Bureau of Information had to support its request.

Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and federal prosecutor who is now a lawyer for Trump, told The Washington Post that wiretaps were “not appropriate”, according to a Twitter post by a Post reporter.

“You mean, I call up my lawyer and the government is wiretapping him?” Giuliani asked in comments to the Post. “They’ve already eviscerated the attorney-client privilege. This would make a mockery of it.”

Giuliani did not immediately return a call for comment. A spokesman for the Manhattan US Attorney’s office, which is handling the Cohen investigation, declined to comment. Cohen and a lawyer for him did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Because Cohen is a lawyer, prosecutors likely took multiple steps to address concerns that they might be violating attorney-client privilege, said Christopher Slobogin, a professor of criminal law at Vanderbilt University Law School.

In an April 13 court filing, federal prosecutor Robert Khuzami said the government had previously obtained covert search warrants on several of Cohen’s email accounts and had used a “filter team” to examine the materials gathered in the raid.

Their review found Cohen was performing little to no legal work, Khuzami said.