WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump blasted the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller on Monday, following news that investigators had raided the office of his personal attorney. He called the search "an attack on our country."
Earlier in the day before the president met with senior military leaders at the White House, the FBI raided the New York office and residence of Michael Cohen, seeking information about a $130,000 payment the attorney made to porn star Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election, sources told NBC News.
The search warrants were sought and executed by FBI agents and federal prosecutors in New York in coordination with special counsel Robert Mueller's team after an initial referral from Mueller's office.
Trump wasted no time addressing the raids when reporters entered the Cabinet Room where he was meeting with senior military leaders, starting his remarks by calling Mueller's investigation a "witch hunt" and a "disgrace."
It's "an attack on our country in a true sense, an attack on what we all stand for," Trump said of the raids, which were first reported by The New York Times.
"That is at a whole new level of unfairness," the president added. "This is now getting ridiculous."
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Two sources close to the White House told NBC News that Trump is furious and stewing over what is being perceived as Mueller forcing a provocative confrontation over the raid on Cohen's offices.
Two administration officials said the president was informed about the action at his longtime lawyer's offices Monday afternoon, after the raid began but prior to the news breaking publicly.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told NBC News that Trump's remarks on Mueller stand on their own. The president's in-house counsel, Ty Cobb, declined to comment.
In the past, when asked for response to reports about Mueller and his job security, the White House has indicated that out of respect for the special counsel's work, it does not comment and pledges its full cooperation. As of Monday night, no such statement has been issued.
Trump last week denied having any previous knowledge that Cohen paid Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
"You'll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. You’ll have to ask Michael," he told reporters.
Cohen used his Trump Organization email while arranging to send the $130,000 to Clifford from a company that he had set up in Delaware shortly before the transfer.
Trump also repeated his assertion that there had been no "collusion” between his campaign and Russia, while reiterating his frustration with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, calling his decision to recuse himself from the probe "a terrible mistake."
"He certainly should have let us know if he was going to recuse himself, and we would have put a different attorney general in," Trump said. "So he made what I consider to be a very terrible mistake for the country. But you'll figure that out."
Trump told reporters on Monday that he’s not worried about what the FBI may have seized from Cohen’s office and ignored questions about whether he had an affair with Daniels. The White House and Cohen have denied that Trump had an affair with her.
Cohen has tried to maintain a distance between the president and the payout. That attempt has been the subject of campaign finance complaints and an inquiry last month by congressional Democrats, who said in a letter to Cohen that the situation could put Trump at risk of blackmail attempts.
In a statement Monday, Cohen's lawyer Stephen Ryan said the "investigation using search warrants is completely inappropriate and unnecessary."
Asked if he'd consider firing Mueller, Trump responded that "many people" had told him he should and said, "I think it's a disgrace what's going on. We'll see what happens."
Trump also said again that the team investigating him is biased and should instead be investigating his general election opponent, Hillary Clinton.
“The other side is where there are crimes and those crimes are obvious — lies under oath all over the place, emails that are knocked out, that are acid washed and deleted, 33,000 emails were deleted after getting a subpoena from Congress,” he said. “Nobody bothers looking at that."