WASHINGTON – Chief Manhattan federal prosecutor and Trump administration appointee Geoffrey Berman, whose office oversees a federal inquiry into President Trump's longtime personal lawyer, was recused from the investigation before FBI agents raided Michael Cohen's offices and home, a person familiar with the matter said Tuesday.
Berman, named in January as an interim replacement to fill the post formerly held by Preet Bharara, whom Trump dismissed last year, was recused by Justice Department officials under Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, said the source, who was not authorized to comment publicly.
Stephen Ryan, Cohen's attorney, said the raid in New York was prompted by a referral from Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller, who determined that the information related to the attorney did not fall within the direct scope of his investigation into Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 election.
Rosenstein directly oversees Mueller's work and manages how such referrals are directed for further investigation.
The source said Berman played no role in the decision to carry out the search of Cohen's New York office and home, where authorities were in part pursuing information related to an alleged hush money payment of $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 election.
Justice Department officials declined to comment Tuesday.
The recusal was disclosed by ABC News earlier Tuesday.
Cohen acknowledged using his own money to “facilitate” the payment, asserting that he was not reimbursed by the Trump campaign or the Trump Organization. Last week, Trump denied knowing about the payment or where the money came from.
Federal prosecutors requested that the Trump Organization provide any documents that may exist related to the payment, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
In a statement to USA TODAY, the Trump Organization pledged to cooperate with authorities.
“We do not generally comment on such matters, but have and will continue to comply with inquiries from proper authorities.” the company said.
If Cohen used his own money and acted without Trump’s knowledge, it could be considered an illegal contribution to Trump’s campaign and put him in legal jeopardy. Legal ethics rules bar attorneys from settling a claim without their clients’ knowledge or using their own money to fund settlements.
Berman, the interim U.S. attorney, was appointed in January to the interim 120-day tenure, along with more than a dozen federal prosecutors to fill vacancies across the country.
"As interim U.S. attorney ... he will lead an incredible team of attorneys and investigators and help provide New Yorkers with safety, security and peace of mind," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said then. "I am pleased to appoint him to this important role.”
Before his selection, Berman was a principal in the law firm of Greenberg Traurig, whose shareholders include Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and Manhattan U.S. attorney.
The raid on Cohen's office and home infuriated Trump, who characterized the FBI's action Monday as "a break-in."
It was unclear whether Trump was informed that Berman was not involved in the operation, though he took direct aim Monday at Rosenstein and Sessions whose leadership at Justice the president has repeatedly criticized.
"It's a total witch hunt," the president said at the White House. "It's an attack on our country in the true sense ... what we all stand for."
On Tuesday, he resumed the tirade on Twitter, saying:
"Attorney-client privilege is dead!"
Of Sessions, Trump reiterated that he that he never would have appointed Sessions had he known that the former Alabama senator would recuse himself from the Russia inquiry.
"The attorney general made a terrible mistake," he said Monday.
Sessions' recusal led to Mueller's appointment.
At a Tuesday White House event honoring Sessions' home state University of Alabama national championship football team, the attorney general said he had not spoken the president.
“Hey, not today. Roll Tide!" Sessions said, invoking the university's signature cheer.