FBI raid on Trump's lawyer sought details on payments to women - source

WASHINGTON, April 10 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump was fuming on Tuesday over FBI raids of his lawyer's office and home in search of details about ties between Trump and two women who say they had sex with him, aides said.

The latest turn of events in a wide-ranging probe that Trump has called a "witch hunt" has moved investigators deeper into the president's inner circle of advisers and cast a pall of uncertainty over the White House.

The raids on attorney Michael Cohen represent a dramatic escalation of a federal inquiry led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and possible collusion by Trump campaign aides.

"The raid is seismic," Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, a former federal prosecutor, told MSNBC, adding such searches by the Federal Bureau of Investigation indicate the possibility a crime was committed.

Russia and Trump both deny any wrongdoing.

As Trump canceled plans to attend a summit of leaders in Peru, his friends rallied to his defense following the raids by FBI agents on the Manhattan office and home of Cohen, his longtime personal attorney and confidant.

"This is about getting Donald Trump at all costs even if it means stretching the boundaries of exceptions to attorney-client privilege," said former Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo.

A source familiar with the matter said agents were looking in Monday's raids for information on payments to adult-film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

Daniels got $130,000 from Cohen in exchange for signing a non-disclosure agreement concerning her relationship with Trump.

The New York Times, which first reported the news about the two women, said the search warrant for the FBI raids also sought information about McDougal, who was paid $150,000 by the parent company of The National Enquirer tabloid, which then withheld a story about her relationship with Trump.

Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, has sued Cohen to be released from a nondisclosure agreement over an alleged one-night stand with Trump in 2006. McDougal has said she had a longer affair with him. Trump officials have denied he had relations with either woman.

The source said investigators were looking into whether there was a broader pattern of tax fraud, wire fraud, tax evasion, money laundering and other crimes in Cohen’s private dealings, including his work for Trump and some real estate transactions that involved Russian buyers and prices that appeared to be well above market values.

The source confirmed the FBI was looking into the payments, including the Enquirer link, but they were "not the main focus of that part of the investigation."

As the Mueller probe has widened since its start in May 2017, senior members of the U.S. Congress have repeatedly warned Trump not to fire the special counsel. Critics have said any Trump effort to remove Mueller would amount to interference in the investigation.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a Tuesday briefing: "He certainly believes he has the power to do so,"

An aide said Justice Department guidance that only Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein could fire Mueller was no more than guidance and did not apply to Trump, who has the authority to fire anyone in the executive branch.

Asked on Monday after the FBI raids if he would fire Mueller, Trump replied, "We'll see what happens."

White House attorney Ty Cobb and White House Counsel Donald McGahn have repeatedly sought to dissuade Trump from firing Mueller and renewed their efforts after the raids, two U.S. officials familiar with the discussions told Reuters.

Both officials said the lawyers fear they have made little or no progress.

A third official said some Republican leaders have tried privately and in public to warn Trump of the possible political consequences of trying to shut down Mueller's inquiry, but said it's "not clear" if they have had any impact.

The raid made the effort more difficult because of Trump's anger over the raids, all three officials said.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and John Walcott Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Nathan Layne, Amanda Becker, Makini Brice Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Frances Kerry and Howard Goller)