WASHINGTON — The F.B.I. agents who raided the office of President Trump’s personal lawyer on Monday were looking for records about payments to two women who claim they had affairs with Mr. Trump, and information related to the publisher of The National Enquirer’s role in silencing one of the women, several people briefed on the investigation said.
The search warrant carried out by the public corruption unit of the Manhattan federal attorney’s office seeks information about Karen McDougal, an ex-Playboy model who claims she carried on a nearly yearlong affair with Mr. Trump shortly after the birth of his son in 2006. Ms. McDougal was paid $150,000 by American Media Inc., the Enquirer’s parent company, whose chief executive is a friend of Mr. Trump’s.
Agents were also searching Michael D. Cohen’s office for information related to Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, who says she also had sex with Mr. Trump while he was married. Mr. Cohen has acknowledged that he paid Ms. Clifford $130,000 as part of a nondisclosure agreement to secure her silence just days before the 2016 presidential election.
Mr. Cohen’s lawyer, Stephen Ryan, on Monday called the raids “inappropriate and unnecessary.” In an email on Tuesday, he referred back to that statement.
Rod J. Rosenstein, the veteran Republican prosecutor handpicked by Mr. Trump to serve as deputy attorney general, personally signed off on Monday’s F.B.I. decision to raid the office of Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s personal attorney and longtime confidant, several government officials said.
The early-morning searches enraged Mr. Trump, associates said, setting off an angry public tirade Monday evening that continued in private at the White House as the president fumed about whether he should fire Mr. Rosenstein. The episode has deeply unsettled White House aides, Justice Department officials and lawmakers from both parties, who believe the president may use it as a pretext to purge the team leading the investigation into Russia meddling in the 2016 election.
Searching a lawyer’s files is among the most sensitive moves federal prosecutors can make as they pursue a criminal investigation. Mr. Rosenstein’s personal involvement in the decision signals that the evidence seen by law enforcement officials was significant enough to persuade the Justice Department’s second-in-command that such an aggressive move was necessary.