GOP strategists close to congressional leaders are worried that FBI's raid on Trump lawyer Michael Cohen could signal trouble in midterms

Key Points
  • Political operatives close to congressional Republican leadership are shaken after the FBI raided the office and residence of President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
  • GOP political advisors think the issue could push voters away from the GOP agenda and give Democrats a big boost in the midterms.
  • "Among strategists, concern is at an all-caps level," one Republican strategist, who is close to Senate leaders, tells CNBC.
FBI raid related to more payments to women, says NYT

The FBI raids conducted against President Donald Trump's longtime personal attorney have sent shockwaves through Republican leadership ranks as Democrats look to flip both houses of Congress in November's midterm elections.

Political operatives close to congressional GOP leadership are shaken after the FBI raided the office and residence of the lawyer, Michael Cohen, on Monday. These external advisors spoke to CNBC on the condition of anonymity as they are heavily involved with the elections.

Republican political advisors think the issue could push voters away from the GOP agenda and give Democrats a big boost in the midterms.

"Among strategists, concern is at an all-caps level," said one Republican strategist who is close to Senate leaders.

The reason for the fear, this strategist said, comes from uncertainty about how the president may react, including possibly firing special counsel Robert Mueller, who reportedly made the referral leading to the Cohen raid, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who reportedly signed off on the raids.

Trump on Monday called the investigation "an attack on our nation."

There also appears to be a concern, the strategist said, about potential charges being brought against Cohen, who is one of Trump's closest confidants. Cohen is known to have extensive knowledge of the inner workings of the Trump Organization.

"Most operatives are monitoring the situation closely with the hope for some sign of relief," the strategist said. "I don't think anybody knows what to expect. To us, the unknown is the scariest part."

Another strategist close to GOP leaders shared similar concerns — and called for Republicans to distance themselves from the situation before it hurts them in November.

"I imagine people are watching closely while trying to stay as far away as possible," the GOP operative told CNBC.

Silence from GOP donors

Republican donors, on the other hand, have remained silent on the news about Cohen, who was named deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee a year ago.

GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, CEO and chairman of casino giant Las Vegas Sands, hasn't yet privately expressed an opinion about the investigation into Trump's loyal comrade, associates close to the billionaire told CNBC on the condition of anonymity.

Adelson was a big backer of Trump's run for president in 2016, giving more than $10 million to the pro-Trump super PAC Future45, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. So far in 2018, he has contributed minimally to the congressional elections, but people close to him say that's expected to change before Election Day.

Michael Cohen, a personal attorney for President Trump, departs from a House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, October 24, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Getty Images

A spokesman for Adelson declined to comment.

Leaders of another donor group, the pro-Trump America First Action Super PAC, declined to comment about the raid specifically. But one top figure at the PAC did tell CNBC that he believed Cohen was not guilty.

"I'm not a lawyer but I know Michael Cohen. I know he wouldn't break the law. He always dots his I's and crosses his T's. I know he's loyal to President Trump," Roy Bailey, Dallas financier and finance chairman of the group, told CNBC.

Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman and real estate tycoon Geoffrey Palmer, both top donors to the Trump's re-election campaign, declined to comment about the raid.

Potential peril for Cohen and the GOP

CNBC twice reached out directly to Cohen, who said he would call back.

"Hey Brian," Cohen told a CNBC reporter. "I'm in the middle of something. You can imagine. I will call you back."

He still hadn't called back before this story's publication. Cohen's attorney also did not return requests for comment, nor did White House attorney Ty Cobb or Jay Sekulow, the president's outside counsel in the Russia probe.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., declined to comment, and a spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., did not return a request for comment.

Democratic strategists see the Cohen investigation as another way to appeal to voters as the election season heats up.

"It could add to more of the Democratic wave because of just the general sense that the president and people around him are out of control," Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf told CNBC. "Republicans appear to be paralyzed. They can't go up to take on the president, at least that's how they feel. They just don't know what to do. They've never been in a situation like this."

Even before the raids, polls showed Republicans trailing Democrats in congressional approval ratings.

A recent poll by Quinnipiac University shows 48 percent of voters want the Democratic Party to win control of the House while 38 percent want Republicans to control the chamber. The poll also said 49 percent of voters believe Democrats should win control of the Senate, compared with 39 percent who want the GOP to maintain a majority.

WATCH: Trump says Cohen raid 'disgraceful'

Trump: Cohen raid 'disgraceful'