Staff and Wire Reports//April 16, 2018
//April 16, 2018
NEW YORK — President Donald Trump suffered a setback as a federal judge rejected his initial request to keep prosecutors from reviewing evidence seized last week from his longtime personal lawyer.
U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood said Monday she was open to appointing an impartial “special master” to review the seized materials before they’re handed over to prosecutors, as requested by Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, but not by Trump himself. The judge also said she would consider U.S. prosecutors’ plan to have a team of independent government lawyers review the materials.
Wood left the matter unresolved and gave both sides until Wednesday to submit possible candidates for a special master to review what might be covered by the attorney-client privilege. She also asked the prosecution team to get a precise estimate on how long their proposed vetting group, a so-called taint team, would need to go through everything and sort out what’s relevant and what’s privileged.
Lawyers for Trump, Cohen and the government spent three hours on Monday arguing in a Manhattan courtroom over whether prosecutors investigating Cohen could go through evidence and electronics seized in an April 9 raid of his office, home, hotel room and safety-deposit box.
The hearing, which generated sensational media attention, failed to deliver the sizzle expected with the presence of adult film star Stormy Daniels, who sat slumped in the back of the courthouse.
The biggest revelation was that Cohen had also represented Sean Hannity, the “Fox News” commentator who for the last week has decried the Cohen raids. Cohen had declined to name the client for privacy reasons, but the judge ordered him to provide a name.
Wood said in hearings Friday and again on Monday that if Cohen wanted the court to declare that the some of his files were protected because of attorney confidentiality rules, he would have to divulge the names of the clients he’s worked with since 2016 election.
One was, of course, Trump himself. Another was Elliot Broidy, a Trump fundraiser who resigned from the Republican National Committee on Friday after it was revealed that he paid $1.6 million to a Playboy Playmate with whom he had an extramarital affair. The Playmate became pregnant and elected to have an abortion.
With Cohen by their side on Monday, lawyers initially resisted revealing the name of the third client for privacy reasons.
But Wood pressed on.
“I understand he doesn’t want his name out there, but that’s not enough under the law,” she said.
Cohen’s lawyers did not detail the type of legal work he did for Hannity.
But on his radio show, Hannity said Cohen was never involved in any matter between him and any third party.
“Michael never represented me in any matter,” Hannity said. “I never retained him in any traditional sense. I never received an invoice. I never paid a legal fee. I had brief discussions with him about legal questions where I wanted his input and perspective.”
Hannity, an outspoken supporter of Trump, has been a fierce critic of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Daniels claims she had sex with Trump in 2006 and took a $130,000 hush payment from Cohen shortly before the 2016 election. Cohen has said he made the payment from his own account.
“This ends now,” Daniels, accompanied by her lawyer, told reporters outside the courtroom. “My attorney and I are committed to making sure that everyone finds out the truth and the facts of what happened, and I give my word we will not rest until that happens.”
At stake is an investigation that could uncover the inner workings of Trump’s longtime fixer and image protector. People familiar with the probe told The Associated Press that agents were seeking bank records, records on Cohen’s dealing in the taxi industry, Cohen’s communications with the Trump campaign and information on payments made in 2016 to two women who say they had affairs with Trump, former Playboy model Karen McDougal and the porn star Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
Lawyers for Cohen filed papers Monday saying investigators “took everything” during the raids, including more than a dozen electronic devices. They said that prosecutors had already intercepted emails from Cohen and executed the search warrants only after discovering that there were no emails between Trump and Cohen.
One of Trump’s lawyers, Joanna Hendon, asked the judge to block prosecutors from studying material seized in the raid until Cohen and the president have both had a chance to review those materials and argue which are subject to the “sacred” attorney-client privilege.
“The seized materials relating to the President must be reviewed by the only person who is truly motivated to ensure that the privilege is properly invoked and applied: the privilege-holder himself, the President,” Hendon wrote in court papers filed Sunday.