Attorney Michael Cohen had a request to keep seized documents from being viewed by federal prosecutors denied on Monday in a blow to his defense and to his highest-profile client, President Trump.
FBI agents raided an office and a hotel room used by Cohen last week, and seized tax documents, business records and correspondence between Cohen and his clients, including Trump. The raids were in conjunction with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Cohen had become a person of interest in the Mueller investigation in recent months after revelations he made a $130,000 payment to an adult film actress, keeping her from speaking out about an affair she had with President Trump in 2006. Investigators are looking into whether the payment violated Federal Election Commission laws.
Cohen’s attorney, Stephen Ryan, as well as attorneys acting on behalf of President Trump, asked Federal Judge Kimba Wood to allow them to review any seized materials before investigators had a chance to look them over, citing attorney-client privilege.
In instances where documents are seized from an attorney a so-called “taint team” is often convened to go through the material and separate documents that would violate attorney-client privilege from anything that would further an investigation. Attorney-client privilege cannot be invoked in order to protect the commission or cover-up of a crime.
Wood denied the request, saying that the taint team could be trusted to sift through the material. She also said she would appoint a special master to further ensure not “fairness” but “the perception of fairness” to the examination proceedings. She said that the court would reconvene once all the materials seized from the Cohen raids had been uploaded to the prosecutors’ system and all legal teams had a chance to review them.
At that point “we will know more about the volume and the content of the documents, and we can make a more intelligent choice as to whether a taint team or a special master should be involved.”
“I envision a test,” she went on to say. “As soon as we see the documents, I want a proposal for how to move quickly on this.”
While denying the attorneys’ request to review the documents first, she did grant the teams the right to receive copies of any and all material.
It was reported last week that the President’s legal team is worried over possible recordings Cohen may have made with the President. Cohen had a propensity for recording conversations with individuals and then letting it be known that he had done so, in a bid to gain leverage over them.
He had reportedly taped numerous conversations with members with the Trump campaign although it is unclear whether he had done so with President Trump.
In a strange twist to the proceedings, Cohen’s attorneys had first said that Cohen had three clients: President Trump, former deputy finance director of the Republican National Committee and close Trump associate, Elliot Broidy, and a third client who wished to remain anonymous. Cohen’s attorney said it would cause the client “embarrassment” if they were to be revealed.
Wood originally allowed the mystery client’s name to be submitted under seal but an attorney representing various news outlets, including The New York Times and CNN argued that there was no legal reason for the client’s identity to be withheld. Wood agreed, and Ryan led the name out loud: Fox News host Sean Hannity.
Hannity has been a frequent critic of both the investigation into Russian meddling as well as the increases scrutiny surrounding Michael Cohen.
President Trump has retained another attorney, Joanna Hendon of Spears & Imes, to represent him in the New-York-Cohen matter. Hendon specializes in white-collar crimes and was hired two days after the raid on Cohen’s office and hotel room.