Judge rejects Trump lawyer’s request to keep seized records from being accessed by investigators
(NEW YORK) -- A federal judge Monday rejected efforts by President Donald Trump and his personal attorney to keep law enforcement from accessing records seized in a stunning raid last week.
U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood said she has “faith" in federal prosecutors from the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office, who are running the investigation into Trump's personal attorney and self-described fixer, Michael Cohen. Prosecutors will now have a team separate from the one investigating Cohen put all of the seized documents on a searchable database — without reading any of them. They will then share the database with lawyers for Cohen and Trump.
Officials told the court that those seized records include roughly 10 boxes, plus data files on multiple phones and electronic devices that could take up to two weeks to organize.
The court battle that waged through most of the afternoon was put in motion when FBI agents raided Cohen's office, home and hotel room a week ago to search for records connected with certain work on behalf of Trump and in Cohen's own business dealings. Cohen appealed to the court, arguing that the lion's share of the records needed to be kept confidential because of attorney-client privilege. Trump joined the effort.
Federal prosecutors, after first declining to discuss anything about the ongoing case last week, argued both in filings and in open court that Cohen represented few people as an attorney and, therefore, he possessed few documents legitimately covered by attorney-client privilege. That issue was front and center as the 2.5-hour hearing opened in Manhattan federal court. Cohen's attorneys told the court he had three clients from 2017 to 2018, including the president and GOP financier Elliott Broidy, but they refused to name the third in public.
“I understand he doesn’t want his name out there," the judge said. "That’s not enough under the law.”
And with that came the most dramatic part of the hearing as Cohen's attorney, Stephen Ryan, reluctantly revealed it was Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity. Gasps could be heard echoing throughout Wood's stately, large courtroom.
Ryan offered no indication of the work Cohen had done for Hannity. But, as the news of Hannity's role ping-ponged around media and political circles in New York and Washington, Hannity downplayed any attorney-client relationship he has had with Cohen.
"Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter," Hannity tweeted. "I never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal fees. I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective. I assumed those conversations were confidential, but to be absolutely clear they never involved any matter between me and a third party."
The Hannity revelation came early in the hearing, which was held amid an almost circus-like atmosphere. Just before the hearing began, porn star Stormy Daniels arrived in court with her attorney, Michael Avenatti. It is Daniels, who alleges a one-night tryst with Trump before he was president, who has become the most improbable yet critical player in the ongoing saga of Trump and his cascading controversies. The White House has denied the allegation of an affair.
Shortly before Trump was elected in 2016, Cohen arranged a $130,000 payment to Daniels from his own funds in order to keep her from going public with the story of what she says was her California one-nighter with Trump. Records of that arrangement were scooped up in last week's raids, according to people briefed on the case. Trump has said he did not know about the payment, and has denied the underlying claims about the affair with Daniels, calling it "fake news."
Cohen did not appear to notice when Daniels first walked into the courtroom. She and Avenatti sat feet apart from Cohen but did not appear to interact.
Daniels was not permitted to address the court, but she spoke to reporters outside.
“For years Mr. Cohen has acted like he is above the law," Daniels said. "He has considered himself and openly referred to himself as Mr. Trump’s fixer. He’s played by a different set of rules, or should we say no rules at all. He has never thought that the little man, or especially women and even more women like me, mattered. That ends now. My attorney and I are committed to making sure that everyone finds out the truth and the facts of what happened."
At issue in court was a critical yet technical set of legal principles, dealing with the nature of the relationship between lawyers and the people they represent.
But it also bore the mark of the politics of the day in which a reality-star president prominent on Twitter is facing a battery of legal issues that still includes the special prosecutor's probe into Russian election meddling.
In arguing his case, Ryan told the court “this is something that’s never occurred in the history of the United States -- papers of the president have been taken and reviewed by the government.”
And Trump's attorney, Joanna Hendon, said last week's FBI searches were "an unprecedented raid and seizure of the personal attorney of a sitting president."
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