A U.S. prosecutor on Friday attacked a claim by President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen that many of the materials seized this week in FBI raids on Cohen’s office and home as part of a criminal investigation should remain private.
Prosecutors also confirmed in a court filing on Friday that they have been investigating Cohen for months, largely over his business dealings rather than his legal work.
Uncertainty over exactly what FBI agents seized from Cohen comes as Trump faces an intensifying probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into whether his presidential campaign colluded with Russia. The raids were partly a referral by Mueller’s office.
U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood in Manhattan ordered Cohen to appear in court on Monday afternoon, after holding three hearings on Friday into his request for a temporary restraining order (TRO) blocking prosecutors from reviewing seized materials.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom McKay accused Cohen of trying to invoking “wildly overbroad” claims of attorney-client privilege to avoid the disclosure of thousands of allegedly privileged communications related to the president and other cases.
These could include claims by Stormy Daniels, the adult film star who claimed to have had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006.
Daniels, whose given name is Stephanie Clifford, wants to be freed from a nondisclosure agreement under which she was paid $130,000 shortly before the 2016 presidential election to keep quiet about that encounter.
Cohen wants Wood to let them or a “special master” review the seized materials to decide what can be turned over, without violating the right of his clients to shield communications with their lawyers.
“We’re pretty confident there are thousands of privileged communications,” Cohen’s lawyer Todd Harrison told the judge.
But “the attorney-client privilege can’t at the same time be used as a sword and as a shield,” McKay told Wood.
“What they are trying to do is use attorney-client privilege as a sword to challenge the government’s ability to review evidence” obtained lawfully, McKay added.
He called Cohen’s failure to provide “basic facts” about what might be privileged was “fatal” to his request for a TRO.
Michael Avenatti, a lawyer for Daniels, suggested at one of the hearings that his client might be the subject of some of the seized materials, and her interests needed protection as well.
The judge also heard from a new lawyer for Trump, Joanna Hendon, who said the president had “an acute interest” in the case.
Hendon, who said Trump hired her on Wednesday evening, urged Wood not to decide who gets first shot to review seized documents until after she files a brief by Sunday night.
“I’m not trying to delay anything but nor do I see a particular rush,” Hendon said.
In Friday’s filing, prosecutors said it would be “unprecedented” to allow Cohen’s lawyers to decide what it is privileged, and that the government should be allowed to use its own “taint team,” or “filter team,” to do the job.
They also downplayed the scope of potential privilege, saying they had before Monday secretly searched multiple email accounts belonging to Cohen, and which they said indicated that Cohen “is in fact performing little to no legal work.”
The raids infuriated Trump, who tweeted “Attorney-client privilege is dead!” on Tuesday.
McKay said Trump’s ability to invoke the privilege is “no different” from anyone else’s.
FBI agents who conducted the raids were seeking information on payments to Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who also claims to have had a sexual relationship with Trump, a person familiar with the matter has said.
Investigators have also looked for a possible broader pattern of fraud, tax evasion, money laundering and other crimes in Cohen’s private dealings, including his work for Trump and real estate purchased by Russian buyers, the person said.
Reporting by Karen Freifeld, Brendan Pierson and Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Frances Kerry and Clive McKeef
‘I don’t care’: Watch Kamala Harris shut down Chris Hayes for asking a dumb question about Trump
Sen. Kamala Harris shut down MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes during a post-debate interview on Tuesday evening.
Hayes questioned Harris about her call for Twitter to follow their terms of service and kick President Donald Trump off of the platform.
"Do you think he puts people’s lives in danger when he targets them in tweets?" Hayes asked.
"Absolutely," Harris replied.
"Do you think he knows that?" Hayes asked.
"Does it matter?" Harris replied.
"The fact is he did it. The fact is that he is irresponsible, he is erratic," she explained. "He is like a 2-year-old with a machine gun."
Democrats blast Trump and demand his impeachment at CNN debate
Democratic White House hopefuls united in searing condemnation of Donald Trump during their fourth debate Tuesday, saying the president has broken the law, abused his power, and deserves to be impeached.
From the opening moments, most of the dozen candidates on stage launched fierce broadsides against Trump over the Ukrainian scandal at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.
"The impeachment must go forward," said Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is neck and neck with former vice president Joe Biden at the head of the 2020 nominations race.
"Impeachment is the way that we establish that this man will not be permitted to break the law over and over without consequences," she thundered.
Here are 3 winners and 4 losers from the CNN/NYT Democratic presidential primary debate
Twelve Democrats took to the stage Tuesday night for yet another debate in the party's 2020 president primary hosted by CNN and the New York Times.
After only ten candidates qualified for the previous debate, an additional two — Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and wealthy donor and former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer — made it to the stage this round for an even more crowded event.
The candidates discussed a range of important policy issues, but since the format was a debate, and they're all competing for the same nomination, it is ultimately most critical who won and who lost the night. Here are three winners and four losers — necessarily a subjective assessment, of course — from the debate: