Trump family firm wants ban on release of any correspondence with Cohen
Saturday 14/April/2018 - 11:23 AM
Donald Trump and his family business tried on Friday to stop the US justice department from viewing communications between them and their attorney Michael Cohen that were seized by the FBI as part of a criminal inquiry into Cohen، according to "The Guardian" newspaper.
Trump joined an effort by Cohen to assert attorney-client privilege over records covering Cohen’s representation of Trump over the past decade، setting up another extraordinary conflict between the president and his own justice department.
Meanwhile the Trump Organization، which Trump led until entering office last year، claimed to prosecutors that “each and every communication” involving Cohen and their executives should also be considered privileged. The Trump interventions came as federal prosecutors in New York confirmed Cohen “is being investigated for criminal conduct that largely centers on his personal business dealings”. Cohen’s office، home، hotel room، electronic devices and safe deposit box were searched on Monday by FBI agents who seized records and data.
Prosecutors also revealed in a court filing on Friday that Cohen’s emails had secretly been searched، and that the raids were part of “a monthslong investigation” involving a grand jury.
FBI agents are believed to have taken documents relating to a payoff to Stephanie Clifford، the pornographic actor known as Stormy Daniels، who alleged she had a sexual encounter with Trump. Records relating to Cohen’s business interests، including his ownership of several taxi firms، are also thought to have been seized.
Attorneys for Cohen filed a request at Manhattan federal court for a restraining order which would prevent prosecutors from accessing the seized documents until disagreements over what should be sealed are settled.
Cohen’s attorneys argued at a hearing on Friday morning that they should be allowed to review the documents themselves. As a “fall-back option”، they propose that the judge appoint a special master to review them.
“We think we deserve to know some of the findings from this ongoing investigation،” said Todd Harrison، an attorney for Cohen.
A new attorney for Trump appeared unexpectedly at the hearing and argued that the president should be involved in ensuring that his his own communications with Cohen are shielded from investigators.
“As a privilege holder، he has an acute interest in these proceedings and in the manner that these materials are reviewed،” the attorney، Joanna Hendon said at the federal court in Manhattan.
Thomas McKay، an assistant US attorney، argued in the court filing that Cohen and the Trump Organization had made “inaccurate andor overbroad” claims of privilege that should be rejected.
McKay argued that a so-called “Filter Team” from the justice department should be allowed to check all the seized documents for possible privilege. Interactions between attorneys and their clients are typically kept secret، but an exception can be made if the documents contain evidence of criminal activity. Hendon persuaded Judge Kimba Wood to delay until Monday arguments over the restraining order that would temporarily ban authorities from inspecting the records.
“He is the president of the United States. These interests are so weighty I think we need more than an afternoon’s adjournment،” Hendon said، after Wood proposed that the court take only a short break and reconvene later on Friday.
“This is of most concern to him،” said Hendon. “I think the public is a close second. I think anyone who has hired a lawyer is a close third.”
McKay، the prosecutor، told the court that Trump had been “on notice about this search since Monday” and had waited until the last moment to intervene. “With respect، his attorney-client privilege is no stronger than anyone who seeks legal advice،” said McKay.
Michael Avenatti، an attorney for Daniels، was also present in court on Friday and asked the judge to involve him in the discussions on who should have access to the documents seized from Cohen.
“We have every reason to believe that some of the documents relate to my client،” said Avenatti.
Much of Friday’s hearing focused on arguments from the media that hearings on the dispute should not be heard in secret. Wood said she had been intending to protect the identities of “innocent people” whose information was scooped up in the raids.
Wood was nominated by Bill Clinton to be US attorney general in 1993 before withdrawing after it was discovered that she had hired an undocumented immigrant as a babysitter.
An attorney for ABC News argued that authorities could use pseudonyms to protect identities. Lawyers for the New York Times submitted a letter to the judge asking that the press be allowed to object to any arguments in the case taking place privately. Attorneys for Cohen have requested to have the entire proceedings sealed and kept private.
Hendon said Trump was entitled to have a say in order to ensure the “appearance of fairness”.
Hendon said that “given the interest at stake and the exceptional nature of my client” it was important for everyone that the process be done “scrupulously، so that it is not subject to taint complaints later، and so that it withstands scrutiny for all time”.
“The privilege belongs to the privilege holder، not the lawyer،” said Hendon. “The client can waive the privilege، the lawyer cannot.”