A federal judge on Thursday decided documents seized in FBI raids targeting lawyer Michael Cohen should be handed over to an independent reviewer, hours after President Donald Trump sought to distance himself from his personal lawyer on Fox News.
U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood ruled an independent special master should review the material to make sure it doesn’t violate attorney-client confidentiality rules before it can be seen by prosecutors or lawyers for Cohen, who reportedly is under investigation for paying hush money to silence porn star Stormy Daniels’ claim of an affair with Trump.
Wood named lawyer Barbara Jones, a former federal judge in Manhattan who also worked as a prosecutor, as special master. Jones was not among the lawyers suggested by either side.
Federal prosecutors wasted no time after Trump’s bizarre interview Thursday morning on “Fox & Friends” to argue that the president’s comments about Cohen bolster their argument that the documents are unlikely to be protected by attorney-client privilege. They made a similar argument after Fox commentator Sean Hannity, who Cohen has identified as a client, also tried to distance himself from the lawyer.
Trump, in a phone call to the cable network show, said the FBI investigation of the lawyer doesn’t involve him. Federal prosecutors used Trump’s interview to argue the documents are unlikely to be protected by attorney-client privilege.
“These statements by two of Cohen’s three identified clients suggest that the seized materials are unlikely to contain voluminous privileged documents, further supporting the importance of efficiency here,” Robert Khuzami, a deputy U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a letter to the judge.
The judge appeared to agree.
“The letters that I received for counsel for Mr. Cohen and the intervenors has convinced me that” this process can go quickly with a special master, Wood said.
Cohen was asked to identify his current clients during a recent hearing. Two of the clients ― Hannity and Trump ― made statements that prosecutors argued demonstrate that the documents belong in the hands of a trained, independent reviewer.
Hannity has said Cohen has never represented him. Trump on Thursday told Fox News that Cohen only performed “a tiny, tiny little fraction” of his legal work.
Trump has railed against the raid on Cohen several times, complaining that “attorney-client privilege is dead!”
Lawyers for Trump and Cohen have been fighting to gain control of the documents for weeks. They asked for a temporary restraining order that would have barred the prosecutors from reviewing the files, which Wood denied.