- A tense and awkward exchange Thursday between President Donald Trump’s lawyers and lawyers representing his longtime attorney, Michael Cohen, highlights the two men’s increasingly divergent interests following an FBI raid of Cohen’s property earlier this month.
- The exchange came during a federal court hearing about documents and communications between Trump and Cohen that the FBI seized when it raided Cohen’s property as part of a federal investigation into him.
- Cohen’s lawyers argued that before the government goes through the seized materials, an independently appointed lawyer – or special master – should review them first to separate out documents that are protected under attorney client privilege.
- Trump’s lawyers argued that Trump, as the privilege-holder, should be the first to review the documents.
- A federal judge ruled Thursday in favour of Cohen’s proposal for a special master.
NEW YORK – Joanna Hendon, the attorney representing President Donald Trump in an ongoing three-way legal dispute involving his longtime lawyer Michael Cohen and the FBI, was about to speak into the microphone in federal court Thursday when she was interrupted.
“I think it’s my turn,” said Stephen Ryan, the white-collar defence lawyer representing Cohen.
The courtroom fell silent.
Hendon flushed, and US District Judge Kimba Wood said she would leave it up to the two sides to decide who would speak.
Hendon turned to Ryan and said that as the counsel representing Trump, she should go first.
A few moments later, Ryan relented and indicated she could speak before him.
“As the privilege-holder, I appreciate your courtesy, Mr. Ryan,” Hendon replied.
The tense exchange underscores an increasingly divergent relationship between Trump’s and Cohen’s interests since the FBI raided Cohen’s property earlier this month. Investigators obtained various documents and tape recordings during the search, including communications between Trump and Cohen and records of payments made to two women who say they had affairs with Trump.
Cohen has been described at various times as Trump’s fixer, pit bull, and consigliere. He has been acquainted with Trump for decades and joined the Trump Organisation in 2007, eventually leaving in 2017 to work as Trump’s personal lawyer.
While Cohen has demonstrated intense loyalty to Trump since they first met, media reports indicate Trump has not always shown him the same kindness, often brushing Cohen off and deriding him in front of others.
Following the raids, Trump publicly praised his lawyer as a “good guy” and declared that he is innocent of any wrongdoing. The president’s defence of Cohen comes as his advisers grow increasingly worried that Cohen will flip against Trump.
Now, Cohen and Trump find themselves on opposite ends of a protracted battle over how much access the government should have to documents and records it seized this month.
The raids were approved as part of the Manhattan US attorney’s office’s investigation into whether Cohen committed wire fraud, bank fraud, and campaign finance violations in connection to his work for Trump and other clients.
The FBI initially appointed a filter team, a group of investigators walled off from prosecutors working on the Cohen case, to review the seized materials and separate out anything that could be privileged.
Both Cohen and Trump mounted an aggressive defence against that strategy. They diverged, however, on its most critical facet: who should have first go at reviewing the documents.
Cohen’s lawyers argued that an independent attorney known as a special master should be appointed to review the records and set aside those that fall under attorney client privilege.
Hendon, who represents Trump’s interests, came out in staunch opposition to the proposal, arguing that as the privilege-holder, Trump himself should be able to look at the documents first and determine what is privileged and what is fair game in the Cohen case.
Meanwhile, the US government believes a filter team would suffice but signalled that it was ok with the appointment of a special master. Attorneys representing the Southern District of New York requested, however, that a filter team be allowed to review the documents in congruence with the special master to determine whether they need to file any objections to specific records that have been set aside.
On Thursday, Wood ruled in favour of appointing a special master and tapped Barbara Jones, a former judge and a partner at Bracewell who specialises in white-collar litigation, for the position. Wood did not make a determination Thursday on whether she would allow a government filter team to have a look at all the documents at the same time as the special master.
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