- A federal judge on Friday said the court believes it is “likely” President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, could be indicted.
- The statement highlights the mounting jeopardy Cohen may be in given his significance in three legal disputes, including a federal criminal investigation into whether he committed financial fraud and campaign finance violations in connection to his work for Trump.
- US District Court Judge James Otero granted a 90-day stay in the civil lawsuit porn star Stormy Daniels brought against Cohen and Trump.
When a federal judge granted a motion requesting a 90-day stay in a civil lawsuit brought by an adult film actress against President Donald Trump, he said he made the decision because it was “likely” Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, could be indicted.
The statement, from US District Court Judge James Otero, underscores the mounting jeopardy Cohen could be in as he faces three separate legal disputes:
- The California civil lawsuit from porn star Stephanie Clifford, known as Stormy Daniels, against Trump and Cohen.
- A federal criminal investigation by the Manhattan US attorney’s office into Cohen’s activities.
- The special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, in which Cohen is a subject of interest.
Daniels filed suit last month to get out of a nondisclosure agreement she signed in October 2016 after Cohen paid her $US130,000 to stay silent about an affair she says she had with Trump in the 2000s. Daniels and her lawyer are now claiming that the agreement is null and void because Trump never actually signed it.
In light of the criminal investigation into him, Cohen indicated earlier this week that he would plead the Fifth Amendment in Daniels’ civil case in order to obtain a stay.
Legal experts largely agreed that it was a smart move on Cohen’s part. If he were deposed under oath in the civil case, it could be used against him in the federal criminal investigation. Conversely, if he took the Fifth and refused to answer questions in the California case, it could be used against him in the civil suit.
“This is no simple criminal investigation,” Judge Otero wrote of the Manhattan US attorney’s inquiry into Cohen’s activities.
He continued: “It is an investigation into the personal attorney of a sitting president regarding documents that might be subject to the attorney-client privilege. Whether or not an indictment is forthcoming, and the court thinks it likely based on these facts alone, these unique circumstances counsel in favour of stay.”
The Manhattan US attorney’s office is investigating Cohen for possible wire fraud, bank fraud, and campaign finance violations related to two payments made to women – including Daniels – who claim they had affairs with Trump.
The FBI obtained a warrant to raid Cohen’s property as part of the investigation in early April and came away with documents related to the payments; tape recordings about Cohen and his associates; electronic devices including cell phones and a hard drive; and communications between Trump and Cohen.
Cohen and Trump’s relationship grows strained
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 that 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 legal battle over how much access the government should have to documents and records it seized in the raids.
In court this week, 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.
Trump’s lawyers 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.
On Thursday, US District Court Judge Kimba 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.
Cohen is also a subject of interest in the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to tilt the race in his favour.
Cohen was an instrumental figure in at least three episodes that are said to be in Mueller’s focus. The first is a failed attempt by the Trump Organisation to secure a Trump Tower in Moscow. The second is the push for Ukraine-Russia “peace plan” in the early days of Trump’s presidency that appeared to favour Moscow.
The third is an alleged trip to Prague that the so-called Steele dossier – an explosive collection of memos compiled by the former British spy Christopher Steele – says Cohen took to meet with top Kremlin officials at the height of the campaign.
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