- Special master Barbara Jones ruled Tuesday that more than 600 documents labelled privileged by President Donald Trump, his longtime lawyer Michael Cohen, or the Trump Organisation are not.
- The ruling isn’t being challenged in court.
- The news comes after the revelation of 12 audio recordings the FBI seized from Cohen – over which Trump’s attorneys waived privilege claims.
The special master overseeing the document review in the federal criminal investigation into President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen ruled on Tuesday that more than 600 documents seized by the government and labelled as privileged by Cohen, Trump, or the Trump Organisation are not.
Cohen isn’t challenging the decision in court, meaning the documents will be turned over to prosecutors and able to be used in a potential prosecution of Cohen.
In a Tuesday court filing to US District Judge Kimba Wood, the special master, Barbara Jones, ruled that of 1,262 items recently designated as privileged by Cohen, Trump, or the Trump Organisation, 595 were either privileged or partially privileged. The remaining 665 were not, she ruled.
Cohen objected to her ruling on two of those items but opted against challenging the ruling to Wood.
Cohen is the focus of a criminal investigation in the Southern District of New York into whether he violated campaign-finance laws, committed bank fraud or wire fraud, engaged in illegal lobbying, or participated in other crimes. The FBI raided Cohen’s home, hotel room, and office in April, seizing more than 4 million documents from Trump’s longtime lawyer.
At the center of Cohen’s troubles is a $US130,000 hush-money payment he facilitated weeks before the 2016 presidential election to the adult-film actress Stormy Daniels to keep her from talking about her allegation of a 2006 affair with Trump, which Trump has denied. The FBI sought documents related to that payment and other similar agreements with other women.
Right now, the documents obtained by the FBI are the focus of the investigation
In April, Cohen and his lawyers successfully argued for the appointment of a special master, allowing them, Trump’s attorneys, and the Trump Organisation to identify documents protected by attorney-client privilege. Jones, a retired federal judge, was appointed to oversee the review.
So far, Cohen has claimed privilege on a tiny fraction of the total number of items obtained by the government, with Jones ruling that an even smaller number actually are privileged.
Last week, Jones ruled that more than 1,400 of roughly 4,000 documents labelled as privileged by Cohen, Trump, or the Trump Organisation were not. In that instance as well, Cohen opted against challenging the ruling in court.
Last month, Jones reported that she had reviewed the first 300,000 documents and determined that just 162 were privileged. Later in June, Cohen’s attorneys laid out in a filing that they claimed privilege on more than 12,000 documents. Jones’ review of the privilege designations is ongoing.
Tuesday’s news comes a day after Jones announced in a court filing to Wood that privilege claims were withdrawn over 12 audio tapes seized from Cohen. A source close to Trump’s legal team said the president’s lawyers moved to withdraw the claims.
As a result, those tapes were handed over to the federal investigators probing Cohen.
The Cohen tapes
One such tape seized by the FBI from Cohen features a conversation between him and Trump in which the two discussed payments made to ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal, whose story of an alleged affair with Trump was purchased by The National Enquirer for $US150,000 in August 2016..
The outlet never published the piece. That practice is known as “catch and kill,” and it effectively silenced McDougal’s allegations. David Pecker, the head of American Media Inc., which publishes the National Enquirer, is a longtime friend of both Trump and Cohen. Citing a person familiar with the recording, The Washington Post reported Friday that Cohen and Trump discussed a plan to purchase the rights to McDougal’s story from Pecker’s company for about $US150,000.
Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, confirmed to The Times that Trump discussed payments to McDougal with Cohen, but he said that ultimately no payment was made. Giuliani said the recording was less than two minutes long, and that there was no indication based on it that Trump knew of the payment to American Media Inc. beforehand.
Giuliani said the tape was “powerful exculpatory evidence” favourable to Trump. But a person with knowledge of the tapes told Business Insider that Cohen’s team is “mystified” as to how these recordings could possibly be beneficial to Trump.
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