- President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, is claiming attorney-client privilege over more than 12,000 documents seized by the FBI.
- In doing so, Cohen and his legal team met a Monday deadline to complete the review.
- Trump and the Trump Organisation have until Wednesday to make their designations.
President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, is claiming attorney-client privilege over more than 12,000 documents seized by the FBI during April raids on his home, office, and hotel room.
Cohen’s attorneys, Stephen Ryan and Todd Harrison of McDermot Will & Emery, laid out the totals in a court filing to US District Judge Kimba Wood. Cohen is claiming privilege over less than 1% of the roughly 4 million documents that were obtained by the FBI in those raids.
Cohen is the focus of an investigation in the Southern District of New York into whether he violated campaign-finance laws or committed bank fraud, wire fraud, illegal lobbying, or other crimes.
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, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, to keep her quiet about her allegation of a 2006 affair with Trump. The FBI sought documents related to that payment and other similar agreements with women.
Trump, Cohen, and the White House denied that an affair took place. Originally, Cohen said Trump did not reimburse him for the payment. Last month, Trump admitted to paying back his lawyer for the cost.
Right now, the documents obtained by the FBI in the raids are the focus of Cohen’s case. 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 that could not be used in a potential prosecution.
Barbara Jones, a retired federal judge, was appointed as the special master to oversee the review and determine which documents are privileged. Last week, Jones reported that she had reviewed the first 300,000 documents and determined that just 162 were privileged. She disagreed with Cohen, Trump, and the Trump Organisation on three, and they did not object to her ruling. Jones later amended her ruling to place one of those 162 documents under her further consideration.
Laid out in a Friday filing by Wood, 153 of the 161 documents that were labelled as privileged – and therefore could not be used in a potential prosecution of Cohen – involved Cohen consulting with attorneys. Just eight of those documents involved Cohen in direct consultation with one of his clients.
Trump fumed at the FBI’s Cohen raids
After Cohen’s offices were raided in April, Trump fumed, suggesting it was a violation of attorney-client privilege to raid his lawyer’s office. But at least so far, almost none of the documents have proven to fall under those protections.
Trump has distanced himself from Cohen, suggesting that the investigation has far more to do with his business dealings than anything he did for the president. Trump has also said he is not worried about Cohen providing the government with anything damaging on him because he hasn’t done anything wrong.
In the Friday filing, Wood also set a Monday deadline for Cohen’s team to finish reviewing the remaining documents in their possession for privilege designations. Cohen’s attorneys noted in their filing that they met this deadline.
Trump and the Trump Organisation have until Wednesday to make similar designations, Wood ordered.
Last week, Cohen hired Guy Petrillo as the latest lawyer representing him in the case after it was reported that Cohen was breaking up with his legal team. It’s believed that Cohen’s existing legal team will stick around through the document review portion of the investigation before parting ways.
Petrillo, a partner at Petrillo Klein & Boxer, has extensive experience in the Southern District of New York, which is something Cohen reportedly sought and led some to speculate that he was pining for a deal with prosecutors.
Mitchell Epner, an attorney at Rottenberg Lipman Rich who was previously an assistant US attorney for the District of New Jersey, told Business Insider that the percentage of documents that Cohen asserted privilege over was “extremely low” for an attorney’s working files.
Still, he said it could take Jones weeks to review 12,000 privilege claims. At a minimum, he said it could take Jones 200 hours to complete that review.
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