A federal judge just sided with Michael Cohen on the biggest issue in his case -- and added another wildcard

Getty ImagesMichael Cohen
  • A federal judge on Thursday ruled on the most significant aspect of the case involving Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer.
  • The judge opted to appoint a so-called special master in the case.
  • The special master will conduct the initial review of documents obtained during raids of Cohen’s hotel room and office and determine what falls under attorney-client privilege.
  • Prosecutors cited Trump’s comments in a Thursday “Fox & Friends” interview as evidence that there would be few documents that fell under such privilege and that a review would be rather quick.

A federal judge on Thursday sided with Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer, on the most significant issue in his case – and in doing so, she added another wildcard to the proceedings.

US District Court Judge Kimba Wood said she would appoint a special master to initially review documents seized during the FBI’s raids of Cohen’s home, hotel room, and office earlier this month to determine what falls under protected attorney-client privilege and what prosecutors could use against Cohen.

Wood appointed Barbara Jones, a partner at Bracewell who specialises in white-collar litigation, as the special master.

Jones, a former federal judge for the Southern District of New York, was not among the candidates submitted by either Cohen’s team or the government.

Legal experts had told Business Insider that Wood would be more likely to select one of the government’s nominees, who were retired judges from the Southern District of New York. Cohen’s team submitted names of former federal prosecutors.

Wood’s selection, however, pleased Cohen’s legal team.

“We embrace the court’s order,” said Stephen Ryan, Cohen’s attorney, calling Jones a “wonderful choice.”

Both sides debated in court on Thursday whether the special master should have a deadline for completing the review.

The hearing became heated at times, with Trump’s and Cohen’s lawyers arguing about whose turn it was to speak.

Trump and Cohen differed on a special master

Trump and Cohen did not quite see eye to eye on a special master.

After seeking to allow Cohen to review the documents, Cohen’s attorneys sought the appointment, while Trump has offered to review them himself.

The government opposes such an appointment, insisting that a so-called taint team of prosecutors could do the initial document review and arguing that Cohen’s case does not present special circumstances.

Wood had signalled she was open to using a taint team or appointing a special master.

Raiding an attorney’s office is a last-resort option for the Justice Department when it fears that documents could be destroyed if they were sought in any other way.

Earlier Thursday, Trump suggested that Cohen handled only a small portion of his legal work, as the case involving the attorney centres on how much evidence obtained by the government falls under attorney-client privilege.

During an interview on Thursday with the Fox News morning show “Fox & Friends,” Trump said Cohen handled a “tiny, tiny fraction” of his “overall legal work.”

In a filing later Thursday, the government cited the comments as evidence that “the seized materials are unlikely to contain voluminous privileged documents.”

The FBI conducted the raids earlier this month as part of a criminal investigation into whether Cohen violated campaign finance laws or committed bank fraud. Prosecutors haven’t disclosed what exactly they are looking into, though they said in a court filing that “the crimes being investigated involve acts of concealment.”

Cohen is said to have been a cause for worry in the White House in recent weeks. People close to Trump have suggested Cohen is likely to “flip,” or cooperate with the government by providing information about others in exchange for a lesser punishment. Cohen has not been charged with a crime.

Cohen, who for years has been a close friend and adviser to Trump, has expressed intense loyalty to the president. He once reportedly said he would “take a bullet” for Trump, and he has handled sensitive matters related to him, including paying the porn star Stormy Daniels $US130,000 shortly before the 2016 election to ensure her silence about an alleged affair with Trump.

Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, filed a motion Thursday morning seeking to have his client join the case as an intervening party, but Wood said in the afternoon hearing that she would not yet rule on that aspect.

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