Michael Cohen Asks Judge to Shield Trump Files From Prosecutors

Stock SectorApril 13, 20188min16
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Members of the media approached President Trump’s personal attorney, Michael D. Cohen, in New York on Thursday.
Justin Lane/EPA, via Shutterstock

President Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, asked a federal judge in Manhattan on Friday to block the Justice Department from reading documents related to his decade-long legal representation of Mr. Trump and that were taken in a recent F.B.I. raid.

The hurriedly scheduled court appearance reflected the unease and worry inside Mr. Trump’s inner circle over this week’s raids. The documents could shed light on the president’s relationship with an adviser who has helped steer him through some of his thorniest personal and business dilemmas.

In an extraordinarily rare move, the F.B.I. seized Mr. Cohen’s computer and files, looking for all contacts with Mr. Trump and his campaign about efforts to beat back negative publicity, including arranging payments to women who claimed affairs with Mr. Trump. The breadth of the search warrant shocked Mr. Trump and his advisers, who are still not sure exactly what records Mr. Cohen kept and what they could mean for Mr. Trump.

A lawyer representing Mr. Trump’s interest in the case also appeared, and asked a judge to order the Justice Department to temporarily delay looking at the files until the matter could be litigated.

“Those searches have been executed and the evidence is locked down. I’m not trying to delay,” Joanna C. Hendon, an attorney for Mr. Trump, said during the hearing on Friday. “I’m just trying to ensure that it’s done scrupulously.”

Mr. Cohen wants his lawyers to be able to review the files and withhold privileged material before prosecutors can see them. As an alternative, he asked that an independent lawyer be allowed to review the files first. A judge postponed any decision until a follow-up hearing Monday.

Federal agents seized documents that dated back years, some of which are related to payments to two women who have said they had affairs with Mr. Trump. Other documents seized included information about the role of The National Enquirer in silencing one of the women, people briefed on the investigation have said.

Mr. Cohen’s lawyers have called the raid of his offices and hotel room an overreach of the law, and the president has said that the attorney-client privilege is dead because of the action.

A federal judge authorized prosecutors to seize the records on Monday, but Mr. Cohen is challenging their authority to review them. The warrant sought all documents, including emails between Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump, related to Mr. Cohen’s efforts to suppress negative publicity ahead of the 2016 election.

Communications between lawyers and their clients are normally off limits to prosecutors but there are exceptions, including when the materials are considered part of an ongoing crime.

The raid on Mr. Cohen surprised and angered the president, who has been frustrated with the ongoing special counsel investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference, the Kremlin’s possible coordination with Trump associates and whether the president has been deliberately trying to obstruct those inquiries. On Monday, Mr. Trump called the raid an “attack on our country in a true sense.”

Federal agents in New York were looking for information about Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who claims she had a nearly yearlong affair with Mr. Trump shortly after the birth of his youngest son in 2006. American Media Inc., which owns the National Enquirer, paid Ms. McDougal $150,000. The chief executive of America Media Inc. is a friend of Mr. Trump’s.

Agents were also searching Mr. Cohen’s office and hotel room for information related to Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, a pornographic film actress. Ms. Clifford has said she had sex with Mr. Trump while he was married. Mr. Cohen has acknowledged that he paid Ms. Clifford $130,000 as part of a nondisclosure agreement to secure her silence days before the 2016 presidential election. Mr. Trump recently told reporters he knew nothing about the agreement.

The seized records also include communications between Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen, who joined Mr. Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, in 2006, which would most likely require a special team of agents to review because conversations between lawyers and clients are protected from scrutiny in most instances.

Searching a law office is one of the most sensitive — and most heavily reviewed — activities the Justice Department conducts. It is rare to seek documents from lawyers in any case, but doing so by search rather than subpoena is unusually aggressive and is typically reserved for cases when prosecutors believe that the lawyer would conceal or destroy evidence if asked for it.

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