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Trump loses initial bid to review seized records from Cohen

Anxiety grows for Trump after raid on his personal lawyer

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CBS This Morning co-anchor Gayle King, left, Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti, CNN news anchor Don Lemon and FOX News talk show host Sean Hannity pose for a selfie at The Hollywood Reporter’s annual 35 Most Powerful People in Media event.
Gulf News

Washington: President Donald Trump suffered a setback as a federal judge rejected his initial request to keep prosecutors from immediately reviewing evidence seized by the FBI last week from his longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

US District Judge Kimba Wood wrestled in court Monday with the correct way to determine whether materials seized from Cohen’s home, office and hotel room involved privileged communications between Cohen and his clients. Still, the judge ordered prosecutors to make available to Cohen’s attorneys all of the evidence seized. Prosecutors must put the material in digital form and can’t review it yet, the judge said.

Wood said she was open to a plan by prosecutors to set up a team separate from the lawyers investigating case to review the evidence. But she also said she would consider appointing an impartial “special master” to help in the process. She asked the prosecution team to get a precise estimate on how long their proposed vetting group, a so-called taint team, would need to go through everything and sort out what’s relevant and what’s privileged.

Daniels claims she had sex with Trump in 2006 and took a $130,000 hush payment from Cohen shortly before the 2016 election. Cohen has said he made the payment from his own account.

Lawyers for Trump, Cohen and the government spent three hours arguing in a Manhattan courtroom over whether prosecutors investigating Cohen could go through evidence and electronics seized in an April 9 raid.

The hearing, which generated sensational media attention, failed to deliver the sizzle expected with the presence of adult film star Stormy Daniels, who sat slumped in the back of the courtroom.

The biggest revelation was that Cohen had also represented Sean Hannity, the Fox News commentator who for the last week has decried the Cohen raids. Cohen had declined to name the client for privacy reasons, but the judge ordered him to provide a name.

Daniels claims she had sex with Trump in 2006 and took a $130,000 hush payment from Cohen shortly before the 2016 election. Cohen has said he made the payment from his own account.

“For years, Mr. Cohen has acted like he is above the law,” Daniels, accompanied by her lawyer, told reporters outside the courthouse. “This ends now. My attorney and I are committed to making sure that everyone finds out the truth and the facts of what happened, and I give my word we will not rest until that happens.”

Daniels, who walked into the courtroom about two minutes before the hearing started, wearing a black dress, strappy sandals and a pale pink blazer, appeared bored with the argument, occasionally leaning over to whisper to lawyer Michael Avenatti.



Trump and his allies have hit a new level of anxiety after the raid on his personal attorney’s office, fearful of deeper exposure for Trump, his inner circle and his adult children — and more than concerned that they don’t know exactly what is in those records and electronic devices seized last week.

There is also some worry that Cohen, the self-described legal fixer who helped make bad stories go away and took a leading role in Trump Organization projects in foreign outposts, may strike a deal with prosecutors out of concern about his own prospects.

“I think it’s a huge minefield for Donald Trump and the Trump Organization,” said trial attorney Joseph Cammarata, who represented Paula Jones in her sexual harassment suit against President Bill Clinton. “I think this is on its own track and this train is coming down the track with brute force.”

Trump left the White House for Florida, for a two-day summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the president’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Advisers are hoping the meeting will draw attention from the legal tempest in Washington and New York.

On the trip south, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders sought to put distance between Trump and Cohen, saying: “I believe they’ve still got some ongoing things, but the president has a large number of attorneys, as you know.”

The federal raid, carried out a week ago in New York City, sought bank records, information on Cohen’s dealing in the taxi industry, Cohen’s communications with the Trump campaign and information on payments he made in 2016 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal and to Daniels, both of whom allege relationships with Trump. The court proceedings Monday dealt with who gets to look at Cohen’s seized documents and devices before they are turned over to prosecutors.

Though Cohen once said he “would take a bullet” for Trump, he is aware of the possible outcome — including potential prison time — and has expressed worry about his family, said a person who has spoken to the lawyer in recent days but is not authorised to discuss private conversations. Cohen has not been charged with anything.

Trump’s moods have grown darker in recent days, as he lashes out at the “overreach” of the raid. Further angering the president is that the raid was triggered in part by a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. The raid was authorised by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

On Twitter Sunday, Trump said that all lawyers are now “deflated and concerned” by the FBI raid on Cohen, adding that “Attorney Client privilege is now a thing of the past.” Trump has also taken to downplaying Cohen’s role.


Skeletons in closet

The president also inveighed further against former FBI Director James Comey, who said Monday morning that Trump was morally unfit to be president. That was a few hours after Comey said the same and worse in a highly promoted ABC interview.

Many in the White House view the aftershocks of the Cohen raid as potentially more threatening than Mueller’s Russia probe, fearful of what skeletons may be in the lawyer’s closets, according to five officials and outside allies who all spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

“I agree with the consensus forming that it’s very dangerous for the president, probably the most serious thing yet,” said Sol Wisenberg, a defence attorney who was a deputy independent counsel during the Starr special counsel investigation into Clinton. “Even if you shut Mueller down some way, how do you shut down the Southern District [federal court]?”

Trump’s anger at the probe has intensified, with him musing publicly about firing Mueller and the man who authorised the probe, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Those around Trump have hoped that this week’s visit to Mar-a-Lago, where he is generally happier, along with the tightly scheduled summit with Abe, would somewhat distract him from Cohen and from Comey’s ongoing publicity tour.

But White House aides have also expressed worry that they can control Trump less at his palatial Florida estate, where he is known to seek out counsel from club members and get revved up by their at-times provocative advice. One recent presidential dinner guest was Hannity, a longtime Trump ally whose connection to Cohen shed more light on the attorney who was more than just a lawyer for Trump.

Cohen has long been a key power centre in the Trump Organization and a fixture along the edges of Trump’s nascent political life. In Cohen’s own estimation, he is Trump’s Ray Donovan, the bruising television character who takes whatever steps are needed to fix problems for the tycoon he serves.

He has regularly threatened lawsuits against those who pose a challenge to Trump. He has berated reporters for writing unflattering words about his boss. He has worked with tabloids, including the National Enquirer, to kill unfavourable stories about Trump. He has said he used a home-equity loan to finance a $130,000 payment to Daniels in the final days of the 2016 campaign and did so without Trump’s knowledge.

The president has consistently denied a relationship with Daniels, who claims the two had sex not long after first lady Melania Trump gave birth to the couple’s son Barron. He has also pushed back against other claims from women.

A recent Trump fundraising email praised Mrs. Trump, with the president calling her “my rock and foundation.”