Ex-federal judge tapped to review Cohen documents

An independent lawyer who's a former federal judge will pick through Michael Cohen's documents before federal prosecu...

Posted: Apr 26, 2018 5:17 PM
Updated: Apr 26, 2018 5:17 PM

An independent lawyer who's a former federal judge will pick through Michael Cohen's documents before federal prosecutors in New York can use them in their criminal investigation of him, a judge decided Thursday.

Barbara Jones, who's also a former prosecutor from the district and now works at a large private law firm, will review the documents to make sure investigators can't use any confidential legal work Cohen did for clients like President Donald Trump, the Trump Organization and Sean Hannity.

The prosecutors have also asked for a quick review. They cited Trump's comments to Fox News Thursday morning -- after the President said Cohen, performed a "tiny, tiny little fraction" of legal work -- to argue that the documents are "unlikely to contain voluminous privileged documents."

Prosecutors seized the documents early in April in a raid of Cohen's house, office and a hotel room where he was staying. Since then, Cohen's and Trump's attorneys fought to see the documents before prosecutors could use them, and they, along with the team from the US Attorney's Office in Manhattan, asked for the judge to appoint an independent reviewer, called a special master.

An attorney for Stormy Daniels, who has alleged Cohen was involved in a hush money deal to suppress her allegation of an affair with Trump before the election, also filed a motion with the court Thursday to be heard in the case. By intervening, Daniels' attorneys will ask the court to preserve documents and allow them to be reviewed in case they are relevant in their separate civil case.

Judge Kimba Wood has called a hearing for Thursday to learn where the government is in its process of handing over copies of documents and electronics seized in the raid. She also asked attorneys for Cohen, the Trump Organization and the President to explain how quickly they could review the materials and make claims that some of them are protected. They submitted letters saying they had large legal and forensic teams available to review.

Prosecutors argued their proposal to allow a special master to conduct the initial review and then have the government and other parties battle over a smaller subset of documents that could be privileged would speed up the process and allow the criminal investigation to continue.

"Placing the initial identification of potentially privileged materials in the hands of a neutral party guards against the concern that an interested party making the first selection would be overbroad or underinclusive in their selection of the universe of potentially privileged materials. That, in turn, would cut down on disputes between the parties as to privilege determinations," the government said.

Daniels' request

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, also says she has a role to play in the case.

The porn star said that documents taken in the FBI raid of Cohen's home and office may violate her privacy because they include extensive records of her discussions with her former attorney who worked to kill stories about her alleged relationship with Trump, according to court papers she's slated to file in New York on Thursday.

Specifically, Clifford said the documents federal prosecutors took may include emails, texts and audio recordings between her and her Keith Davidson, who cut the deal with Cohen on a $130,000 hush payment before the 2016 presidential election.

Clifford's move to take part in the case in New York on Thursday could add another voice in the fight over who's reviewing Cohen's files. Currently, Cohen and federal prosecutors are asking for an independent review of the filings to weed out his confidential legal work. The Trump Organization and Trump, for whom Cohen has worked as a lawyer, also have voices in the case.

"It is also my understanding that the materials taken from Mr. Davidson includes Ms. Clifford's entire client file, including text messages and emails," Michael Avenatti, an attorney for Clifford, writes in the filing, shared via Twitter minutes before a court hearing with Cohen in New York was set to begin.

Davidson was in touch with Cohen about Clifford as recently as this year, after Clifford sued Trump in California, Avenatti wrote. Clifford has previously accused Davidson of working closely with Trump's lawyers while "pretending to advocate on her behalf."

Clifford claims the confidentiality of her attorney-client relationship with Davidson may be breached, based on statements Davidson made about how often he's spoken with Cohen.

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