Lawyers for President Donald Trump, the Trump Organization and the president’s attorney Michael Cohen were told by a judge to submit plans for a quick review of evidence seized from Cohen by federal investigators and highlighting any as protected by attorney-client privilege.
U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood issued the directions Wednesday, indicating she might appoint a special master — an independent judge or lawyer — to review evidence Trump, his organization or Cohen say shouldn’t be seen by investigators because it’s privileged.
The lawyers “should be prepared to address the process to be undertaken by a special master, should one be appointed,” Wood said. They should also submit a letter by later Wednesday indicating the resources they have in place for the “expeditious” production of non-privileged materials, and to provide the special master “with any necessary information to make timely and accurate determination as to privilege.”
Cohen’s home, office, hotel room and safety-deposit box were searched by the FBI on April 9 as part of a long-running criminal investigation. Agents seized documents and made copies of computer hard drives and mobile phone data.
It’s rare for federal agents to seize an attorney’s records, and unprecedented to take those of a president’s personal lawyer.
The case has generated intense media attention, with adult film actress Stormy Daniels having attended a hearing April 16. She got a $130,000 payment from Cohen in 2016 to keep quiet about allegedly having sex with Trump in 2006. The hearing created more sensation when it was disclosed Fox News host Sean Hannity was one of three of Cohen’s clients.
U.S. prosecutors oppose the appointment of a special master, saying a separate team of government lawyers, unrelated to the investigation, would move faster to weed out material. Wood has seven names — four from Cohen’s legal team and three from the government — to consider as the special master.
She may issue a decision on whether she’ll choose a special master, and who, at Thursday’s hearing.
Prosecutors in New York haven’t identified what specifically they’re probing in relation to Cohen, although they said in a court filing that "the investigation relates in large part to conduct by Cohen in his personal business and financial dealings."
The Washington Post reported that Cohen is under investigation for bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations. CNN said investigators were also seeking information about the hush agreement with Daniels.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is separately examining possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election.
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