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Judge checks Trump and Cohen’s privilege

President Donald Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen leaves

President Donald Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen leaves court in Manhattan on Monday. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Eduardo Munoz Alvarez

Not for their eyes only

Lawyers for Donald Trump and Michael Cohen told the court they wanted to decide among themselves what materials seized in FBI raids on Cohen — a longtime personal lawyer for the president — should be kept out of prosecutors’ hands because of attorney-client privilege.

Not likely to happen, Judge Kimba Wood said.

But she indicated she may be agreeable to bringing in outside counsel to help sort out the Trump-related parts of the agents’ haul.

Trump lawyer Joanna Hendon argued, “The government should not see privileged documents of the president.” Prosecutor Thomas McKay warned that Cohen and Trump were trying to drag things out because, “Their incentive is to delay an ongoing investigation.”

Wood gave Trump and Cohen a little breathing room.

“In terms of perception of fairness, not fairness itself, but perception of fairness, a special master might have a role here,” she told the lawyers. “Maybe not the complete role, but some role.”

Prosecutors say they are conducting a fraud-related criminal probe into Cohen’s business affairs and finances. But Cohen’s role in the Stormy Daniels payoff, Trump’s business dealings and scrutiny of him by special counsel Robert Mueller poses potential legal peril for the president. See John Riley’s story for Newsday.

Cohen’s shy client: Sean Hannity

The judge wanted a list of Cohen’s clients. He readily identified the two who were known — Trump and GOP megadonor Elliott Broidy, who enlisted Cohen to pay hush money to a former Playboy playmate whom he impregnated during an affair.

Cohen’s lawyer Stephen Ryan said Cohen had a third client who didn’t want to be identified. But the judge insisted, and Ryan shocked the courtroom by naming Fox News host and Trump pal Sean Hannity.

As Hannity told it later, he didn’t hire Cohen as a fixer, and never paid him or received a bill, which would seem to make him barely a client at all. The legal advice he got from Cohen was “almost exclusively about real estate,” Hannity said.

But the relationship was not disclosed to Fox viewers when Hannity was bashing the FBI for its raids on Cohen.

Circus in town

Among the spectators at the court hearing on the Cohen raid was Daniels — the porn star who says she had a sex fling with Trump and was bullied by Cohen in his efforts to keep her quiet. Outside, she told reporters, “For years, Mr. Cohen has acted like he is above the law.”

Janison: Federal cases

Former FBI Director James Comey made a career of crafting allegations of wrongdoing that would sound plausible to judges and juries. Before and after becoming president, Trump made a habit of hurling accusations too sloppy to withstand scrutiny.

Advantage Comey? When Trump’s loyal supporters are the jury, not necessarily. But facts will matter as the legal process plays out. See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.

Trump on Putin puzzled Comey

Comey says his suspicions that Trump could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail were fed by the president’s reluctance in their private conversations to speak critically of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

In an interview with USA Today, Comey said, “I can understand why a president ... might not want to criticize publicly another leader, but privately? Sitting with the person in charge of countering the Russian threat in the United States? Privately not being willing to do that? That always struck me.”

Trump watched “bits and pieces” Sunday night of Comey’s interview on ABC’s “20/20,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

The president kept up his Twitter offensive against Comey and his new book Monday, alleging the former FBI director “committed many crimes” during his tenure. See Newsday’s story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Not-so-tough guy

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday, said new sanctions against Russia for its role in Syria would be announced on Monday. But then Trump said: Not so fast.

Trump was upset that the sanctions were rolled out because he was not yet comfortable with them, The Washington Post reported. Administration officials told the Post it was unlikely Trump would approve any additional sanctions without another triggering event by Russia.

Separately, the Post reports that Trump’s Cabinet and advisers have dragged him, screaming and cursing, to agree to other actions against Russia, and he often prefers soft-pedal them, despite public declarations that “nobody has been tougher on Russia.” He remains frustrated at being unable to pursue a personal relationship with Vladimir Putin, the report said

What else is happening

  • The Stormy Daniels cameo wasn’t the only surreal scene outside the Cohen hearing. Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer strolled past the cameras, near where federal prosecutors investigating a prostitution ring a decade ago unmasked him as Client No. 9. Spitzer said he agreed with Comey that Trump “is a stain on the presidency, he’s degraded it.”
  • An internal government watchdog says the EPA violated federal spending law limits by building a $43,000 soundproof privacy booth for Administrator Scott Pruitt’s phone calls.
  • Kimba Wood, the judge hearing arguments over the Cohen raid, was nominated in 1993 by President Bill Clinton to be attorney general, but withdrew because she had employed an immigrant who was not in the country legally as a baby sitter. She also briefly trained as a student in London to be a Playboy bunny.
  • The fire at Trump Tower that killed a 67-year-old art dealer on April 7 was accidental and caused by overloaded power strips, the FDNY determined.
  • Another lawyer has turned down the opportunity to represent Trump in the Russia investigation, CNN reported. Steven Molo of New York cited “a current conflict related to the investigation.”
  • Exploding federal deficits as a result of spending and tax cuts approved by Trump and Congress mean that by 2022, the government is projected to spend almost as much on interest as on the military, The Washington Post reported.

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