A Manhattan federal judge on Friday rejected a bid by President Donald Trump and his lawyer Michael Cohen to file under seal their claims of attorney-client privilege for some of the materials seized in an April raid on Cohen’s office.
U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood, siding with the government and a coalition of media organizations, said in a two-sentence order that Trump, Cohen and the Trump Organization could black out references to “the substance of the contested documents,” but their filings should be public.
Cohen, who made a payment to porn star Stormy Daniels to keep silent about a Trump affair, is under investigation for fraud-related offenses. His office and home were raided on April 9. He filed suit, joined later by Trump, to keep the government from looking at attorney-client privileged materials.
Barbara Jones, the special master named by Wood, has finished reviewing privilege claims relating to some of materials, and has rejected at least three claims from Cohen, Trump or the Trump Organization. Cohen and Trump earlier this week asked to file papers under seal disputing her designations.
Confidentiality protections generally apply only to communications seeking legal advice — not discussions of business matters — and an attorney’s “work product” on legal matters. Communications relating to crime or fraud lose their protection.
The practical effect of Wood’s ruling may be limited. While the public still won’t learn the substance of disputed documents, prosecutors said they should have access to the legal arguments used to claim protection.
If Wood agrees with Jones and rules that items are not privileged, she might then describe their substance in her ruling, or media lawyers might ask her to disclose the blacked out portions of filings made by Trump and Cohen.
Newsday was one of nine news organizations that opposed wholesale sealing of the Trump and Cohen filings, arguing that the case was of “intense public interest and importance to our nation” and the public should know the legal arguments.