Lawyers for President Donald Trump on Wednesday assured the federal judge overseeing his attorney-client privilege claims on documents seized from his personal attorney Michael Cohen that the president was standing at the ready to help on the eve of a newly scheduled hearing in the case.
“Our client will make himself available, as needed, to aid in our privilege review on his behalf,” Trump lawyer Joanna Hendon wrote in a letter to Manhattan U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood, who has worried about how long it may take for a proposed special master to review materials.
Wood, who previously set the next court date in the case for May 24, sped things up Wednesday, ordering a new Thursday noon hearing on progress giving copies of seized materials to Cohen’s legal team and procedures a special master might use to assess what is privileged.
Cohen paid $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016 to keep her from talking about an alleged affair with Trump. Agents raided Cohen’s home, office, hotel room and safe deposit box two weeks ago, seizing electronic devices and computers, and they have also searched his emails.
Prosecutors say they have been investigating fraud-related offenses in his personal business affairs for months, and Daniels’ lawyer has said the probe is in part connected to the hush money payments to her, which came on the eve of the presidential election.
Because of Trump’s close ties to Cohen for years and the possibility of sensitive materials, the case is viewed as a threat to Trump himself. A hearing last week drew both Cohen and Daniels and a mob of photographers, creating a circuslike atmosphere. It isn’t clear whether either will appear in person on Thursday.
Wood is considering a court-appointed special master to take over the review of attorney-client privilege claims that is normally conducted by prosecutors, saying it could enhance the “perception of fairness” to have a neutral party review documents seized from the president and other Cohen clients.
Although the judge has received suggestions of who the special master might be from prosecutors and from Cohen’s team, she has not made any final rulings and has also expressed concern about how long it might delay the Cohen probe if review of the seizures is taken away from prosecutors.
In her Wednesday order, she told lawyers for Cohen, Trump and the Trump Organization to file letters by 5 p.m. describing the “resources” they had available to sort materials, ensure “expeditious production” of unprivileged documents, make privilege claims and give a master the “necessary information to make timely and accurate determinations.”
Cohen’s law firm said they were expecting the first shipload of copies from the government Wednesday via FedEx. In addition to the promise of Trump at the ready, all three said they would have top-notch document review teams and legal staffs available.
Trump originally had asked to have his lawyers conduct the review of materials relating to him, but Wood has shown no support for that idea.
Typically, in a search or raid involving legal documents, prosecutors have a “taint team” that is not involved in the investigation review seized materials and winnow out those protected by attorney-client privilege. The target of the search can then challenge the conclusions.
The review includes considering what materials relate to an investigation and which are irrelevant, which are legal communications and which discuss business matters and have no protection, and which legal communications lose their protection because they discuss crime or fraud.
In the Cohen case, prosecutors have so far voluntarily agreed to not review any materials, but they have complained that an extended delay will stall their investigation. Lawyers for Cohen and Trump don’t want prosecutors — even from a taint team — reviewing documents that are privileged or may not even relate to the subject of the search warrant.