A federal judge in New York on Monday refused a request by lawyers for President Donald Trump to stop federal investigators from going through evidence seized from Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, but the judge held off on deciding how best to review those materials for questions of possible attorney-client privilege involving the President, and whether that should keep some of the evidence out of the hands of prosecutors.
In a several hour hearing, federal judge Kimba Wood left open the possibility that she might appoint a “special master” to oversee the process of evaluating the evidence seized from the President’s lawyer, to determine which items should – or should not – be protected under attorney-client privilege.
The FBI has already set up what is known as a “taint team” to look through the materials – those people are completely separate from prosecutors working on the Cohen case in the Southern District of New York, and would determine if any documents are protected.
Judge Wood said that “taint team” could be a ‘viable option’ for how to proceed.
It was not clear how swiftly the judge would move to set further hearings, or decide on the process for reviewing the evidence; Wood asked both sides to propose names for a possible “special master,” though there was no guarantee that would be the final choice for evaluating the seized evidence.
The proceedings on Monday seemed to be just the start of what may be even to more legal wrangling over the materials seized from Cohen, as the legal team for the President’s personal lawyer will get a chance to see what the government has found, and then presumably, there could be legal challenges on whether that material should then be reviewed by prosecutors.
For now, the seized documents remain with the FBI “taint team” while awaiting further legal action.
The surprise FBI raid on April 9 was executed after the feds told a federal magistrate in New York that Cohen was under investigation “for criminal conduct that largely centers on his personal business dealings.” It was not clear if there were any direct links to President Trump.
As the court hearing developed, Cohen was asked to reveal the names of all of his clients, in order for the judge to further determine how to proceed with questions about the evidence.
Cohen and his legal team had made clear two of the clients included President Trump, as well as Elliott Brody, a GOP donor who recently resigned from a top position on the Republican National Committee.
But there was one more.
Cohen resisted, but then was forced to reveal the name – that of conservative talk radio host Sean Hannity.
But while Cohen claimed Hannity as a client, the Fox News host indicated their relationship was not one that included actual legal work.
On his afternoon radio show, Hannity said he found the news media response to the revelation to be ‘insane,’ as he indicated that he was never really a ‘client’ of Cohen – which ran counter to what Cohen had presented in the courtroom.
It was not immediately clear if there were any records seized by the FBI in the Cohen raid that had any relation to Hannity, who said on Twitter that most of his legal conversations with Cohen had been about real estate.