WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer and hard-nosed fixer, Michael Cohen, lost an early round in federal court in Manhattan on Monday, as a judge ordered him to disclose the name of a client he had tried to keep secret: Fox News personality Sean Hannity.
The disclosure was the latest surprise in a highly unusual court case in which the president is fighting his own Justice Department.
Cohen, his lawyer disclosed, represents Hannity along with Trump and Elliot Broidy, the prominent Los Angeles-based Republican fundraiser. Earlier in the day, Cohen’s lawyers said in a letter to District Judge Kimba Wood that he had only three clients, but they refused to divulge Hannity’s name.
The lawyers did not say what work Cohen has performed for Hannity.
Cohen has arranged at least two hush-money payments to women who claimed they had sexual affairs with Trump. One was $130,000 to Stormy Daniels, the porn actress, and she attended the crowded court hearing.
For Broidy, Cohen helped broker a $1.6 million payment to a former Playboy model with whom he had a sexual relationship. The woman became pregnant and subsequently had an abortion, Broidy said in a statement last week after The Wall Street Journal first reported Cohen’s role.
Cohen’s lawyer argued to keep the third client’s name confidential, but Wood dismissed his pleas to write it down in a sealed note. She ordered him to say it aloud.
“I rule it must be disclosed now,” she said.
The disclosures came at a hearing at which Cohen is trying to stop federal investigators from sifting through a trove of tax records, business documents, emails and other material that FBI agents seized in court-approved searches of his apartment, hotel room, office and safe deposit box last week.
Cohen’s lawyers argued that the evidence should be protected by attorney-client privilege.
According to court filings, the public integrity section of the U.S. attorney’s office in New York has been investigating Cohen for months because of allegations that his private business dealings – including the secret hush-money payments – may have violated federal bank fraud or campaign-finance laws.
Cohen has said he paid the $130,000 to Daniels himself, was not reimbursed by Trump, and never even told Trump what he’d done. Trump also has said that he was unaware of the payment.
The government has proposed that Cohen’s materials can be reviewed by a walled-off “taint team” of prosecutors that will judge which material is relevant to the investigation and filter out documents that should be kept private.
In a court filing Sunday night, however, Trump’s lawyers argued that would not protect the president’s rights – thus disputing the Justice Department’s position.
“In the highly politicized, even fevered, atmosphere that envelops this matter, it is simply unreasonable to expect that a team of prosecutors, even if not directly involved in the investigation of Mr. Cohen, could perform a privilege review in the manner necessary to safeguard the important interests of the president, as the holder of the privilege,” said the filing by Trump’s attorney Joanna C. Hendon.
Trump’s lawyers argued that they should be given the right to first review the seized material to delete anything they believe is privileged material involving the president.
Prosecutors responded Monday in a letter to Wood that “there is no basis for the assertion by the president that career federal prosecutors, designated to a filter team, cannot fairly evaluate whether certain files, obtained by a judicially-authorized search warrant contain privileged material.”
The president has complained angrily about the FBI raids on Cohen, tweeting on Sunday that “Attorney Client privilege is now a thing of the past. I have many (too many!) lawyers and they are probably wondering when their offices, and even homes, are going to be raided with everything, including their phones and computers, taken. All lawyers are deflated and concerned!”
Trump may have undermined his own argument for protecting the records when he told reporters that he wasn’t aware of the $130,000 payment to the porn actress. That will open up an argument that Cohen wasn’t acting as a lawyer when he paid the money.
Cohen appears to have taken a different position than Trump on how the documents should be handled.
In a court filing Monday morning, Cohen’s lawyers said either they and Trump’s lawyers should be allowed to review the seized materials before the prosecution, or that the judge should appoint an outside special master to do the review.
Allowing Cohen and Trump to review the materials before prosecutors can look at them would be a significant defeat for the government. A special master, however, would be a more palatable solution.
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