Trump favourite outed in court
NEW YORK: Donald Trump’s legal battle with his Justice Department led to an extraordinary courtroom showdown yesterday between his personal lawyer, one of the US’s most prestigious prosecution offices and a lavender-clad porn star fuelling the media circus.
The hearing before a federal judge in downtown Manhattan, centred on a technicality, almost descended into a farce when the name of Mr Trump’s favourite Fox News anchor was suddenly revealed as another purported client of Michael Cohen.
Mr Cohen, the president’s long-time personal lawyer and fixer, is under investigation by the FBI. Last week, agents confiscated documents in a raid on his home, hotel room, office and a safety deposit box. They also seized two mobile phones.
His legal team and Mr Trump — who denounced the raid as a “witch hunt” — sought a restraining order that would prevent pros- ecutors from reviewing the material until the President can decide if any of it should be protected by lawyer-client privilege.
US district judge Kimba Wood denied the request, but agreed that Mr Cohen’s legal team should have access to the documents, instructing prosecutors to scan any material not already in electronic form into an accessible database.
How long that will take is not clear. Judge Wood also asked lawyers for Mr Cohen and Mr Trump to come up with names for a “special master” who she could potentially appoint to comb through the documents first. For now, the US attorney’s office in Manhattan agreed not to examine any of the material, pending a final decision from the judge.
Judge Wood otherwise forced Mr Cohen’s lawyer to reveal the name of a previously undisclosed client, who could also be affected by lawyer-client privilege concerns. Mr Cohen said he had worked for only three clients in the past year — Mr Trump, a Republican fundraiser who admitted to paying a former Playboy model after she became pregnant during their affair and a third he did not name because the client refused to give his permission to be named.
Yesterday, the court heard the third client was Sean Hannity, the Fox News host Mr Trump is known to admire and speak with by telephone, and whose show is the most watched in US cable news. After last week’s raid on Mr Cohen’s offices, Hannity took to the air to denounce the probe as a “declared war” against the US President.
The revelation was met with gasps and laughter in court, but Hannity himself furiously denied any such relationship.
“Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter. I never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal fees. I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective,” he tweeted.
“I have no personal interest in this proceeding, and, in fact, asked that my de minimis discussions with Michael Cohen, which dealt almost exclusively about real estate, not be made a part of this proceeding.”
Some of the documents seized by the FBI relate to a payment of $US130,000 ($167,000) that Mr Cohen admits making to porn star Stormy Daniels, who claims she had a one-night stand with Trump a decade ago. The President has denied any knowledge of the payment to secure Daniels’s October 2016 signature on a hush agreement preventing her from talking about the liaison.
The porn star, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is fighting to quash the agreement.
She was whisked into court past an enormous media scrum, squeezing into a spot in the back at the last minute.
Daniels, dressed in a pale purple skirt suit and black blouse, talked to reporters after the 2½hour hearing. “For years, Mr Cohen has acted like he is above the law,” she said. “That ends now.
“My attorney and I are committed to making sure that everyone finds out the truth and the facts of what happened.”
Her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, added: “Michael Cohen was radioactive ... I think there is significant danger to the President.
The President trusted Mr Cohen with his inner-most secrets and I think the chickens are about to come home to roost.”
The Justice Department says Mr Cohen has been under investigation for months for criminal conduct largely centred on his “personal business dealings” but court papers have been redacted, leaving the specifics under wraps.
Prosecutors say they are looking for evidence of crimes, “many of which have nothing to do with his work as an attorney”.
The raid on Mr Cohen’s home and office came as special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe intensifies its focus on the President’s inner circle. Mr Mueller’s team is examining possible collusion between Mr Trump’s 2016 election campaign team and Russia, and allegations of corrupt behaviour by Trump campaign lieutenants and of White House efforts to obstruct the investigation. So far, 19 people have been indicted, including the chairman of the Trump campaign.
‘For years, Mr Cohen has acted like he is above the law’: Stormy Daniels emerges from the Manhattan federal district court yesterday
‘Michael Cohen was radioactive’; Mr Cohen yesterday