Trump and allies facing legal ‘minefield’
UNITED STATES: US President Donald Trump and his allies have hit a new level of anxiety after the FBI raid on his personal attorney’s office, fearful of deeper exposure for Trump, his inner circle and his adult children – and more than concerned that they don’t know exactly what is in those records and electronic devices seized last week.
There are also worries that Michael Cohen, the self-described legal fixer who helped to make bad stories go away, may strike a deal with prosecutors out of concern about his own prospects.
‘‘I think it’s a huge minefield for Donald Trump and the Trump Organisation,’’ said trial attorney Joseph Cammarata, who represented Paula Jones in her sexual harassment suit against President Bill Clinton.
The wild legal show continued to play out yesterday, at a court hearing in New York before a federal judge considering what to do with the material the FBI seized from Cohen. The scene was punctuated by dramatic entrances and revelations.
Stormy Daniels – the porn actress who claims she had a sexual affair with Trump – made an appearance, stumbling on her high heels as she was swarmed by media. Cohen was forced to reveal that another one of his clients is Fox News host Sean Hannity, a longtime ally and high-profile confidant of the president.
Judge Kimba Wood wrapped up the hearing without making a final decision. She said she trusted prosecutors to review the materials, but might allow a neutral third party to weigh in as well.
Lawyers for Cohen had asked for the appointment of a so-called special master to review the material and make sure nothing protected by attorney-client privilege winds up in the hands of investigators. Wood said she would consider the idea. As a first step, she told prosecutors to put all the seized documents into a searchable database and share it with Cohen’s lawyers.
Trump left the White House yesterday for Florida, for a twoday summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the president’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Advisers are hoping the meeting will divert attention from the legal tempest in Washington and New York.
On the trip south, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders sought to put distance between Trump and Cohen, saying: ‘‘I believe they’ve still got some ongoing things, but the president has a large number of attorneys, as you know.’’
The FBI raid, carried out a week ago in New York City, sought bank records, information on Cohen’s dealings in the taxi industry, Cohen’s communications with the Trump campaign, and information on payments he made in 2016 to Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who both claim to have had relationships with Trump, people familiar with the raid have said.
Though Cohen once said he ‘‘would take a bullet’’ for Trump, he is aware of the possible outcome – including potential prison time – and has expressed worry about his family, according to a person who has spoken with him in recent days.
Further angering the president is that the raid was triggered in part by a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. Many in the White House view the aftershocks of the Cohen raid as potentially more threatening than Mueller’s Russia probe, fearful of what skeletons may be in the lawyer’s closets, according to five officials and outside allies, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
White House aides have expressed worry that they can control Trump less at his palatial Florida estate, where he is known to seek out counsel from club members and get revved up by their at-times provocative advice. One recent presidential dinner guest was Hannity.
Hannity said yesterday it was no ‘‘big deal’’ that he consulted with Cohen about his own legal affairs. He said they had ‘‘brief discussions’’, but he never retained Cohen ‘‘in any traditional sense,’’ never paid him, and was never billed.
Porn actress Stormy Daniels arrives at federal court in New York for a hearing where a federal judge considered how to review material the FBI seized from US President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen in a raid on his office last week.
Cohen has revealed that his clients include Fox News host and Trump confidant Sean Hannity.