late 2016 in exchange for her agreement not to discuss an alleged sexual encounter with Trump.
Hannity played down his relationship with Cohen, saying he occasionally asked him legal questions but never paid him. But the connection between the two men inserted another high-profile, polarizing Trump ally into the drama surrounding the criminal investigation of the president’s longtime lawyer.
The legal showdown began last week when FBI agents searched Cohen’s office, home, hotel room and safedeposit box, seizing records and documents as part of a probe by federal prosecutors in New York into possible bank fraud and wire fraud.
Lawyers for Cohen and Trump have argued that the seizure could lead to violations of attorney-client privilege.
At a hearing Monday before U.S. District Court Judge Kimba Wood, federal prosecutors sparred with lawyers for Cohen and a lawyer for Trump, who Sunday night asked the judge to let the president review the seized material before investigators go through it.
Last week, Cohen’s Porn actress Stormy Daniels arrives at federal court Monday in New York for a hearing on President Donald Trump’s request that he be allowed to review records seized from his lawyer, Michael Cohen. attorneys asked to review the documents, or have a court-appointed special master do so, to determine what material is protected by attorney-client privilege.
The judge did not make a decision but said she was considering appointing a special master — not because of legal precedent but in the interest of avoiding the appearance of bias in the politically charged case. Wood said she wanted more information before ruling.
“I have faith in the Southern District U.S. attorney’s office that their integrity is unimpeachable,” she said. But she added that to address concerns about “fairness” raised by Trump and Cohen’s attorneys, “a special master might have a role here. Maybe not the complete role, but some role.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas McKay urged the judge to reject the requests from the president and Cohen.
“Just because he has a powerful client doesn’t mean he should get special treatment,” said McKay, who warned that if the judge gives them an inch, “they’re going to take a mile.”
Trump attorney Joanna Hendon told the judge that the president “is objecting to anyone other than himself making the initial determination of privilege,” urging caution over haste.
“This is an extraordinary case,” she said. “There’s tremendous risk that privileged material could not be recognized as such.”
It is unusual but not unprecedented for criminal investigators to seize documents from a lawyer, and there is a policy in place designed to shield information covered by attorney-client privilege.
That procedure involves having a “taint team” — also called a “filter team” — of prosecutors outside the investigation review all the material and separate what is covered by the privilege. A lawyer’s communications with a client are not covered by the privilege if they did not involve legal advice or were used to further a crime or fraud.
Under the procedure, the taint team would turn over to the case investigators all the material that is relevant and not covered by attorney-client privilege.
Wood said Monday that “a taint team is a viable option,” but it was unclear how she would ultimately decide to assess the possibly privileged material.
The case carried added weight because of the strange circumstance of a Justice Department lawyer squaring off in court against a lawyer for the president to argue about potential evidence in a criminal probe of the president’s private attorney.
In the course of their arguments, Cohen’s lawyers acknowledged that he has had only about three legal clients in the past year and a half — Trump, former Republican National Committee deputy finance chairman Elliot Broidy and a mystery third client whom Cohen initially didn’t want to name.
Under pressure from the judge, Cohen’s legal team eventually revealed that Hannity was the third client, drawing gasps and some chuckles in the courtroom.
The firebrand commentator is a close informal adviser to Trump, who has urged the public to watch Hannity’s show, during which he regularly attacks the special counsel investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign.
Last week, Hannity criticized the raids on Cohen’s office and residences as “an unprecedented abuse of power,” never mentioning his relationship with the Trump lawyer.
“Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter,” the conservative commentator tweeted Monday. “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.”
Cohen has come under scrutiny by federal prosecutors for his efforts to tamp down negative stories about Trump, such as the one involving Stormy Daniels.
Last week, it was revealed that Cohen had helped Broidy negotiate a $1.6 million settlement with a former Playboy model who got pregnant after they had an affair.
Daniels attended Monday’s hearing, telling reporters afterward that “for years, Mr. Cohen has acted like he is above the law.”
“He has never thought that the little man — or especially, women, and even more, women like me — matter,” she said. “That ends now. My attorney and I are committed to making sure that everyone finds out the truth.”