Trump lawyer Michael Cohen wants to review evidence the FBI seized from him before prosecutors can

Key Points
  • Trump's longtime lawyer Michael Cohen wants to review evidence the FBI seized from him before prosecutors can.
  • The hearing was adjourned until Monday after another attorney, who represents the president in the case, raised similar concerns.
  • Michael Avenatti, a lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels was in court for the hearing.
Trump lawyer Michael Cohen wants to review evidence found in FBI raid
Trump lawyer Michael Cohen wants to review evidence found in FBI raid

A court hearing Friday on an emergency request by President Donald Trump's longtime personal lawyer to bar prosecutors from getting a quick look at materials seized in FBI raids was adjourned until Monday after another attorney, who represents the president in the case, raised similar concerns.

Michael Cohen, who has a reputation as a "fixer" for Trump, asked in a court filing late Thursday that his own lawyers be allowed to review the materials and then determine which of them should be turned over to federal prosecutors for their ongoing criminal investigation.

Failing that, Cohen wants a judge to appoint a so-called special master to determine which files can be seen by prosecutors, to avoid a violation of attorney-client privilege that would taint any case brought against Cohen, Trump or anyone else.

While Cohen's filing is under seal, the judge in the case summarized the gist of it, after media outlets said they wanted all the documents in the case made public, at Friday's hearing in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. Cohen was not present for that hearing.

Meanwhile, Trump called Cohen to "check in" on Friday, The New York Times reported, citing two sources familiar with the call. That development emerged after White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that she wasn't sure whether Cohen was still Trump's personal attorney.

'We need more time'

A lawyer representing Trump said told Judge Kimba Wood at the hearing that she is worried about the plan by prosecutors to have a "taint team" of independent federal lawyers review the material to determine what information from the raids is permissible for disclosure to prosecutors who are actually handling the case. Some, if not all, of that material relates to Trump.

Federal prosecutors "would not be my first choice for that role," said Trump's lawyer, Joanna Hendon, who revealed that the president had only hired her for the case two full days after the raids on Cohen's office and hotel room.

Hendon said she believed "my client," Trump, "should be allowed" to make arguments about who will get to review the evidence seized from Cohen. Hendon said the privilege in the attorney-client privilege belongs to Trump, not to Cohen.

Hendon said she had seen neither Cohen's sealed motion, nor the response to it filed Friday by prosecutors. She noted "the exceptional nature of my client," and her concern that Trump's interests could be damaged if the review of Cohen's files is mishandled.

"He is the president of the United States," Hendon said. "The issues are so weighty. ... We need more time."

She added: "What's at stake? The viability of the prosecution."

In Monday raids, FBI agents seized evidence related to Cohen's $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels in exchange for what Daniels has said was her silence about a purported sexual encounter with Trump. Prosecutors also are reportedly eyeing payments to another woman who claims she had sex with Trump more than a decade ago, along with other issues related to Cohen.

Thomas McKay, a federal prosecutor in the case, pushed back hard at the requests by both Cohen's lawyer and Hendon. McKay said he objected to them seeking to delay the prosecution's review of the evidence more than three full days after the raids occurred.

"It's just another attempt at delay," McKay griped.

McKay also said that Trump was entitled to no more deference in the review of his lawyer's files than any other person.

Porn star's lawyer shows up

Michael Avenatti, a lawyer for Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was in court for the hearing.

Avenatti said it was "shocking" that Trump, who had angrily denounced the raids Monday, did not hire a lawyer to represent his interests in the case involving the materials relating to him until Wednesday.

Avenatti said the president, who has had problems hiring lawyers to deal with the ongoing probe by special counsel Robert Mueller, should have had an attorney retained for Cohen's case by last Monday night, immediately after the raids.

Avenatti told reporters after the hearing that he wanted to make sure that the evidence seized from Cohen were secured, regardless of who reviewed them and regardless of who was allowed to see them.

"We don't want documents disappearing under any circumstances," Avenatti said.

"He knows where all the bodies are buried," Avenatti said, referring to Cohen.

Judge Wood adjourned the hearing until Monday afternoon to allow time for the parties involved to prepare for arguments. Prosecutors agreed not to use the seized materials until then. Cohen had filed a temporary restraining order in response to the warrant that authorized the searches.

Avenatti asked Wood if he would be allowed to state his position in the case on Monday. She agreed.

Rachel Strom, a lawyer for ABC News, had argued at the beginning of the hearing that all of the proceedings should be held in public view, and not at a sidebar conference with the judge.

McKay also said he believed the proceedings should be open to the public.

'He has no basis to challenge it'

Cohen's argument is "a dead loser," said former U.S. attorney Harry Litman, who teaches at the UCLA School of Law and continues to practice law. "The search was orthodox and lawful and he has no basis to challenge it," Litman said, based on news reports about the process of obtaining the search warrant.

But even if it turns out that the warrant was acquired on insufficient grounds, Litman said Cohen's strategy for this hearing doesn't hold much water.

"Even if it's flagrantly unlawful, the way to challenge that is to keep the government from using the evidence in court against him," Litman said.

Talks between Trump-Mueller teams break down, NBC reports
Talks between Trump-Mueller teams break down, NBC reports

Cohen's approach, on the other hand, makes it look like he is trying to temporarily freeze the government's ability to use what it has seized, said Harry Rimm, a partner of the law firm Sullivan & Worcester.

"The argument is likely that this is an unusual case with leaks," where Cohen can't "wait months for a suppression motion because by the time we'd get to a suppression motion in the normal course, Cohen will have suffered terrible harm," Rimm told CNBC in an email.

Serious suspicions

Cohen is being investigated by federal prosecutors in New York after special counsel Mueller reportedly made a referral to the FBI that led to the warrant. Mueller is investigating potential links between Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein personally signed off on the raids, The New York Times reported Tuesday. Legal experts have said the raids on Cohen for information relating to Trump — material normally protected by attorney-client privilege — demonstrate the seriousness of prosecutors' suspicions about Cohen.

Investigators searched for documents relating to the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape in which Trump boasts about sexual harassment and communications between Trump and Cohen about the tape.

Investigators also sought other records, including those relating to a $130,000 payment made by Cohen to Daniels as part of a hush deal about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier. They also reportedly looked for documents in Cohen's possession related to payments made to another woman who claims she had an affair with Trump, Playboy model Karen McDougal.

--Reuters contributed to this report.