Prosecutors probing President Donald Trump’s lawyer said they are prepared to use a neutral outsider to review documents seized this month from the home and office of Michael Cohen, an about-face from the government’s initial plan to scrutinize the documents itself.
In a five-page letter to the judge on Thursday, federal prosecutors in Manhattan said they now recommend that retired U.S. Magistrate Judge Frank Maas serve as the special master to weed out records that might be covered by the attorney-client privilege. They had previously asked that a separate team of prosecutors be permitted to review the documents first.
“We believe that using Judge Maas or another neutral retired former Magistrate Judge familiar with this electronic discovery process and with experience in ruling on issues of privilege will lead to an expeditious and fair review of the materials obtained through the judicially authorized search warrants,” prosecutors said in a letter filed just hours before a court hearing scheduled for noon.
Seeking to show that the special master’s document review could move swiftly, the prosecutors quoted a Trump interview Thursday morning in which the president claimed on the Fox News program “ Fox & Friends” that Cohen was responsible for only “a tiny, tiny little fraction” of his legal work.
They also quoted another Cohen client, Fox News host Sean Hannity, who has said, “Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter. I never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal fees.”
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In the call-in interview with “Fox & Friends,” Trump began to distance himself from Cohen.
“I don’t know his business, but this doesn’t have to do with me,” Trump said. “They’re looking into something having to to do with his business. I have nothing to do with his business.”
Cohen’s lawyers have previously said he represented only three clients, including Trump and Hannity, since the start of 2017. As a result, prosecutors argued, the material seized from Cohen is unlikely to contain many privileged documents, in contrast to the initial claims by Cohen’s lawyers that they likely contained “thousands, if not millions” of such materials.
Trump’s interview on Thursday undermined the position that Cohen took in the criminal investigation, former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti said.
“Cohen is trying to portray himself to the judge in his criminal case as he’s doing a lot of legal work, he’s a lawyer, he’s got multiple clients,” Mariotti said in an interview. “Trump is trying to make it sound like he didn’t handle a lot of my legal work, which is what the government is saying.”