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Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen is under criminal investigation by feds, doc shows

Any documents that discuss crime or fraud are not protected by lawyer-client privilege.

Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, spoke after appearing in federal court Friday to weigh in on materials seized from the office of President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. (Credit: Newsday / John Riley)

A new government filing in Manhattan federal court Friday revealed that President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen had his offices raided early this week because he is the subject of a criminal investigation focused on his personal business affairs and finances.

The Friday filing came in response to a bids by both Cohen and Trump to stall immediate review of files seized from Cohen based on lawyer-client privilege, highlighting White House concerns about legal risks to the president.

Manhattan federal prosecutors said in their new filing that they were probing Cohen for possible offenses that “sound in fraud and evidence a lack of truthfulness.”

“The searches are the result of a months-long investigation into Cohen, and seek evidence of crimes, many of which have nothing to do with his work as an attorney, but rather relate to Cohen’s own business dealings,” the government said.

Prosecutors also revealed that, in the raid on Cohen — who paid off porn star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about an affair she claims to have had with Trump — prosecutors seized Cohen’s electronic devices as well as searching his home, office and hotel room, and had previously secretly seized his emails – but found “zero” from Trump.

The filing came during a day-long hearing over a bid by Cohen to have U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood let either his lawyers or a special master review the seized materials to determine what is protected by lawyer-client privilege, instead of leaving it to prosecutors and federal agents.

Highlighting White House concerns about what might be in the materials, Trump lawyer Joanna Herndon, who said she was first hired Wednesday, got permission from Wood to intervene and asked for an adjournment until next week to prepare arguments.

There was an “appearance of unfairness,” she said, in having prosecutors review the fruits of a raid they authorized on a lawyer for Trump, who has himself been under investigative scrutiny by special counsel Robert Mueller.

“This has to be done right,” she said. “...He is the president of the United States.”

Prosecutor Thomas McKay said any review of the seized materials was being delayed pending the court challenge, but argued there was no basis for delaying a criminal investigation based on a “lawful” search warrant. In addition, he said, Trump wasn’t entitled to any special consideration based on his office.

“His attorney-client privilege is no stronger than anyone else who seeks legal advice,” the prosecutor said.

The review of materials seized from a lawyer is normally conducted by investigators, to identify which are relevant to an investigation, which involve non-legal business dealings rather than legal communications, and which are not privileged because they involve crime or fraud.

But Wood said that in rare cases, such as the prosecution of radical defense lawyer Lynne Stewart on terrorism charges, a special master had been used to review privilege claims from a law-office seizure instead of prosecutors themselves.

“The dispute before the court is who should make the decision in the first instance,” Wood said.

She adjourned the hearing until 2 p.m. on Monday, but ordered Trump’s lawyer to put his arguments in writing by Sunday night and ordered Cohen’s lawyer to bring Cohen with him on Monday, to clarify what clients aside from Trump might have privileged materials in his files.

Michael Avenatti, a lawyer for Daniels — whose actual name is Stephanie Clifford — also put in an appearance.

He told Wood that his client wanted the proceedings — and files involving the payoff to her — to be as open as possible. He said his client may come to court next week.

The government, in its court papers, said that in addition to Trump, the Trump Organization is broadly claiming that all communications involving any of its officials are privileged, and revealed that Cohen has a deal for a $500,000 annual “strategic alliance fee” with an unnamed law firm.

But prosecutors said they are skeptical about Cohen’s assertions that “thousands” of pages of privileged materials were seized — which Wood is demanding proof for — because it isn’t clear that he has “any, or many” actual law clients other than Trump, and the investigation focuses on his personal business and finances.

They also questioned whether any communications with Trump involving Daniels will prove to be privileged, citing the client’s own words.

“Among other things,” prosecutors wrote, “President Trump has publicly denied knowing that Cohen paid Clifford, and suggested to reporters that they had to ‘ask Michael’ about the payment.”

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