Judge Lays Out Next Steps In Dispute Over Materials Seized From Michael Cohen

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 19: Michael Cohen, a personal attorney for President Trump, and his lawyer Stephen Ryan, off camera, address the media in Hart Building after the Senate Intelligence Committee meeting to discuss Russian interference in the 2016 election was postponed on September 19, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Group

NEW YORK — A federal judge denied Michael Cohen’s request for a temporary restraining order on the government’s review of records seized from him last week. But Judge Kimba Wood instead laid out a process for government lawyers to do a superficial review of the documents, while Cohen’s attorneys are also allowed to review them.

Judge Wood left open the possibility that she could appoint a special master at a later date to conduct a fuller review of the documents for materials that fall under attorney-client privilege. She said it was also possible that she would let a “taint team” go forward with the review. Under typical Justice Department procedure for when an attorney’s documents are seized, a “taint team” of DOJ lawyers not working on the investigation sort out the privileged documents from the evidence.

Wood ordered that the government organize all the seized material in a database to ascertain the amount of evidence that could fall under attorney-client privilege. The review will be done by the taint team, working with attorneys representing Cohen and President Trump, who has intervened in the dispute, using search terms to help organize the evidence. For now, the government will not be reviewing the documents themselves, Wood said. She requested that both sides come to the next hearing with names of potential special masters in mind.

That hearing has not been scheduled yet, and Cohen’s attorneys said they’d prefer two weeks to go over the seized materials, which the government will hand over on a rolling basis.

Wood said she saw this motion as something of a “test” for the two legal teams. She said she wanted to see evidence that each side can come up with “proposals on how we can move fast” to sort through the volumes of seized material.

Wood’s limited determination was still quite a blow for the President’s team, who had argued vociferously that only Trump had the authority to sort through communications related to him to determine which he considered privileged. Trump’s lawyers had opposed the appointment of a special master.

FBI agents raided the office and hotel room of Michael Cohen — Trump’s longtime, self proclaimed “fixer” — last Monday. In filings last week, prosecutors revealed that Cohen has been the subject of a “months long” criminal investigation that they say is focused on his personal business dealings.

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