Michael Avenatti, attorney for Stormy Daniels, arrives to court in New York.

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Stormy's lawyer ends bid for role in Cohen case

May 30, 2018 - 10:30 pm
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NEW YORK (AP) — Lawyers for President Donald Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, failed to win more time Wednesday to analyze millions of files seized by the FBI, but they did get one thing they wanted: Their TV tormentor, Stormy Daniels' attorney, withdrew a request to get a formal role in the case.

A federal judge refereeing an ongoing legal tussle about which documents should be withheld from investigators because of attorney-client privilege gave lawyers for Trump and Cohen until June 15 to finish reviewing 3.7 million paper and electronic files seized from Cohen in the April raids.

The deadline for them to identify documents they believe are confidential was set over the objection of Cohen's lawyer, Todd Harrison.

"We're working around-the-clock," he told U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood, saying that even with a team of 15 lawyers "moving heaven and earth," they had only finished reviewing 1.3 million files so far and didn't expect to finish until mid-July.

"I don't know if we can make that," another Cohen lawyer, Stephen Ryan, said of the June 15 deadline.

Wood was unmoved, but she made comments in court that may have prompted Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, to withdraw a request to get a formal role in the legal negotiations.

Avenatti had applied to intervene in the case so he could ensure that any confidential records or recordings related to Daniels that were in Cohen's possession weren't improperly disclosed.

Much of Wednesday's hearing was consumed by spirited arguments about Avenatti's numerous public attacks on Cohen, mostly through live cable TV appearances. Ryan protested that the barrage was improper, saying Avenatti was on television at least 170 times, mostly to badmouth Cohen.

He also complained that Avenatti had improperly acquired and released certain bank records related to Cohen's business dealings.

"I have never seen an attorney conduct himself in the manner that Mr. Avenatti has," Ryan said.

Wood told Avenatti that while he is free to speak his mind now, he would have to end his "publicity tour" and attacks on Cohen if he became part of the case. Lawyers practicing in the federal court in Manhattan must follow local rules barring statements that might taint prospective jurors.

"That means that you would have to stop doing some things you have been doing. If you participate here, you would not be able to declare your opinion as to Mr. Cohen's guilt, which you did; you would not be able to give publicity to documents that are not public. It would change your conduct," Wood said. "I don't want you to have some existence in a limbo, where you are free to denigrate Mr. Cohen and I believe potentially deprive him of a fair trial by tainting a jury pool."

Shortly after the court hearing, Avenatti withdrew his application, but not before appearing before TV cameras outside again and assailing Cohen and his legal team once more.

Among other things, he accused Cohen's lawyers of giving a journalist an audio recording of a conversation between Daniels' former lawyer and Cohen.

In court, Ryan denied that Cohen's lawyers gave recordings to a reporter, saying that if any did exist pertaining to Daniels, they were "under lock and key," controlled by his law firm, the Trump Organization or the president.

"It has not occurred," he said.

Daniels, who was not in court Wednesday, got a $130,000 payment from Cohen before the election in exchange for not speaking about an alleged sexual encounter with the president in 2006. Trump denies it.

Speaking to reporters after the court hearing, Avenatti said Ryan's reference to the existence of audio tapes was a major revelation, and that he was certain some of those tapes relate to Daniels.

"As a result of our efforts, there was a shocking admission that was made in court today, namely, that just like the Nixon tapes, we now have what I will refer to as the Trump tapes," he said.

He called for the "release of all those audio recordings to the American people and to Congress so that they can be heard by all." Then, he added, "people can make their own determination as to their importance as it relates to the president, what he knew and when he knew it, and what he did as it relates to conspiring with Michael Cohen to commit one or more potential crimes."

Special Master Barbara Jones said in a letter Tuesday that lawyers for Cohen, Trump and the Trump Organization have designated more than 250 items as subject to attorney-client privilege. She said the material includes data from a video recorder.

Judge Wood said if Trump and Cohen's lawyers don't finish reviewing material by June 15, the task of performing the attorney-client review will be handled by a special "taint team" of prosecutors walled off from those involved in the criminal probe.

Of the material seized from Cohen's home, hotel and office in April, only two old Blackberry phones and the contents of a shredder have yet to be turned over to Cohen's lawyers, prosecutors said.

The files, mostly from phones and electronic storage devices, were seized April 9 in raids on Cohen's Manhattan home and office. The raids initially drew an outcry from Trump, who claimed an attack on attorney-client privilege.

The raids on Cohen were triggered in part by a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller, who separately is looking into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Wood became involved after Cohen came to court, complaining that he feared attorney-client privilege would not be protected.

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