By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Federal prosecutors and lawyers for President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen have asked a judge to consider several candidates to review whether documents seized from Cohen in FBI raids are protected by attorney-client privilege.
While maintaining that their own internal “taint team” could identify such materials, prosecutors proposed on Wednesday that U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood appoint one of three former federal magistrate judges in Manhattan as an independent special master, if she decides one is needed for the task.
Cohen’s lawyers, who prefer that a special master review the materials before prosecutors see them, proposed four former federal prosecutors in Manhattan as candidates late on Tuesday.
A lawyer for Trump had argued on Monday that the president deserved first access. Wood denied that request, though Trump’s lawyers will get to see materials related to him. The judge has not decided whether to appoint a special master.
Wood’s decision on who gets to review boxes, hard drives and electronic equipment taken in the April 9 raid of Cohen’s home, office and hotel room will bear on how much prosecutors might learn about Cohen’s dealings with clients.
Cohen’s lawyers have said those clients include Republican donor Elliott Broidy and conservative Fox News commentator and Trump supporter Sean Hannity.
Many were caught by surprise on Monday when one of Cohen’s lawyers revealed Hannity’s identity in court. Fox declared its “full support” for Hannity on Tuesday. [nL1N1RT17Q]
The FBI raid was conducted partly on a referral by the Office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose probe of possible collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia may also threaten Trump’s presidency.
Prosecutors proposed the former judges James Francis, Theodore Katz and Frank Maas as special master candidates.
The candidates proposed by Cohen’s lawyers were Bart Schwartz, chairman of Guidepost Solutions LLC, and three law firm partners: Joan McPhee of Ropes & Gray, Tai Park of Park Jensen Bennett, and George Canellos of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy.
Schwartz previously oversaw insider trading compliance procedures by billionaire Steven A. Cohen’s Point72 Asset Management. Canellos is a former co-director of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement division.
Prosecutors said they expect to begin giving Cohen access to seized materials by April 27, and said both sides would like a May 25 hearing on whether a special master is needed.
Attorney-client privilege shields communications between a lawyer and a client. [nL1N1RN147]
Wood on Monday said a special master “might have a role” to help ensure a “perception of fairness.”
Prosecutors revealed last week they have been conducting a criminal investigation into Cohen, largely over his “personal business dealings.” [nL1N1RQ0R5]
Cohen has admitted paying $130,000 to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, before the 2016 election to secure her silence about a sexual relationship she said she had with Trump. Daniels has sued to end her nondisclosure agreement.
Prosecutors are investigating Cohen for possible bank and tax fraud, possible campaign law violations in connection with the payment to Daniels, and perhaps other matters related to Trump’s campaign, a person familiar with the probe has said.
The case is Cohen v U.S., U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 18-mj-03161.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)