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Judge sets deadline to study materials in Cohen raids

Larry Neumeister and Tom Hays
Associated Press

New York – A New York judge set a June 15 deadline Wednesday for lawyers for President Donald Trump and his personal lawyer to make attorney-client privilege claims over data seized in April raids, saying it was important not to delay the criminal investigation.

U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood said a special taint team of prosecutors will make determinations after that date.

Wood presided over a hearing at which a prosecutor revealed that the contents of a shredder and two Blackberry devices were all that remained to be turned over to a court-appointed special master screening evidence for attorney-client privilege. Also reviewing the materials are lawyers for Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, the president and the Trump Organization.

Cohen’s lawyers asked to be allowed to review materials from the April 9 raids of Cohen’s office and home until mid-July, but Wood said she had to balance their needs to protect their client with the need of prosecutors to pursue their criminal fraud case against Cohen.

Cohen attorney Todd Harrison said over a dozen lawyers had reviewed 1.3 million of over 3.7 million files received from the government, designating privilege as necessary.

Cohen did not speak during the court proceeding, which lasted more than an hour and featured a colorful argument between lawyers for Cohen and Trump on one side and California attorney Michael Avenatti on the other as they discussed Avenatti’s public statements on behalf of his porn-star client, Stormy Daniels.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, has said she had sex once with Trump, in 2006. Trump denies it. Daniels was not in court Wednesday.

Stephen Ryan, an attorney for Cohen, argued that Avenatti had acted outrageously by publicly releasing banking information related to Cohen and by criticizing Cohen in dozens of television appearances.

Ryan said Avenatti “intended to cause harm to my client and he succeeded.”

Avenatti said a journalist had contacted him recently, claiming to have a recorded conversation between Cohen and an attorney who represented Daniels when Cohen arranged to pay her $130,000 as part of the non-disclosure agreement. He accused Cohen’s lawyers of leaking the audio. Ryan denied it, but said if his firm had released those audio tapes, “it would be the biggest story in America.”

Ryan at one point seemed critical of what he called “a very strange thing going on” between prosecutors and Avenatti, who claimed he had a good working relationship with the government lawyers and that he knew the lawyers and the FBI had not leaked the audio.

Ryan also called Avenatti and prosecutors “strange bedfellows.”

If Avenatti formally joined the court case, he would have to end his “publicity tour on TV and elsewhere” and stop asserting that Cohen is guilty of wrongdoing, actions that could “potentially deprive him of a fair trial,” the judge told Avenatti.

After the hearing, Avenatti formally withdrew his request to appear in the case.

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.

Jones said more than a million pieces of data from three of Cohen’s phones are ready to be given to criminal prosecutors, and more than 12,000 pages of documents from eight boxes that survived attorney-client privilege scrutiny already have been given back to prosecutors. More than a dozen electronic devices were seized or copied in the raids, and Jones said she has not yet received data from three seized items.

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. Trump also expressed those concerns on Twitter.