Politics Michael Cohen is asking a judge to block the DOJ from seeing his communications with Trump

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President Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, is asking to review communications between him and Trump that were seized by the FBI before prosecutors can see them.

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's personal attorney, may know more about Trump than anyone outside of his family. play

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's personal attorney, may know more about Trump than anyone outside of his family.

(Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)
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  • Attorneys separately representing President Donald Trump and his longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, argued Friday that the Justice Department should be blocked from reviewing communications between Trump and Cohen.
  • Those communications were seized in an FBI raid earlier this week.
  • Cohen's lawyers said they wanted to go over the communications and separate those they deem privileged before the DOJ can review them.

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's longtime personal lawyer, asked a federal judge on Friday to restrict the Justice Department from reviewing communications between himself and Trump, The New York Times reported.

In addition to documents of Trump's and Cohen's communications, investigators obtained taped recordings of Cohen's conversations with associates, The Washington Post reported. Trump's advisers are said to be worried about whether the recordings touched on any matters related to the president.

Cohen's lawyers apparently want to go over the documents and tapes, which were seized during an FBI raid of Cohen's office and home earlier this week, and shield from prosecutors any they deem privileged. Cohen also reportedly proposed, as an alternative, that an independent lawyer review the files first.

In addition to Cohen's lawyers, an attorney representing the president appeared and said Trump "has an acute interest in these proceedings."

Hendon asked the magistrate, US District Judge Kimba Wood, to have the DOJ delay looking at the records until the matter could be resolved.

"Those searches have been executed and the evidence is locked down," Joanna Hendon, Trump's lawyer in the case, said Friday. "I'm just trying to ensure that it's done scrupulously."

The FBI took the extraordinary step of raiding Cohen's property on Monday after the Manhattan US attorney's office received a referral from the special counsel Robert Mueller, who is overseeing the Russia investigation. Legal experts say Mueller likely contacted the office after discovering evidence of wrongdoing related to Cohen that did not fall within his purview.

After news of the raids surfaced, The Post reported that Cohen is being investigated for bank fraud, wire fraud, and violations of election law.

What investigators found

When FBI agents raided Cohen's office, they took records related to payments made to two women who claim to have had affairs with Trump. Cohen recently admitted to paying the adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, known as Stormy Daniels, a sum of $130,000 just before the 2016 election. Meanwhile, former Playboy model Karen McDougal was paid $150,000 by the parent company of The National Enquirer, whose chief executive is close with Trump.

Investigators are said to have sought additional records related to a 2005 "Access Hollywood" tape featuring Trump in an effort to determine whether, and to what extent, Cohen tried to quash damaging information about the president during the election.

President Donald Trump at a meeting with governors and lawmakers in the Cabinet Room of the White House on April 12. play

President Donald Trump at a meeting with governors and lawmakers in the Cabinet Room of the White House on April 12.

(Associated Press/Evan Vucci)

Hendon, who is representing Trump, said that because Trump is the president, "these concerns are so weighty," and added, "there's an appearance of fairness problem here."

Tom McKay, the assistant US attorney who appeared in court Friday, countered Hendon's argument that Trump deserves special consideration.

"His attorney-client privilege is no stronger than any other person who seeks legal advice," McCay said.

Hendon also told the judge that she has conveyed her concerns about the use of a "taint team" in the Cohen raids.

A taint team is an internal group, walled off from investigators, that the government sets up when it seizes electronically stored documents with a search warrant. The team's primary responsibility is to separate materials that are protected by attorney-client privilege to avoid later claims that the government improperly accessed the documents, according to the New York Law Journal.

Were the Cohen raids connected to the Mueller investigation?

Some legal experts floated the theory this week that the Cohen raids may in fact have been part of the Mueller investigation, and that the Manhattan US attorney's office was functioning as a taint team for the special counsel.

"The SDNY might do this, because that entire office can be kept separate from Mueller's office to the extent that there are privileged materials that need to be reviewed," said Harry Sandick, a former assistant US attorney from the Southern District of New York. "That way, Mueller's team can't be accused of improperly using information obtained from the warrant."

In that scenario, the Manhattan US attorney's office would be responsible for collecting all evidence, sorting out non-privileged materials, and handing it to Mueller, said Matt Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman. In other words, the case would not have been a full referral and could still be within Mueller's scope.

The district judge on Friday postponed making a decision on Trump's and Cohen's lawyers' requests until a follow-up hearing on Monday.