WASHINGTON — While the FBI raid on President Trump’s longtime attorney Michael Cohen and subsequent court proceedings have received extensive press coverage, the public still doesn’t have a straight answer to a very basic question about the case. Is Cohen still the president’s lawyer?
In the many media appearances he’s made since joining Trump’s legal team, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has given conflicting accounts of Cohen’s status. In an appearance on “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” on May 6, Giuliani flatly said Cohen was no longer Trump’s personal lawyer.
“Of course not,” Giuliani said. He went on to suggest it would be inappropriate for Cohen to remain Trump’s attorney amid his own legal drama.
“It would be a conflict right now for him to be the president’s attorney,” Giuliani said of Cohen.
But Giuliani was less definitive on May 11 when he told Politico that Cohen isn’t the president’s lawyer anymore “as far as we know.”
“And there’d be nothing for him to do right now,” he added.
Though he’s not normally press shy, Giuliani hasn’t responded to multiple questions about Cohen from Yahoo News.
Given the confusion, Bloomberg White House Correspondent Shannon Pettypiece tried to ask about the matter at press secretary Sarah Sanders’s briefing on May 17. She began by noting that the question had already been asked — and not answered – several times before.
“I know we’ve asked this a few times, but …” Pettypiece began.
Sanders cut her off.
“That’s OK,” Sanders said. “That’s kind of what we do here, ask the same question over and over and over again.
But Sanders still didn’t answer.
“Can you say yet when Michael Cohen stopped being the president’s personal lawyer?” Pettypiece asked.
“I’m not going to get into anything on that matter. You’d have to reach out to the president’s outside counsel,” Sanders responded.
Pettypiece was incredulous.
“But you still haven’t been able to answer that,” Pettypiece said.
Sanders ignored her and moved on to another questioner.
Since then, Yahoo News has tried to ask multiple members of Trump’s legal team whether Cohen remains the president’s attorney. Like Giuliani, they have not responded. Cohen and his lawyers also haven’t answered the question despite multiple attempts to press them on it.
Cohen has been spending almost all his time dealing with his own legal situation, as a target of an investigation by federal prosecutors in New York. The president’s legal team for the special counsel investigation into the 2016 campaign includes Jay Sekulow, Emmet Flood and White House counsel Don McGahn. Giuliani appears to function primarily as a sounding board and confidante for the president and a defender in the media.
Cohen spent more than a decade working for Trump. In that time, he earned a reputation as one of the president’s fiercest loyalists. During the 2016 campaign, Cohen had no official role on the campaign, but he served as an outside adviser and television surrogate who took a special interest in Trump’s minority outreach.
The FBI search of Cohen’s office and home was part of a criminal investigation into the lawyer’s personal businesses, payments to two women who alleged having affairs with Trump, and his efforts to build a Trump-branded skyscraper in Moscow. Cohen was working to build a Trump Tower in the Russian capital up until at least May 2016, just as Trump was clinching the Republican nomination and far later than Cohen initially acknowledged to congressional investigators.
Cohen has not been charged with a crime. The material seized in the FBI raid is being reviewed by lawyers for Cohen, Trump and Trump’s business to flag items that may fall under attorney-client privilege. A court-appointed special master is overseeing the process.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood, who is presiding over the case, held a hearing at a federal courthouse in New York City to discuss the progress. While the lawyer representing adult film actress Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels) was the focus of much of the hearing, discussions of the documents showed the enormous scope of the materials the FBI took from Cohen.
Cohen’s attorneys said they have gone through about 1.3 million of the 3.7 million files they received from the government. Cohen attorney Todd Harrison said this included information taken from “13 separate mobile devices” that belonged to Cohen and 19 different “digital devices” including thumb drives and hard drives. Cohen’s team asked to have until mid-July to go through the items.
Wood said she wanted the review concluded by June 15. Harrison pleaded for more time, saying Cohen’s team was “moving heaven and earth” to complete the process as quickly as possible. He claimed to have people working around the clock, sleeping in his office, and even one associate who developed “a tremor” while going through the documents and went back to work the next day.
Wood was unmoved, noting it was Cohen’s representatives who requested a special master in place of the standard procedure in these cases: authorizing a government “taint team” to review possibly privileged documents in isolation from the prosecutors actually working on the case. She said Cohen’s lawyers would have until June 15 and that the “balance” of any material not reviewed by then would be given to a taint team.
At the hearing, prosecutors also revealed they still have “three items” from the raid to hand over to Cohen’s team. The remaining materials include two BlackBerries the government hasn’t been able to open and the contents of a paper shredder that investigators are working to piece together.
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