The court hearing into documents seized from the president’s lawyer had twists befitting a TV legal drama
Stormy Daniels and Sean Hannity provide thrills at Cohen hearing
Adult-film star Stormy Daniels arrived to watch a court hearing on Monday over documents seized from Donald Trump’s long-time personal lawyer, in a federal investigation that could cast a harsh light on the president’s business and personal dealings.
Photographers knocked over barricades as they scrambled in the streets outside the Manhattan courthouse to snap pictures of Daniels as she arrived in a lavender-coloured skirt and jacket.
Ms Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is entangled in a separate civil battle with Michael Cohen, the president’s lawyer, over a US$130,000 (Dh477,485) payment made to her as part of a 2016 agreement to stop her from discussing a sexual encounter she says she had with Mr Trump a decade earlier.
“For years, Mr Cohen has acted like he is above the law,” Ms Daniels said following the hearing. “He has considered himself, and openly referred to himself, as Mr Trump’s fixer. He has played by a different set of rules – or, shall we say, no rules at all.
“He has never thought that the little man, or especially women, and, even more, women like me, mattered. That ends now.
“My attorney and I are committed to making sure that everyone finds out the truth, and the facts of what happened, and I give my word that we will not rest until that happens.”
But on a day of high drama, her presence was overshadowed by the revelation that a previously unnamed client of Mr Cohen’s was Fox News host Sean Hannity. A gasp was heard in the courtroom when a Cohen lawyer disclosed Mr Hannity’s identity.
Mr Hannity has been one of the president’s most vocal on-air defenders and a fierce critic of the investigation into Mr Trump, which led to the raid on Mr Cohen’s offices.
A Cohen lawyer, Stephen Ryan, had said that the client, whom Mr Cohen initially would not name, had asked for his identity not to be made public.
“I understand he doesn’t want his name out there, but that isn’t the law,” Judge Kimba Wood said, after she had listened to both sides arguing about whether Mr Hannity’s identity should be revealed.
Mr Hannity, who was poised to do a radio show when his name emerged in the court, said on air that he had asked Cohen for his perspective on some legal questions involving attorney-client privilege, but never talked to Cohen about any case involving a third party.
“I never paid legal fees to Michael,” he said. “Michael never represented me in any matter.” He later added: I “may have” handed Mr Cohen “10 bucks” and asked for attorney-client privilege.
Mr Cohen, the president’s fiercely loyal and pugnacious lawyer, is in court to ask a judge to limit the ability of federal prosecutors to review documents seized from him last week as part of a criminal investigation.
A person familiar with the raids said last week that the information FBI agents were seeking included information about payments to Ms Daniels.
As the hearing got underway, Mr Cohen sat by his lawyers, dressed in a dark suit, looking tense and clasping his hands on a table before him. Ms Daniels quietly took a seat towards the back of the public gallery with her lawyer, Michael Avenatti.
Mr Cohen has asked the court to give his own lawyers the first look at the seized materials, so they can identify documents that are protected by attorney-client privilege.
Failing that, they want the court to appoint an independent official known as a special master, a role typically filled by a lawyer, to go through the documents and electronic data seized under a warrant and decide what prosecutors can see.
Prosecutors have asked that the documents be reviewed for attorney-client privilege by a "filter team" of lawyers within their own office, who would be walled off from the main prosecution team.
A lawyer for Mr Trump, Joanna Hendon, asked in a filing on Sunday to be allowed to review documents that in any way relate to the president, which she described as being seized amid a “highly politicised, even fevered, atmosphere”.
A judge on Friday ordered that Mr Cohen be present at Monday’s hearing so that he could answer questions about his clients.
But Mr Cohen’s lawyers have argued that he should not be required to turn over the names of his clients. They disclosed in a court filing on Monday that Mr Cohen had at least 10 clients in 2017 and 2018, and that he did “traditional legal tasks” for three of them, including Mr Trump, Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy and a third who asked not to be named.
Among his dealings, Mr Cohen arranged a $1.6-million payment to secure the silence of a former Playboy model who said she became pregnant by Mr Broidy, a person familiar with the matter said on Friday.
Mr Cohen did not respond to a request for comment.
Last week’s raids came after a “months-long” investigation related largely to Mr Cohen’s business dealings, rather than his work as a lawyer, prosecutors have said.
The raids were based partly on a referral by the Office of Special Counsel's Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between the 2016 Trump presidential campaign and Russia, according to court filings.
The president has called Mr Mueller’s probe a “witch hunt” and denied any collusion.
Todd Harrison, a lawyer for Mr Cohen, said at Friday’s hearing there were thousands of documents seized that were likely privileged and that many related to clients other than Trump.