April 26 (UPI) — A federal judge on Thursday tapped a former colleague to be the first person to sift through documents the FBI seized from Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer.
Judge Kimba Wood said former federal judge Barbara Jones, who now practices with a private firm, will determine which documents can be protected by attorney-client privilege and thus off-limits to prosecutors.
On April 9, the FBI raided Cohen’s home, hotel room and office as part of a criminal investigation related to his business interests and a $130,000 payment he made to adult film star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 presidential election. His lawyers argued they should be allowed to look at the documents first in order to set aside any communications between Cohen and his clients, which includes Trump and television personality Sean Hannity.
Federal investigators originally proposed having a so-called “taint team” review the documents, a team of prosecutors not affiliated with the case. They initially opposed the idea of the appointment of an independent “special master” look over the documents, but dropped that opposition Thursday morning.
Wood said she was convinced the document review could “go quickly with a special master.”
Jones retired five years ago from her role as a federal judge to work as a lawyer in the Bracewell law firm. As a federal prosecutor before her 16 years on the bench, she made her career prosecuting members of the mob. She was the first woman to lead a federal task force focused on organized crime.
In a separate case in California, Daniels, born Stephanie Clifford, filed a lawsuit against Trump and Cohen seeking to nullify a hush agreement over an alleged affair between the actor and the president. She said the agreement was void because Trump never signed it.
An amendment in the suit accused Cohen of defamation for denying her allegations of an affair with Trump before his presidency.
“It was reasonably understood Mr. Cohen meant to convey that Ms. [Stephanie] Clifford is a liar,” the complaint states. “Mr. Cohen made the statement knowing it was false or had serious doubts about the truth of the statements.”
Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 as part of a non-disclosure agreement in 2016, weeks before Election Day. He said the money came from his own pockets, not Trump’s.
On Wednesday, Cohen said he intended to exercise his Fifth Amendment rights in the California case so as not to incriminate himself in the criminal case in New York.