Trump lawyers fight to shield items seized in FBI raid

Todd Harrison, Joseph Evans
The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Lawyers for President Donald Trump and his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, told a federal judge in New York on Friday that they believe some of the documents and devices seized from Cohen during an FBI raid are protected by attorney-client privilege, and they want a chance to review the items before prosecutors get to examine them.

In the hour-long court hearing, U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood said Cohen’s lawyers have asked to “take the first cut at identifying documents that are relevant or not relevant to the investigation.”

An attorney for the president, Joanna Hendon, appeared as well, telling the judge that Trump has “an acute interest in this matter.”

“This is of most concern to him. I think the public is a close second. And anyone who has ever hired a lawyer a close third,” she said.

Federal agents seized records on a variety of subjects in raids Monday on Cohen’s Manhattan office, apartment and hotel room, including payments that were made in 2016 to women who might have damaging information about Trump.

The court hearing Friday didn’t provide new insight into why agents seized the items, but the judge, prosecutors and the attorneys all spoke openly about an investigation that previously has been shrouded in secrecy.

Wood adjourned the hearing until 2 p.m. It was unclear whether that session will be open or closed to the public. The judge said sealing the proceedings might be needed to protect “the privacy interests of potentially innocent people.”

FBI and Justice Department officials have refused to say what crimes they are investigating, but people familiar with the investigation have told The Associated Press the search warrant used in the raids sought bank records, business records on Cohen’s dealing in the taxi industry, Cohen’s communications with the Trump campaign and information on payments made to a former Playboy model, Karen McDougal, and a porn actress, Stephanie Clifford, who performs under the name Stormy Daniels. Both women say they had affairs with Trump.

Clifford’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti, was in the audience for the court session and asked the judge to be heard at 2 p.m.

“We have every reason to believe that some of the documents seized relate to my client,” he said.

Cohen has denied wrongdoing.

Trump has called the raids a “witch hunt,” ”an attack on our country,” and a violation of rules that ordinarily make attorney client communications confidential.

Those confidentiality rules can be set aside under certain circumstances if investigators have evidence that a crime has been committed.

Public corruption prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan are trying to determine, according to one person familiar with the investigation, if there was any fraud related to payments to McDougal and Clifford.

McDougal was paid $150,000 in the summer of 2016 by the parent company of the National Enquirer under an agreement that gave it the exclusive rights to her story, which it never published. Cohen said he paid Daniels $130,000 in exchange for her silence about her claim to have had a one-night-stand with Trump.

The White House has consistently said Trump denies either affair.

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Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo in Los Angeles, Tom Hays in New York and Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.

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