Cohen Document Review So Far Yields Few Items U.S. Can't See

(Bloomberg) -- An initial review of items seized in an FBI raid on the president’s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen yielded only a few items that may not be reviewed by prosecutors.

A retired judge found 162 items of more than 292,000 that were reviewed should be held back because they’re privileged or personal. The material reviewed was found in eight boxes of documents and on two cell phones and an iPad. The former judge, Barbara Jones, was appointed special master to help determine which items taken from Cohen in the April 9 raid should be withheld from government investigators. She made the recommendations in a letter Monday to U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood.

Who should review the records -- and ultimately, what’s fair game for the government to see -- was the subject of intense jostling because it’s rare for federal agents to seize an attorney’s records, and unprecedented to take those of a president’s personal lawyer.

The recommendations cover the first set of materials reviewed by Jones and lawyers for Cohen. Cohen’s team is doing an initial review of more than 3.7 million items taken in the search of his home, hotel room and office. They designate material they believe is protected, in whole or part, by attorney-client privilege or constitute highly personal items, such as medical records. Jones then decides whether she agrees and reports her findings to Wood, who has the final say.

Protected Items

The number of protected items suggests the final total of privileged items will be far less than the “thousands, if not millions” of privileged documents Cohen’s lawyers initially estimated had been taken by the FBI. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating Cohen’s business and financial dealings.

Out of 639 hard-copy items taken from the eight boxes, totaling 12,543 pages, Jones said she agreed with Cohen’s team that just 14 are privileged. She disagreed with them on three others, finding they’re not privileged.

Of the 291,770 items on the phones and the iPad, she agreed with all of the Cohen team’s designations, finding that 148 are privileged and seven highly personal.

Judge Wood last week gave Cohen’s team until June 15 to review all of the materials, which include a computer; 19 hard drives, thumb drives and other computer storage devices; a third cell phone; two Blackberries; and the contents of a shredding machine.

Todd Harrison, a lawyer for Cohen, told Judge Wood in a hearing last week that his team has 15 lawyers and two data specialists “working around the clock” to review the material. Wood said if they’re not finished by the 15th, she’ll give the rest of the seized items to a government “taint team” -- a group of lawyers separate from the prosecution team -- to complete the review.

Cohen sued April 13 to try to block prosecutors from looking at communications protected by attorney-client privilege. President Donald Trump and his company, the Trump Organization, quickly joined in the suit. Stormy Daniels, the adult film star who claims she had sex with Trump in 2006 and was then paid $130,000 to keep quiet about it, has also asked to join the case.

The case is In the Matter of Search Warrants Executed on April 9, 2018, 18-mj-3161, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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