Cohen's New Defense, Manafort's Alone Time: Trump Legal Update
(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen has reportedly found a new lawyer and has seemed lately to be signaling that his days of loyalty may be over. Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort -- facing trial next month for tax- and bank-fraud charges -- was put into solitary confinement after losing bail over alleged witness-tampering, giving him plenty of alone time to ponder whether to fight or flip. And another former campaign worker wants to wage her fight to nullify a non-disclosure agreement in public.
These are just a few of the developments during the past week in the legal cases entangling the president. Here’s a recap of where things stand and what to watch in the coming week:
Cohen on Defense
The Cohen case has largely been focused on what of the more than 3.7 million items seized during an FBI raid of his home, office and hotel could be used by prosecutors looking into his business dealings. On Friday, Judge Kimba Wood accepted recommendations from Cohen and the special master charged with vetting the evidence that 161 items were either highly private or covered by attorney-client privilege. She set June 27 as the deadline for material to be handed over to the government for final review, though the Trump Organization filed a request on Saturday to push the deadline to July 11 to complete a review of 22,000 documents it said it received on June 20, and additional audio files and documents it said it got June 22.
Wood’s decision capped a busy week for Cohen: on Tuesday, additional reports emerged about how much financial strain Trump’s former fixer has been under, and he’s reportedly found a new lawyer: Guy Petrillo, who once worked in the same office now pursuing him.
Then Wednesday, Cohen stepped down from his post on the Republican National Committee finance committee, and took a swipe on the way out at the administration’s detention of immigrant children. And on Thursday, Cohen retweeted a picture of himself with actor Tom Arnold, who’s working on a TV show searching for incriminating tapes of Trump.
The investigation is targeting Cohen’s business activities, and presumably he learned a great deal about Trump’s dealings in the years he worked for the Trump Organization -- making it especially risky for the president if he opts to cooperate with investigators.
Here are some of the most recent stories on Cohen’s travails:
Despite calls by Republicans to end Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign, the probe goes on. He’s indicted 20 people and three Russian companies, secured five guilty pleas -- with several of Trump’s former associates also agreeing to cooperate with the probe -- and is nearing his first trial next month in Virginia, where Manafort is set to fight tax- and bank-fraud charges.
“Time to fire Sessions. End the Mueller investigation. You can’t obstruct something that was phony against you,” Trump’s 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale tweeted on June 19. Trump keeps tweeting that it’s a “Witch Hunt!”
On Friday, FBI Agent Peter Strzok, a central target of allegations of bias by Trump and his Republican allies, was subpoenaed to appear for closed-door questioning before two House committees as part of their investigation “into decisions made by the Department of Justice in 2016.”
The probe poses the gravest political risk for Trump. While scholars are split on whether Mueller can charge the president, the special counsel could write a report that lays out evidence of obstruction of justice -- or other high crimes and misdemeanors -- as a step toward possible impeachment hearings. The president has yet to say whether he’ll agree to be interviewed by Mueller.
Here are some of recent stories on Mueller’s investigation and a link to the Special Counsel site:
In the week since Manafort was sent to Northern Neck Regional Jail in Warsaw, Virginia, for violating his bail conditions by allegedly contacting witnesses, he’s been ordered kept away from other inmates and lost bids to throw out money-laundering charges and to block evidence the FBI seized from a storage locker from being used by the government at trial. And Mueller has asked the judge for his July 25 trial in Alexandria, Virginia, to bar Manafort’s defense from arguing that prosecutors have exceeded the authority given the special counsel, and from vetting prospective jurors for bias against the investigation or the tax authorities.
Regardless of how Manafort fares during the Virginia trial, another one awaits him in Washington on Sept. 17, when he’ll face charges of money laundering and failing to register in the U.S. as an agent of Ukraine.
The cases against Manafort relate to his business dealings before he joined Trump’s campaign, but experts say Mueller may be trying to pressure him to cooperate in the larger probe. He’s still fighting to avoid trial, and a hearing is set for June 29 on Manafort’s request to have the Virginia case thrown out.
Here are some of the most recent stories on Manafort’s trials:
The Porn Star v. the President
The most sensational case against Trump was brought by Stephanie Clifford, an adult-film actress who performs as Stormy Daniels. She says she had a tryst with Trump in 2006 and was threatened and manipulated to cover it up.
Clifford suffered a setback June 19 when a federal judge denied her request to resume her stalled lawsuit to nullify a nondisclosure agreement. The deal was arranged by Cohen and he got a 90-day hold placed on the lawsuit to protect his right against self-incrimination in the New York probe. Clifford’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti, said he’d appeal.
Clifford sued Trump and Cohen in March to get out of the $130,000 NDA she signed just before the election. After initially denying knowing about the payment, Trump later acknowledged he was aware of it.
Avenatti wants to question Trump under oath. He’s kept the scandal alive with endless television appearances and additional lawsuits questioning Cohen’s competence and ethics. The California lawyer is using his spare time to pick another fight with Trump, saying on Twitter that immigration whistle-blowers had reached out to him to expose the “truth” behind the government’s child-separation policy at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Washington Post reports that Clifford will be interviewed Monday by New York prosecutors investigating Cohen for possible campaign finance violations.
Here are some recent stories on Clifford and Avenatti:
Russian Trolls and Fake News
Less lurid (but no less compelling) is an indictment Mueller brought against 13 Russians and three entities including a Russia-based research operation -- a case that offers a glimpse of just how extensive the 2016 election meddling was.
The two sides are fighting over how much evidence prosecutors must disclose to a company led by Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, and U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich in Washington said the government has made a good case to keep some of the evidence under wraps. Among the topics the government doesn’t want to disclose are cooperating witnesses who may be helping with the broader Russia investigation. They have until June 25 to resolve their dispute or Friedrich said she will impose her own solution.
Russians spent a couple of years collecting intelligence on U.S. elections, then got directly engaged in the 2016 race, reaching out to unwitting Trump supporters to promote the candidate, according to Mueller. Meanwhile, programmers at the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency allegedly concocted social media accounts that seemingly represented groups aligned with actual movements, such as Black Lives Matter, to sow further disinformation to voters.
Separately, the Democratic National Committee sued Russia, the campaign, WikiLeaks and Trump’s associates claiming widespread election interference. Its case in Manhattan could force campaign staffers to answer questions under oath. A hearing is scheduled for Sept. 13.
Here are some of the most recent stories on the Russian hackers:
Defamation Claims and Possible Deposition
Summer Zervos, a former contestant on “The Apprentice,” claims Trump groped her in 2005. She sued the president for defamation after he labeled her, and other women who accused him of sexual misconduct, as liars.
A New York judge rejected Trump’s claim that the Constitution bars the president from being dragged into court. “No one is above the law,” the judge wrote. Trump has lost several efforts to derail the suit, most recently on June 14, but is continuing to wage appeals. Meanwhile, trial preparations are underway and a schedule has been set for exchanging evidence and filing submissions. Zervos wants to depose Trump and seeks documents relating to similar claims by other women. The deadline for depositions is Jan. 31, but there hasn’t been a decision on whether Trump must face questioning.
Here’s the most recent story on the Zervos case:
Another NDA Fight
Clifford isn’t the only one seeking to void a nondisclosure agreement to air a tale about Trump: a Los-Angeles-based actress who worked as a manager on Trump’s 2016 campaign is pressing to keep her case public.
Jessica Denson asked a New York judge on June 18 to deny the campaign’s request to force the case into arbitration. Denson, whose credits include the CBS crime drama “Person of Interest” sued to nullify the NDA, saying it’s making it more difficult to pursue a separate lawsuit in which she claims she was harassed while she worked on Trump’s campaign.
Here’s the most recent coverage of Denson’s suit:
Tax Returns, Trump Foundation
Tax Returns, Trump Foundation
Presidents have long disclosed their tax returns. Trump refused. He may not have a choice.
Several lawsuits accuse Trump of violating the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause by taking payments without Congress’s approval from foreign governments at his Washington hotel, golf courses and elsewhere, as well as the domestic clause that bars payments from federal or state governments.
Lawsuits by about 200 Democrats in Congress, and by attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia, are pending. A third case, by an ethics-watchdog group and restaurant-industry competitors, is on appeal after a Manhattan federal judge tossed it out. The cases could force Trump to divest his holdings or put them in a blind trust. At a minimum, the plaintiffs will seek Trump’s tax returns.
The Maryland judge is to rule by late July whether to allow the lawsuit to go forward.
In another battle over the president’s holdings, New York state sued to dissolve Trump’s charitable foundation, claiming it persistently broke state and federal laws through improper political activity, self-dealing and failing to follow basic fiduciary obligations. In response, Trump tweeted that “sleazy New York Democrats” are attacking a charity that “gave out more money than it took in.” Barbara Underwood, the state’s attorney general, has also referred the findings to the Federal Election Commission and Internal Revenue Service.
Here are the most recent stories on challenges to Trump’s business and charity:
The Case Files:
- The Flynn case is U.S. v. Flynn, 17-cr-232, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).
- The Cohen case is In the Matter of Search Warrants Executed on April 9, 2018, 18-mj-3161, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
- The Manafort cases are U.S. v. Manafort, 17-cr-201, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington), and 18-cr-83, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).
- The Clifford cases are Clifford v. Trump, 18-cv-2217, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles); Clifford v. Trump, 18-cv-3842, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan); and Clifford v. Davidson, 18-cv-5052, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).
The Denson case: Denson v. Trump, 18-cv-2690, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
- The hacking indictment is U.S. v. Concord Management, 18-cr-00032, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington). The DNC case is Democratic National Committee v. the Russian Federation, 18-cv-3501, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
- The Apprentice case is Zervos v. Trump, 150522/2017, New York Supreme Court, New York County.
- The emoluments cases are Blumenthal v. Trump, 17-cv-1154, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington); District of Columbia v. Trump, 17-cv-1596, U.S. District Court, District of Maryland (Greenbelt); Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. Trump, 17-cv-00458, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
- The Trump Foundation case is People of the State of New York v. Trump, 451130/2018, New York Supreme Court, New York County.
To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Erik Larson in New York at email@example.com
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