Michael Cohen’s and President Donald Trump’s lawyers went to court on Monday seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent prosecutors from looking at documents seized in the raid of Cohen’s office. They in essence wanted prosecutors to give them back the documents.
The federal prosecutors gave that idea the back of the hand, arguing that they could use the approved method in the district, a filter team, to weed out potentially privileged materials. U.S. District Court Judge Kimba Wood held that the filter team could look through the documents and that prosecutors involved in the case would receive all unprivileged documents. Then a searchable database would be set up for Trump’s and Cohen’s attorneys to review what the team found not to be covered by the attorney-client privilege.
Ironically, Trump’s lawyers argued that the New York Southern District prosecutors could not be trusted; only Trump could protect his own attorney-client privilege, they claimed. Wood took the prosecutors’ side – against the president (the prosecutors’ ultimate boss!). “I have faith in the Southern District prosecutors, that their integrity is unimpeachable,” she said.
Trump and Cohen demonstrated through their attorneys once more that they don’t really have viable legal arguments to block this latest investigatory step. Trump can holler “attorney-client privilege is dead!” all he likes, but the federal prosecutors will be allowed to review the documents, just as they would in any other case. No better example can be found of the principle that no one is above the law. Trump and Cohen are so used to huffing, puffing, throwing out baseless accusations and paying off litigants that it must come as a rude awakening when they find all of that is ineffective in a court of law. It was nevertheless bracing to see Cohen’s attorney claim that Trump’s longtime “fixer” had to be protected against “toxic partisan politics.” Cohen’s counsel should instead ask Trump to stop tweeting and engaging in baseless accusations in front of the cameras.
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Meanwhile, Cohen was forced to cough up the name of a heretofore unnamed client. Wood again wasn’t buying the plea. That is how we learned that Fox News’ cheerleader in chief for Trump, Sean Hannity, was the other client. This is likely of no legal significance to Trump, but it is telling how intellectually corrupt is the right-wing media phalanx Trump relies upon. Hannity has been railing against the FBI raid but never disclosed that he had a personal interest in discrediting the raid and keeping the results secret.
CNN’s Brian Stetler explained: “By any standards of any normal newsroom, the Cohen-Hannity relationship is a glaring conflict of interest. Fox is not a normal newsroom. And Hannity’s viewers are not typical news viewers – people who watch almost any other show would likely feel lied to when they learned something like this had not been disclosed to them, but Hannity’s want him to have this kind of relationship with Trumpworld.” In fact, Fox’s nighttime lineup is not an independent news organization at all. (“Monday’s disclosure demonstrates just how tight-knit the pro-Trump media world is. Not only does Hannity advise Trump, not only does Trump promote Hannity’s show, not only does Hannity attack Trump’s critics – Hannity and Trump even share the same lawyer. Cohen is one kind of Trump protector, Hannity is another kind.”) It is, however, what Trump expects of all media – to be as docile, congratulatory and guileless as his pet cable TV outlet. Anything else – in other words, an independent free press – is “fake,” in Trump’s book.
Hannity wants us to believe that he wasn’t much of a client. He denied that Cohen represented him against any third party. (In essence he is denying drafting a nondisclosure agreement for the Fox News host.) Not a client, really. Just a guy who asked Cohen for legal advice now and then (!). Well, that makes him a client, whether he was paid or not.
The episode shows how far from journalism Fox News’ nighttime lineup has gone. It’s conspiracy mongering and boosterism under the guise (and the chyron) of “news.” That, however, is not nearly as deceptive as the president’s smearing of the FBI, prosecutors and anyone who poses a legal threat to him. Thank goodness we have an independent court system to defend executive branch employees against baseless character attacks from the head of the executive branch. Yeah, things really have gotten weird.
Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Washington Post, offering reported opinion from a center perspective.