Stormy Daniels’s lawyer joins fracas as Trump attorney Michael Cohen battles with FBI over documents seized in raid
Michael Avenatti contends he should be involved in court proceedings about the seized documents since ‘we have every reason to believe’ they relate to his client
A lawyer for adult film actress Stormy Daniels argued in a court hearing on Friday that materials seized by federal investigators from US President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, may concern the porn star, who claims the president slept with her.
Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, has said she was paid US$130,000 by Cohen to keep quiet about a sexual encounter with Trump, and is fighting to lift the terms of the non-disclosure act, which she says was signed by Cohen but not by Trump.
“We have every reason to believe that some of the documents that were seized relate to my client,” her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, told US District Judge Kimba Wood at a hearing in Manhattan federal court on Friday. He said he should be allowed to be involved in any court discussions about the documents.
The hearing specifically concerned a motion by Cohen seeking a temporary restraining order to stop prosecutors from reviewing the documents seized in Monday’s FBI raid of his office, home and hotel room.
Cohen is asking for the right to review the documents before investigators do, so he can determine if any information was covered by attorney-client privilege.
Avenatti told reporters after the Friday morning hearing that he had no doubt the materials seized include documents concerning the negotiations with Daniels, which is the subject of a lawsuit filed by her against Cohen and Trump in Los Angeles.
“There could be a whole host of documents relating to that agreement, the payment, what the president knew, when he knew it, and we’re hopefully going to find out exactly what’s in the documents,” Avenatti said.
The raids followed a referral by US Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who for nearly a year has been looking into whether Trump’s presidential campaign colluded with Russia.
A source familiar with the matter said this week that FBI agents were looking in those raids for information on payments to Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.
Investigators were also looking into whether there was a broader pattern of tax fraud, wire fraud, tax evasion, money laundering and other crimes in Cohen’s private dealings, including his work for Trump and some real estate transactions that involved Russian buyers and prices that appeared to be well above market values, the source said.
Agents also sought records on Cohen’s taxi business, CNN reported. Municipal records show Cohen and his wife have 32 taxi medallions in New York City and at least 22 in Chicago.
The Friday hearing was adjourned to Monday after another lawyer for Trump interjected that she needed more time to prepare. Federal prosecutors said they would wait to review the materials until then.
Representing Trump, Joanna Hendon said that as Cohen’s client, Trump has the right to assert what’s privileged, not Cohen. “He has an acute interest in those proceedings and the manner in which these materials are reviewed,” Hendon told the court. Her firm, Spears & Imes, was retained on Wednesday, she said, adding that she’d had just two hours notice of the arguments.
A private sidebar then took place, and members of the press asked US District Judge Kimba Wood to make a transcript of that conversation public.
Avanetti then made his argument, to be expended on in another hearing later on Friday.
Daniels’ suit over the NDA is under way in Los Angeles, where she has sued Cohen and Trump.
In addition to the payment Cohen has said he made to Daniels, there’s another payment to Karen McDougal, a Playboy playmate who was paid US$150,000 in 2016 by the parent company of the National Enquirer, under an agreement which gave it the exclusive rights to her story, which it never published.
Cohen has denied wrongdoing. Cohen’s lawyer, Stephen Ryan, declined to comment on Friday morning.
Trump has called the raids a “witch hunt”, “an attack on our country” and a violation of rules that ordinarily make lawyer client communications confidential.
Those confidentiality rules can be set aside under certain circumstances if investigators have evidence that a crime has been committed.
The White House has consistently said Trump denies both affairs.