Political News

Attorney for the media asks judge to keep Michael Cohen filings in the public realm

Posted June 7, 2018 6:15 p.m. EDT

— A lawyer representing eight news organizations and an advocacy group asked the judge overseeing the review of items seized in the raid of President Donald Trump's attorney to reject the President's request to keep certain filings under seal because the "public's right of access here cannot be overstated."

Rachel Strom, the lawyer for the media companies including CNN and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, filed a letter Thursday opposing Trump's lawyer's request to file their objections to a review of items for attorney-client privilege under seal and ex-parte, or outside of everyone but the judge.

If Trump's motion is successful, it would prevent the public from knowing any of the objections filed by the President.

The documents were seized during an April raid on Cohen's apartment, office and hotel room by the FBI. In the weeks and months since the raid, Trump's attorneys have tried to slow the government's review of documents. They have argued to review first Cohen's documents to lay claim to those that pertain to Trump and should be covered by attorney-client privilege.

To handle disputes over privilege, the judge in the case appointed Barbara Jones as special master. On Monday, Jones said 162 items out of 292,409 items reviewed are privileged. Three items she said are "highly personal." Trump's lawyers did not indicate how many files they intend to challenge.

Trump and Cohen's lawyers have until June 11 to submit challenges relating to the first round of items now reviewed by the special master. Cohen's lawyer said last week they still have to evaluate two-thirds of 3.7 million files that were turned over. The judge gave them until June 15 to complete that review.

During that process, attorneys from both sides of the case will be able to object to certain documents being labeled as privileged or not privileged. Cohen's attorneys want to ensure that process stays out of the public realm as well, but the media and the government are trying to keep that from happening.

"The public's right of access here cannot be overstated," Strom wrote in her letter.

"The public has a right to know what they assert are the bounds of the attorney-client privilege. The public has a right to understand the nature of the objections that Cohen and Trump assert to disclosure and why," she added. "And ultimately, the public has a right to know what categories of documents this Court determines should remain privileged and why. Stated simply, maintaining public confidence in the administration of justice in this case is paramount."

Prosecutors with the US attorney's office in Manhattan responded in a letter that any objections should be filed publicly. However, they do not oppose allowing the contents that could be privileged to be under seal at this time.

"There is no reason why the Government and the public should be deprived of access to the balance of the filing -- such as the law upon which Cohen and the Intervenors rely, or their legal analysis to the extent it does not directly describe the substance of the documents in question," the government wrote.

Prosecutors also asked the judge to be allowed to weigh in before she makes any final rulings on what documents are protected by attorney-client privilege.