National News

Cohen Is Said to Retain Ex-Prosecutor as Lawyer

Posted June 19, 2018 9:08 p.m. EDT

Michael D. Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime personal fixer, has lined up a new lawyer, according to people familiar with the matter. The lawyer, Guy Petrillo, once held a senior role in the same federal prosecutors’ office that has been investigating Cohen for months.

Cohen’s decision to hire Petrillo, who ran the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, comes as that office’s inquiry into Cohen is nearing a critical phase. For nearly two months, lawyers for Cohen and Trump have been working with a court-appointed special master in reviewing a vast trove of documents and data files seized from Cohen in April in a series of raids on his office, apartment and hotel room. The review is scheduled to end next week, which would move prosecutors closer to deciding whether to file criminal charges.

It is a common practice for people facing scrutiny by prosecutors to hire lawyers who once worked in the offices investigating them. By bringing on Petrillo, Cohen will now have an advocate who is well positioned to help him navigate any negotiations with the prosecutors who have spent the past several months looking into his business dealings, including hush-money payments that he made to women who claim they had affairs with Trump. Those negotiations may eventually include the question of whether Cohen strikes a deal to cooperate with the government in a separate inquiry by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, into ties between Trump, his associates and Russia.

For the past few weeks, Cohen had been in discussions with Petrillo, who was “consulting with” him even before he was officially retained, one of the people familiar with the matter said. But Petrillo is not expected to take control of the case until after the document review is finished. The judge, Kimba M. Wood, who is presiding in the matter, has set a tentative deadline of June 25 for the review to be complete.

Petrillo did not respond to several phone calls on Tuesday seeking comment.

Cohen’s change in legal counsel was not unexpected. Last week, it emerged that he was planning to part ways with his current lawyers — a three-person team from the firm of McDermott Will & Emery — partly over a dispute about his legal bills. The Trump family has been paying for the portion of the bills related to the document review, a laborious — and thus expensive — project, but a fight erupted recently over how much it was costing. Under pressure from Wood to speed up their scrutiny of the documents, the McDermott team has for weeks had as many as 15 lawyers and data specialists assigned to the review, some of whom are working around the clock and sleeping in the firm’s office.

Though Cohen had for some time been thinking of hiring a lawyer with strong ties to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, the disagreement with the Trump family over money could serve to further isolate him from Trump at a crucial juncture in the case — a potentially risky development for the president.

Petrillo first joined the Manhattan federal prosecutors’ office in 1990 and became chief of its narcotics unit and then its chief appellate attorney. In 1997, he left to work in private practice for a decade, but then returned to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2008 and spent almost two years as the chief of the criminal division.

In 2010, he co-founded his own firm, Petrillo Klein & Boxer, which has handled numerous civil and criminal corporate cases.