National News

Judge Denies Trump’s Secrecy Claim in Review of Cohen Documents

Posted June 8, 2018 10:11 p.m. EDT

NEW YORK — Striking a note for transparency, a federal judge ruled Friday that President Donald Trump and his longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, cannot proceed in total secrecy as they weigh in on the final stages of a laborious review of a huge trove of materials seized from Cohen during a series of raids by the authorities in April.

For two months, Trump and Cohen’s lawyers have been fighting with prosecutors in Manhattan over how to handle the millions of documents and data files that federal agents hauled away from Cohen’s office, apartment and hotel room. The chief dispute concerned the question of who should get to determine what materials were protected by the attorney-client privilege that Trump enjoys in his dealings with Cohen. Those determinations are important because any file covered by that privilege could be withheld from the prosecutors who are investigating Cohen’s various business projects, including some involving Trump.

The battle over the materials — a vast cache of Cohen’s papers, data files from several of his iPads, cellphones and computer drives, and even the contents of one of his shredders — could determine how much and what kinds of evidence the government has at its disposal as it pursues its investigation.

But even though the judge in the case, Kimba M. Wood, solved the quarrel with a compromise in April, appointing an independent arbiter known as a special master to oversee the review of the materials, she still allowed Trump and Cohen to make objections to the special master’s findings — and that led to a new dispute this week.

On Wednesday, the president’s lawyers, writing on behalf of him and Cohen, asked Wood for permission to file their objections under seal directly to her, keeping them from the eyes of both the public and the prosecutors handling the case.

Within a day, the prosecutors responded with a more limited proposal, arguing that while Trump and Cohen did not have to disclose the contents of the files they felt were privileged, there was “no reason why the government and the public should be deprived of access” to the legal analysis that led to their decisions.

In her one-paragraph ruling Friday, Wood sided with the prosecutors, saying that the Trump and Cohen legal teams had to submit their objections to the special master’s findings publicly “except for those portions that divulge ‘the substance of the contested documents.'”

A group of news organizations, including The New York Times, had written in support of the government’s position, claiming that the “public has a right to know” what categories of files Trump and Cohen were trying to keep secret, if not precisely what was in them.