The Biggest District Court Hearing Since Watergate

There will be a hearing today in Manhattan to discuss what will be done with the materials the government seized from Michael Cohen last week. It will probably be the most significant event in a U.S. District Court since James McCord sent his letter to Judge John Sirica on March 19, 1973. After that letter, it was only a matter of time before the ugly truths behind the Watergate break-in became known to investigators and the public.

President Trump knows the government probably now has possession of enough incriminating material to end his presidency and land him in prison for the remainder of his days, so the only remaining option is to fight to prevent the government from reading what they have. Judge Kimba Wood will decide if that is the correct way to deal with this mess. I don’t think she will rule with the president.

What’s being debated is who gets to review the material seized from Cohen’s home, office and hotel room one week ago. After learning that the government planned to have a taint team start reviewing the material it had seized from Cohen last Friday, Cohen’s legal team filed a motion for a temporary restraining order on Thursday night. In short, they want to have the determination of what is or isn’t privileged made not by government officials but by themselves — or, at least, by a third party called a special master…

…Trump’s team wants Cohen’s team to review the seized material — and then to get a copy of the material related to the president. In court on Friday, Trump’s attorneys seemed content to have a third-party review the material to determine what might or might not be privileged. In a letter filed with the court on Sunday night, though, Trump’s position was that the only acceptable way of evaluating what was or wasn’t privileged was to turn the material over to Cohen’s team to make that assessment.

The president has characterized the warrants that were issued to seize Cohen’s records as a violation of attorney-client privilege, but the government has had Cohen under surveillance for some time and has already been reading his emails, and they clearly had compelling reasons to believe that Cohen might destroy evidence rather than produce it in response to an ordinary subpoena. They also seem to have evidence of crimes Cohen may have committed in relation to his ownership of New York City taxicab medallions. When an attorney and client are engaged in a criminal conspiracy, the attorney-client privilege doesn’t hold, so the types of things that the taint team would be looking to withhold from investigators are records of routine business Cohen did with Trump or other clients. So far, Cohen has produced evidence of serving only three clients, one of which is still unknown. The other two are the president and Elliot Broidy (a finance chairman for the RNC who used Cohen to cover up an affair with a Playboy playmate that resulted in her pregnancy and a subsequent abortion). So, the routine business wasn’t all that routine.

The hearing is set for 2 p.m., and it should be a circus with porn star Stormy Daniels in attendance. If the president can’t pry these documents out of the hands of prosecutors, his whole world will collapse.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.