Special master named to review documents in Michael Cohen case

The federal judge overseeing the case against President TrumpDonald John TrumpEx-ethics chief calls on Trump to end 'monstrous' migrant policies Laura Bush blasts Trump migrant policy as 'cruel' and 'immoral' US denies report of coalition airstrike on Syria MORE’s attorney, Michael Cohen, on Thursday appointed a former federal judge to review the documents seized in a raid of his office and hotel room, according to multiple reports. 

Judge Kimba Wood of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York appointed Barbara Jones — who served a 16-year term on the Manhattan’s federal court and is now a partner at law firm Bracewell — to serve as the “special master" and decide which of Cohen's materials are protected by attorney-client privilege and what can be reviewed by federal prosecutors, the The New York Post reported. 

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The quick decision came after Wood received a letter Thursday morning from federal prosecutors in Manhattan withdrawing their objection to Cohen's request for a special master.

Prosecutors had initially pushed for the use of a Justice Department "taint team" to perform the review, but cited new developments in changing their position.

In a five-page filing, Khzami cited recent comments by Trump and Fox News Host Sean Hannity —  two of the three clients Cohen identified in open court — in arguing that a special master could quickly review what’s privileged rather than waiting for Cohen’s attorneys to do an initial review.

“We propose that the Special Master directly review the seized materials to determine which appear to be privileged and then hear from both sides before making a final determination,” U.S. Attorney Robert Khzami wrote.

Cohen had claimed “thousands, if not millions,” of pages of privileged documents were taken from him in the FBI raid on April 9. 

But Khzami noted that Trump said in a "Fox & Friends" interview on Thursday that Cohen performs “a tiny, tiny little fraction” of his overall legal work.

Similarly, Hannity on Monday said in a tweet, “Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter. I never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal fees.”

“These statements by two of Cohen’s three identified clients suggest that the seized materials are unlikely to contain voluminous privileged documents, further supporting the importance of efficiency here,” Khzami said.

Before Thursday, both sides had put forward possible choices to be appointed special master. The government floated the names of three magistrate judges, while Cohen’s attorney’s suggested four former federal prosecutors who are now defense attorneys. Wood instead chose Jones.

During the court conference on Thursday, Wood said she expects Jones to dedicate "90 percent" of her time to reviewing the material and work as quickly as a taint team would have. The judge said she'll "revisit" the arrangement if the process drags on, the New York Post reported.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York is reportedly investigating Cohen for several potential crimes, including campaign finance violations and bank fraud, among other things. 

The office received a criminal referral from special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.

Some of the documents taken could relate to the $130,000 payment Cohen said he made to Stormy Daniels, an adult-film star who claims to have had an affair with Trump in 2006. 

Cohen said on Wednesday he is pleading the Fifth Amendment in the civil lawsuit Daniels brought against him for claiming she lied about her affair with the president and that Cohen tried to silence her with the payment ahead of the election. 

Cohen cited the ongoing investigation of the FBI and U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York for his decision to assert his constitutional right not to self-incriminate. 

Updated at 1:37 p.m.