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Michael Cohen And Attorney-Client Privilege


A federal judge in this city did not give her final, final ruling yesterday in the case of President Trump's lawyer, but she says she has confidence in federal prosecutors, and she has not yet appointed an outside official to review documents seized from Michael Cohen. NPR's Miles Parks was in the courtroom for hours yesterday as this case was argued. He's here in our New York bureau. Hey there, Miles.


INSKEEP: So would you just walk us through this? What exactly is it that Michael Cohen wants done with the documents that were seized by the FBI the other day?

PARKS: So basically it's all about attorney-client privilege. Both sides are arguing that they should get the first crack at deciding of everything that was seized on last Monday - who should basically get the first crack of deciding what's protected under attorney-client privilege rules. We should note that attorney-client privilege rules, they don't cover all communications between an attorney and the person they represent - only situations where the attorney is actually providing legal advice and situations where an attorney is actually not breaking the law in providing that legal advice by committing fraud or another crime.

INSKEEP: OK. Let's remember, federal prosecutors say they already did something to protect any privileged communications because these documents go to this separate team, right? But Michael Cohen wanted something else and, in fact, lawyers for President Trump wanted something else.

PARKS: Right. They basically argue that they're in a unique position - also most incentivized - to basically make - get this privileged situation right. They don't want the government to have a hand in deciding what's protected by their attorney-client privilege and what's not.

INSKEEP: Meaning that Cohen was saying, well, let me decide whether...

PARKS: Yeah, he was basically arguing - which the judge seemed to basically throw out. That doesn't seem like a realistic possibility at this point. Cohen's team did say, however, that if they weren't going to be able to - if it wasn't going to be them and it wasn't going to be Donald Trump's lawyers who get the first crack at this, they want an outside investigator, an outside attorney, something called the special master, to be brought in as a third party to look over this privilege question and decide.

INSKEEP: What did the judge, Kimba Wood, eventually say?

PARKS: She basically said she didn't have a decision yet, but she was torn between the protocols that are in place in the Justice Department, which is bring in this - what's called a filter team, which is an outside team - right? - brought in to look at these documents or bring in a special master, this third party. She still wants to get a better understanding of the scope of what was taken in the raid before she makes her decision.

INSKEEP: OK. So talk me through something else, Miles Parks. Michael Cohen is asked, who are your other clients? There's a client whose name we don't know. Will you please name that client? And he says Sean Hannity of Fox News. You're in the courtroom.

PARKS: And it was honestly one of the most extraordinary moments. Yesterday in general was one of the most extraordinary moments of anything I've ever covered. The air absolutely left the courtroom. There were some giggles and then huge gasps and then, like, seven or eight journalists just ran out, presumably to go tweet or something like that.

INSKEEP: Or something, yeah. That was - that's reminding me of a scene in the movie "Airplane!" where all the reporters run into phone booths and knock over the phone booths because they're running so fast.

PARKS: Yeah, exactly. I mean, there was audible shock.

INSKEEP: OK. So just so we're clear, Hannity is involved how? In what way is he a client of Michael Cohen?

PARKS: It's very unclear at this point exactly how he's involved with Michael Cohen. This was not addressed at the hearing. But Hannity says he has never paid a legal fee to Michael Cohen. We're still kind of waiting for more details.

INSKEEP: OK, Miles Park, thanks very much.

PARKS: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Miles Parks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.