- Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
- US District Judge Kimba Wood set a new deadline for Michael Cohen’s lawyers to finish reviewing more than 2 million documents.
- Cohen’s team wanted that deadline to be in mid-July.
- Wood set it for mid-June.
- It could lead to the result Cohen and President Donald Trump really don’t want.
US District Judge Kimba Wood on Wednesday set a new deadline for Michael Cohen’s lawyers to finish reviewing more than 2 million remaining documents for designations of privilege.
That new deadline could lead to the one scenario President Donald Trump and his longtime attorney did not want – documents being turned over to a government team for review.
During a hearing in the Southern District of New York, Cohen’s lawyers said they have so far reviewed 1.3 million of the 3.7 million total files they need to evaluate. The first 1.3 million documents, which led to roughly 250 declarations of privilege as of Wednesday, has taken roughly a full month.
Both Wood and the government want that process to speed up, and Wood sided with the government in setting a June 15 deadline for the review’s completion. If Cohen’s team cannot finish in time, the remaining documents would be turned over to a separate group government lawyers – known as a “taint team.”
Cohen’s team pushed for that deadline to be in mid-July. One of Cohen’s attorneys, Todd Harrison, said their team is “working around the clock” and “as fast as we can” to finish the review. Harrison said one member of his team had a “tremor in his hand from lack of sleep.”
Cohen’s attorneys are utilizing 15 lawyers and two data specialists to review the documents, which were seized by the FBI during raids on Cohen’s home, office, and hotel room last month. Cohen is the focus of a criminal investigation in the Southern District of New York into whether he violated campaign-finance laws or committed bank fraud.
The special master’s latest report
During an April hearing, Wood sided with Cohen and appointed a special master to oversee the document review process, rather than have the team of government lawyers make privilege declarations.
- Spencer Platt/Getty Images
On Tuesday, the special master, Barbara Jones, released her most in-depth report yet on that review process. After the report was published, experts zeroed in on the surprisingly low number of documents that Cohen, Trump, and the Trump Organization had designated as privileged.
“For a person who claims to be a lawyer, the minuscule amount of allegedly privileged matter is surprising, and what it tells us is that Cohen wasn’t acting as a lawyer very often,” Roland Riopelle, a partner at Sercarz & Riopelle who was formerly a federal prosecutor with the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, told Business Insider.
“He was doing something else,” Riopelle said.
During an interview on “Fox & Friends” late last month, Trump seemed to suggest that the investigation into Cohen appeared to focus more on Cohen’s business dealings than on his work as an attorney. But on April 10, the day after the raids, Trump tweeted: “Attorney-client privilege is dead!”
“The fact that so few documents seized from an attorney are even claimed to be privileged is surprising,” Mitchell Epner, an attorney at Rottenberg Lipman Rich and former US attorney, told Business Insider.
Jones wrote in the report that in addition to documents Cohen and his team want to claim as privileged, they could submit designations for “highly personal” items, such as medical records. When Cohen and Trump claim a document as privileged, Jones will review the claim and recommend to the court whether she believes it falls under such privilege and may be excluded from any potential prosecution.
A paper shredder and two BlackBerries
Jones said eight boxes of hard-copy documents and certain phones and iPads had already been fully reviewed. The special master has also received documents from mobile storage devices, three computers, two phones, CDs found in those eight boxes, a video recorder, and electronic images. She said she had not received productions related to three seized items and did not know when to expect them.
Those three items not yet received were addressed in Wednesday’s hearing. Among them were two BlackBerries and the contents of a paper shredder, which were still being pieced together.
Cohen’s attorneys said the BlackBerries were at least eight years old and were unlikely to be useful in the case. They also said it was likely that they belonged to Cohen’s wife, which surprised federal prosecutors from the US attorney’s office, who said that they were not previously made aware of that information.
Cohen’s attorneys then said they couldn’t be sure if the phones belonged to Cohen’s wife.