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Michael Cohen In Court

Apr 17, 2018
Originally published on April 17, 2018 6:05 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

Yesterday during a federal hearing, we learned something new about President Trump's longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen. Cohen has also been representing Fox News host Sean Hannity. Now, this hearing came after last week's FBI raid of Cohen's office, hotel room and home, and it's focused on who should review the information that was gathered in that raid. The president and Cohen want to be able to either review the material before prosecutors do or to have an outside lawyer go through it to figure out which material is protected by attorney-client privilege. But the Justice Department says that is the job of its filter team. That's a group of prosecutors who are separate from the team working on the case. All right, a lot going on here. NPR's Domenico Montanaro is with us now. Good morning, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: All right, so what did the judge decide yesterday? Who gets to look at this material first?

MONTANARO: So Cohen and Trump were trying to get to review the seized material first before prosecutors could, and the judge basically said no to that. That's a blow to Cohen and Trump, but it's just a first step. That said, it was sort of a long shot anyway. The judge indicated she had confidence in the Southern District of New York to work with integrity to go through these documents. But she didn't rule out the idea - she hasn't decided yet - on whether or not she wants to appoint what's known as a special master. This would be an outside attorney who could look at the information first or to simply - whether or not to allow the Justice Department's filter team or taint team to make the determination on what is and isn't allowed under attorney-client privilege.

So basically, where we are is that federal investigators at this point can keep what they seized from Cohn's office, residence and safe deposit box, but they can't look at any of the substance yet, although they can continue to catalog the material - so a lot to come still.

KING: Domenico, it really surprised a lot of people that Sean Hannity was one of Cohen's clients. Do we know what Cohen was doing for Hannity - is doing for Hannity?

MONTANARO: Well, this certainly got a lot of attention on cable news yesterday, especially because of what Cohen has been doing for President Trump and for another client. And this time, Hannity had wanted his name to be kept private, but the judge ordered it to be released. So he's essentially client No. 3 here. He addressed this himself on the show. Here's what he had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE SEAN HANNITY SHOW")

SEAN HANNITY: Michael never represented me in any matter. I never retained him in the traditional sense as retaining a lawyer.

MONTANARO: He said that Cohen never represented him in any legal matter, that his conversations, quote, "never involved any matter between me, a third party, a third group at all," he said. Instead, he said that he talked with him mostly about real estate because he doesn't like the stock market. And he points out that there's nothing between him and a third party because, you know, for President Trump and for another client that - Cohen had apparently set up allegedly payments to women like Stormy Daniels.

KING: All right, Domenico, let me ask you about this new NPR NewsHour/Marist poll that is just out this morning. It looks at what people think about the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election. What are people thinking? What did the poll find?

MONTANARO: You know, essentially it finds that Republicans are growing increasingly skeptical of the Mueller investigation and the FBI. So while big majorities of Democrats and independents say that they think that the Justice Department or that the FBI is just doing its job, Republicans are very much moving in the opposite direction of that. Majorities say that they see bias in the Mueller investigation and at the FBI. Still, about two-thirds say that Mueller should finish his job and not be fired, and that includes majorities of Republicans as well. So that's a pretty big deal. But it does show that the arguments that are being made here by conservatives and by the president are sticking with the base.

KING: They're starting to have an effect, an impact. Now, this poll also asked about Facebook and whether people thought that social media sites like Facebook were going - were doing a good job safeguarding this year's upcoming midterm elections against Russian interference. How are people feeling about Facebook?

MONTANARO: Boy, this was really interesting that kind of popped out of this poll because just 12 percent of people think that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have done a good enough job to safeguard against this year's elections from Russian interference. Just 12 percent of people have confidence in Facebook's ability to protect their privacy. Eighty percent said that they don't have much confidence or any confidence at all. And by the way, if it's on the Internet it must be true - right? - because only 4 percent of people and only 5 percent of Facebook users said that they can believe what they read on Facebook. Ninety-two percent - 92 percent - said that they don't have very much confidence at all that what they read there is true.

KING: Absolutely extraordinary. NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks so much, Domenico.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.