Tuesday April 17, 2018
07:08 AM GMT+8

UPDATED:
April 17, 2018
11:11 AM GMT+8

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Adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels speaks to media along with lawyer Michael Avenatti outside federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, April 16, 2018. — Reuters picAdult film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels speaks to media along with lawyer Michael Avenatti outside federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, April 16, 2018. — Reuters picNEW YORK, April 17 — Donald Trump’s legal battle with his own Justice Department led to an extraordinary courtroom showdown this morning between his personal lawyer, one of America’s most prestigious prosecution offices and a lavender-clad porn star fueling the media circus.

The high-stakes hearing before a federal judge in downtown Manhattan, centered on a technicality, almost descended into a farce when the name of Trump’s favourite Fox News anchor was suddenly revealed as another purported client of Michael Cohen.

Cohen, the president’s long-time personal lawyer and fixer, is under criminal investigation by the FBI.

Last week, agents confiscated documents in a raid on his home, hotel room, office and a safety deposit box. They also seized two cellphones.

His legal team and Trump — who denounced the raid as a “witch hunt” — sought a restraining order that would prevent prosecutors from reviewing the material until the president can decide if any of it should be protected by attorney-client privilege.

US District Judge Kimba Wood denied the request, but agreed that Cohen’s legal team should have access to the documents, instructing prosecutors to scan any material not already in electronic form into an accessible database.

How long that will take is not immediately clear. Wood also asked lawyers for both Cohen and Trump to come up with names for a “special master” who she could potentially appoint to comb through the documents first.

For now, the US attorney’s office in Manhattan agreed not to examine any of the material, pending a final decision from the judge.

Wood otherwise forced Cohen’s lawyer to reveal the name of a previously undisclosed client, who could also be affected by attorney-client privilege concerns.

Fox host angry

Sean Hannity was said to be that client — the Fox News host Trump is known to admire and speak with by telephone, and whose television show is currently the most watched in US cable news.

The revelation was met with gasps and laughter in court, but Hannity himself furiously denied any such relationship.

“Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter. I never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal fees. I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective,” he tweeted.

“I have no personal interest in this proceeding, and, in fact, asked that my de minimis discussions with Michael Cohen, which dealt almost exclusively about real estate, not be made a part of this proceeding.”

Some of the documents seized by the FBI reportedly relate to a payment of US$130,000 (RM505,128) that Cohen admits making to Stormy Daniels, who claims she had a one-night stand with Trump a decade ago.

The president has denied any knowledge of the payment to secure Daniels’s October 2016 signature on a hush agreement preventing her from talking about the liaison.

The porn star, real name Stephanie Clifford, is fighting to quash the agreement.

She was whisked into court past an enormous media scrum, squeezing into a spot in the back at the last minute.

“For years, Mr Cohen has acted like he is above the law,” she told reporters, dressed in a pale purple skirt suit and black blouse, after the 2.5-hour hearing.

“That ends now. My attorney and I are committed to making sure that everyone finds out the truth and the facts of what happened.”

‘Danger to the president’

Her publicity-hungry lawyer Michael Avenatti added: “Michael Cohen was radioactive... I think there is significant danger to the president.

“The president trusted Mr Cohen with his inner-most secrets and I think the chicken are about to come home to roost,” Avenatti said.

The Justice Department says Cohen has been under investigation for months for criminal conduct largely centered on his “personal business dealings” but court papers have been redacted, leaving the specifics under wraps.

Prosecutors say they are looking for evidence of crimes, “many of which have nothing to do with his work as an attorney.”

The raid on Cohen’s home and office came as special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe intensifies its focus on the president’s inner circle.

Mueller’s team is examining possible collusion between Trump’s 2016 election campaign team and Russia, as well as allegations of corrupt behavior by Trump campaign lieutenants and of White House efforts to obstruct the investigation.

So far, 19 people have been indicted, including the chairman of Trump’s campaign. — AFP

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