News outlets, press watchdog demand sunlight on Trump privilege requests
(Courthouse News Service) Objecting to President Donald Trump’s “extraordinary” demands for secrecy, eight news outlets and one press watchdog asked a federal judge on Thursday to order transparency over attorney-client privilege in the criminal investigation of attorney Michael Cohen.
“The public’s right of access here cannot be overstated,” First Amendment attorney Rachel Strom wrote for the firm Davis Wright Tremaine.
“As your honor is aware, the president of the United States’ personal lawyer was the subject of a no-knock search warrant by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that led to the seizure of numerous documents,” her three-page letter continues. “The issues in this case are of intense public interest and importance to our nation and have been the subject of headline news. Now that President Trump and Mr. Cohen are challenging whether certain of these documents may be turned over to government investigators, the public has a right to know what they assert are the bounds of the attorney-client privilege.”
Earlier this week, court-appointed special master Barbara Jones found that only 162 out of 292,409 items seized from Cohen qualified for attorney-client privilege. Jones overruled Cohen, Trump and the Trump Organization’s privilege assertions in only three cases.
On Wednesday night, Trump’s attorney Joanna Hendon revealed her intent to challenge at least one of those determinations, and she requested filing her submission under seal and out of the government’s view.
Though prosecutors did not file a response, Hendon said the government does not oppose redacting any information about the documents in dispute.
“The government, however, opposes the wholesale filing under seal or ex parte of any submission made pursuant to the amended order,” Hendon wrote in a three-page brief.
Prosecutors also want the ability to learn enough about the documents at issue to make their own arguments as to privilege or work-product designation through their internal filter team.
Late on Thursday, the Fourth Estate made its voice heard through the letter filed on behalf of ABC, the Associated Press, BuzzFeed, CNN, the New York Times, the New York Post, Newsday, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
“The public has a right to understand the nature of the objections that Cohen and Trump assert to disclosure and why,” their letter states. “The public has a right to know the legal arguments being advanced by the parties. And ultimately, the public has a right to know what categories of documents this court determines should remain privileged and why. Stated simply, maintaining public confidence in the administration of justice in this case is paramount.”
U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood did not rule on the matter by press time.