Attorneys for President Donald Trump's associate Michael Cohen and adult film actress Stormy Daniels sniped at each other in court Wednesday, accusing each other of leaking to the press and otherwise behaving badly.
Cohen's attorney Stephen Ryan accused Michael Avenatti, Daniels' lawyer, of committing “a premeditated drive-by shooting of my client’s rights" by publishing details of large corporate payments made in recent years to Cohen, the president's longtime personal attorney.
Avenatti denied doing anything improper and accused Cohen's legal team of leaking audiotapes to reporters of Cohen talking to Daniels’ former attorney.
The two sides were in court in Manhattan as lawyers grapple over materials seized from Cohen's home and office in an April FBI raid. Avenatti — whose client says Cohen paid her $130,000 just before the 2016 election to keep quiet about a sexual encounter with Trump — had been trying to muscle his way into that New York case so that he could review the seized documents, but he drew a scolding from Judge Kimba Wood Wednesday for his frequent media appearances.
Avenatti subsequently withdrew his motion to appear in the case and promptly appeared on MSNBC.
Lawyers for Cohen and Daniels — whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford — have been increasingly hostile toward each other ever since Avenatti published a summary of what he said were records showing payments by companies including AT&T and Novartis to Cohen's consulting firm. Avenatti has refused to say how he obtained the records, and some of the details he published were later said to pertain to a different Michael Cohen not associated with the president.
Ryan, apologizing for his “vehemence,” called the publication “reckless and improper.” Todd Harrison, another Cohen attorney, said publishing the records was "intended to prejudice and cause harm to my client."
“I’ve never seen an attorney conduct himself in the way Mr. Avenatti has,” Ryan said. “It shakes me to my boots."
Avenatti, on the other hand, told the court he’d “received a call last week from a member of the press who asked me to comment on an audio recording" in which information about Daniels was discussed without her permission.
No such recording has been made public, and Cohen's team denied leaking one. Any audio tapes in their possession seized as part of the FBI raid were being kept “under lock and key,” Ryan said.
“If we had released those audiotapes to a reporter, it would have been the biggest story in America," he said.
Cohen's team has been reviewing the materials seized in the raid to determine whether any should be protected by attorney-client privilege and kept out of the investigation of the president's associate, who is being scrutinized over the payment to Daniels and other activities.
Wood chastised the team Wednesday for moving too slowly, giving them until June 15 to finish reviewing the more than 3.7 million files they’ve received. If they don't meet the deadline, she'll hand the task off to a team of federal prosecutors, Wood said.
Harrison said his team of 15 attorneys and two data specialists had been working “around the clock” to search through the material for anything subject to attorney-client privilege.
The lawyers have reviewed about 1.3 million files, including material from 13 different mobile devices and 19 different digital media devices, he said.
“We are moving heaven and earth,” and lawyers are “sleeping on couches in our office,” in order to quickly review the material, Harrison said.
Federal investigators haven’t been able to obtain information from three items seized in the raid, they revealed Wednesday: two Blackberries that Cohen’s attorneys said are “really old” and could date from 2008, and the contents of a document shredder.