Documents seized from President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen should be reviewed by an independent official, a New York federal judge has ruled.
The so-called special master was named as ex-judge Barbara Jones.
Barbara Jones will review documents seized from Michael Cohen by the FBI to determine if they include confidential communications with his legal clients.
The move comes as President Trump distanced himself from his long-time lawyer.
On April 26, President Trump told Fox News his lawyer was “a good guy” but only one among his “many, many attorneys”.
The president said: “I don’t know his business, but this doesn’t have to do with me. He’s got a business. He also practices law. I would say probably the big thing is his business. And they’re looking at something having to do with his business. I have nothing to do with his business.”
However, President Trump confirmed that Michael Cohen represented him in the “crazy Stormy Daniels deal”, referring to the actress who alleges she had a relationship with him in 2006.
Donald Trump has denied having relations with Stormy Daniels or any knowledge of the $130,000 payment to her by Michael Cohen during the 2016 presidential campaign. Stormy Daniels accepted the sum in return for signing a non-disclosure agreement.
The actress, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is suing President Trump and Michael Cohen to invalidate the non-disclosure agreement, claiming it was void because the president did not personally sign it.
Michael Cohen said he will invoke his constitutional right to remain silent in the civil case, arguing it could affect the criminal inquiry into his business affairs.
The DoJ announced earlier this month it was investigating Michael Cohen’s business dealings, rather than his work as a lawyer, following a raid on his home and office.
The April 9 raid on Michael Cohen followed a tip-off by the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
Russia denies interfering in the election and President Trump has denied any collusion.
It was unclear if any of those seized documents include material relating to Donald Trump’s business dealings.
Legal analysts have said that Michael Cohen’s $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels could have violated the rules on financing Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
On April 26, District Judge Kimba Wood ruled that Barbara Jones would be the first to review the material, before handing over documents prosecutors could use in their case.
Prosecutors had initially said the documents should be reviewed by a separate team of lawyers in their office while Michael Cohen’s lawyers argued they should have the first look, citing some of the material could violate attorney-client privilege.
Judge Kimba Wood said Barbara Jones could meet lawyers as soon as next week, but added she would intervene if the process took too long.
She said: “If at any point it turns out that the special master process is going too slowly, I will revisit it.”
Barbara Jones served as a federal judge for 16 years in the Southern District of New York and is a former organized-crime prosecutor.
The former judge was appointed in 2016 as the independent review officer for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in a corruption case at the labor union.