MANHATTAN (CN) – A federal judge warned the lawyer for porn actress Stormy Daniels on Wednesday that his attacks against the president’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, could interfere in Cohen’s rights to a fair trial.
Wrapping up a heated one-hour hearing this morning, U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood emphasized that the proceedings here are “a potential precursor to a criminal trial if charges are filed against Mr. Cohen.”
“I either want you to participate, or not be in the matter at all,” Wood told attorney Michael Avenatti. “I don’t want you to have some existence in a limbo where you’re free to denigrate Mr. Cohen, and I believe potentially deprive him of a fair trial by tainting a jury pool. I know a jury, if there is one, is way down the road, and memories certainly may fade, but this conduct is inimicable to giving Mr. Cohen eventually a fair trial.”
The dressing-down came after Cohen’s attorney Stephen Ryan urged the court to exclude California-based Avenatti from the proceedings.
“He intended to prejudice and cause harm to my client, and he did, he succeeded in that,” said Ryan, referring to bank records from Cohen that Avenatti published weeks earlier.
“It was a premeditated drive-by shooting of my client’s rights,” Ryan added. “That’s why we’re here today raising this issue.”
Wood warned that that granting Avenatti’s pro hac vice motion – a Latin term meaning that the attorney can appear in court “for the occasion” – will not give him “a roving ability to bring up anything you wish in connection with this matter.”
“If you participate here, you would not be able to declare your opinion as to Mr. Cohen’s guilt, which you did; you would not be able to give publicity to documents that are not public,” Wood added later. “It would change your conduct.”
Shortly after his shellacking at the hearing, Avenatti withdrew his motion to appear in court – giving himself leave to refile his application later “if necessary.”
Wood did not spare Cohen’s legal team any ultimatums either.
Cohen’s other attorney Todd Harrison said their legal team has moved “heaven and earth” to review about 1.3 million of the 3.7 million files they have received from the government.
“We have people sleeping on couches in our offices,” Harrison said. “We have people who worked all through the Memorial Day weekend. I had an associate yesterday who felt a tremor in his hand from lack of sleep.”
Unmoved, Judge Wood concluded the hearing with a June 15 deadline for Cohen’s attorneys to complete privilege review, after which an internal taint team from the U.S. Attorney’s Office will review the remaining balance of files.
“It is important for the court to balance the slow, deliberate needs of those who are asserting attorney-client privilege with the need for an investigation to go forward,” she said.
Joanna Hendon, who represents Trump, told Wood meanwhile that the White House is satisfied with the pace of the investigation.
“Your honor, I would just say that, from the perspective of the president, the rate at which we see the government providing material to Mr. Cohen and Mr. Cohen providing it to us, we are very satisfied and pleased with that and the rate at which we are receiving material and able to make our privilege designations, and we remain very grateful to the court for implementing this process,” she said.
Earlier that day, Hendon said Avenatti should be excluded from the Cohen proceedings because he has been deceptive about which of his firms represents Daniels.
Hendon’s hands appeared to tremble and her voice cracked as she drew the court’s attention to emails that appear to contradict Avenatti’s sworn affidavit to Wood, which says Daniels is represented by Avenatti & Associates.
Letterhead from emails Avenatti exchanged with the president meanwhile identify his firm as Eagan Avenatti.
“When someone, especially a lawyer, is prepared to be not straightforward, and cute, and I would say misleading, with the court, on the tiniest of matters, it raises a serious question about how that person, how that lawyer will conduct themselves on the more serious matters,” said Hendon, an attorney with Spears & Imes.
Avenatti’s face registered the surprise attack, quickly putting on his glasses to study the documents.
After the hearing, the usually showy Avenatti spoke for just one minute outside of court, not opening himself to any questions and then hastily darting away from the press pen, exiting through the side of the fenced-in scene.
Shortly afterward, he tweeted: “The #TrumpTapes that were just disclosed in court as a result of our efforts should be released immediately. Not tmrw, not next week or next month. Now. Nixon 2.0. #Basta.”
Earlier in the hearing, Avenatti offered detail to his claim that Cohen leaked privileged communications about Daniels to the press.
Avenatti said a member of the press asked him a week ago to comment on an audio recording between Cohen and Keith Davidson, a former lawyer for Daniels.
In October 2016, a month ahead of President Donald Trump’s election, it was Davidson who brokered the $130,000 hush payment to Daniels from Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
Avenatti said the Davidson recording “appears to have been made by Mr. Cohen without permission.”
If the leak did not come from Cohen, Avenatti said, the only other possible sources are the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“I don’t believe for one moment, your honor, that either one of those two organizations or entities provided that info to that reporter,” Avenatti added. “I’d be shocked.”
Cohen’s basis for leaking the conversation, Avenatti said, was to paint a false narrative about Daniels or her lawyer.
Avenatti used the word “disturbing” to characterize both the call from the reporter itself and the fact that he does not have access to the recording.
“From what I was told there’s other recordings,” Avenatti said, adding that he wants such information protected.
“We don’t want to provide it to the press,” he continued.
Ryan disputed that Cohen could have caused any leak.
“The audio tapes that we have, if any that pertain to him, [are] under lock and key, they are controlled by my law firm,” Ryan said. “I am unaware of any release of an audio file of this kind.”
Misstating this position, Avenatti claimed in court and on MSNBC later that day that Ryan conceded the existence of these tapes.