Thursday, June 21, 2018

Michael Cohen hunts for new lawyers in FBI probe

NEW YORK (AP) ó Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, is searching for a new legal team to represent him in an FBI investigation of his business dealings.

A person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Cohen's current legal team plans to stop handling the case and that Cohen has begun a hunt for new attorneys.

It wasn't immediately clear what prompted the change or who would take over. The person, who wasn't authorized to discuss the matter and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity, also noted that Cohen has not yet held any discussions with prosecutors about potentially cooperating in the investigation.

Cohen has been represented since 2017 by Stephen Ryan, a Washington lawyer initially hired to prepare him for congressional testimony about alleged Russian interference in the presidential election.

After FBI agents raided Cohen's office in April, Ryan and his New York partner, Todd Harrison, went to court to try to keep investigators from seeing some of the confiscated files on the grounds that they were protected by attorney client privilege. The pair, along with lawyers for Trump, has been working for weeks to identify documents that should be withheld from prosecutors.

The legal teams were facing a deadline of the end of this week to get much of that work complete.

Neither Cohen, Ryan nor Harrison immediately responded to messages Wednesday.

Federal prosecutors in New York have publicly said they are investigating alleged fraud in Cohen's business dealings, but haven't disclosed details.

When agents searched Cohen's home, office and safety deposit box and seized his phones this spring, they sought a wide variety of information, including his involvement in arranging a secret $130,000 payment to the porn actress Stormy Daniels, who said she had a sexual tryst with Trump years ago.

Cohen has maintained that he's innocent of wrongdoing, and Trump has called the raid on his lawyer an assault on attorney client privilege.

The news that Cohen was making a switch in his legal representation was first reported by ABC News.

It isn't unusual for high-profile figures facing potential criminal charges to look for attorneys who have deep experience in the court where the case is expected to be tried, and a track record of negotiating with local prosecutors.

Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, who is suing him in an attempt to get the actress released from a confidentiality agreement, gloated over the news in a tweet.

"Not a good look and a disaster for Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump," he said.

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