Trump allies fear FBI seized lawyer's conversation tapes

Mr Michael Cohen's computers and phones were seized on Monday by federal investigators.
Mr Michael Cohen's computers and phones were seized on Monday by federal investigators.

President's close confidant has a habit of recording business and political conversations

WASHINGTON • Mr Donald Trump's personal attorney, Mr Michael Cohen, sometimes taped conversations with associates, according to three people familiar with his practice, and allies of the US President are worried that the recordings were seized by federal investigators in a raid this week.

Mr Cohen, who served for a decade as a lawyer at the Trump Organisation and is a close confidant of Mr Trump, was known to store the conversations using digital files and then replay them for colleagues, according to people who have interacted with him.

"We heard he had some proclivity to make tapes," said one Trump adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

"Now we are wondering, who did he tape? Did he store those someplace where they were actually seized?... Did they find his recordings?"

Mr Cohen did not respond to requests for comment. Mr Stephen Ryan, an attorney for Mr Cohen, declined to comment.

A White House spokesman referred a request for comment to Mr Cohen and his attorney.

On Monday, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents seized Mr Cohen's computers and phones as they executed a search warrant that sought, among other records, all communications between the lawyer and Mr Trump and campaign aides about "potential sources of negative publicity" in the lead-up to the 2016 election.

Investigators were also looking for any records related to adult-film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who both received payments after alleged affairs with Mr Trump.

It is unknown whether Mr Cohen taped conversations between himself and Mr Trump.

But two people familiar with Mr Cohen's practices said he recorded both business and political conversations.

One associate said Mr Trump knew of Mr Cohen's practice because the attorney would often play him recordings Mr Cohen had made of his conversations with other top Trump advisers.

"It was his standard practice to do it," this person said.

Legal experts said Mr Cohen's taped conversations would be viewed by prosecutors as highly valuable.

"If you are looking for evidence, you can't do any better than people talking on tape," said Mr Nick Akerman, a former prosecutor in the 1970s Watergate scandal that brought down then President Richard Nixon.

FBI investigators would not automatically get access to any tapes that might have been seized in the raids.

First, the recordings would be reviewed by a separate Justice Department team and possibly by a federal judge. The review is designed to protect lawyer-client privilege and to be sure that the conversations turned over are within the terms of the search warrant, legal experts said.

Such recordings "would be considered a gold mine", said Professor Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University who specialises in legal ethics.

"The significance is 9.5 to 10 on a 10-point scale," he added, noting that investigators know "that when people speak on the phone, they are not guarded. They don't imagine that the conversation will surface".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2018, with the headline 'Trump allies fear FBI seized lawyer's conversation tapes'. Print Edition | Subscribe