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Cohen defies court order, refuses to release names of his clients

On Friday, a federal judge ordered Michael Cohen to turn over a list of his clients to the court by 10 a.m. The judge, U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood, said she would make the list public since the identities of clients, in most instances, are not protected by attorney-client privilege.

Cohen’s clientele became an issue after the government raided his home, hotel room, and office on April 9th. At the time, Cohen sought a temporary restraining order to prohibit the government from reviewing any of the documents, claiming attorney-client privilege.

This morning, Cohen responded to Judge Wood’s order with a letter filed with the court shortly before the 10 a.m. deadline, in which he declared that he would not provide the names of any clients that weren’t already publicly available.

Cohen said he worked at Estrin & Associates from 1991 to 1995, and had “numerous clients” during that time. From 1996 to 2006, Cohen said he worked in his own private legal practice, serving “hundreds of different clients.” Then, in 2006, Cohen joined Phillips Nizer LLP, where he represented about 15 clients. In all these cases, Cohen declined to disclose the identities of these clients, but claims that the materials seized by the government could include information from this time period.

From 2007 to 2017, Cohen said he only worked for Donald Trump and the Trump organization.

From 2017 to 2018, Cohen said he was back in private practice and had only 10 clients. Seven of those were not legal clients and Cohen didn’t disclose their names. Two of the remaining three clients were Donald Trump and Elliot Broidy. Cohen’s relationship with Broidy was disclosed last week by the Wall Street Journal, which reported that Cohen helped negotiate a $1.6 million hush money agreement between Broidy, a top Trump fundraiser, and a Playboy Playmate who he impregnated.

Cohen refused to reveal the identity of the third legal client because the client “directed Cohen not to reveal the identity publicly.” Cohen’s lawyer, Stephen Ryan, writes that this client’s matters “are responsive” to the search warrant, but it appears to be a typo. Ryan seems to have forgot to include the word “not.”

Ryan makes a feeble attempt to argue that the names of his clients are protected by attorney-client privilege. He cites a single case, Vingelli v. Drug Enforcement Agency, which states that names of clients are not protected unless there are “special circumstances.” Vingelli defines those circumstances as when a disclosure would implicate the client in a crime, or when it would be “tantamount to revealing a confidential communication.”

Without citing any case law, Ryan goes on to argue that Cohen’s case is the most “special” because “federal prosecutors have seized data and files of the personal attorney of the President of the United States.” He goes on to call the search of Cohen’s office the product of “the most highly politicized search warrant in the history of American jurisprudence.” Why would this prevent Cohen from disclosing the names of clients who are the not the president? Ryan does not explain.

The letter goes on to say that revealing the identities of Cohen’s clients would be “embarrassing” to them. This goes to the heart of the matter. Cohen has seemingly specialized in silencing women through threats and cash payments. Being included on a list of Cohen’s clientele is embarrassing. That doesn’t mean, however, that Cohen has a legal right to withhold the names.

Finally, Ryan argues that the court does not need the names of Cohen’s clients to make a decision on the temporary restraining order. This is not likely to be a compelling argument to Judge Wood, who has already ordered that Cohen release the names. Wood is already displeased with Cohen’s conduct, expressing frustration with his decision not to even show up at court on Friday.

Cohen decided to smoke cigars with his buddies instead.

The judge has ordered Cohen to appear in court with his lawyer at 2 p.m. today.

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