An attempt by Donald Trump and his legal fixer Michael Cohen to gain access to documents seized from Cohen by the FBI before prosecutors can view them was rejected by a federal judge on Monday.
But Judge Kimba Wood did suggest that she may appoint an independent lawyer to review the trove of records for any protected by attorney-client privilege – possibly with a specific remit of checking documents related to the president.
“In terms of the perception of fairness, a special master might have a role here,” Wood said, at Manhattan federal court, without issuing a formal ruling.
Wood also denied a request from Trump for a temporary restraining order against his own justice department, which would have ordered prosecutors to not begin going through the files from Cohen’s home, office and hotel.
The judge’s decisions dealt a blow to Trump and Cohen, who made their extraordinary demands after the president had denounced the FBI raids as part of a political “witch-hunt” against him and declared: “Attorney-client privilege is dead!”
Cohen, who has worked as a lawyer and troubleshooter for Trump over the past decade, is the subject of a criminal investigation that prosecutors in New York have said focuses on his private business affairs and personal finances.
The FBI last Monday searched Cohen’s properties along with a safe deposit box, phones and other electronic devices after obtaining a search warrant from a judge, apparently out of concern that Cohen would not comply with a subpoena.
Attorneys for Cohen and Trump confirmed in court on Monday that they believe documents relating to Cohen’s representation of the president were scooped up during the raids. The material has not yet been made available to the prosecutors investigating Cohen.
Communications between lawyers and the people they represent are typically kept confidential under the doctrine of attorney-client privilege. But an exception exists for documents providing evidence that the attorney was involved in a crime.
Trump’s attorneys had demanded in a letter to court on Sunday evening that the justice department’s plan be halted so that “our firm and the president may review for privilege those seized documents that relate to him”.
Wood asked prosecutors and Cohen’s attorneys to each give her a shortlist of four nominees for the role of special master.