By Jonathan Stempel and Brendan Pierson
NEWYORK (Reuters) – A lawyer for U.S. President Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, on Wednesday accused adult film actress Stormy Daniels’ lawyer of leaking Cohen’s bank records to the press, calling it a “drive-by shooting of my client’s rights.”
The comments by Cohen lawyer Stephen Ryan regarding Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, came during an often-heated hearing before U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood in Manhattan related to a criminal investigation by federal prosecutors into Cohen’s business dealings.
Avenatti told Wood he did not release anything improper about Cohen, who has not been charged with a crime.
But the judge told Avenatti he would not have free rein in her courtroom “to denigrate Mr. Cohen and, I believe, potentially, deprive him of a fair trial by tainting a jury pool” should criminal charges be brought against Cohen.
Leaks could make it harder for Cohen to get a fair trial if he were charged. Legal experts have said he might choose to cooperate with prosecutors as pressure mounts.
The investigation stems in part from a referral by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is probing whether Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Russia.
Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion, and Russia has denied meddling in the U.S. election.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Wood set a June 15 deadline for Cohen’s and Trump’s lawyers to identify materials seized in April raids on his home, office and hotel room, which they say prosecutors cannot use by prosecutors because the materials are subject to attorney-client privilege.
Wood said a “taint team” of prosecutors not involved in the Cohen probe would make the determinations after that date.
Ryan, one of Cohen’s lawyers, said in court that Avenatti acted maliciously by releasing his client’s bank records and attacking Cohen in dozens of media appearances, to “paint a false narrative” about Cohen and “call attention to himself.”
Avenatti has released details of payments to Cohen from a company linked to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who the United States sanctioned over suspected meddling in the election.
Avenatti’s involvement has complicated the Cohen probe.
Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, has said she had a sexual encounter with Trump, and sued Cohen in March to end an agreement under which Cohen paid her $130,000 not to discuss it. Trump has denied having sex with Daniels.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Avenatti signalled that more disclosures are forthcoming.
“We’ve got a whole host of information that we are going to be releasing relating to Mr. Cohen and relating to Mr. Trump, so they better buckle up,” he said.
The June 15 deadline to review documents seized from Cohen was a month sooner than Cohen’s lawyers had wanted.
Todd Harrison, a lawyer for Cohen, said his firm was “moving heaven and Earth” to review documents. He said they have reviewed about 1.3 million of the 3.7 million files turned over.
But the judge said taking too long was not an option.
“It’s important for the court to balance the slow, deliberate needs of those asserting attorney-client privilege with the need for an investigation to go forward,” Wood said.
(Reporting by Brendan Pierson and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Karen Freifeld and Nathan Layne in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Noeleen Walder)