AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Until today, President Trump has claimed he knew nothing about a payment his personal lawyer made to the adult film actress known as Stormy Daniels, who says she had an affair with Trump years ago. Then today, the president went on "Fox & Friends" and said this about his attorney Michael Cohen.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He represents me. Like, with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal, he represented me.
CHANG: Trump also said Cohen didn't do a lot of legal work for him, and that complicates things for Cohen, who has his own legal troubles. NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas joins us now to talk about all of this. Let's start with the president's words this morning. Explain why they were so significant.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: So Michael Cohen has been a lawyer and a fixer for Trump for around a decade. That's a well-documented relationship. And Trump was furious after the FBI raided Cohen's residences and office earlier this month, carting off boxes of documents and electronic devices.
And then today, Trump tried to distance himself from Cohen. He told Fox that Cohen's really a businessman, that the probe is about Cohen's business, his businesses, and it has nothing to do with Trump. And he said that Cohen did a, quote, "tiny, tiny, little fraction" of Trump's overall legal work and said that Cohen did nothing wrong in the Stormy Daniels case. That of course contradicts what Trump has previously said...
LUCAS: ...When he said that he knew nothing about it. But this also doesn't help Cohen in his own legal troubles in federal court in Manhattan.
CHANG: All right, and Cohen appeared at a hearing in court today. What happened there?
LUCAS: Well, the fight in the federal court in Manhattan is over who gets first crack at the materials seized by the FBI in the raids targeting Cohen. Now, Cohen's attorneys have been arguing that a lot of the items are covered by attorney-client privilege. Having the president say publicly that Cohen did very little legal work for him of course isn't helpful in this regard. Cohen's lawyers want to review the materials first to make a call on what is privileged.
The prosecutors, on the other hand, originally argued that what is known as a clean team of investigators - so prosecutors not working on the case - should go through everything and make that determination. Today, the presiding judge, Kimba Wood, took the middle path, so to speak. She appointed an independent outside lawyer. In this case it's a former federal judge. This is known as a special master who will review the materials.
CHANG: A special master, OK. So Judge Wood has appointed this person, a special master, to go through the evidence. Tell us about who this person is.
LUCAS: Well, the special master is Barbara Jones. She's, as I said, a former federal judge. She was in the Southern District of New York, so she served on the bench with Judge Wood. Now, Jones was appointed to the Southern District in 1995 by President Bill Clinton. She retired after about 16 years, moved into private practice, does a lot of arbitration and mediation work now among other things. I spoke with a former federal prosecutor in New York today who said Jones is a great pick for special master - a fair judge, great knowledge of the law, really a straight shooter, he said.
Now, in the days to come Jones will begin to go through the - this vast trove of materials that was taken in the FBI raids and make an initial call on which documents are covered by attorney-client privilege and which are not. Those that are not would be fair game for investigators to use to build their case against Cohen. And that's important. It's important to note all of this of course because for one thing, Cohen hasn't actually been charged with anything yet. Prosecutors have said they are investigating his business dealings, however. They clearly have a lot of evidence on Cohen, enough to get a search warrant.
LUCAS: And they're obviously expecting to learn more. So this is the next step in this process.
CHANG: All right, that's NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thanks, Ryan.
LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.