For a moment Thursday, it appeared Stephanie Clifford, the adult-film actress better known as Stormy Daniels, would be allowed to intervene in the court proceeding over the material the government seized from the offices and home of President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen.
Clifford’s attorney, private attorney Michael Avenatti, was on hand during the hearing called by U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood of the Southern District of New York to name a special master to oversee the handling of potentially privileged materials seized by the government. Ahead of the hearing, Avenatti had filed papers with the court to intervene in the matter.
According to the papers and Avenatti’s statements in court, Clifford’s aim in intervening at this point for the “limited purpose of protecting her rights” concerning material that the government may now have in its possession after its raid on Cohen. The material is related to Clifford’s ongoing battle in California federal court over a nondisclosure agreement she signed just ahead of the 2016 election to keep her from discussing a sexual liaison she’s since said she had with Trump in 2006.
Cohen paid $130,000 as part of the deal that Clifford now claims is nonbinding, as Trump never signed the document. Cohen has said he paid Clifford out of his own pocket. The president has denied claims of a relationship, while Thursday acknowledging for the first time during a television phone appearance that Cohen did, in fact, represent him in “this crazy Stormy Daniels deal.”
At issue for Clifford are potential communications between Cohen and Clifford’s previous attorney, Keith Davidson. It was Davidson who advised Clifford during her negotiations with Cohen. Reports indicated that Cohen and Davidson had a pre-existing relationship. In fact, Cohen reportedly referred clients to Davidson in what some have referred to as a “cozy” relationship.
Davidson has reportedly handed over material requested by the government.
Clifford now says there’s reason to believe communications that she can claim attorney-client privilege and settlement communications privilege over are part of the material swept up in the government’s raid on Cohen. Part of these materials, Clifford claims, were materials improperly shared by Davidson with Cohen through email, text and maybe even audio recordings, presumably of phone calls. There may also be communications between the two attorneys relating to Clifford that she has rights to under California law.
In court, Avenatti noted that the goal right now was not to make any demands, but that eventually he believed his client was entitled to information. He related a conversation he said he had with Clifford over text messages with Cohen. According to Avenatti, Clifford said he no longer had them to share, but that the government did.
“We want to see the tape,” he told the court.
Wood made it clear she was inclined to allow the intervention by Clifford, going so far as to grant it. But before the matter was final, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas McKay rose to say the government wasn’t opposing the motion, but asked the court to give them some time to review the motion. McKay said that while it was clear the Trump intervenors had potential privilege claims, “we’re not so sure that’s the case with Ms. Clifford.”
While Wood said she believed Clifford “just wanted a seat at the table,” she agreed to hold off granting the motion until the parties—including Cohen, whose attorney later appeared to indicate they too wanted to review the application—had a chance to brief on it no later than Monday.
Avenatti said he would be in communication with prosecutors and also that he hoped all issues the government may have could be dealt with ahead of any briefs that may be filed.