The Michael Cohen legal sideshow: Gasps, pratfalls and paparazzi

Stormy Daniels arrives at federal court in New York on Monday. (Photo: Seth Wenig/AP)
Stormy Daniels arrives at federal court in New York on Monday. (Photo: Seth Wenig/AP)

NEW YORK — Even before Sean Hannity was named as the mystery “third client” of President Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen, the hearing over how to handle the evidence FBI agents seized from Cohen’s office and residences last week was a media circus, featuring the best-known adult actress in America and her omnipresent lawyer, fringe political candidates, and people who literally fell to the ground.

Before Cohen made his appearance, there was already a spectacle outside. Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for adult film star Stormy Daniels, was circling the federal district courthouse in Lower Manhattan, making as many as 10 circuits of the block.

Avenatti is now at least as recognizable as his client, who has said she had a sexual liaison with President Trump. The sight of him pacing the sidewalk prompted a frenzy of reporters and cameramen sprinting after him. One man somersaulted over a pile of garbage bags as he walked backward, peppering Avenatti with questions.

“We don’t want anybody having to find a lawyer or something,” Avenatti quipped, as the man struggled back onto his feet.

Daniels is suing Trump and Cohen to nullify a nondisclosure agreement she signed after receiving a $130,000 payment from Cohen in 2016. The agreement was designed to prevent Daniels from discussing her decade-ago relationship with Trump, who has denied knowing anything about the agreement between Daniels and Cohen.

Inside the courthouse, a long line of reporters waited for hours to get into Judge Kimba Wood’s courtroom, along with curious members of the public, including a long-shot congressional candidate from Manhattan’s Upper East Side named Peter Lindner. He handed out cards emblazoned with his campaign slogan (“For Pete’s Sake”) and key elements of his platform, including marijuana legalization.

Another man in the line said he was an attorney who skipped out of work to watch the proceedings.

“Does everyone in your office want to come to this?” one reporter asked him.

“Of course,” he said. “Who doesn’t want to be at this hearing?”

Court officers admitted people to the courtroom on the 21st floor in small groups. One woman who came to watch the trial became angry as press were let in first.

“I pay taxes and I’m a citizen!” she exclaimed.

Yahoo News managed to get a seat in the back, next to a man in a suit and Yankees cap. He opened up a briefcase that contained two unopened packs of Parliament Lights, a well-worn Bible, and a deck of playing cards. The man read from his Bible as he waited for the hearing to start.

Cohen came in about 20 minutes before the start of the hearing. After he sat down, one of his lawyers, Stephen Ryan, gave his back a reassuring rub.

Michael Cohen
Trump attorney Michael Cohen. (Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters)

The hearing concerned a motion by Cohen to review the documents taken by the FBI before prosecutors see it. Lawyers for Trump and the president’s eponymous real estate company also appeared in support of the motion.

During the discussion, prosecutors pointed out that Cohen’s legal team would not disclose the name of one of his three clients. The judge ordered Cohen’s lawyers to reveal the identity of the mystery client. It was Fox News host Sean Hannity, which prompted gasps from the crowd. Although the nature of Cohen’s work for Hannity did not come up in the courtroom, the attorney is best-known for arranging hush-money payments between certain male clients and the women who claim to have had relations with them.

All electronic devices are banned in the courtroom. Yahoo News was among several members of the media who jumped up and sprinted outside to report on Hannity’s relationship with Cohen. Hannity has denied being Cohen’s client.

As the hearing drew to an end, the two imposing bodyguards accompanying Daniel and Avenatti huddled over how Daniels could exit the courtroom safely and make a public statement outside.

“For years, Mr. Cohen has acted like he is above the law,” Daniels told reporters outside. “My attorney and I are committed to making sure that everyone finds out the truth and the facts of what happened, and I give my word that we will not rest until that happens.”

Stormy Daniels with attorney Michael Avenatti
Stormy Daniels with attorney Michael Avenatti. (Photo: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Ultimately, Judge Wood denied Cohen’s request for a temporary restraining order to block prosecutors from reviewing the documents seized in the raid. She outlined a process for both Cohen’s attorneys and the government lawyers to review the materials while leaving open the possibility that she might appoint a special master who would examine documents that may constitute privileged communications between Cohen and his clients.

After the hearing, members of the media rushed after Daniels. Cohen and many of the other lawyers remained in the courtroom. Joanna Hendon, who is representing Trump, grabbed one of Cohen’s attorneys, Todd Harrison, by the elbow and asked to speak with him away from Cohen.

“Can we talk outside the presence of your client?” Hendon asked.

The pair left together.

Cohen was preoccupied with the courtroom sketch artists. He asked to see the drawings they made of him.

“I’m better-looking,” Cohen declared after reviewing a sketch.

Cohen was apparently less interested in talking to the press. He did not respond to questions from Yahoo News about whether he has anything he would want to hide in the documents or reports that, in spite of his denials, special counsel Robert Mueller has evidence he visited Prague in 2016 as alleged in the infamous Trump dossier. The phalanx of photographers waiting outside didn’t have any better luck getting Cohen to talk, and he rode off without comment.

“The Michael Cohen Show” will continue playing at the courthouse and the Loews Regency Hotel, where Cohen has been holding court on the sidewalk. And based on Cohen’s complex web of million dollar deals and foreign ties, the real spectacle might be inside those 10 boxes of documents and electronic devices the FBI took from his office.

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