Though Donald Trump and his “fixer,” Michael Cohen, apparently won a minor victory in federal court Friday, when a judge granted them a 90-day delay before they have to deal once again with adult film actress Stormy Daniels and her lawsuit against them, the written ruling by Judge S. James Otero contained some dire news for Cohen, raising the likelihood that Trump’s own personal attorney will soon be hit with a criminal indictment.
Otero granted the three-month delay because Cohen argued that he might be forced to answer questions in the lawsuit that could interfere with the criminal investigation against him in a separate federal court, in the Southern District of New York. The Daniels case is being heard in the Central District of California, a court based in Los Angeles. Cohen had pledged to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights against incriminating himself if he is asked questions as part of the lawsuit, and Otero agreed.
Though Otero said in his nine-page ruling, which may be read online at this link, that civil lawsuits are generally not delayed due to criminal proceedings taking place at the same time, Cohen’s case is an extraordinary one.
“This is no simple criminal investigation,” Otero wrote. “It is an investigation into the personal attorney of a sitting President regarding documents that might be subject to the attorney-client privilege.”
Otero then went on to say that he “thinks it is likely” that Cohen will soon be indicted. In making that prediction, he joined Cohen’s own lawyer, Brent Blakely, who told Otero in the Friday hearing last week that Cohen could be indicted soon, and that alone was reason to delay the case.
Because possible criminal charges against Cohen could be related to the $130,000 “hush money” payment Cohen sent to Daniels in order to buy her silence about her alleged sexual encounter with Trump in 2006, the civil case and criminal case against Cohen could easily overlap, Otero wrote.
“While the exact scope and breadth of the criminal investigation remains unclear, both the government and Mr. Cohen have indicated that the subject matter of the criminal investigation, and the documents seized, in some part reference the $130,000 payment made to Ms. Clifford pursuant to the Agreement,” Otero wrote, referring to Daniels by her legal name of Stephanie Clifford.
Daniels’ own lawyer, Michael Avenatti, has been more public in his own predictions of a Cohen indictment, saying after the April 20 hearing, as well as in numerous television interviews, that he expected an indictment of Cohen to be handed down within the next 90 days.
Avenatti reacted to Otero’s ruling minutes after it was handed down saying on his Twitter account that he planned to appeal Otero’s ruling.
“While we certainly respect Judge Otero’s 90 day stay order based on Mr. Cohen’s pleading of the Fifth, we do not agree with it,” Avenatti wrote. “We will likely be filing an immediate appeal to the Ninth Circuit early next week. Justice delayed is justice denied.”
In an interview with CNN after Otero handed down his ruling Friday, Avenatti cited the possibility that the delay could be extended past the 90-day period as a motivation for filing an appeal.
“We don’t know how long that’s going to take and we just don’t want to be on ice during the interim time period,” Avenatti said in the interview.
The grant of a 90-day delay in the Daniels case came one day after Trump himself admitted in an interview on the Fox News program Fox and Friends that Cohen is in fact his lawyer with regard to what Trump called “this crazy Stormy Daniels deal.” But just three weeks earlier, Trump flatly denied to reporters that he was even aware of the payment made to Daniels by Cohen — a statement that now seems highly dubious in light of Trump’s more recent admission that Cohen represented him in the deal with Daniels.