A federal judge in California said Friday that he needed to hear from President Donald Trump's attorney Michael Cohen directly before deciding whether to issue a stay in a civil lawsuit involving porn star Stormy Daniels.
Daniels wants to void a contract she signed days before the 2016 general election in which she agreed to stay quiet about her alleged 2006 affair with Trump. The White House has said Trump denies the affair.
Judge S. James Otero gave Cohen's attorney until Wednesday to file a declaration by Cohen himself indicating whether his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination could be at issue in the civil case due to an ongoing criminal investigation in New York.
Otero told Cohen attorney Brent Blakely that he'd heard enough arguments on Cohen's behalf.
"What's important here are Mr. Cohen's statements," Otero said, in a courtroom packed with dozens of journalists.
Otero said he would take Cohen's legal team's request to stay the proceedings for 90 days under advisement. He called a declaration by Cohen "probably a necessary component" in reaching that decision.
Otero is tasked with determining whether there is substantial overlap between the FBI raids of Cohen's home, office and hotel earlier this month and his role in negotiating a deal with Daniels in 2016 in which she was paid to keep quiet about the alleged sexual encounter with Trump a decade before his presidency.
Since Cohen and his lawyers are requesting the stay, Otero said, the burden is on them to show a large overlap between the two matters.
The "conundrum," the judge said, is that "the scope and breadth of the criminal investigation remains a mystery."
Otero said that he was not privy to the affidavits for the New York searches, but that he'd reviewed the docket of proceedings in federal court in that jurisdiction.
He said "common sense" told him the decision to conduct a raid on an attorney for the President of the United States signaled "a significant and serious matter."
"You're going to make sure that it's more than just a bare-bones case," Otero added. "It's probably substantially likely that there's some sort of criminal action to follow."
Blakely said he and Cohen were hamstrung in mounting a defense because the FBI seized Cohen's computers, phone and files, some of it relating to Daniels.
"They took everything and they still have it," he said.
Daniel's attorney, Michael Avenatti, asked Otero to deny the stay, which he said was unnecessary.
He said the fact that Cohen had not filed a declaration regarding his Fifth Amendment rights was "a strategic, purposeful decision."
He said Blakely and Cohen and "no evidence" of significant overlap between Daniels' case and the New York criminal probe.
"There's a whole range of things that could relate to," he said.
At one point Otero brought up "less drastic" alternatives to a stay in the proceedings, such as having Cohen be deposed instead of testifying in court.
Were that to happen, Blakely said, "my client would have to assert the 5th to practically everything."
Cohen paid Daniels $130,000, a payment which Cohen alleges was made using his personal funds and out of personal loyalty to Trump but which raised red flags among campaign finance experts and drawn the scrutiny of federal investigators.
FBI agents raided Cohen's home, hotel room and office last week as part of what was ultimately revealed to be an ongoing criminal investigation into his business dealings. According to sources, investigators were seeking information about a range of issues, including Cohen's 2016 hush agreement with Daniels.
They are also seeking records related to a deal between ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal and American Media Inc., which prevented her from publicly discussing her alleged 10-month affair with Trump, and the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape that came to light weeks before the 2016 election, which captured Trump making lewd remarks about women in 2005.