Turning up the heat on the former president’s legal team, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg pushed for more information on whether one of Donald Trump’s lawyers has a conflict of interest involving Stormy Daniels.
The DA’s letter, dated on Friday but released on Monday, asks for the judge presiding over Trump’s criminal case to order Trump’s attorney Joseph Tacopina to open up his law firm’s files for the court’s scrutiny.
Tacopina has long denied having a conflict of interest involving Daniels, the woman whose $130,000 hush-money payment lies at the heart of the former president’s indictment.
During a CNN interview in 2018, Tacopina dodged a question from host Don Lemon by suggesting that he may have attorney-client obligations with the pornographic film actress.
After noting that Daniels approached Tacopina for possible representation, Lemon asked him: “Did you get any impression that she may have signed NDA under duress and was she afraid for her physical safety?”
“Yes, of course, and I can’t really talk about my impressions or any conversations we had because there is an attorney-client privilege that attaches even to a consultation,” Tacopina replied.
Tacopina backtracked on those statements since that time and hand-waved the issue at Trump’s arraignment earlier this month.
“We refused the case,” Tacopina told Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan. “I did not offer her representation. Didn’t speak to her. Didn’t meet with her. And it is as simple as that.”
Tacopina claimed that Daniels signed an “attorney-client waiver” when she turned over their communications to federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, but Manhattan prosecutors said that he never turned over such a waiver to the court.
Citing the memoirs of a key witness, the DA’s office remains skeptical.
In her book “Full Disclosure,” Daniels described her brief interactions with Tacopina — before she ultimately retained Michael Avenatti — in an unflattering light.
“She writes that before retaining Mr. Avenatti, she spoke with a ‘very high-powered lawyer’ who seemed to take her call just for the curiosity factor, dragged it out for a couple of weeks and didn’t seem to share her passion, so she ended it,” prosecutors summarized. “She wrote that she was ‘anxious that this guy now knew my story and my strategy for confronting Cohen and Trump.'”
Avenatti would later be convicted from coast to coast for defrauding clients, including Daniels.
Now, Tacopina faces far lower-stakes questions about whether representing Trump amounts to a conflict of interest. Daniels’ current attorney Clark O. Brewster claims that Tacopina does and should be disqualified.
Tacopina calls that proposition “patently false.”
“In this matter, Daniels does not even allege that any information she conveyed to my firm is non-public, let alone significantly harmful,” Tacopina wrote in a six-page letter. “Nor could she convincingly do so given her public disclosures to date.”
Taking a middle ground, Bragg’s executive assistant Susan Hoffinger indicated that the office needs more information to assess that question. They want Tacopina to privately provide the court with “any record containing his or his firm’s communications with Ms. Clifford, including notes, memoranda, correspondence and emails” — and disclosed whether he shared any of that information with Trump.
Prosecutors also want Tacopina to provide the alleged waiver that he alluded to in court and explain what steps he’s taken to “alleviate issues related to this potential conflict.”
Tacopina declined to comment.
Though Trump allegedly directed hush-money payments to multiple women before the 2016 election — and a doorman peddling a claim that the former president fathered a child out of wedlock — the money sent to Daniels are the ones at the heart of the criminal case. (The National Enquirer’s parent company American Media, Inc. later found the claim about Trump’s alleged love child was unfounded.)
Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen admittedly routed those payments from a home equity loan through a shell company to Daniels’ then-attorney Keith Davidson.
Then, Cohen was paid back $420,000 in monthly installments of $35,000 — including through checks signed by Trump. The compensation was “grossed up” to account for what Cohen would have had to pay in taxes and provided him a $60,000 bonus, plus an equivalent sum for supposed “tech services.”
Bragg claims that the circuitous routing of the money may have violated campaign finance or tax laws.
Read the DA’s latest letter here.
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