Fox’s Hannity revealed as mystery client of Trump’s lawyer
Michael Cohen forced to disclose Fox News presenter’s name during court hearing
US president Donald Trump’s personal lawyer was forced on Monday to reveal in a New York federal court that Fox News personality Sean Hannity, one of Mr Trump’s most ardent defenders, was also on his client list.
Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s lawyer, disclosed Hannity’s name through one of his own lawyers at the order of the judge. Stormy Daniels, an adult-film actress who says she had a sexual encounter with Mr Trump, watched from the public gallery.
Ms Daniels, in a separate civil case, is fighting a 2016 non-disclosure agreement arranged by Mr Cohen in which she got $130,000 (€104,800) to stop her from discussing her claim she had sex with Mr Trump a decade earlier, something the US president has denied.
Hannity (56) said on Monday he had never paid for Mr Cohen’s services or been represented by him, but had sought confidential legal advice from him. The conservative host often uses his weeknight broadcast on Fox News to defend the president against what he sees as biased attacks by the media. Sometimes Mr Trump praises Hannity in return.
Mr Cohen was in court to ask the judge to limit the ability of federal prosecutors to review documents seized from his offices and home last week as part of a criminal investigation, which stems in part from a probe into possible collusion between Mr Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia.
The Russia investigation has frustrated the White House as it has spread to enfold some of Mr Trump’s closest confidantes.
Judge Kimba Wood spent more than 2 1/2 hours listening to arguments by Mr Cohen’s lawyers, prosecutors from the US attorney’s office in Manhattan and a lawyer representing Mr Trump in the hearing. She is expected to rule later.
She ordered prosecutors to give Cohen’s lawyers a copy of the seized materials before the next hearing.
The unexpected naming of Hannity made him the latest prominent media personality to be drawn into the investigation’s cast of unlikely supporting characters.
Ms Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was another. She sat with her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, who told reporters they were there to help ensure protection for the integrity of the seized documents, some of which they believe pertain to the Daniels agreement.
Mr Cohen, dressed in a dark suit, at times looked tense, folding and clasping his hands in front of him.
Mr Cohen has argued that some of the documents and data seized from him under a warrant are protected by attorney-client privilege or otherwise unconnected to the investigation. But Judge Wood said she would still need the names of those other clients, and rejected his efforts to mask the identity of Hannity, a client Mr Cohen had said wanted to avoid publicity.
Gasps and laughter
“I understand if he doesn’t want his name out there, but that’s not enough under the law,” the judge said, before ordering the name disclosed.
Stephen Ryan, a lawyer for Mr Cohen, drew gasps and laughter from the public gallery when he named Hannity as the client.
After his identity was revealed, Hannity said on his syndicated radio show, and again later on his Fox News program, that he had “occasional, brief discussions” with Mr Cohen in which he sought out the lawyer’s “input and perspective.”
Hannity said he assumed those discussions were covered by attorney-client privilege, and insisted that none involved any matter between himself and a third party. He also said his talks with Mr Cohen “almost exclusively focused on real estate.”
Legal advice can be considered privileged even if given by a lawyer for free.
Hannity, the top-rated personality on the most watched US cable news network, told his viewers on April 9th that the raid on Mr Cohen was part an effort by federal investigators to wrongly impeach the president. He never mentioned his association with Mr Cohen during that broadcast.
On Monday’s show, Hannity expressed amusement at the firestorm of media coverage unleashed by the disclosure that he and Mr Trump shared a legal adviser in Mr Cohen, playing a 45-second, rapid-fire montage of various TV commentators and anchors uttering his name on the air throughout the day.
Mr Cohen has asked the court to give his own lawyers the first look at the seized materials so they can identify documents that are protected by attorney-client privilege.
Failing that, they want the court to appoint an independent official known as a special master, a role typically filled by a lawyer, to go through the records and decide what prosecutors can see.
But prosecutors want the documents to be reviewed for attorney-client privilege by a “taint team” of lawyers within their own office, who would be walled off from the main prosecution team.
“I have faith in the Southern District US Attorney’s Office that their integrity is unimpeachable,” making a taint team “a viable option,” the judge said.
But she also said that to help ensure fairness and the perception of fairness, “a special master might have some role here.” –Reuters