Trump lawyer names Hannity as client
Fox News host hounded over secrecy
NEW YORK: A legal fight over what should happen to records the FBI seized from US President Donald Trump’s personal attorney took a surprise twist on Monday when the lawyer, Michael Cohen, was forced to reveal a secret — that he had also done legal work for Fox News host Sean Hannity.
The disclosure came as a New York judge disappointed a lawyer for Mr Trump by letting prosecutors proceed with the cataloguing of evidence including multiple electronic devices that were seized in raids while a system is set up to ensure that records protected by attorney-client privilege aren’t disclosed to investigators.
Lawyers for Mr Cohen and prosecutors both had reason to claim success after three hours of arguments before US District Judge Kimba Wood, who said she may appoint a special master, a neutral lawyer, to help decide which materials should stay confidential.
Ms Wood denied a request by Mr Trump’s lawyer, Joanna Hendon, that the president and Mr Cohen get the first crack at designating which documents should be off-limits to investigators.
Mr Hannity’s name emerged after the judge pressed Mr Cohen to divulge the names of the clients he has worked with since the 2016 election, whose privileged communications might be contained within his files.
Mr Cohen’s legal team said he had just three clients in 2017 and 2018.
One was Mr Trump. Another was Elliott Broidy, a Trump fundraiser who resigned from the Republican National Committee on Friday after it was revealed that he paid US$1.6 million to a Playboy Playmate with whom he had an extramarital affair. The Playmate became pregnant and elected to have an abortion.
Mr Cohen’s lawyers resisted revealing the name of the third client, saying it would be embarrassing and unnecessary. Plus, the client had specifically asked for privacy and requested that they appeal any demand to divulge his name.
But Ms Wood pressed on. “I understand he doesn’t want his name out there, but that’s not enough under the law,” she said, after hearing legal arguments from Robert Balin, a lawyer for five news organisations.
When the name was announced, there were gasps and some laughter in a courtroom packed with journalists. A few raced from the courtroom.
Mr Cohen’s lawyers did not detail the type of legal work he did for Mr Hannity.
On his radio show, Mr Hannity said Mr Cohen was never involved in any matter between him and any third party.
“Michael never represented me in any matter,” Mr Hannity said. “I never retained him in any traditional sense. I never received an invoice. I never paid a legal fee. I had brief discussions with him about legal questions where I wanted his input and perspective.”
Later he added on Twitter the legal advice he got from Mr Cohen was “almost exclusively about real estate”.
Mr Hannity addressed the controversy twice during his television show on Monday night, brushing off criticism from lawyer Alan Dershowitz who told him, “you should have disclosed your relationship with Cohen when you talked about him on the show”.
Mr Hannity replied that the relationship was minimal and that he had a right to privacy. “It had to do with real estate and nothing political,” Mr Hannity told Mr Dershowitz.
He gave a lengthier explanation at the end of his show, saying Mr Cohen “never represented me in any legal matter.” He called Mr Cohen a great attorney, but said none of their discussions ever included a third party and were centred on real estate.
Mr Hannity, an outspoken supporter of Mr Trump, has been a fierce critic of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
Monday’s hearing began with an appearance by porn actress Stormy Daniels, who was swarmed by photographers and nearly fell as she was hustled into the courthouse.
Outside afterward, she said Mr Cohen has acted like he’s above the law and that she and her lawyer are committed to making sure everyone learns the truth.
The April 9 raid on Mr Cohen sought information on a variety of matters, including a $130,000 payment made to Ms Daniels, who alleges she had sex with a married Mr Trump in 2006.
At stake is an investigation that could uncover the inner workings of Mr Trump’s longtime fixer and image protector.
People familiar with the probe say agents were seeking bank records, records on Mr Cohen’s dealing in the taxi industry, Mr Cohen’s communications with the Trump campaign and information on payments made in 2016 to two women who say they had affairs with Mr Trump.
Those two women are former Playboy model Karen McDougal and the porn star Ms Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
Fox News Channel anchor Sean Hannity poses for photographs in New York City in this October 2014 file photo.