Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer who is under investigation for his business dealings, has provided legal advice to Fox News host Sean Hannity, one of Trump’s most prominent media supporters.
The dramatic revelation came Monday during a court hearing in New York where lawyers for Cohen and Trump argued for permission to determine whether thousands of pages of documents FBI agents seized from Cohen last week should be subject to attorney-client privilege.
U.S. District Court Judge Kimba Wood appeared to reject the idea, saying that a “taint team” created by prosecutors to set aside privileged documents is a “viable option,” while a court-appointed outside lawyer known as a “special master” may also play a role in determining which records can and cannot be viewed by prosecutors.
The disclosure about Hannity, who also hosts a nationally syndicated talk radio show, came after prosecutors indicated that Cohen performed “little to no legal work” and had just one client: Trump.
In response, Cohen’s lawyers said that Cohen has represented three clients in the past year — Trump, GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy and a third “publicly prominent individual” who wished to remain anonymous. Cohen's lawyers identified Hannity as the third unnamed client only after Judge Wood ruled that it must be made public.
In a statement, Hannity sought to minimize his relationship with Cohen, saying he had never retained him as a lawyer.
“Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter,” Hannity said. “I never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal fees. I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective."
“I assumed those conversations were confidential, but to be absolutely clear they never involved any matter between me and a third-party,” Hannity said.
Fox News also responded to the revelation. "While Fox News was unaware of Sean Hannity's informal relationship with Michael Cohen and was surprised by the announcement in court yesterday (Monday), we have reviewed the matter and spoken to Sean and he continues to have our full support," the network said.
Cohen was thrust into the spotlight in January after the Wall Street Journal reported that he’d secretly provided $130,000 in hush money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 U.S. presidential election to keep her quiet about an affair she allegedly had with Trump.
Cohen later admitted to making the payoff though Trump has said he did not know about it.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that Cohen last year brokered a second “hush money” deal, arranging for a payment of $1.6 million to a former Playboy model who became pregnant by Broidy, the Deputy Finance Chairman of the Republican National Committee. Broidy stepped down after the report.
After the FBI raid on Cohen’s office, home and hotel room in New York last Monday, prosecutors revealed in court that Cohen had been under investigation for months for what they described as “criminal conduct that largely centers on his personal business dealings.”
Cohen’s lawyers called the FBI raid "completely inappropriate and unnecessary” and moved to prevent prosecutors from viewing thousands of pages of “protected attorney-client communications.”
Trump’s lawyers joined the legal challenge over the weekend, asking that they be allowed to review the seized material before government prosecutors.
"I don't know what's in Mr. Cohen's law files but some amount of material was generated in the course of representing my client," Joanna Hendon, an attorney representing Trump in the case, said in court on Monday.
Prosecutors insisted that the “overwhelming majority” of evidence seized during the search warrants on Cohen’s office and home is not privileged material but rather related to his business dealings.
"No one has yet given a basis why President Trump's assertion of attorney-client privilege is any different than any other citizen of the United States,” prosecutor Tom McKay said in court.