U.S. 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 Trump’s most ardent defenders, was also on his client list.
Reuters reports Michael Cohen, Trump’s fiercely loyal and pugnacious 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 Trump, watched from the public gallery.
Daniels, in a separate civil case, is fighting a 2016 non-disclosure agreement arranged by Cohen in which she got $130,000 to stop her from discussing her claim she had sex with Trump a decade earlier, something Trump has denied.
Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter. 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.— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) April 16, 2018
Hannity, 56, said on Monday that he had never paid for 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 Trump praises Hannity in return.
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 Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia.
According to The NYTimes, the courtroom disclosure about Hannity occurred during the expanding criminal investigation into Cohen by the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan. F.B.I. agents raided Cohen’s home, office and hotel room on the morning of April 9, a move that President Trump called an “attack on our country.”
In a legal filing before the hearing on Monday, Cohen said that, since 2017, he had worked as a lawyer for 10 clients, seven of whom he served by providing “strategic advice and business consulting.” The other three comprised President Trump, the Republican fund-raiser Elliott Broidy and a third person who went unnamed.
The mystery was solved when Kimba M. Wood, a judge for the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, ordered that Cohen’s lawyer, Stephen Ryan, disclose the name of the client in question — who turned out to be Hannity.
The surprise naming of Mr. Hannity took place after several minutes of back and forth among government representatives, members of Cohen’s legal team and Judge Wood.
Before the name was revealed, Mr. Ryan argued that the mystery client was a “prominent person” who wanted to keep his identity a secret because he would be “embarrassed” to be identified as having sought Mr. Cohen’s counsel.
Robert D. Balin, a lawyer for various media outlets, including The New York Times, CNN and others, interrupted the hearing to argue that embarrassment was not a sufficient cause to withhold a client’s name, and Judge Wood agreed.
After Hannity was named, there were audible gasps from the spectators.
The hearing on Monday resulted from a challenge by Cohen’s lawyers, who argued for the appointment of a “special master” to examine the records seized during the federal raid on April 9. The exact nature of Mr. Cohen’s work for Hannity is unclear.
On Fox News, the anchor Shepard Smith reported that his colleague had been named as a client of Mr. Cohen’s, saying that it was time for him to address “the elephant in the room.”