Trump Attorney Michael Cohen's Secret 3rd Client: Fox News Host Sean Hannity

16 hours ago
Originally published on April 16, 2018 6:38 pm

Updated at 5:54 p.m. EDT

Donald Trump's longtime attorney Michael Cohen also has been representing Fox News host Sean Hannity, it emerged in federal court on Monday.

Federal judge Kimba Wood ordered an attorney for Cohen to reveal the identity of a client that Cohen's team had withheld in earlier court documents as part of a dispute over evidence seized by the FBI from Cohen's home and office earlier this month.

Cohen and Trump wanted Wood either to permit them to review the material before prosecutors got to see it or to appoint an independent "special master."

The judge said she could not decide about how seriously to treat Cohen's and Trump's claims about attorney-client privilege unless she knew what clients Cohen has been representing.

So an attorney for Cohen — who had asked whether he could submit the name to the judge in a sealed envelope, or to the "special master" — had no choice but to reveal it in open court.

Cohen's attorney had previously identified two other clients: Trump and Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy. Those men are involved in cases in which Cohen allegedly arranged payments to women to keep them quiet about alleged sexual encounters.

Cohen has acknowledged paying pornographic actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 shortly before the 2016 election for what her lawyer said was silence about her alleged liaison with Trump in 2006. Cohen also reportedly arranged a deal for Broidy in which model Shera Bechard was paid $1.6 million when she became pregnant after an affair.

Trump denies any sexual relationship with Daniels. Broidy acknowledged the affair with Bechard and apologized to his family.

There was no indication as to whether Hannity might have been involved in such an arrangement. He issued a statement on Monday afternoon that said his discussions with Cohen had never involved anyone else.

"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 separately on Twitter that his discussions with Cohen "dealt almost exclusively about real estate."

Hannity has been a champion of Trump's and Cohen's on his show and a critic of the FBI and Justice Department; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on Hannity's show last week that the FBI raid on Cohen was like the abuses of the "Gestapo."

After a long hearing on Monday, Wood said she had concluded the hearing without deciding whether to appoint the "special master" sought by Cohen or to permit the Justice Department's "filter team" to continue its work.

While federal investigators will retain possession of what was seized, they still cannot look at the substance yet even as they are cataloging the amount of papers, electronic files and other materials.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump's longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, was in court today in New York City. And we learned that Cohen doesn't just represent the president. A federal judge ordered Cohen's attorney to identify another client as part of a battle over the evidence seized from Cohen's home and office. That client is Fox News host Sean Hannity.

NPR's Ryan Lucas has been following this story and joins us now with more. Hi, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Howdy.

SHAPIRO: What was the background here that led us to learn about this additional client?

LUCAS: Well, the background here is the government, President Trump and Michael Cohen are arguing over the evidence that the FBI seized last week in raids on Cohen's home, his hotel room and office in New York. Now, agents seized a lot of material in that raid. We're talking boxes worth of documents, more than 12 electronic devices, according to Cohen's attorney.

Now, Cohen and Trump say that this material is protected by attorney-client privilege. The government says, no, no, it's not. That was basically the subject of this hearing today. Now, Cohen's attorneys had said that Cohen had been working with three clients, but in a court filing in the past 24 hours said that he only wanted to identify two of them. That would be Trump and a Republican fundraiser, Elliott Broidy. The judge said that to know about attorney-client privilege I have to know about all of Cohen's clients, so the attorney told the judge that the third client is Sean Hannity.

SHAPIRO: And what does the Fox News host say about that?

LUCAS: Hannity talked about it on his radio show this afternoon. He said that Cohen has never represented him in any matter. He's never retained Cohen as a lawyer. He's never received an invoice from Cohen. Hannity said he did occasionally have - he said it as brief discussions with Cohen about things that he wanted legal advice on and that Cohen would oblige. But evidently the relationship was formal enough for Cohen's attorney to identify him in this context in court. Now, Hannity said he spoke to Cohen - the issues that he spoke to Cohen about never involved a third party, tweeted later that it was almost exclusively about real estate. Hannity appeared to be kind of trying to set himself apart from the sort of work that Cohen did on behalf of Trump and Broidy. Those of course involved cases in which Cohen allegedly arranged payments to women following alleged sexual encounters.

SHAPIRO: What about the broader questions here about who will handle this evidence that was seized by the FBI?

LUCAS: That was the core question of the hearing here today. Now, attorneys for Trump and Cohen say that they should be able to go through what the FBI seized and determine what is protected by attorney-client privilege and what isn't. The government says not the case. There's a so-called clean team or filter team that would normally do this. It can go through the material, separate the evidence that protected - that is protected by privilege from the evidence that could be used in court, and then it would give that evidence to prosecutors.

It's important to point out that while attorney-client privilege is a very important part of the U.S. legal system, it does have exemptions. It doesn't shield attorney-client communications related to future crime or fraud. So even if the FBI did recover some evidence, hypothetically, that suggested Cohen might have discussed future criminal activity with one of his clients, it could still be evidence in a future court case. Now, the hearing just wrapped up. It just finished. The judge is weighing exactly how she still wants to deal with this question of evidence.

SHAPIRO: Briefly, what is Michael Cohen actually charged with here?

LUCAS: He's not charged with anything at this point. The U.S. Attorney's Office said on Friday that it has been investigating Cohen for several months. It's a grand jury investigation. It has clandestine warrants that look at his multiple email accounts. They've had those for a while. But prosecutors also have said in court documents that they can't reveal anything about this case at this point in time. It's still ongoing. There hasn't been any sort of indictment that specifies what crimes these could be. All that prosecutors will say is that their investigation isn't about Cohen's legal work. It's about his private business dealings.

SHAPIRO: Lots more to come from NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thanks so much.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.