The legal battle over federal investigators’ raids on President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen took an unexpected turn Monday as an attorney identified Fox News host Sean Hannity as one of Cohen’s legal clients.
Cohen’s attorneys had acknowledged publicly that he represented Trump and former Republican National Committee deputy finance chair Elliott Broidy in legal matters, but they had sought to avoid naming a third client. Under pressure from a judge, Cohen’s attorney Todd Harrison named Hannity as the client in court on Monday.
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The revelation came amid a pitched legal battle over access to files seized in the raids on Cohen’s home and office last week and over whether the materials are protected by attorney-client privilege. Hannity’s connection to Cohen comes after the conservative commentator — one of Trump’s staunchest defenders — fiercely criticized federal officials for the raids, without disclosing his own connection.
It was not immediately clear what sort of legal work Cohen did for Hannity. The conservative media figure seemed taken aback by the disclosure as he addressed it on his syndicated radio program Monday afternoon.
“I will decide if I’m going to put out a statement here,” Hannity said, before remarking on seeing coverage of his role unfolding on Fox News. “It’s very strange to have my own television network have my name up on the lower third.”
Later in his show, Hannity denied being a formal client of Cohen but acknowledged that the Trump lawyer provided some advice.
“Michael never represented me in any matter. I never retained him,” Hannity insisted. “But I occasionally have had brief discussions with him” on legal matters.
“It never, never involved a matter between me and another third party,” the TV and radio host said.
Cohen has come under scrutiny since he acknowledged paying $130,000 to adult film actress Stormy Daniels — who arrived at the court ahead of the hearing Monday — shortly before the 2016 election in exchange for her agreement to keep quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump years earlier. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Cohen also negotiated a deal in 2017 to pay $1.6 million to a woman who said Broidy impregnated her.
The FBI raids represented the clearest sign yet of legal trouble for Trump’s inner circle and prompted outbursts from the president on social media.
In an extraordinary showdown between a sitting president and his own Justice Department, Trump’s attorneys have demanded that prosecutors be blocked from examining Cohen’s records until the president’s attorneys can look at any materials relating to him to determine whether they should be protected by attorney-client privilege. Federal prosecutors on Monday all but accused the president of seeking special treatment and urged district court Judge Kimba Wood to reject the unusual bid.
Prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan say they can address concerns about attorney-client privilege by using a special team to seek out privileged information and prevent it from reaching those investigating Cohen.
Cohen’s attorneys argued last week that there were “thousands if not millions” of privileged documents among the materials seized in the FBI raids. In a filing Sunday night, Trump’s attorneys called the seizure of files from Cohen’s home, office and hotel room “disquieting to lawyers, clients, citizens and commentators alike.”
Federal prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan responded that letting Trump’s team review the files first would “mark a serious departure from the accepted, normal practices of this District.”
“The appearance of fairness and justice requires not that the President be entitled to different treatment, but that the common procedure of a Filter Team be followed in the normal course,”the prosecutors wrote to Wood on Monday.
Cohen had three clients in the past year for legal services and seven for whom “the work appears to be providing strategic advice and business consulting,” Cohen’slawyers wrote in a filing made public Monday. The seven were unnamed, and Cohen’s team appeared to abandon any attorney-client privilege claim over that work.
Cohen’s attorneys said it could be “embarrassing” for those involved to be named publicly.
“Following the raid of Mr. Cohen’s office and residences, there has been a deluge of press,” Cohen’s lawyers Harrison and Stephen Ryan wrote. “It almost goes without saying, unfortunately, that none of Mr. Cohen’s clients want to be associated with the government raid on his home and law office, or want to be affiliated in any way with the proceedings here and the attendant media coverage.”
In addition to the 10 clients at his solo practice, the letter said Cohen referred five clients to a law firm with which he had a “strategic relationship” starting in March 2017. The law firm was not named, but Cohen teamed up last spring with Squire Patton Boggs. The firm said last week it had split with Cohen but that it had been in touch with federal investigators about a warrant related to him.
Cristiano Lima contributed to this report.