It's not what it looks like. That's the refrain from Sean Hannity, after lawyers for President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, revealed in court on Monday that the Fox News host is one of only three clients that Cohen represented this year and last.
Cohen's previous work included arranging a $130,000 payment to prevent porn star Stormy Daniels from talking publicly about her alleged affair with Trump. And Cohen's work for the other client on his shortlist, Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy, included negotiating a $1.6 million settlement with a former Playboy model who got pregnant when she and Broidy had an affair.
So what it looks like, of course, is that Cohen could have similarly helped Hannity silence a woman who might have told an embarrassing story. That is not the case, Hannity insisted on his radio show.
“I tell you why they're going nuts,” Hannity said of the media. “They're assuming — because I guess he did some type of work for some Republican guy — they're figuring, 'Oh, he must've done a big settlement case for Hannity.' That's not — no, that's not what happened. Ever.”
“Not one of any issue I ever dealt with Michael Cohen on ever — ever — involved a matter between me and any third party,” Hannity added.
Hannity's denial is a bit confusing. Hannity sought Cohen's legal counsel only on matters involving Hannity and himself?
It is also unclear why, if Cohen's work for Hannity was innocuous, the two men sought to keep their relationship secret. In a letter to the court Monday morning, Cohen's lawyers said his third recent client, besides Trump and Broidy, wished to remain anonymous.
“As to the one unnamed legal client, we do not believe that Mr. Cohen should be asked to reveal the name or can permissibly do so,” the letter said. A federal judge disagreed.
But there is an even bigger hole in Hannity's explanation: Why, as he railed against FBI raids of Cohen's office, home and hotel room last week, did Hannity not disclose to viewers and listeners that his communications with Cohen could have been among the materials seized?
“We have now entered a dangerous phase,” Hannity said on TV on the day of the raids, without mentioning any potential danger to himself.
A Fox News spokeswoman did not respond to a Fix inquiry on this point. Instead, the network issued the following statement, attributed to Hannity: “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. I assumed those conversations were confidential but, to be absolutely clear, they never involved any matter between me and a third party.”
On the radio, Hannity did not directly address his lack of disclosure but hinted at a possible defense — that he did not consider himself a formal client of Cohen's.
That Cohen's attorneys included Hannity's name on a list of clients presented in court “just shows that Michael was doing his due diligence and being totally thorough about anybody that he might have had attorney-client privilege with,” Hannity told listeners.
Hannity made further comments that appear to be somewhat inconsistent with the statement he issued through Fox News. He said that he might have paid Cohen a small fee, after all, and said he did not merely assume that their conversations were privileged but rather sought assurances.
“I might have handed him 10 bucks [and said,] 'I definitely want your attorney-client privilege on this,' ” Hannity said on the radio. “Something like that. I requested that privilege with him when I would ask him: 'Well, this just came up. What do you think about this? What do you think about that?' ”
On TV later in the day, Hannity contended that his “discussions with Michael Cohen never rose to any level that I needed to tell anyone that I was asking him questions.”
As a commentator, Hannity need not be neutral. But as a self-described “opinion journalist,” he could reasonably be expected to divulge a conflict of interest such as the one involving Cohen.