Donald Trump’s legal fixer Michael Cohen has also been representing the firebrand conservative Fox News host Sean Hannity, one of only three private legal clients Cohen has taken on in the past year, his lawyer told a federal court on Monday.
The revelation came as a federal judge rejected a bid by the president and Cohen to prevent US prosecutors from examining a cache of documents and recordings seized from Trump’s long-time confidant.
Cohen’s office, hotel and home were raided by the FBI last week following a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller that incensed the president and opened Trump up to a second front of legal peril.
Last week district judge Kimba Wood had ordered Cohen to disclose all his private practice legal clients since he left the Trump Organization after the 2016 election, but the president’s longtime confidant had partially resisted the court’s order. In a letter to Wood from his attorneys, Cohen disclosed that he had been representing the president and the disgraced former GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy, but declined to reveal the identity of a third client.
However, lawyers for Cohen were forced on Monday afternoon to disclose that Hannity was the third individual.
Shortly after the revelation, Hannity said on his radio show that his legal relationship with Cohen involved “occasional discussions with him for his input and perspective” and he had assumed those discussions were confidential and covered by client confidentiality.
Hannity said he might have “handed him 10 bucks” for advice but none of those discussions “ever, ever involved a matter between me and a third party”.
A spokesperson for Fox News republished a statement Hannity had posted on Twitter.
The cable news veteran has frequently used his show to malign the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, led by Mueller.
Speaking on the evening the raids occurred, Hannity, who had not disclosed that Cohen was his lawyer, used his show to address Mueller directly. He said: “If you have evidence – any at all – show it to us or end this partisan investigation. The country is hanging by a thread tonight and you don’t seem to care.”
The letter from Cohen’s attorneys, sent to the court on Monday morning, disclosed that Cohen had provided seven other anonymous individuals with “strategic advice and business consulting” rather than traditional legal advice since he entered private practice.
Federal prosecutors in New York want a special “taint team” of government lawyers to begin reviewing files seized from Cohen last week so they can decide which documents are protected by attorney-client privilege and which may be used to prosecute Cohen.
But at the hearing on Monday Wood indicated she might appoint a “special master” to assist government lawyers rather than allowing a taint team to work on the files unencumbered.
Cohen is under criminal investigation, prosecutors confirmed last Friday. He may face charges from a grand jury operating separately from one being used by Mueller for his Trump-Russia investigation.
Cohen is “being investigated for criminal conduct that largely centers on his personal business dealings”, Thomas McKay, an assistant US attorney, said in a court filing. Cohen has long described himself as an attorney for Trump but has for years filled a more wide-ranging role as a general troubleshooter.
Further adding to the drama, Stephanie Clifford, a pornographic film actor known as Stormy Daniels who alleges that she had a sexual encounter with Trump and was paid $130,000 by Cohen to keep quiet, was present during Monday’s hearing.
Communications between lawyers and the people they represent are typically kept confidential under the doctrine of attorney-client privilege. But an exception exists for documents providing evidence that the attorney was involved in a crime.
The searching of any attorney’s office by the government is highly unusual and typically triggers the appointment of the so-called taint team. Such special consideration is not given to ordinary suspects.
Trump’s attorneys had demanded in a letter to court on Sunday evening that the justice department’s plan be halted so that “our firm and the president may review for privilege those seized documents that relate to him” – an extraordinary request from someone in Trump’s position in this kind of case.
They called the FBI raids on Cohen’s home, office and hotel room “an operation disquieting to lawyers, clients, citizens and commentators alike”, and repeatedly referred to their client, whom they represent in a personal capacity, as “the president”.
Attorneys for Cohen had already applied to Judge Wood for a restraining order that would stop authorities reviewing the records seized from Cohen until Cohen’s team has reviewed the materials themselves.
McKay, the federal prosecutor, said in a court motion arguing against this that Cohen’s request was “unprecedented and is not supported by case law”. McKay stressed that the team of government lawyers who would review the seized material would be “walled off” from their colleagues, like himself, who are pursuing the criminal inquiry against Cohen.
Prosecutors suggested in their filing that while Cohen “holds himself out as a practicing attorney”, he is actually exaggerating the extent of his work in an attempt to cast a wide net of attorney-client privilege over the records seized by the FBI. Cohen denies this.
The justice department has “reason to believe that Cohen has exceedingly few clients and a low volume of potentially privileged communications”, McKay wrote.