17 Apr 2018

Trump lawyer forced to reveal Hannity connection

10:14 am on 17 April 2018

Donald Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen has revealed Fox News' Sean Hannity is the client he wanted to keep secret after the FBI seized documents supposedly relating to a payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 16: Michael Cohen, longtime personal lawyer and confidante for President Donald Trump, exits the United States District Court Southern District of New York, April 16, 2018 in New York City.

Donald Trump lawyer Michael Cohen leaves after a hearing at District Court in the Southern District of New York. Photo: AFP / Getty Images

Michael Cohen, the president's long-time personal attorney, was in court on Monday to argue that documents seized in an FBI raid on his home and offices last week be returned to him, and to ask the judge to limit the ability of federal prosecutors to review them as part of a criminal investigation.

The New York lawyer, who prosecutors say has been under criminal investigation for months, argued that he should be allowed to review the seized documents to see if any qualify under attorney-client confidentiality privilege relating to three clients.

Two of the clients were Mr Trump and Republican fundraiser Elliot Broidy.

Mr Cohen said the third client had directed him not to name him publicly, but Judge Kimba Wood rejected his efforts to mask the identity of the third client, who he said was Mr Hannity.

Fox News host Sean Hannity is seen in the White House briefing room in Washington, DC, on January 24, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / NICHOLAS KAMM

Fox News host Sean Hannity at the White House briefing room. Photo: AFP or licensors

I understand if he doesn't want his name out there, but that's not enough under the law," Wood said, before ordering a lawyer for Cohen to disclose the name.

Mr Hannity said on Monday he had never paid for Mr Cohen's services or been represented by him, but had sought confidential legal advice from him.

"But I have occasionally had brief discussions about legal questions about which I wanted his input and his perspective," he said.

He said he had assumed those discussions were covered by attorney-client privilege, and emphasized that they were never about matters involving "any third party".

Stormy Daniels attends hearing

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 16: Adult film actress Stormy Daniels (Stephanie Clifford) exits the United States District Court Southern District of New York for a hearing related to Michael Cohen, President Trump's longtime personal attorney and confidante, April 16, 2018 in New York City.

Actress Stormy Daniels (Stephanie Clifford) exits the United States District Court Southern District of New York for a hearing related to Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's longtime personal attorney and confidante. Photo: AFP / Getty Images

Meanwhile, actress and stripper Stormy Daniels sat in the back of the gallery's public courtroom as part of her efforts to keep attention on her story, a past consensual sexual encounter with Mr Trump.

A person familiar with the raids said last week that the information Federal Bureau of Investigation agents were seeking included information about payments to Daniels.

Mr Cohen has admitted to paying $US130,000 to Daniels in 2016, and she has also claimed a man sent to dissuade her from speaking about her relationship with Mr Trump threatened her daughter.

She is involved in a separate civil suit over the payment.

Photographers knocked over barricades outside the courthouse as they scrambled to get pictures of Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, arriving at the court.

Battle to control access to seized documents continues

Mr Cohen has asked the court to give his own lawyers the first look at the seized materials so they can identify documents that are protected by attorney-client privilege.

Failing that, they want the court to appoint an independent official known as a special master, a role typically filled by a lawyer, to go through the documents and electronic data seized under a warrant and decide what prosecutors can see.

Prosecutors have asked that the documents be reviewed for attorney-client privilege by a "filter team" of lawyers within their own office, who would be walled off from the main prosecution team.

On Sunday, Mr Trump's lawyers asked a judge to let him preview the files.

A lawyer for Mr Trump, Joanna Hendon, asked in a filing on Sunday to be allowed to review documents that in any way relate to the president, which she described as being seized amid a "highly politicized, even fevered, atmosphere."

"I'm asking for the president to have the opportunity to protect his sacred privilege," Ms Hendon told the court. "The president has the right, he is entitled to perform the initial review of materials."

The hearing ended on Monday with no ruling on who gets to filter the seized documents.

- Reuters / BBC

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs