How Sean Hannity’s Unmasking Played Out In Court

In this March 4, 2016, photo, Sean Hannity of Fox News arrives in National Harbor, Md. Hannity is getting a bruising reminder that this year's presidential campaign defies traditional political rules. The Fox News Channel and radio host had a nasty spat with Ted Cruz this week, following criticism from both the left and right about his interviews with Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Carolyn Kaster/AP

NEW YORK—A tantalizing detail was included in a Monday court filing made on behalf of Michael Cohen. The longtime fixer for President Donald Trump had three legal clients between 2017 and 2018: Trump, GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy, and one mysterious individual who had asked not to be named.

As we now know, that person was Fox News host and Trump booster Sean Hannity.

Hannity’s name was only disclosed after a heated debate during an afternoon hearing at a Manhattan federal courthouse.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom McKay said Cohen’s team’s withholding the name suggested they would not be forthcoming with even basic information relevant to their investigation into Cohen’s potential financial crimes. Calling it a “preview of what’s going to happen,” McKay said the lack of disclosure indicated that Cohen’s team would “hide behind over-broad claims of privilege.”

Judge Kimba Wood seemed to agree, urging Cohen’s team to explain why the mere identification of this particular client was a matter subject to attorney-client privilege.

Cohen lawyers Todd Harrison and Stephen Ryan’s response: It would be embarrassing.

Ryan called the person a “publicly prominent individual” who had expressly asked not to be named and to file an appeal if the court ordered Cohen’s team to reveal his identity.

“At this point no one would want to admit they’re a client in this way,” Ryan said, offering to submit the name to the court in an envelope if it would be kept under seal.

McKay, Ryan, and Wood went back and forth on this matter for several minutes. At one point, Ryan even made the outlandish claim that disclosing the person’s identity would “affect peoples’ willingness” to seek counsel from lawyers in the future. He was met with snickers.

Wood ultimately said that Cohen’s team had failed to prove “at all” that the situation they had described merited special attorney-client privilege considerations.

“I understand that he doesn’t want his name out there, but that’s not enough under the law,” she said, ordering Cohen’s attorneys to disclose the name immediately.

Ryan stood up and said, “The client’s name that is involved is Sean Hannity.”

The room broke out in gasps and titters. Reporters elbowed each other, and several dashed out of the room to deliver the news to their editors.

It took a moment for the courtroom to settle down and continue with the proceeding.

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