After a lengthy deliberation in a New York courtroom today, judge Kimba Wood ordered a lawyer for president Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen to reveal the identity of Cohen’s mysterious third client: Fox News talk-show host (and vociferous Trump supporter) Sean Hannity.
Much of the packed New York Southern District court burst into laughter. Michael Avenatti, a lawyer for Stormy Daniels, did not. Avenatti, who was sitting next to a Quartz reporter, wrote a message in large letters on an envelope and pointed it towards Daniels: “Now we know why Fox News have not been covering.” Daniels, the porn star embroiled in a legal dispute with Trump and Cohen, nodded swiftly.
Avenatti was seemingly referring to the fact that Fox has devoted a fraction of the coverage that other networks have given to the FBI’s raid on Cohen’s offices. Hannity denies ever paying legal fees to Cohen, though he acknowledges occasionally asking for his “input and perspective” on legal questions. Cohen’s lawyers said during the hearing that they had asked Hannity if he was happy for the court to know about his relationship with Cohen, but that he specifically requested his identity be kept secret.
A Fox News spokesperson said in a statement: “While Fox News was unaware of Sean Hannity’s informal relationship with Michael Cohen and was surprised by the announcement in court yesterday, we have reviewed the matter and spoken to Sean and he continues to have our full support.”
The court was called to hear Cohen’s appeal for a temporary restraining order to stop the government reviewing files he argues are protected by attorney-client privilege. Judge Wood denied the request, ordering that the Southern District US attorney’s office first be allowed to assess which files they want to use in their investigation into Cohen for “criminal conduct that largely centers on his business dealings,” as described in a court filing. Once they have decided, Cohen’s lawyers and Trump’s lawyers will be able to review the files and then appeal, if they want to. Among other things, the government is reportedly looking at whether Cohen committed bank fraud when he used a home equity loan to pay Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about her allegations of an affair with Trump.
Daniels’ planned attendance dominated the headlines in the run-up to the hearing, having been announced the night before (April 15) by Avenatti, a Hollywood lawyer whose media savvy comes close to matching that of president Trump. The session portended a dramatic face-off with Cohen, who was reportedly considered defending himself, after judge Wood ordered he came to today’s hearing. (In the end, Cohen let his lawyers do the lawyering.)
But Daniels cut a quiet figure in the courtroom. She and Avenatti slipped into the room shortly before the hearing started, and occasionally whispered or passed notes back and forth throughout the session. Avenatti didn’t immediately respond to email and phone requests for comment.
As soon as the court adjourned, Avenatti whisked Daniels out of the room and declined to answer questions. Reporters were blocked from taking an elevator with them. Daniels did, however, have a punchy statement for the hoards of waiting cameras on the street: “For years Mr. Cohen has acted like he is above the law,” she said. “He has played by a different set of rules or, shall we say, no rules at all. He has never thought that the little man or especially woman—even more women like me—mattered. That ends now.”
This story was updated with a comment from Fox News.