Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, claims that using evidence gathered in a raid on his offices last week could trample on his relationships with his other two clients. Federal judge Kimba Wood called his bluff and demanded that Cohen furnish a list of his other clients by Monday morning. After another attempt to stonewall, Cohen revealed that he had represented longtime Fox News Channel talking head Sean Hannity.
That disclosure set off alarm bells, given that Hannity has loudly criticized the FBI raid, denouncing it as a “fishing expedition,” among other things. While that may be expected given Hannity’s reputation as a chest-beating Trump cheerleader, it’s a different matter altogether to leave out what is, on the face of it, an almost Trumpian conflict of interest.
Knowing what we know about Hannity, we should have expected his defense to be a belly laugh. But even by his standards, the defense he offered was comical. He claimed that discussing his ties to Cohen was–wait for it–a privacy violation.
Early on Monday night’s edition of his namesake show, Hannity claimed the mainstream media was ganging up on him. Watch here.
Hannity claimed that Cohen “never represented me in any legal matter.” He never had a formal retainer agreement with him. Rather, he had “occasional, brief conversations” about legal questions in order to seek “input and perspective” from a lawyer. He claimed that his relationship with Cohen never got to the point that “I needed to tell anyone that I was asking him questions.”
But at least one person who normally defends Trump wasn’t buying that excuse–noted appellate lawyer and Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz. During a panel discussion attacking former FBI director James Comey, Dershowitz turned the matter to Hannity’s relationship with Cohen. Watch here.
Dershowitz told Hannity that “it would have been much, much better” for him had he disclosed his relationship with Cohen. Hannity harrumphed that his relationship with Cohen was only “minimal.” Dershowitz replied that from where he was sitting, Hannity should have revealed that relationship, even if he was in “a tough position.” Hannity’s response? “I have a right to privacy.”
Anyone who knows anything about media ethics would know this argument is baloney. For instance, Gabriel Sherman of New York magazine, was largely responsible for breaking the news that Fox News founder Roger Ailes was about to be pushed out for his role in the fair and balanced network’s festering sexual harassment scandal. Can you imagine what would have happened if it had emerged that he shared a lawyer with one of the accusers? Even if Sherman’s reporting had been bang-on, his credibility would have rightly come into question.
Additionally, Breitbart News had its bid to get congressional press credentials ixnayed in 2017 because of questions surrounding its ties with the Government Accountability Institute, a right-wing think tank co-founded by former Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon and funded by the Mercer family. A number of Breitbart’s staffers hold leadership roles with GAI, and Breitbart heavily promotes GAI material–to the point that, in the words of Media Matters’ Matt Gertz, those articles amount to “press release copy for GAI.”
More recently, what if it emerged that Rachel Maddow or Lawrence O’Donnell were being represented by Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, even as they were reporting on Daniels’ effort to tell about her alleged affair with Trump? No doubt that Hannity and others would be leading the charge to call them out.
Hannity either doesn’t know, doesn’t understand, or refuses to understand that he has walked into an ethical minefield.
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