By Brendan Pierson, Karen Freifeld and Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – As adult-film actress Stormy Daniels looked on, a federal judge ordered U.S. President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen to cough up the name of a client he had hoped to keep secret at a Monday court hearing: Fox News personality Sean Hannity, an outspoken champion of the president.
Hannity said on Monday that he had never paid for Cohen’s services or been represented by him, but had sought confidential legal advice from him.
Cohen, Trump’s fiercely loyal and pugnacious lawyer, was in Manhattan federal court to ask the judge to limit the ability of federal prosecutors to review documents seized from his offices and home last week as part of a criminal investigation.
The investigation has frustrated the White House as it has spread to enfold some of Trump’s closest confidantes.
The unexpected naming of Hannity made him only the latest outsized media personality to be drawn into the investigation’s cast of unlikely supporting characters. Another, the stripper and actress Daniels, sat in the back of the gallery’s public courtroom as part of her efforts to keep attention on her story, relating to what she says is a past affair with Trump.
Daniels is engaged in a separate civil legal fight over $130,000 she received in a 2016 agreement arranged by Cohen to stop her from discussing a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump a decade earlier.
Photographers knocked over barricades outside the courthouse as they scrambled to get pictures of Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, arriving dressed in a lavender suit. Inside, she quietly took a seat in the public gallery with her lawyer.
Cohen has argued that some of the documents and data seized from him under a warrant are protected by attorney-client privilege or otherwise unconnected to the investigation. But Judge Kimba Wood rejected his efforts to mask the identity of Hannity, a client Cohen had said wanted to avoid publicity.
“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.
Hannity is a conservative television host known for passionately advocating for Trump on his Fox News show, and sometimes receiving public praise from Trump in return.
After his identity was revealed, Hannity said on his radio show said he had never received an invoice from Cohen, nor had Cohen ever represented him in a legal matter.
“But I have occasionally had brief discussions about legal questions about which I wanted his input and his perspective,” Hannity said. He assumed those discussions were covered by attorney-client privilege, he said, and emphasized that they were never about matters involving “any third party.”
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.
A lawyer for 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,” Hendon told the court. “The president has the right, he is entitled to perform the initial review of materials.”
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.
The hearing ended on Monday with no ruling on who gets to filter the seized documents.
(Reporting by Brendan Pierson, Karen Freifeld and Jonathan Stempel in New York, Writing by Jonathan Allen, Editing by Susan Thomas and Rosalba O’Brien)
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