All of Hell’s Kitchen broke loose on Monday when Michael Cohen’s infamous “mystery client” was revealed in court to be Fox News host Sean Hannity. (Cohen’s attorneys had argued that revealing the name of the client, who the world now knows is Hannity, was “likely to be embarrassing or detrimental to the client,” but the judge in the case ruled that embarrassment did not amount to a sufficient legal defense.) This led to plenty of jokes as Hannity’s radio program went dead silent while he undoubtedly scrambled to assess the potential damage of the revelation, as well as how to respond to it. When Hannity finally emerged from his cocoon, he offered a number of contradictory explanations for his name surfacing in open court as a client of a lawyer famous for arranging secret hush-payments to mistresses. Needless to say, many are speculating about exactly what the Trump superfan is trying to hide.
In a pair of tweets, Hannity first claimed that Cohen “has never represented me in any matter.” That is to say, Hannity says he never paid a retainer or other legal fees or even saw an invoice from Cohen. He did, however, admit to asking Cohen “legal questions” for “input and perspective.” Hannity then said that he believed these discussions were “confidential,” but he insisted, “[T]o be absolutely clear they never involved any matter between me and a third-party.”
Is Hannity Truly Michael Cohen’s Client?
Yes. Not only did Cohen’s lawyers state this fact in court, but Hannity admitted as much while also (weakly) attempting to deny it. To clarify, Hannity both denied legal representation by Cohen while also admitting to asking him for legal advice and believing that — as with an attorney-client relationship — that these conversations would remain secret. So, he’s attempting to claim the benefits of attorney-client privilege while also insisting that Cohen was not his attorney. Hannity’s obviously trying to have it both ways, essentially saying, “Michael Cohen has never been my lawyer, but anything we discussed should be kept private because of attorney/client privilege.”
That said, one of the first things that law professors teach students is how to avoid this type of situation. That is, if friends or family ask for casual legal advice, lawyers are advised to not indulge them because this means that these people are then clients. That’s precisely the reason why courthouse employees (whether they are licensed attorneys or not) will not offer legal instruction (even for a simple form) and advise people to hire an attorney.
That’s not all. On his radio show, Hannity then made a Breaking Bad-esque statement whe he admitted that he “might have handed him 10 bucks [and said,] ‘I definitely want your attorney-client privilege on this’ … something like that.” In this way, Hannity is admitting that he paid Cohen (at least) a nominal amount of money, which has been ruled in loads of cases to be enough financial consideration (that is, the amount agreed upon by two parties) to create the basis of an implicit contract. So, even without an invoice and even if Hannity and Cohen only agreed verbally on $10 for his legal services, this exchange of money only further proves that Hannity was indeed Cohen’s client.
There’s also the question of why Hannity, who reportedly made $36 million in 2017, was seeking essentially pro-bono legal services from Cohen, which only adds another shady layer to this spectacle. As for Hannity’s wish to remain a secret client and his vehement protests upon revelation, well, that presents another bad look.