Sean Hannity, Michael Cohen, and What Is Really at Stake
Yesterday, we found out that Sean Hannity is a client of attorney Michael Cohen, who is currently under investigation for a variety of crimes. Most expect that he will eventually be charged. The relationship was obviously one that Hannity wanted to be kept secret, but why would Hannity want that relationship hidden from public view?
The first and most obvious issue is that it creates a conflict of interest for Fox News, and not a small one. Sean Hannity is the chief propagandist for the Trump Administration, and while no one doubts Hannity’s commitment to Trump’s agenda, this relationship illustrates that Hannity has a personal and professional stake in the matter. No one has railed louder against the FBI over their raid of Cohen than Hannity, and as it turns out, it’s in part because he didn’t want either his relationship to Cohen exposed or the underlying legal work that Cohen did for him known about.
The question is: Did Fox News know all along? If so, they can give up any pretense that they are a legitimate news organization, and while the pretense was thin to begin with, there are a few journalists over there — Chris Wallace, Shep Smith, John Roberts — whose credibility is going to be shot over the association with Hannity. Fox News is ultimately going to have to decide whether the ratings that Hannity brings in over the short term are more important than the network’s “reputation” in the long term.
Going to find out what kind of org Fox is today. No serious news org would allow someone this conflicted to cover this story https://t.co/8KX1JLlzpx— Chuck Todd (@chucktodd) April 17, 2018
My guess is that Fox News is going to look at the balance of things and come to the conclusion that few respect them as a legitimate news organization anyway, and stay with Hannity and lean even further into the personality-driven side of the network. The ratings will hold, but over the long term, the network may have more difficulty attracting serious talent. But it’s a purely profit-driven enterprise — the Murdoch sons, due to take over after Rupert’s death, aren’t even Republicans — so they’re probably going to stick with ratings and hope that Hannity keeps his nose clean and avoids inspiring any further advertiser boycotts.
What does it mean for Hannity, personally? I think most people will assume — probably rightly — that the legal advice Hannity sought from Cohen had nothing to do with real estate. Cohen has three clients. Two of those clients sought his services in order to silence women over affairs. It’s natural to conclude that Hannity sought similar services. Hannity is a wealthy man who — he himself has admitted — has eight attorneys. Why seek Cohen’s advice regarding real estate matters when Cohen isn’t even a real-estate lawyer? Cohen is barely a lawyer. He’s a fixer. The only reason to hire him is to “fix” something.
But, Hannity says, he wasn’t even really a client, but if he’s not really a client, then documents and emails related to Hannity aren’t really protected. But Cohen and his attorneys took pains to ensure that communications between Cohen and Hannity remained privileged because if he didn’t, those communications could be made public.
So, look at it this way: Sean Hannity would rather have his name released — and all the embarrassment, scandal, and headaches it causes his employer and himself — than have the communications between Hannity and Cohen made public. The embarrassment, scandal, and headache is no small thing for Hannity, so the underlying work must be even more embarrassing for him.
In other words, there’s no way that the communications between Cohen and Hannity were over real-estate matters. I doubt, as some believe, that Hannity sought Cohen’s advice earlier this year to help him over the advertiser boycott, because Hannity admitted at the time that he was going to fight back legally. It’s hard to assume anything other than an affair, harassment, or something else as salacious.
There is one other possibility that has been mentioned, and I don’t really know how this works, but a couple of people have suggested that Hannity isn’t really a client but that Cohen is using this attorney-client “privilege” with Hannity to keep documents related to Trump hidden. That sounds like a stretch. I’m not even sure how that would work, because a taint team will still be able to review those documents, and it will be up to them to decide if privilege applies.
Nothing ultimately may come of this but a lot of embarrassment for Hannity and Fox News, and Hannity having to suffer forevermore giving up the ethical high ground to Jake Tapper (no small thing for Hannity). However, there are probably a dozen journalist or more digging into this right now and trying to ferret out the truth, and at this point, it doesn’t matter if it’s an affair. If it’s anything other than a few small real estate matters, then Hannity is implicated in a lie big enough to ruin his career, and if there’s one thing we have discovered over the last year, it’s that amid all the lies and fake news, the truth always has a way of getting out.
Whether people want to believe the truth, however, is another matter.