Over the last two days, we learned that Sean Hannity has not only been a client of Donald Trump’s lawyer…he’s also been a client of, well, Donald Trump’s lawyer.
Michael Cohen—President Trump’s personal attorney/fixer and subject of multi-pronged FBI raids last week—faces charges related to a hush-money deal he orchestrated between Trump and Stormy Daniels, a porn star who had an affair with Trump in 2006. On Monday, a U.S. District Court judge ordered Cohen to reveal the name of all his clients, which Cohen numbered three: Donald Trump; Elliot Broidy, the Deputy Finance Chair of the Republican National Committee (more on him later); and, in true reality TV fashion, a third man, a mystery client whom both Cohen and the client requested to keep secret.
The judge unsurprisingly ordered that Cohen immediately reveal the mystery client’s identity, and it turned out to be none other than Sean Hannity, a jackass.
This was a surprise: Hannity had never disclosed his relationship with Cohen in any of his “reporting” on Cohen, which he did frequently, though it was mostly Hannity screaming in Cohen’s defense and attacking Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
And then yesterday we learned that KFAQ, a radio station in Tulsa, OK, received a cease-and-desist letter in May of last year from two lawyers acting on behalf of Hannity who also have ties to Trump: Victoria Toensing, and Jay Sekulow. In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Atlantic, Toensing and Sekulow identify themselves as “Counsel for Sean Hannity.” Sekulow is, as far as we know, the only lawyer still on Trump’s personal defense team in the Russia investigation, and last month Sekulow announced that Toensing, along with her husband Joe DiGenova, would join him and swell the ranks to three. But a few days later Sekulow had to reverse that claim due to undisclosed “conflicts of interest” that the power couple apparently had with the investigation and/or with Trump himself.
Hannity also has conflicts of interest with these two lawyers, but that hasn’t stopped him from having DiGenova appear on his show this Monday. And Hannity has defended Cohen at least six times. Immediately after the FBI raids on Cohen’s offices, home, and a hotel room — raids that led directly to Hannity’s outing — Hannity backed up his client and attacked Special Counsel Robert Mueller, saying there’s “no limit at all into the fishing expedition that Mueller is now engaged in.”
Here are some other things that Hannity, the Devin Nunes of Fox News, has admitted over the last week:
- He claimed Cohen told him he had never told Trump about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels, which somehow screws things up for Cohen, Trump, and Hannity himself.
- He said Cohen told him he had “pretty wide discretion on his own to handle matters without bringing it to [Trump’s] attention.”
- He told a Wall Street Journal reporter he and Cohen “have been friends a long time” and that, quote, “I have sought legal advice from Michael.”
- Despite that statement, and despite Cohen telling a federal judge Hannity was a client, Hannity also said he wasn’t Cohen’s client.
First, you might wonder why Hannity uses the same lawyers as Trump, and why he’s so close with Cohen. One obvious reason is that Hannity himself is close to Trump, and the two meet often, including once in what hindsight paints as fairly suspicious circumstances. And last year Trump apparently signed off on Hannity’s promotion of a conspiracy theory—which has been proved false time and again—regarding the murder of a DNC staffer.
In this light, it’s not insane to at least consider the possibility Hannity wants to use these lawyers to maintain channels of communication to Trump that would, in theory, be protected under attorney-client privilege.
But back to the objective world: If you’re wondering whether Hannity has broken any journalistic codes of ethics, such as that of, say, the Society of Professional Journalists, he has. The SPJ says journalists must “disclose unavoidable conflicts” of interest. Not only has Hannity rabidly defended Cohen and attacked the Special Counsel without disclosing his relationship with Cohen, the increasingly wild-eyed TV and radio personality actively sought to keep that relationship a secret from a federal judge.
At any other news organization Hannity would get canned immediately for major breaches of journalistic ethics, but Fox News released a statement supporting him:
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.
A cynical person might say this statement was predictable and Fox won’t take any aggressive steps against Hannity, who is a ratings machine. To be sure, that’s where most of my belief lives, too. But maybe it won’t play out that way.
Have another look at that statement. It’s remarkable: Hannity never told anyone at Fox about his relationship with Cohen; and Fox regurgitates Hannity’s “informal relationship” excuse, even though Cohen told a federal judge in a court of law that Hannity was “a client.”
But I’ve seen that kind of language about support before, from the White House. It’s present tense. Not future tense. No guarantees.
Still, a purported “news” agency has voiced its support of a massive violation of journalistic integrity. Surprised? No.
Fox has two reasons to support Hannity. First and most obviously, the ratings. Hannity’s their main attraction, and according to sources at Fox he’s the only thing keeping the network afloat. Second, though, and equally important: It doesn’t matter.
Look: normal, rational people are aghast. It’s a gross breach of conduct, and, so they believe, it obliterates whatever modicum of credibility Hannity might still have. But Hannity’s audience doesn’t care, because they don’t care about integrity in the first place: They’re Hannity fans. He’s never had credibility. This is the same reason they’ll never care enough about what Trump does to abandon him outright. Those two can do no wrong, and in fact their offenses give them even more credibility in the eyes of their fans.
Here are some other things Fox News has let slide from Hannity:
- Brutally and shamelessly dragging the family of a murdered man by promoting, in the face of their requests to the network that he stop, a wild conspiracy theory that their son was assassinated by Democrats for leaking emails to Wikileaks. Fox News itself retracted all its reporting on that theory, but they didn’t retract for Hannity, and Hannity didn’t retract, either.
- He invited Assange to host his show
- He used fake footage.
- He reportedly pulled a gun on a colleague
- He defended a football player who beat his son, going so far as to take off his belt on the air and smack his desk with it in a reenactment of how he was beaten as a child.
No Hannity fans care about this. They’ll always watch, and his ratings are only going up.
This is no small matter for Fox. They know they’re not going to lose many viewers. Hannity fans will become even more devoted, and the people who hate-watch Hannity never gave him credit in the first place. Also worth noting that Rupert Murdoch, a guy so nihilistic and depraved he supported Laura Ingraham after she bullied a kid on Twitter, has reportedly made a triumphant return to Fox News. Hannity’s offense isn’t scandalous enough to drive advertisers away.
For now. Because even though the network and its die-hard viewers don’t care about what personalities say on the air, they do apparently care about what happens when the cameras are off.
The Sex Stuff
As an employee of Fox News observed, “You only hire Michael Cohen for one reason.” That is, to cover up sex stuff. Cohen’s other two clients are Trump and that guy named Elliot Broidy. He didn’t do much if any actual lawyering for either one, but served as a fixer. We already know about Cohen’s efforts to cover up Trump’s sex scandals, but he also arranged a $1.6 million payout from Broidy to a former Playboy model who said Broidy impregnated her, after which she had an abortion.
Broidy, the deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee, has also recently been connected to the Trump-Russia scandal.
So yes, given Cohen’s primary area of expertise, some other Hannity news might be along soon. And some circumstantial evidence backs this up. First, let’s look at that letter Hannity’s lawyers sent the Oklahoma talk show:
News anchors should bone up on how to pronounce “Shlussel.” That high-heel is gonna drop in short order.
But also listen to this shit. At a coal rally in 2016, Hannity shifted out of nowhere from praising family values to sexually harassing a woman from the stage, with the microphone. Here’s the quote:
“We believe in god, right? Faith, family, country…. How you doin’, darlin’? By the way, there’s a really hot looking chick in the third row. How you doin’ baby? I’ll take you backstage to meet “Hank” if you want. You want to meet me later?
If I had to guess, and this is pure speculation, Hannity isn’t exempt from the rampant sexual harassment and abuse that has recently brought down so many people at Fox News, not least of which was CEO Roger Ailes and Hannity’s fellow ratings machine Bill O’Reilly.
Note that Fox News actually renewed O’Reilly’s contract in light of that scandal. Eventually, though, he stepped down. This pattern seems awfully familiar.
And so while Fox News will likely let Hannity’s baffling conflicts of interest with Trump lawyers slide, it’s not scandalous enough for the network to merit firing the guy. Hannity himself once bragged about the freedom Fox grants him:
“Nobody tells me what to say on my show. They never have and frankly, they never will. I’m not that type of person you can say, ‘Go on air and say this.’ That’s been the beauty of Fox News all these years. They leave me alone.”
Hannity, though, apparently hasn’t left other people alone.
The judge will almost certainly require Cohen to provide evidence that Broidy and Hannity are in fact clients. Cohen will have to comply, so Hannity’s lie will soon be blown. I mean, there’s no way Cohen would lie to a judge, and as pointed out above Hannity himself has contradicted his denials on the record. Fox News is stupid to have thrown its support behind Hannity merely on his word, before the evidence becomes public. Fox News is a gutless and depraved entertainment organization that blew its journalistic credibility long ago, so they might be able to get away with throwing even that evidence out. But Hannity is a moron, a liar, and all-star jerk who almost certainly isn’t immune from the network’s culture of systemic harassment. I truly think he’ll go. Then again, I also thought Clinton would win.