Trump's personal lawyer ordered to reveal mystery client

Mr Michael Cohen (left) failed in his bid to mask the identity of Mr Sean Hannity, a conservative television host.
Mr Michael Cohen (left) failed in his bid to mask the identity of Mr Sean Hannity, a conservative television host.

NEW YORK • As adult-film actress Stormy Daniels looked on, a federal judge ordered US President Donald Trump's longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen to cough up the name of the client he had hoped to keep secret at a Monday court hearing: Sean Hannity.

Mr Hannity is a conservative television host known for passionately advocating for Mr Trump on his Fox News show, and often receiving public praise from Mr Trump in return.

Mr Cohen, the President's fiercely loyal and pugnacious lawyer, was in court to ask a judge to limit the ability of federal prosecutors to review documents seized as part of a criminal investigation. The probe has frustrated the White House as it has spread to enfold some of Mr Trump's closest confidants.

But in the background, Mr Cohen also had to contend with Ms Daniels' efforts to keep attention on her story, relating to what she says is a past affair with Mr Trump.

Ms Daniels is engaged in a separate lawsuit over US$130,000 (S$170,350) she received in a 2016 agreement allegedly arranged by Mr Cohen to stop her from discussing a sexual encounter she says she had with Mr Trump a decade earlier.

Photographers knocked over barricades outside the courthouse as they scrambled to get pictures of Ms Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, arriving dressed in a lavender suit. Inside, she took a seat in the public gallery with her lawyer.

Mr Cohen has argued that some of the documents and data seized in last week's raids are protected by attorney-client privilege or otherwise unconnected to the investigation.

But Judge Kimba Wood rejected his efforts to mask the identity of Mr Hannity, a client Mr 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," Judge Wood said, before ordering a lawyer for Mr Cohen to disclose the name.

Mr 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 Mr Trump, Ms 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 politicised, even fevered, atmosphere". She also appeared in court on Monday.

A person familiar with the raids said last week that the information Federal Bureau of Investigation agents were seeking included information about payments to Ms Daniels.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2018, with the headline 'Trump's personal lawyer ordered to reveal mystery client'. Print Edition | Subscribe