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Conservative Talk Show Host Sean Hannity Defends Connection To Trump's Lawyer


Fox News responded today to the revelation that one of its hosts was the mystery third client of President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. Fox said it didn't know that Cohen included Sean Hannity as one of his clients. The network said it was surprised by yesterday's courtroom announcement but nevertheless stands behind its star. Hannity has been an enthusiastic defender of Cohen, and now there are questions about whether he should have disclosed his relationship with the lawyer to viewers. Here's NPR's David Folkenflik.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: I guess in a court case involving a president, a fixer, a porn star, a former Republican Party official, a former Playboy centerfold and a judge who had briefly served as a bunny at a Playboy Club, well, you were going to get something of a media circus. We just didn't know one of the nation's leading conservative talk show hosts was part of the equation.


SEAN HANNITY: Let me set the record straight. Here's the truth. Michael Cohen never represented me in any legal matter. I never retained his services. I never received an invoice. I never paid Michael Cohen for legal fees. I did have occasional, brief conversations with Michael Cohen - he's a great attorney - about legal questions I had or I was looking for input and perspective.

FOLKENFLIK: So not a client.


HANNITY: My discussions with Michael Cohn never rose to any level that I needed to tell anyone that I was asking him questions. And to be absolutely clear, they never involve any matter, any - sorry to disappoint so many - matter between me, a third party, a third group, at all.

FOLKENFLIK: OK, not a client by his definition. That question of third parties matters a lot to Hannity for two clear reasons. One, court documents show Cohen arranged major payments to women who say they had had physical relationships with President Trump and a former top Republican Party official respectively. Two, some of Hannity's most prominent former colleagues have been accused of sexual harassment, and they paid women millions to keep those allegations private, including the late former Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes and former Fox News star Bill O'Reilly. For all of the drama of the last week surrounding Cohen, however, Hannity didn't make any disclosures.


HANNITY: All right. Tonight, we have an explosive new chapter.

FOLKENFLIK: This was Sean Hannity on Fox News early last week.


HANNITY: President Trump's longtime personal attorney, Michael Cole, just had his office, his home and his hotel that he was staying in raided by the FBI today in an early morning raid. Now, what that means is Mueller's witch hunt investigation is now a runaway train that is clearly careening off the tracks.

FOLKENFLIK: And for the past week, Hannity has hammered Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller for his treatment of Cohen and Cohen's clients. Viewers already know that Hannity is a Trump adviser. The two dine together. But how would viewers possibly know of Hannity's ties to Cohen as the Fox Star defended the lawyer on the air? Hannity has gotten too close to the people he's talking about before. He was twice rebuked for raising money for Tea Party causes and told in 2016 he could no longer appear in ads supporting Trump. Now, back to Hannity explaining the whole Michael Cohen thing.


HANNITY: I've known Michael a long, long time.

FOLKENFLIK: Here, Hannity was on his radio show yesterday.


HANNITY: I assume that those conversations were attorney-client confidential.

FOLKENFLIK: But Hannity wants to have it both ways - protected by attorney-client confidentiality yet not a client. Here's Harvard law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz on Hannity's own show.


ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Well, first of all, Sean, I do want to say that I really think that you should have disclosed your relationship with Cohen when you talked about him on this show. You could have said just that you had asked him for advice or whatever.

FOLKENFLIK: After hanging back for a day, Fox News issued a statement this afternoon saying the network was surprised by Hannity's relationship with the president's lawyer but stood by him. Left unsaid, Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch is a strong Trump supporter and, like Hannity, a frequent confidant. David Folkenflik, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.