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Sean Hannity criticized by Fox News contributors over Cohen relationship

Shepard Smith, a Fox News anchor, called the situation the “elephant in the room”
Image: Fox News host Sean Hannity
Fox News host Sean Hannity on the set of his show in New York on Oct. 28, 2014.Mike Segar / Reuters file

Two Fox News contributors said Monday that Fox News host Sean Hannity should have disclosed his relationship with President Donald Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen.

After federal investigators raided Cohen’s office last week and seized documents and computer files, Hannity criticized the raid on the air, but did not disclose that he was one of Cohen’s clients — a fact that emerged in a court proceeding on Monday. Shepard Smith, a Fox News anchor, called the situation the “elephant in the room” and said his staff was working to try to get a comment from Hannity.

Lawyer Alan Dershowitz scolded Hannity on his prime-time show Monday evening for not mentioning the relationship.

“I really think you should have disclosed your relationship with Cohen,” he said. Hannity responded on air that his professional relationship with Cohen was “minimal” and was related to real estate.

Earlier in the evening, Fox News political analyst Juan Williams, speaking on the Fox show “The Five,” said: “Why, when Sean was on the air strongly an advocate for President Trump — not saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got a relationship with the lawyer,’ I think that’s a question.”

Hannity teased his response to reporting on the relationship throughout his show Monday evening, welcoming the “liberal media” as new viewers, and then delivered his comments at the end of his hour-long program.

Hannity’s response closely mirrored the statement he put out earlier. “My discussions with Michael Cohen never rose to the level that I needed to tell anyone that I was asking him questions,” he said.

Hannity also said he had a right to privacy and added that those legal questions did not involve a third party and pertained almost exclusively to questions about real estate. Hannity also invited another of his lawyers, David Limbaugh, on his Tuesday evening show to discuss the former FBI director James Comey’s interview on ABC, clearly disclosing that relationship.

The Fox News host has been a loud advocate for the president and has claimed that he is not a journalist but rather someone whose job is to deliver opinion as a talk-show host. Hannity has recently sparred with the ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, caught flack for discussing conspiracy theories about the death of Seth Rich, and suffered an advertising boycott because of his support of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.

On Monday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood ordered Cohen to disclose his third, unnamed client as part of a broader investigation into Cohen’s $130,000 payment to adult actress Stormy Daniels, a payment that allegedly prevented her publicly discussing her alleged sexual relationship with Trump.

Journalists in the courtroom reported an audible gasp from people in attendance when Hannity’s name was revealed as the third client.

The news that Hannity had engaged Cohen’s legal services quickly raced across social media. Hannity said on his radio show that he only asked for some legal advice and that he “might have handed” Cohen $10 to ensure an attorney-client privilege.

Hannity released this statement on Monday afternoon: “In response to some wild speculation, let me make clear that I did not ask Michael Cohen to bring this proceeding on my behalf, I have no personal interest in this proceeding, and, in fact, asked that my de minimis discussions with Michael Cohen, which dealt almost exclusively about real estate, not be made a part of this proceeding.”

But the news that Hannity had a professional relationship with Cohen provided fresh ammunition for critics who have said that Hannity has crossed the line from conservative pundit to unofficial White House spokesperson. Hannity had discussed Cohen and Cohen’s legal issues on his Fox News show.

On Tuesday afternoon, Fox News responded to the situation, saying the company was unaware of Hannity's connection to Cohen, according to NPR media reporter David Folkenflik.

"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," the company said in a statement.

Fox News has been dealing with a separate ad boycott of Laura Ingraham after she mocked Florida student and gun control advocate David Hogg. She joked on Tuesday evening that she was glad the heat was on Hannity and off her.

Trump and Hannity have developed a close relationship, with the president often tweeting to his followers to watch Hannity’s show.

Hannity is one of the most influential — and richest — cable news hosts. His Fox News show brought in more than $70 million a year, according to the latest data from the media measurement firm Kantar. He’s also the last major prime-time talent contracted by Roger Ailes, the Fox News chief executive who resigned in July 2016 after numerous allegations of sexual harassment (Ailes died last May).

Hannity dodged most of the scandals that swept through Fox News, which resulted in the resignations of Ailes, host Bill O’Reilly and co-president Bill Shine. Hannity has denied an allegation by political commentator Debbie Schlussel that he tried to lure her to a hotel room during a book signing.

The details of Hannity’s connection to Cohen may never be fully made public, but the host took the revelation seriously enough to address it on his radio show, publish numerous tweets to clarify his relationship with Cohen, and address the topic during his Fox News show on Monday night.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., called for Fox News to fire Hannity during a CNN appearance on Monday.

“His word can never again be trusted,” he said.