How did Michael Cohen, Sean Hannity, President Trump, and porn star Stormy Daniels all get wrapped up into the same news story last week?
Here’s a primer:
■Cohen, a lawyer, is a close associate of Trump’s, serving proudly as Trump’s “fixer” for more than a decade. He has been locked in a legal battle with porn star Stormy Daniels over whether she is bound by a nondisclosure agreement to not talk about her alleged affair with Trump. Cohen has admitted giving her a hush payment. The controversy has been brewing since early this year.
■Pressure ratcheted up on Cohen last week when the FBI searched his apartment, hotel room, office, and safe deposit box. According to the New York Times, the FBI was looking for records about payments to Daniels and to another woman and information about the National Enquirer’s role in silencing the second woman. The Washington Post reported Cohen was under investigation for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations. In a court filing, prosecutors said Cohen was “under criminal investigation,” but the possible charges against him were redacted.
■The raids seized items including business records, e-mails, documents, cellphones, and computer hard drives, according to reports. Allies of the president are concerned that Cohen sometimes taped conversations with associates and the FBI may have seized recordings, according to reports.
■Cohen has gone to court in New York to try to limit what federal prosecutors can see from the materials seized. Because he’s a lawyer, a special procedure is supposed to be used: A special team of prosecutors reviews the evidence and removes anything covered by attorney-client privilege. But Trump and Cohen have both asked that they be allowed to review the records first. The judge is considering a possible third way: appointing a special master, or neutral lawyer, to review the evidence.
■Enter Sean Hannity. At a hearing Monday, US District Judge Kimba Wood pressed Cohen to name the clients he has worked with since the 2016 election because their materials might be contained within the evidence seized. His lawyers said he had only three clients, Trump, former Republican National Committee deputy finance chairman Elliot Broidy, and a third client he did not want to name. Cohen’s lawyers eventually revealed it was Hannity. Hannity said he “occasionally had brief discussions with [Cohen] about legal questions.” The revelation raised questions about whether Hannity should have disclosed that relationship on TV — and what the two conferred about.
■More importantly, reports are saying that the president and his allies are fearful of deeper trouble ahead for Trump, his inner circle, and family. Trouble could come from what’s in Cohen’s records or from Cohen, a close associate of Trump, striking a deal with prosecutors, the Associated Press reports. Trump’s advisers believe the Cohen probe poses a greater threat than special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, the Times reports.
■In the final twist of a tumultuous week, McClatchy’s Washington bureau reported Friday that Mueller had evidence that Cohen had traveled to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign. A description of the trip featured in retired British spy Christopher Steele’s dossier, which alleged the trip was arranged as part of Cohen’s attempts “to prevent the full details of Trump’s relationship with Russia being exposed.” Cohen has denied making the trip and on Saturday renewed his denials, saying in a tweet, ““Bad reporting, bad information and bad story.”