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Cohen's Mystery Third Client Is Sean Hannity; Comey Says of Trump, Some Evidence of Obstruction of Justice. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired April 16, 2018 - 15:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Back to the breaking story. The personal lawyer for the president Michael Cohen has just disclosed in court, this is through his lawyer that one of his clients is Sean Hannity, the host over at Fox News. Cohen's attorneys have requested to keep his identity anonymous.

CNN political commentators Keith Boykin and Alice Stewart are with me as is Host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" Brian Stelter. The added detail that we got from Shimon, who was in the court is that initially this Cohen attorney wanted to place Sean's name in an envelope and not have to say it out loud. The judge said no, no, no. You need to speak it, say it out loud. And of course, the court is full of press. Beginning with you though does this -- talk about a conflict of interest of having Sean Hannity and Cohen and Trump all in this circle. And if he's calling him up -- I don't know, I've got questions about that.

BRAIN STELTER, HOST OF RELIABLE SOURCES: We're seeing how the pro Trump media world works, how the world works. And particularly this pro Trump media world, this bubble where views are reinforced. Where ideas are reinforced. Put it another way, we're seeing how the protection works. Hannity, night after night protects President Trump. That's a big part of what the Hannity show is all about.

To literally share the same lawyer puts that into stark relief, makes it even more clear. We're seeing how this tight knit universe works, if it wasn't right. It wasn't about a third party, it was about Hannity calling up seeking legal advice from Michael Cohen every once in a while. How can you go on the air every night talking about the president, and not having this conversation you're telling viewers about that is certainly sketchy to say the least?

[15:35:00] BALDWIN: Let me add one order detail and I want to have the two of you to weigh in, Gloria Borger talked to a source familiar with the Hannity relationship with Michael Cohen. Michael Cohen has never represented Sean Hannity in any matter involving a third-party. To dispel any questions there was an NDA and a woman involved. Secondly, from the same source, Hannity did not get billed, there was no formal attorney client relationship. Called him from time to time, and got input from Cohen on legal issues.

ALICE STEWART, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You're either someone's attorney or you're not. And you're either -- you have attorney client privilege, or you don't. That's what I don't understand here. I think Cohen tries to be someone's attorney when it's convenient. When he wants to cover them up, he doesn't.

I've known Sean for many years. We talked to him the other day when he got into some hot water about the Mueller crime story. He said Trump put him up to that. No, I did it. But in my view, I like Sean, I respect him. Knowing had he an attorney client relationship with Michael Cohen. Any and every story he did, he should have disclosed for the record Michael Cohen has done legal work for me. I pulled up a story he did on the radio. He was critical of Mueller's raid on Cohen's property. If he has access to all of this information, I can only imagine where this will lead next. Right to him, unfortunately.

BALDWIN: She's right, there's a lack of transparency.

KEITH BOYKIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There is, there's two issues for me. He was not transparent with the public. And the other is whether he was transparent with his own employer. Does Fox News know? Or did they know that he had this relationship? If they didn't know, he hung him out to dry and exposed them to a challenge to their credibility. Which is not a good thing for any news network.

Yes, I think if he did not disclose it to Fox News, it's already bad enough he didn't disclose it to the public, he should be fired from his job.

STELTER: By the way, no comment from Fox about what they may or may not have known. Hannity isn't saying much, he's on the radio. This is President Trump's attack dog. You have to wonder if he's neutered a little bit by this news?

BALDWIN: Why go to such great lengths to keep this quiet, that's what I'm wondering? Why put the name in an envelope? I understand he's a high-profile person.

STEWART: It would be different if Michael Cohen had a broad portfolio of what he's expert at in the legal field, quite frankly we have all learned in the last few weeks that he's an expert in nondisclosure agreements and paying out hush money to women who are having affairs, it's questionable what kind of work he did do for Hannity if he did. It is not like you is in an estate of attorney as well. I think more than anything. The inference that the work he's done for Trump and others might be the same work he's done for Hannity, even if that didn't happen, I'm sure Cohen wanted to protect him from people inferring that was the legal work he had done.

STELTER: And this reminds me their fates are intertwined. The Hannitys of the world, the Trumps, the people in the Trump Organization or what I describe as Trump world. This collection around individuals and President Trump. Their fates are interconnected. A story like this reminds us just how true it is.

BALDWIN: We know he went down to Mar-a-Lago, we know they have a personal relationship. It takes it to a different level to know he is both of their personal attorneys. BOYKIN: And one of the first rules of scandal management, scandal 101

is that you get all the information out first. Because the longer it drags on the harder it is to answer, the more it challenges your credibility. We're finding out this from a court disclosure, we could have found this out from the beginning. He could have dismissed it as being insignificant. We could have moved on and never talked about it. Now it's a huge scandal, because they didn't handle it well.

STELTER: It's hard to imagine interviewing your own lawyer on TV our talking about your lawyer and not disclosing.

BALDWIN: Hey, by the way, this guy represents me.

STELTER: Every night you have to think of Hannity as shadow press secretary. Every night tearing down Robert Mueller, tearing down attempts to investigate the president. You're going to watch Hannity in a different way.

STEWART: Instead of smoking cigars last week on the stoop, he should have been trying to figure out a way to get ahead of this.

BALDWIN: Yes, to your point, I don't know how that sat with the judge over the weekend when she saw all of that happening. And she said today you need to name him out loud.

[15:40:00] Let's come back, quick break, we're waiting for more developments coming out of this hearing in downtown Manhattan at this federal courthouse involving Michael Cohen. And as we now know, this third now disclosed client of his, Sean Hannity, I'm Brooke Baldwin, we will be right back.


[15:45:00] BALDWIN: We will get you back to that courthouse in downtown Manhattan and what's happening with regard to Michael Cohen here in a moment. The first of the former FBI director the man you compared to a quote, unquote, mob boss. James Comey is revealing an abundance of opinions about President Trump's ability to govern, what matters most here, the private conversations that led to Comey's firing which sparked questions about obstruction of justice and led to the appointment of the special council.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: He had said that he is a good guy. I hope you can let it go. I said, I agree, he's a good guy. There was a brief pause and then the meeting was over.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST: Should you have said, Mr. President I can't discuss this. You're doing something improper.

COMEY: Maybe. Although if he didn't know he was doing something improper, why did he kick out the attorney general and the vice president of United States and the leaders of the intelligence community? Why am I alone if he doesn't know the nature of the request? It's possible in that moment, another person would have said, sir, you can't ask me that, that's a criminal investigation that could be obstruction of justice.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Was President Trump obstructing justice?

COMEY: Possibly. Certainly, it's some evidence of obstruction of justice.


BALDWIN: Joining me now Paul Rosenzweig, former deputy assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security, it is also a law professor at George Washington University. Paul, nice to have you back. And listening to that clip of a really thorough, there have been two interviews of James Comey, did you think it was appropriate for him to opine. He mentions obstruction, during an active investigation.

PAUL ROSENZWEIG, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR POLICY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I'll be honest with you, if this were a normal criminal case and I were the normal prosecutor. I'd be a little dismayed that one of my key witnesses was going out in public and talking about the testimony he was expecting to give at trial. Typically, you try and get your witnesses to talk only to you and to save all of the information they have for the moment that it matters the most in the middle criminal trial.

BALDWIN: Why would he do that?

ROSENZWEIG: This isn't a typical case, right? I think Mr. Comey has made the independent judgment that the public case about the president and what Comey perceives to be his unfitness for office, is more important to make than the narrow criminal case about obstruction of justice, I'm not sure he's wrong. It may be that's the much more important discussion to be having than the simple one of whether or not the president has committed obstruction of justice.

BALDWIN: We are talking about this Mueller investigation and the president has been floated, he could order Mueller's firing, he would have to go through Rod Rosenstein as deputy attorney general. Comey believes Rosenstein would refuse an order to fire Mueller and such an attempt by the president would lead to this.


COMEY: It would, I hope set off alarm bells that this is his most serious attack yet on the rule of law. And it would be something that all of our country again Democrats and Republicans that is higher than all the normal fights about policy. And it would be to the everlasting shame of partisans if they were unable to see that higher level and protect it.


BALDWIN: Paul, I just want you to weigh in on that and also this is all hypotheticals. If the president were to fire Mueller or Rosenstein, do you think that would help his case? ROSENZWEIG: Well, let me answer the second part of that first. I

think firing either Mueller or Rosenstein would in the end be pretty ineffectual. Look at what happened in the Nixon era, we had a firing, and then the political pressure built and there was the reappointment of the special prosecutor, and eventually the president resigned on the cusp of impeachment.

If Rosenstein were fired, I think his successor, Mr. Francisco would probably be much of the same cloth. I don't think the president gains much by firing them. I have to say, to answer the first question, I'm less sanguine than FBI Director Comey that the political process is strong enough to push back I have seen little evidence in response to other assaults on the rule of law. Criticisms of judges. Assaults on the freedom of the press. Nobody in the Republican party is standing up to speak to that issue, and so I -- I hope I'm wrong. But I worry they may not stand up even if he were to fire Mueller or Rosenstein.

[15:50:00] BALDWIN: Thank you for your voice. Back to Cohen we go. Michael Cohen expected to walk out of those doors any moment now. After his attorneys were forced to reveal one of his clients is none other than Sean Hannity from Fox News. And moments ago, Hannity's response to all this. We will play you what he has to say next.


BALDWIN: We're back with breaking news as we wait for Michael Cohen to walk out of the brass doors in downtown Manhattan out of the federal courthouse. In there with his lawyers and Trump's lawyers and Stormy Daniels and that is happening in the last couple of hours because they want to in the wake of the FBI raid on his property, make sure they get to go through the materials and if they want to claim attorney/client privilege and feel like they could do so.

There is a list of clients of Michael Cohen and we've known about two of them and the third unnamed client was announced as Fox News Host Sean Hannity. And he just addressed this on his radio show within the last couple of minutes. Let's listen.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: So, I've known Michael a long, long time and let me be clear to the media, Michael never represented me in any matter, I never retained him in the traditional sense as retaining a lawyer, I never received an invoice from Michael, I never paid legal fees to Michael. But I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective. And I assume that those conversations were attorney- client confidential. But -- and the other thing I need to point out to the media that is apparently going insane over this, not one of any issue I dealt with Michael Cohen on ever, ever involved a matter between me and any third party.


BALDWIN: So, Daniel Goldman has just been seated. He joins our chorus of smart voices and former federal prosecutor and former assistant U.S. attorney. And in the words of Sean Hannity, this is no big deal and I called him up for advice, why were they so funny about disclosing his name.

DANIEL GOLDMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Because Hannity didn't want to be revealed he is the client and now turning into a whole side show circus. About what is interesting about what he said is that he's paid him no money, he has no retainer agreement, he's asked him a few legal questions, when you are having an attorney/client's relationship, that is a formalized relationship where the attorney is giving you legal advice about a particular matter. He said he never discussed a particular matter with him. So, it one thing if he's just asking him some questions but for Sean Hannity to be one of three clients of Michael Cohen's that Michael Cohen couldn't even go in and say he's not a -- he's not a current client, he had to announce to the court that he's a current client. That means that there is an ongoing attorney-client relationship from Michael Cohen's perspective which leads me to believe there is more to that relationship than what Sean Hannity is saying otherwise he wouldn't have announced it.

BALDWIN: Because the next thought is of all of the lawyers in all of Manhattan, then, why get advice from Michael Cohen?

STEWART: Brooke, I reached out to Sean to ask him what he thought about this and if he had any response. He just texted me back, he's doing his radio show and he said -- I'm not sure if this is part of what he's already put out, but he said Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter, I never retained him or received any invoice or paid legal fees. I've occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective, I assume the conversations were confidential but to be clear they never involved any matter between me and a third client. He put that out.

BALDWIN: No, and that is an important point to hit on. If I can come back to you. The fact there wasn't a third party. Which is pointed out as part of the MO with the clients and Cohen is that there's a man and an NDA and a woman and so the fact there wasn't a third party tells you what?

GOLDMAN: Well, look, jumps to that point. The other two clients are Donald Trump for whom he negotiated a NDA for Stormy Daniels and NDA with a Playboy playmate. So, the natural assumption would be that Michael Cohen negotiated an NDA for Sean Hannity. So, he's trying to get out in front of that and quell the rumblings about that as the reason why. But it -- something is not adding up here. That Michael Cohen's lawyers would feel compelled to announce in open court that Sean Hannity.

[16:00:00] BALDWIN: It was the judge, if you missed it, they wanted to put his name him in an envelope and keep it quiet and the judge said, no, no, and made them say it out loud.

GOLDMAN: The easiest thing for him to say was I have two clients. But he feels like he needs to say that Sean Hannity, whether he announced his name or not, is an actual ongoing client for Michael Cohen where Sean Hannity is saying he doesn't represent me in any matter. So, there is something inconsistent.

BALDWIN: Can you text Sean Hannity back and can you ask him isn't it is a conflict of interest when he is going on the television every night talking all about, railing about Trump. That he is a client of Michael Cohen.

STEWART: I will, and I agree. If they did have a client and attorney relationship, I think for the sake of -- as a journalist or a person that hosts a prime time, it should be disclosed. But I do believe him when he was emphatic with the fact that they haven't exchanged money, there isn't a legal contract. But to your point why would Michael Cohen go to the point saying this is one of my clients.

BALDWIN: Alice got the last word. I'm out of time. Thank you all so much.