Juan Williams to Hannity: Why didn't you disclose your relationship with Michael Cohen to viewers?

I know he’s a Democrat, I know Hannity once pulled a gun on him, but I’m still surprised to see a Fox contributor broaching the big ethical criticism of their 9 p.m. guy on their own airwaves before he’s even had a chance to address the situation on his show.

I wonder if Williams freelanced it or if he got the green light from management, which must be highly annoyed by Hannity’s cameo in the news today — assuming he didn’t disclose it to them privately before. Although, if he did disclose it, that would raise a bigger ethical problem. Namely, why’d they let him go on the air without insisting that he tell viewers that he’d gotten legal advice from Cohen?

Then again, maybe they wouldn’t care:

Hannity claimed earlier this afternoon that the legal advice he sought from Cohen was almost exclusively about real estate. Gabriel Sherman of Vanity Fair wonders:

“You know, this is a fast-moving story, so I am going to be doing a lot more reporting but what I have heard so far is that at some point last year Sean Hannity hired Michael Cohen to help defend him against left-wing groups that were calling for boycotts in the wake of Bill O’Reilly’s ouster from Fox News,” Sherman told host Ali Velshi.

Noting that Hannity had come under pressure from left-wing groups — Media Matters, for one, targeted Hannity’s advertisers over the Seth Rich story — Sherman said he was told that Hannity “got paranoid” and hired Cohen to look into those groups.

“This could be interesting because oftentimes private investigators are hired by law firms because it allows attorney/client privilege to be maintained,” Sherman added. “So there is a scenario in which if they seized Michael Cohen’s documents inadvertently we might be able to learn to what degree did Sean Hannity try to go after his enemies with shady tactics like private investigators.”

It’s hard to tell if Sherman’s just speculating about the P.I. angle or if there’s more to it but Hannity emailed MSNBC after Sherman’s appearance to deny that his consultations with Cohen had anything to do with that.

In fairness to him, as I noted earlier, there does seem to be a scenario in which Hannity may have been honestly mistaken about whether he was a “client” of Cohen’s or not. If it’s true that the only time he sought legal advice was informally, when he and Cohen were shooting the breeze about other matters, and all he asked about was mundane real-estate stuff, I can imagine him assuming that there was no lawyer-client relationship. He didn’t pay Cohen, he didn’t ask him to represent him against a third party, so he wasn’t a client — or so he thought. Cohen, however, may have had an incentive to inflate Hannity’s importance because he’s grasping for ways to impress the judge in Manhattan that there are *lots* of privileged communications in his files and therefore prosecutors shouldn’t be allowed to sift through them willy-nilly. So voila — Hannity is elevated by Cohen to “client” status, whether he really is or not.

I think that’s what Stormy Daniels’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti, is hinting at here in accusing Cohen of throwing Hannity under the bus. If it’s true that Hannity and Cohen had no meaningful lawyer-client relationship and Cohen exaggerated it for the purposes of asserting attorney/client privilege, Hannity’s suddenly smack dab in the middle of a media sh*tstorm because it was convenient for Michael Cohen to put him there:

Two things, though. If Cohen gave Hannity legal advice only sporadically, almost in passing, why would there be anything in his files about Hannity that prosecutors might now possess? Wouldn’t that advice have been given verbally, in person or over the phone? If Hannity was emailing him for legal tips, that formalizes things a bit. And second: Are we sure Hannity never paid him? What on earth does this mean?

“Pause for a moment to reflect upon what one Sean Hannity might do with news that an MSNBC personality had hidden a relationship with a Clinton attorney under criminal investigation,” said one of Hannity’s enemies at Media Matters. Touche.

Cohen and Trump lost their hearing today, by the way. At least one Democratic House member has called on Hannity to be fired for failing to disclose his relationship with Cohen to Fox’s viewers but it’s almost impossible to imagine that. To restate a point I made earlier, does anyone believe that Hannity would have criticized the feds less, or not at all, for raiding Cohen’s office if his own communications hadn’t been caught up in the raid? Is it possible at this point to imagine Hannity being less than 10 out of 10 on the volume scale with respect to any political problem Trump has, whether he’s personally caught up in it behind the scenes or not? Andy Levy joked in response to the outrage, “yes i for one will never think of sean hannity as an impartial deliverer of the news again.” Hannity’s ethic is to defend Trump in all things, with maximum vehemence. How does his personal interest in the Cohen raid conflict with that?