Shep Smith was forced to address the “elephant in the room.”
If the Robert Mueller investigation into Donald Trump and associates were a TV show, critics would pan it for being too far-fetched.
On Monday, April 17, Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, appeared in federal court for a hearing in connection with documents seized during an FBI raid on his office, home, and hotel room. While it was public knowledge that Cohen represents Trump and disgraced Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy, the judge demanded Cohen reveal his third “mystery” client who wished to remain anonymous.
The third client is Fox News host Sean Hannity.
The revelation raised questions about Hannity’s journalistic integrity. Hannity has regularly defended Cohen amid his mounting legal conflicts without disclosing their relationship.
Many also wondered why Hannity would work with Cohen, a man known as a “fixer” who paid adult film actress Stormy Daniels to remain silent about an alleged affair with Trump. Cohen also arranged a $1.6 million dollar payout from Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy to a former Playboy model who became pregnant during an affair.
The Hannity revelation was a big surprise to the folks at Fox News.
Shep Smith referred to the story as the “elephant in the room” at Fox. “Of course, for us, the elephant in the room is that Sean Hannity is said, according to court documents, to have been a third client of Michael Cohen,” Smith said. “There’s a statement at ‘The Hollywood Reporter’ supposedly from Hannity that says, ‘We’ve been friends a long time. He did some legal work for me.’”
“Hannity’s producers are working to contact him,” Smith continued. “Since it’s now part of the story, we’ll report on it when we know the rest of it. A lot of people here know his number, so we’ll get on that in just a second.”
Hannity made a statement about his relationship to Cohen later on Twitter.
Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter. I never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal fees. I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective.— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) April 16, 2018\n
I assumed those conversations were confidential, but to be absolutely clear they never involved any matter between me and a third-party.— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) April 16, 2018\n
Fox released a statement the following day, but it ignored the ethical consequences of Hannity’s relationship to Cohen.
“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,” a spokeswoman for Fox News said.
Samuel Freedman, a professor at Columbia Journalism School who specializes in ethics, thinks Hannity’s failure to reveal his relationship with Cohen is a clear ethical violation.
“It’s so blatant, it’s not even a hard call,” Freedman told CNBC. “I don’t think [Fox News will] do it, but I think they should fire him,” Freedman said. “This is a major breach. This isn’t even a hard call.”