Gasps and murmurs such as are often heard in TV and movie courtroom scenes, but almost never in real life arose when the name of Michael Cohen’s third client was made known.
“Sean Hannity,” Cohen’s attorney announced in courtroom 21B in Manhattan federal court on Monday afternoon.
As is rarely heard even on TV, the initial instant of total surprise was then joined by startled laugher, for the whole scene had gone from dramatic to absolutely ridiculous.
Cohen is President Trump’s personal lawyer and self-proclaimed fixer, though that implies an ability to fix things. His talents in this regard were certainly called into question when Stormy Daniels arrived at the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan to attend the hearing.
Cohen is said to have arranged to pay Daniels’ $130,000 just before the 2016 election to keep quiet about a dalliance with Trump. The deal has become the least confidential confidentiality agreement in history and the media had been duly alerted that Daniels would be attending the hearing.
Camera crews and photographers were there to record Daniels’ entrance in black high heels and a black top, her skirt and jacket a pastel pink, as if the garments were blushing. She herself evidenced not a trace of embarrassment, for this was a walk of fame, not shame.
Cohen had arrived earlier, looking almost like a lawyer in a dark suit, white shirt and light blue tie. He entered the courtroom and strode up to what would have been the defendant's table were this a criminal proceeding, curiously mouthing an almost silent greeting to the sketch artists and reporters who filled the jury box in the absence of jurors.
“Hi, how are you?”
Cohen then took a seat and adjusted the microphone to his height, though he would not be addressing the court. He was a self-proclaimed consigliere who viewed The Donald as a Don, but he was not the day’s main attraction.
The reporters quickly lost any immediate interest in him. Their attention returned again and again to the double set of doors leading in from the hallway. They were expectant, then impatient.
Where was she?
As the proceedings were about to begin, the outside set of doors opened and the Awaited One appeared, only to be stopped by the security officers. So many people had come to see Stormy Daniels that there was no room for Stormy Daniels.
“Overflow,” one of the security officers could be heard telling her.
She stepped back out in the hallway and the door closed. Expectation turned to dismay. The seemingly lucky souls who had managed to get a seat in the courtroom suddenly seemed less fortunate than those late arrivals consigned to the overflow room.
But the walk of fame was not to be thwarted and minutes later Daniels reappeared, this time passing through both sets of doors in the company of her lawyer, whose name is impossible to write without feeling complicit.
“Here she comes,” somebody said.
Daniels calmly made her way to a folding chair against the wall to the far right. She had appeared in much tougher venues and she was no doubt accustomed to people gawking at her.
One person who did not turn to look at Daniels was Cohen. She was somebody to whom he was not going to mouth a greeting, silent or otherwise.
“All rise!” the clerk called out.
Cohen and Daniels and everybody else obeyed as Judge Kimba Wood took the bench. She had trained for a week to be a croupier—not a bunny and never wearing the outfit, as has been incorrectly reported—at a Playboy Casino in London while going to school there. She had later quite nearly become the U.S. attorney general and now here she was. She is a favorite of the courthouse security officers, who collectively are an extremely good judge of character.
On Friday, Wood had instructed Cohen’s lawyers to provide a list of his clients no later than Monday morning. She had added that she intended to make the names public unless doing so would in itself signal why exactly they had needed representation.
The document filed by Cohen’s lawyers reported that he had exactly three legal clients since leaving the Trump organization in 2016.
“Mr. Cohen has more attorneys of his own than he has clients,” prosecutor Tom McKay observed.
The three most prominently included President Trump, whom Cohen had once described as his only client. A second client had become known on the same day Wood asked for the list. Cohen the fixer had performed about as well keeping things confidential for GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy as he had for the president.
As reported in The New York Times, Cohen facilitated a $1.6 million payment to a former Playboy model named Shera Bechard, who had become pregnant during a liaison with Broidy. The money was to be spaced out over two years, but could not have been for child support, as the woman is said to have chosen not to have the child. The contract Cohen drafted for Broidy and Bechard is said to have used the same aliases—“David Dennison” and “Peggy Peterson”—as in the contract between Trump and the woman who now sat in the courtroom within sight of the fixer who was supposed to have made it all go away.
That left a third client, but Cohen’s lawyers had declined to name him in the document despite the judge’s instructions. Cohen’s lawyers had written:
“As to the one unnamed legal client, we do not believe that Mr. Cohen should be asked to reveal the name or can permissibly do so.”
Now in court, Cohen’s chief lawyer, Stephen Ryan, informed that judge that he was reluctant to reveal the name even under seal. Ryan said he had consulted over the weekend with the third client, who had asked to remain anonymous “because of the notoriety.”
“At this point, no one would want to be associated with the case in that way,” Ryan said. “I can give you the name right now in a sealed envelope and provide it to the court.”
Ryan noted, “This client is a publicly prominent individual.”
A word jumped out regarding how Ryan said the client would feel if he were associated with the case.
The judge remained the judge.
“I understand he doesn’t want his name out there,” she said. “That’s not enough under the law.”
Anybody who had heard the judge’s instructions on Friday could not have been surprised by the words that followed.
“I rule that it must be made public now,” Wood said.
Ryan asked if he should submit the name in an envelope as he had proposed or just announce it himself in open court.
“Whichever you are most comfortable with,” Wood said.
“Your honor, the client’s name is Sean Hannity,” he said.
Then came the gasp and murmurs, joined in the next instant by laughs, joined by the thought that the ultimate Trump booster Hannity was embarrassed to be associated with a case involving President Trump’s fixer.
Could a step of shame have entered Hannity’s march of fame?
Hannity was quick to get on Twitter and deny that Cohen had ever really been his lawyer:
“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.”
Hannity may have realized that a good many people were wondering if maybe there was a third contract, maybe even with those same pseudonyms, with Hannity as David Dennison.
“I assumed those conversations were confidential, but to be absolutely clear they never involved any matter,” Hannity then tweeted.
Had Cohen instructed his lawyers to comply with the judge’s order and named Hannity in the document submitted Monday morning, there no doubt would have been a bit of buzz. That would have been nothing compared to the attention generated by a Perry Mason moment complete with gasps seldom heard in real life.
The Fixer had struck again.
Cohen was now either zero-for-three or three-for-three, depending how you score it. The least secret of secret deals for the first client had been followed by the loudest of hush money for the second client and now the least anonymous of anonymities for the third.
At the Hannity revelation, Daniels had half smiled, her left hand raised to her mouth. She seemed to grow bleary along with others in the courtroom as Cohen’s lawyers and the prosecutor and an attorney actually representing President Trump offered arguments for the best way to handle the materials that the FBI had seized when raising Cohen’s office, home, hotel room and safety deposit box early last week.
To watch her beginning to slump in her chair as the hearing neared an end was to see that it is hard work being Stormy Daniels, certainly harder than being a lawyer with three clients. This is not to say that Cohen does face much harder days to come.
Monday ended with the immediate issue of the seized materials not yet resolved. Daniels seemed suddenly energized as she rose and departed the courtroom and took the elevator down to where the cameras awaited.
“Look left!” a photographer called to her.
She obliged and smiled, but only because she so desired.
The Zero-for-Three Fixer emerged soon after. He had at least managed not to forget the blue umbrella he had been carrying when he arrived at the courthouse looking almost like a lawyer.