The Morning Jolt

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Putting Hannity’s Michael Cohen Problem in Perspective

Sean Hannity on the set of his Fox News program (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile today: What matters, and what doesn’t, about Michael Cohen claiming Fox News host Sean Hannity as a client; the alleged bombshell story about Robert Mueller and Cohen that seemed to disappear; checking the progress of that caravan of migrants in Mexico that everyone seemed to forget about; and finally, taking a last look at the finances of one other easily forgotten figure.

The Cohen–Hannity Connection Is a Little Embarrassing, but Not All That Consequential. . . Yet

No doubt it was surprising to learn that Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, counted Sean Hannity as one of his ten clients in the past year. (Cohen said he had three legal clients and seven consulting clients.) Yes, Hannity is demonstrating pretty awful journalism ethics by discussing his lawyer on his national cable-news show, and the FBI raid of his lawyer’s offices, and never bothering to mention to viewers that he’s his lawyer. But viewers of Sean Hannity know what they’re getting — the most Trump-favorable accounting of the day’s events possible.

And if Hannity’s description of Cohen’s work for him is accurate — “brief discussions” about real estate that never involved Hannity paying Cohen money — it’s easy to understand the host’s surprise that Cohen is describing him as a client in court. (One can wonder just how many documents would be generated by such a limited legal relationship.)

In case you’re wondering, no, a client doesn’t have to pay his lawyer for attorney-client privilege to apply. But it’s limited; as the American Bar Association puts it, “Because the privilege is contrary to the judicial goal of bringing relevant evidence to light, it is construed narrowly and protects only those disclosures necessary to obtain informed legal advice which might not have been made absent the privilege.” Emails between Hannity and Cohen that discuss the Yankees, the weather, or topics outside Hannity’s legal needs wouldn’t be covered.

But this brouhaha amounts to a briefly amusing side issue to the main question before Judge Kimba Wood, which is what documents, if any, seized by the FBI are covered by attorney-client privilege. You probably heard about the “crime-fraud exemption,” which means that if you are using the attorney-client relationship to perpetrate a crime, your discussions and the related documents are not protected by the privilege and can be used as evidence. Cohen wants a “special master” — a legal expert appointed by the judge — to sort through the documents and determine which ones are covered by attorney-client privilege.

Once you look beyond the Hannity brouhaha, Cohen had a reasonably good day: Judge Wood “decided that prosecutors would not immediately have access to the materials and that Mr. Trump would ultimately receive copies of the documents that pertain to him.” Wood also indicated she is considering appointing a special master. On the other hand, she doesn’t seem to have any concerns about the FBI or the prosecutors’ actions so far: She said, “I have faith in the Southern District U.S. attorney’s office that their integrity is unimpeachable.”

Whatever Happened to that Cohen-in-Prague Story?

Speaking of Michael Cohen, Friday the McClatchy news service reported what seemed to be a mega-bombshell in the Russia investigation: “The Justice Department special counsel has evidence that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and confidant, Michael Cohen, secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to two sources familiar with the matter.”

Outside of the Russian hooker claims, one of the Christopher Steele dossier’s most shocking claims was that Cohen had met with Konstantin Kosachev, an ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin in Prague in August 2016. The alleged secret meeting, right out of a spy novel, would be the strongest evidence that the Russian government didn’t merely try to influence the U.S. presidential election but that it was doing so with close communication, if not cooperation, with those closest to Trump. But Cohen dismissed it as nonsense and tweeted out an image of his passport. He’s denied the Prague trip all along, including under oath to the House Intelligence Committee; if Cohen lied, he would likely face perjury charges.

It’s Tuesday morning, and no other news organization has confirmed the McClatchy report. This is a bit surprising and unusual, as there’s no shortage of reporters sniffing around Mueller’s investigation and the Russia story.

The McClatchy story states, “it’s unclear whether Mueller’s investigators also have evidence that Cohen actually met with a prominent Russian — purportedly Konstantin Kosachev, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin — in the Czech capital.” This is some unusual wording that suggests the two “sources familiar with the matter” are not within Muller’s investigative team. In fact, the McClatchy article spends a lot of time detailing what their sources either didn’t know or wouldn’t say: “The sources did not say whether Cohen took a commercial flight or private jet to Europe, and gave no explanation as to why no record of such a trip has surfaced.” (If he took a commercial flight, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol keeps records of entry and exiting the country for five years. It would be extremely easy for Mueller’s investigation to figure out when Cohen left the country and returned.)

Robert Mueller’s investigation began in May 2017, so it’s been going on for about a year. The whereabouts of Cohen in August of 2016 would be one of the first things to investigate, and among the easier things

Over at the Daily Caller, Chuck Ross and Peter Hasson lay out the reasons for skepticism. Benjamin Wittes, senior fellow at Brookings and well-connected guru on Russiagate, finds himself doubting it.

One presumes that whenever Robert Mueller issues his final report, he will sort out what is true and what is false in the Steele dossier to the best of his ability. Your mileage may vary, but I suspect that the longer that Mueller’s investigation goes on, the less likely it is that he will unveil a smoking-gun, “sorry, America, the Russian government conspired with your current president in the 2016 election” conclusion. (Mueller may very well find some other serious legal problem for Trump, unrelated to Russia’s attempts to meddle in the election.)

If the special counsel did affirm the worst-case “Manchurian Candidate” scenario . . . wouldn’t everyone be asking how Mueller’s old home, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, could so completely fail to stop it?

Checking on that Easily Forgotten Caravan of Central American Migrants

Hey, remember that caravan of migrants slowly working its way north through Mexico?

Back on April 1 Fox News did a segment on a caravan of 1,200 migrants from Central America making their way north towards the United States, spurring a series of angry presidential tweets about Mexico and an unsecured southern border.

Back on April 3, “Mexican officials began to interview the more than 1,000 people from the caravan who’ve been camped there since Saturday night, trying to determine who was likely to seek a humanitarian visa or a permit to remain in the country temporarily.” Those who qualified for humanitarian visas or temporary permits to stay in Mexico left the caravan when it reached Mexico City.

The caravan is now down to 500 people; they’re in Tultitlan, just north of Mexico City. It’s about 600 miles to Brownsville, Texas, or 700 miles if they head further north to Loredo. The Mexican government offered most of the migrants temporary visas; the remaining migrants plan to request asylum from the U.S. government.

One More Forgotten Figure to Check Upon . . .

One last where-are-they-now story for the day: After losing the Alabama Senate race, Roy Moore asked supporters for donations to support a recount. That recount never happened. His campaign’s final report showed about $49,000 in his account. Moore told Alabama reporters the remaining funds would be used for “paying for legal fees and other expenses necessary for the prosecution and defense of the false and malicious attacks on my wife, family, and me.”

Under the law, Moore can use the money for almost anything except personal expenses.

ADDENDA: A thought-provoking column from David Brooks: “Loneliness and social isolation are the problem that undergird many of our other problems. More and more Americans are socially poor. And yet it is very hard for the socially wealthy to even see this fact. It is the very nature of loneliness and social isolation to be invisible. We talk as if the lonely don’t exist.”

I’m scheduled to appear on CNN International’s State of America at around 2:30 p.m. eastern today. It’s always possible that CNN domestic will need a right-of-center warm body at some point during the day.

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