As telling, with his daughter and son-in-law sidelined by their legal problems, Hope Hicks, Trump’s 29-year-old personal aide and confidant, became, practically speaking, his most powerful White House advisor. (With Melania a nonpresence, the staff referred to Ivanka as the “real wife” and Hicks as the “real daughter.”) Hicks’ primary function was to tend to the Trump ego, to reassure him, to protect him, to buffer him, to soothe him. It was Hicks who, attentive to his lapses and repetitions, urged him to forgo an interview that was set to open the 60 Minutes fall season. Instead, the interview went to Fox News’ Sean Hannity who, White House insiders happily explained, was willing to supply the questions beforehand. Indeed, the plan was to have all interviewers going forward provide the questions.
Asked about this matter, Hannity said via email, through a Fox News spokeswoman, “I never provided questions ahead of time to President Trump.”
What a 2018 media moment: On the one hand, we have a classic bit of Wolffian writing. Parse that passage carefully, and you see that there’s no allegation here that Hannity, a Trump sycophant without peer, actually did share any questions with Trump. Just that he was “willing” to do so. Consider, too, the various credibility issues that subjects have cited over the years with Wolff’s work.
Now on to Hannity’s voluminous credibility issues. He stands behind all manner of “loosely threaded conspiracy theories,” especially when they just might boost President Trump. Among other boosterish efforts, Hannity participated in a video promotion for presidential candidate Donald Trump, drawing a rebuke from his network. That’s not all — he provided advice to Trump and paid to fly a possible vice-presidential pick to visit with Trump.
Yet there’s another dimension to this little spat that merits consideration. Let’s take Wolff’s account at face value, that “White House insiders” were happy that Hannity might provide advance questions. What does that say about White House insiders? What advantage would such a scenario provide the president, in light of the sorts of questions that Hannity actually asks when he’s face to face with the president? Have a look at this summary of Hannity’s October interview with Trump, as originally published here. Sitting with the president at a Pennsylvania event, Hannity:
- Called Trump’s tax plan “Reaganesque,” though the president said his cuts would be bigger than those of the 40th president.
- Assisted Trump in fending off criticism that his tax plan is a sop for the wealthy: “Every time I tune into anybody else in the media except Fox, [they say] ‘Tax cuts for the wealthy.’ The rate for some people goes down, but if you live in a state like New York or Illinois, New Jersey or California, you won’t be able to deduct your state or local income tax. In other words, if you elect politicians that want to raise taxes, you’re going to pay the penalty, so that’s not really true that this is a tax cut for the wealthy as they’re portraying it.”
- Whipped up the crowd for Trump. “Is he going to win Pennsylvania in 2020, too?” asked Hannity, as the crowd said, “Yay!”
- Failed to press Trump when he at one point claimed to be one vote short in the Senate on Obamacare repeal and replace, and in nearly the same breath expressed confidence that he already had enough votes.
- Provided this lovely talking point about the Russia investigation: “I interviewed Julian Assange five times; I’ve talked to him other times. He has said it’s not Russia — there was no collusion, the [Democratic National Committee] emails did not come from them. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher met with him and he says he has proof-positive evidence that would show the Trump campaign never colluded with Russia. Is it in the best interests of the country that if he has that information, he should give it? … Does the country deserve to know the truth if he has that?”
- Failed to follow up when Trump, reflecting on the 2016 election, said, “I would rather have a popular vote. For me, the popular vote is easier.”
- Soaked up this Trump rant: “I’m so proud of you, you know I did this show … I did it a lot. … You have been so great and I’m very proud of you. And you know, I’m a ratings person. Have you seen his ratings? What you are doing to your competition is incredible. Number one, and I’m very proud of you, and it’s an honor to be on your show.”
So who needs advance questions from this fellow?