There weren’t many revelations in Donald Trump Jr.’s prime-time TV defense of his meeting with a Russian lawyer during the presidential campaign last year, and there was even less surprise in where Trump Jr. decided to make his comments.
President Trump’s eldest son chose Sean Hannity’s program on Fox News for his first interview since the New York Times published a devastating series of stories beginning on Saturday. The Times stories detailed his meeting last year with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a lawyer whom Trump Jr. had been told by a friend had information that would “incriminate” Hillary Clinton as part of the Russian government’s “support” of his father’s campaign.
Hannity — who describes himself as a “talk host,” not a journalist, and his program as “an opinion show” — has been the nation’s most prominent media cheerleader for candidate Trump and for President Trump. He has dismissed news coverage of potential ties between Trump and Russia as a “fantasy” pushed by the “destroy-Trump media.” He went so far recently as to suggest that “a silent coup” was underway against the president.
He’s also provided a safe TV home for the Trump family for many months. Trump, Trump Jr. and other members of the Trump family (including daughter Tiffany, who gives few TV interviews) have appeared on Hannity’s show more than 100 times since the start of the presidential campaign in mid-2015, according to a count by Media Matters, a liberal watchdog group and longtime Fox nemesis.
The close ties showed in Hannity’s tender handling of Trump Jr. on Tuesday.
Hannity gave his interview subject a wide berth, rarely challenging his assertions or following up to elicit additional details. Despite asserting that he asked “every question that I can think of,” he didn’t pin Trump Jr. down on his constantly evolving statements about why he met with Veselnitskaya in the first place.
“In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently” before agreeing to meet Veselnitskaya, the younger Trump told Hannity. “For me, this was opposition research. They had something, you know, maybe concrete evidence to all the stories I’d been hearing about. . . . ” He suggested the meeting was something of an afterthought in the midst of a hectic campaign — so forgettable that he didn’t bother to tell his father about it.
The meeting was merely “a courtesy to an acquaintance,” he added, referring to a Russian pop singer whose father is a Kremlin-connected businessman.
He also said, “I’m more than happy to be transparent about” the circumstances surrounding the meeting.
Hannity didn’t point out that Trump Jr. actually hasn’t been very transparent until very recently and only acknowledged contact with Veselnitskaya until after the Times revealed it. Or that Trump Jr. didn’t release a series of emails that showed his enthusiasm for would-be Russian dirt on Clinton until the Times told him Tuesday morning that it was about to publish a story about the emails, at which point Trump Jr. shared them on his Twitter account. Or that Trump Jr. had explicitly denied any contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian nationals several weeks after he, presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort had met with Veselnitskaya in Trump Tower.
This may have been what Trump Jr. had in mind when he agreed to appear on Hannity’s program in the first place.
Hannity’s support of the president has been so impassioned that it took on a paranoid edge last month. He argued on his program that Democrats, the media and “the deep state” were conspiring to remove Trump from office. “Sinister forces [are] quickly aligning in what is becoming now, in my mind, a clear and present danger,” he said on his June 20 program.
“Media hysteria” over the Russia story has been a common theme for Hannity and has become part of Fox News’ wider frame for its news coverage of the story. This angle enables Fox to both dismiss the story’s significance and to bash a Fox rival, CNN, which has covered the Russian connection aggressively.
In the setup to his interview with Trump at the top of Tuesday’s program, Hannity touched on the media hysteria theme and addressed journalists directly, calling them “overpaid, lazy, rigid left-wing ideologues.”
He quickly pivoted to questions about former FBI director James B. Comey’s integrity and Hillary Clinton’s honesty, citing a Politico article in January that said that Ukrainian officials had tried to help Clinton’s campaign by “publicly questioning [Trump’s] his fitness for office,” among other things.
Hannity didn’t mention, however, that Ukraine, unlike Russia, wasn’t suspected by U.S. intelligence services of hacking Democratic computers and disseminating documents in an attempt to undermine Clinton and boost Trump.
Nevertheless, he suggested that the news media had been unfair to Trump and to Trump Jr. and served up an easy pitch. He asked, “What’s your reaction to the double standard” in coverage of Trump and Clinton?.