Fox News hosts and other conservative commentators are responding to the indictment of Donald Trump with fury — portraying it as an act of political repression, calling for protests and predicting “unrest.”
Some of the loudest defenses of Trump came from Fox hosts who have privately expressed their dislike of the former president, sentiments that were revealed in large batches of personal communications released as part of a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against the network.
“This effort today is one in a long line of unprecedented steps that permanent Washington has taken to stop Donald Trump from holding office in a democracy,” prime-time host Tucker Carlson told his viewers Thursday, after it was reported that a New York grand jury had voted to charge Trump after hearing evidence of hush money paid to an adult-film star during his 2016 campaign.
By the end of Trump’s term as president, Carlson had repeatedly expressed his distaste to colleagues at Fox, saying that he yearned for his departure from the public stage. “I hate him passionately,” he wrote in a January 2021 message. “We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights. I truly can’t wait.”
On Thursday, however, Carlson seemed to defend Trump against what he deemed an act of political persecution.
“It’s an effort to take him out of the political race. That’s not allowed,” he said, describing the charges as “much greater” than the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and suggesting that the grand jury’s move was intended to incite Trump’s supporters to act out.
“It almost feels they’re pushing the population to react,” he said, referring vaguely to Democrats. “‘We think they’re demoralized and passive, let’s see if they really are.’ At what point do we conclude they’re doing this in order to produce a reaction?”
Carlson’s guest, former ESPN personality Jason Whitlock, struck a similar tone: “They are agitating for unrest,” he said, seeming to call for some kind of response: “I’m ready for whatever’s next. … If that’s what they want, let’s get to it.”
Fox’s early-evening news show delivered a fairly straight discussion of what its anchors called the “historic” nature of the indictment. But the opinion hosts who dominate the cable network’s prime-time schedule uniformly presented it as a political plot.
The degree of support surprised some observers, considering the network that once boosted Trump’s fortunes has been much cooler to him in recent months, limiting his airtime.
Private emails made public through Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation suit against Fox revealed the level of animus that company founder Rupert Murdoch holds for the former president. After Jan. 6, he wrote to network chief executive Suzanne Scott and son Lachlan Murdoch that Trump did “a huge disservice to the country” and was guilty of “pretty much a crime” for convincing supporters that the 2020 election was stolen.
“Best we don’t mention his name unless essential and certainly don’t support him,” Rupert Murdoch wrote in the email, which was released publicly on Wednesday. “I know he is being over demonized, but he brought it on himself.”
Murdoch told a former colleague in January 2021 that “We want to make Trump a non-person,” which he assumed would be “fairly easy” once the network could focus on the problems of a Biden presidency instead.
“Unless they charge him and he remains in the news,” the mogul added.
In recent months, the network’s hosts have seemed to display a preference for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as a 2024 alternative to Trump. But the mood shifted again on Thursday night.
“This day will go down as a dark day for America,” Fox News host Jesse Watters told viewers. “This is a calculated move. Do you think Donald Trump would be indicted if he wasn’t running?”
Jeanine Pirro, co-host of “The Five,” described Thursday as “a sad day for America, a sad day for the office of the presidency of the United States, and it is a sad day for a former president. … This is hate like I have never seen in my lifetime. This is as political as it gets.”
The strongly pro-Trump Fox host Dan Bongino said the indictment proves the United States is now a “police state” but predicted it would end up handing Trump the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
“This ushers in what will probably be a very dark era of political persecution and prosecution, the type we normally associated with the Soviet Union or banana republics,” said Mollie Hemingway, editor in chief of the Federalist, during a panel spot on Fox’s evening newscast.
She and the Daily Caller’s Vince Coglianese both described the indictment as a form of election fraud, with Coglianese calling it “an exercise in election meddling — again.”
Hemingway also called for Trump’s supporters to rise up and voice their opposition. “People who care about the country need to stand up and make sure they let it be known that they don’t support this type of political prosecution,” she said.
Watters, meanwhile, maintained that the criminal charges wouldn’t “stick.”
“The president’s not going to go to prison for this. Everybody knows that. So what’s the point?”
But he encouraged his guest, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), to pursue action in Congress — “some sort of resistance, some sort of action, because there has to be a line that they can’t cross.”
While Hannity called the indictment “a cheap act of petty political vengeance,” he ended his show by urging his audience to refrain from violence.
“I want to say to every conservative, and every Republican, and every Donald Trump supporter,” Hannity said. “Do not take their bait. We are peaceful, we are law-abiding, we are God-fearing. You are the people that really make this country great.”
More on the Trump NY indictment
The latest: Former president Donald Trump’s criminal trial in New York is scheduled for March 2024. Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 counts stemming from 2016 hush-money payments, the first criminal charges for any former U.S. president.
What is the case about? The investigation involves a $130,000 payment made to Stormy Daniels, an adult-film actress, during the 2016 presidential campaign. It’s one of many ongoing investigations involving Trump. Here are some of the key people in the case and how the indictment process will work.
What are the charges? Trump is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. Falsifying business records is a felony in New York when there is an “intent to defraud” that includes an intent to “commit another crime or to aid or conceal” another crime. Here’s the full text of the Trump indictment.
Can Trump still run for president? While it has never been attempted by a candidate from a major party before, Trump is allowed to run for president while under indictment — or even if he is convicted of a crime. Here’s how Trump’s indictment could impact the 2024 election.