"I had numerous conversations with Sean Hannity at Fox," Trump said during Monday's debate. "And Sean Hannity said — and he called me the other day, and I spoke to him about it — he said, 'You were totally against the war,' because he was for the war."
In a post-debate interview, Hannity backed up Trump's story: "I thought you forgot. You know how many times we had conversations about that? And you told me I was wrong, in fairness. For those people that are asking me in the media, you did tell me over and over again I was wrong. And we did have passionate — but it was a respectful debate."
As noted by the Erik Wemple Blog, Hannity's coziness with Trump "licenses us all to wonder just what was said in those long-ago, late-night conversations between Hannity and Trump. If indeed they ever happened." It is rather convenient that the one media figure who supposedly can vouch for Trump's antiwar position also happens to be an informal adviser to his campaign.
But there is a more concrete reason to question Trump and Hannity's story: It sounded a bit different last summer.
A day after Trump launched his campaign in June 2015, he appeared on Hannity's prime-time cable show and talked about Iraq:
TRUMP: You know, I predicted the Iraq War better than anybody. I said in 2004 — check it out, Reuters — don't do it. You'll destabilize the Middle East, and the bad guys will take over the oil, including Iran. Okay? I said ...HANNITY: There are bad guys there, in fairness, too.TRUMP: Hey, no, the bad guys ...HANNITY: They're all bad.TRUMP: They were bad anyway.HANNITY: Yes.
Notice that at this point, Trump was not claiming to have opposed the invasion; he was merely boasting that a year into the war, he could foresee bad outcomes. That was true. He and Hannity did not mention any pre-invasion conversations for or against the war.
Trump appeared on Hannity's show again in August 2015, and Iraq came up once more. I've bolded the key comments:
HANNITY: All right, let me ask you this. You came out with an ISIS plan yesterday. You said boots on the ground. You said take their oil. You said create a perimeter. Explain that, and then I want to know what else you want to do.TRUMP: I'd like to go back into history a little bit. In 2004, Reuters wrote an article, in July of 2004. It was an article, "Trump says don't go into Iraq." I was totally against it. I am the most militaristic person that you have ever interviewed. I would make our military so strong and so powerful, that nobody will ever mess with us. You know, Putin two months ago, started saying: "Well, we have nuclear weapons. You better not mess around."HANNITY: He's coming to town. Would you meet with him?TRUMP: I would meet with him. Frankly, I'd get along great with him. You've got to get along with these people. Obama doesn't get along with anybody. We have all enemies. That's why Hillary Clinton, like her or not, she was the worst secretary of state in the history of this country. Obama has been a disaster. Who does he get along with? He doesn't get along with anybody. It's hard to believe.I didn't want to go in. In fact, people came from the Bush administration because I was getting a lot — pretty vocal on the fact, don't do it. I said you're going to destabilize the Middle East. And when you destabilize, that means, you know, Iraq and Iran were the same. They'd go 10 feet this way, for years, for decades, they would fight, they'd go — they'd use the poison gas, it would be terrible. They'd use something else. They'd go — and then they'd go home and rest for another 10 years.Now all of a sudden, we knocked off one of them, and Iran is taking over the world. I mean, I said the other day, a sad joke frankly, but I said if Iran was a stock, buy it. You'll make 100 times your money in a very quick.HANNITY: They're about to get $150 billion.
Again, Trump referred to comments he made in 2004. But this time, he seemed to suggest that he opposed the war before it began, claiming he even heard complaints about his outspokenness from people in the Bush administration.
If Hannity had firsthand knowledge of Trump's opposition, this would have been the time to say so. But he didn't.
The first time Hannity vouched for Trump appears to have been four days later, when he wrote on his website that "Mr. Trump and I disagreed about the Iraq war; I was for it and he was against it."
What happened in between? Glenn Beck wrote a widely disseminated open letter to prominent Trump sympathizers, including Hannity, in which he questioned the business executive's conservative appeal and specifically criticized him for being too hawkish on Iraq.
Beck wrote that Trump "is for boots on the ground in Iraq and 'taking the oil' from the Iraqi people."
It is impossible to prove that Trump didn't tell Hannity he was against the war before it started. But the available evidence shows that Trump and Hannity did not begin claiming to have had private, pre-invasion arguments until after one of the biggest names in conservative media told Republican voters that Trump's approach to Iraq was too militaristic.