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Opinion Why did Sean Hannity suppress the Trump Tower story?

Fox News host Sean Hannity in Cape Girardeau, Mo., in November 2018. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

The New York Times published a big scoop on July 8, 2017: “Trump Team Met With Lawyer Linked to Kremlin During Campaign.” The story, written by Jo Becker, Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, provided initial details on the meeting at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, featuring Trump campaign officials, Donald Trump Jr. and a “Russian lawyer who has connections to the Kremlin,” according to the newspaper.

So nervous was President Trump about that story that he dictated an inaccurate statement regarding the purpose of the meeting. Though the meeting was premised on the provision of damaging information about Hillary Clinton, the session turned out to be a dud. In a statement dictated by the president, Donald Trump Jr. “said that it was primarily about adoptions and mentioned nothing about [Hillary] Clinton,” according to the New York Times.

The reporting of the New York Times set off a frenzy of media activity, as reporters struggled to piece together the meetings’ full list of attendees, the topics of discussion and so on. Trump Jr. was forced to change his statement about the meeting.

The news broke over a weekend. The following Monday night, Fox News host Sean Hannity got busy minimizing it: “The meeting was meaningless, did nothing to produce anything! Where’s the collusion?” asked the host.

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The redacted Mueller report, which was released last Thursday, sheds new light on the scramble over the Trump Tower meeting: “Mark Corallo, who had been hired as a spokesman for the President’s personal legal team, recalled that he learned about the June 9 meeting around June 21 or 22, 2017. [Then-Chief of Staff Reince] Priebus recalled learning about the June 9 meeting from Fox News host Sean Hannity in late June 2017.”

No wonder why White House aides took to calling Hannity the “shadow” chief of staff!

Now: If Hannity honestly felt that the meeting highlighted the wobbliness of the collusion narrative, then why didn’t he, an avowed supporter of the president, break the news of the meeting — and argue his point of view? Perhaps it was because he had reached the same conclusion of then-White House aide Hope Hicks, who in late June reviewed the emails that had set up the meeting. She “recalled being shocked by the emails because they looked ‘really bad,’ ” according to a line from the special counsel’s report. Given the dishonest statement that he dictated, the president apparently shared that sentiment.

Whatever the case, Hannity stood still. To borrow the sort of conspiratorial spirit so commonly vented on Hannity’s own show, this is a coverup! The Erik Wemple Blog asked Fox News about this situation. Did the network know about the situation before the Mueller report came out?

Of course, this news isn’t shocking. As we’ve noted on many occasions, Hannity did a video promotion for Trump during the presidential election; he flew a vice presidential candidate to meet with candidate Trump; he provided constant advice for the candidate/president; he used the services of Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal lawyer; he took the stage with Trump at a rally; and, most importantly, he covers for the president on each of his Fox News broadcasts.

Many of the transgressions relate to Hannity’s own work on his eponymous show. In the case of the Trump Tower meeting, however, Hannity apparently cornered a scoop that he could have or should have shared with his colleagues on the news side of the network — someone like, say, White House correspondent John Roberts, chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge or anchor Bret Baier. Did Hannity make such a move? We asked Fox News about that as well.

During his CNN Sunday show “Reliable Sources,” host Brian Stelter said that Hannity suppressed the story “because of his friendship and connections with the Trumps.” No question, but the corruption runs even deeper. To turn on “Hannity” over the course of the special counsel’s investigation was to hear echoes of Trump’s attacks against the Mueller investigation. “After 460 days, Mueller has found literally zero evidence of Trump-Russia collusion,” Hannity ranted during a show in August 2018. “Zero. Now, the president is rightly calling out Mueller’s witch hunt for what it is. This is now a national disgrace.” Now, consider the possibility that Hannity was engaging in this preemptive sliming operation not only to minimize the eventual damage to the president, but also to Sean Hannity — whose managerial fingerprints are all over this White House.

The revelation in the Mueller report colors one of the great media debates of 2019, which is whether Democratic presidential candidates should appear on the network. Last week, presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) did a town hall on Fox News, and others in the race are considering similar moves. The Democratic National Committee (DNC), meanwhile, decided that it will not partner with Fox News to broadcast any of its primary debates. The announcement came after the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer reported on the close ties between Fox News and the Trumps. “Recent reporting in the New Yorker on the inappropriate relationship between President Trump, his administration and FOX News has led me to conclude that the network is not in a position to host a fair and neutral debate for our candidates,” said DNC Chairman Tom Perez. “Therefore, FOX News will not serve as a media partner for the 2020 Democratic primary debates.”

An update to that statement might just read like this: Recent reporting by Robert Mueller on the inappropriate relationship between President Trump, his administration and Fox News has led me to conclude that the network is not in a position to host a fair and neutral debate for our candidates. . . .

Who would blame Perez for not wanting to fund “Hannity"?

Read more:

Gary Abernathy: Admit it: Fox News has been right all along

Greg Sargent: Fox News figure inflates Trump’s approval far beyond what Fox News polls show

Marc A. Thiessen: Bernie Sanders needs Fox News to court Trump voters

Erik Wemple: Yes, Fox News matters. A lot.