Sean Hannity does his show from the floor of a campaign rally in Cape Girardeau, Mo., in November 2018. (Jeff Roberson/AP)
Media critic

Now we know one person President Trump was referring to when he said in the 2016 presidential campaign, "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s, like, incredible.”

One of those “voters” is Sean Hannity.

On his program last night, the Fox News host went to new lengths in his years-long effort to cover for his friend, phone buddy and meal ticket. The context comes an ABC News interview with the president, in which chief anchor George Stephanopoulos asked about the propriety of accepting campaign-related information from a foreign power. The transcript is a must-read item:

Stephanopoulos: Your son, Don Jr., is up before the Senate Intelligence Committee today. And again, he was not charged with anything. In retrospect though-

Trump: By the way, not only wasn’t he charged, if you read it, with all of the horrible fake news- I mean, I was reading that my son was going to go too jail — this is a good young man — that he was going to go to jail. And then the report comes out, and they didn’t even say, they hardly even talked about him.

Stephanopoulos: Should he have gone to the FBI when he got that email?

Trump: OK. Let’s put yourself in a position. You’re a congressman, somebody comes up and says, “Hey, I have information on your opponent. Do you call the FBI? I don’t think-

Stephanopoulos: If it’s coming from Russia, you do.

Trump: I’ll tell you what, I’ve seen a lot of things over my life. I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI. In my whole life. You don’t call the FBI. You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever you do-

Stephanopoulos: Al Gore got a stolen briefing book. He called the FBI.

Trump: Well, that’s different, a stolen briefing book. This isn’t a stolen- This is somebody that said, “We have information on your opponent.” Oh, let me call the FBI. Give me a break. Life doesn’t work that way.

Stephanopoulos: The FBI director says that’s what should happen.

Trump: The FBI director is wrong.

Stephanopoulos: Your campaign this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on opponents, should they accept it or should they call the FBI?

Trump: I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen. I don’t- There’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country — Norway — “We have information on your opponent.” Oh. I think I’d want to hear it.

Stephanopoulos: You want that kind of interference in our elections?

Trump: It’s not interference. They have information. I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI, if I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research. “Oh, let’s call the FBI.” The FBI doesn’t have enough agents to take care of it. When you go and talk, honestly, to congressmen, they all do it. They always have, and that’s the way it is. It’s called oppo research.

Bolding added to highlight relevant comments from FBI Director Christopher Wray, who has said that campaigns should contact his agency upon receiving meddling communications from foreign powers.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a strong supporter of the president, called these Trump remarks a “mistake.” He’s not a Fifth Avenue supporter, though. That’s where Hannity resides, as he demonstrated on his Wednesday night program. Where many pro-Trump folks might just duck this clear instance of presidential perfidy — and cite the booming economy, or something — Hannity dove right in. “Listening is much different than, let’s see, lying, spying, and paying for Russian lies and spreading it through deep-state operatives and then using it as a basis for a FISA warrant,” said Hannity, who went on to mention Hillary Clinton and James Comey. And then he predicted “another round of fake, phony, moral selective outrage.”

The controversy survived the night, and Hannity popped up on “Fox & Friends” on Thursday morning for a reprisal. This time, however, Hannity met with some resistance from Brian Kilmeade, the most (relatively) independent-minded of the three “Fox & Friends” co-hosts. Again, transcript is key:

HANNITY: This is the greatest setup that Donald Trump has ever made because all -- you know, I call them the media mob, right -- they’ve lied to us for two years, conspiracy theories, hoax. So, Donald Trump -- if you’re outraged in the media over that -- I might want to listen -- listen, is what he said -- and then maybe report to the FBI: If you’re outraged over that, how could you not be outraged -- Hillary Clinton literally empowered a foreign agent who produced a dossier full of Russian lies that was used to infiltrate our electoral process, first by influencing the American people ... they used it then to spy on Americans.

I’m saying it’s far worse what Hillary Clinton did.

KILMEADE: Would you also say, Sean, that the better answer for the president would have been, ‘Listen, I’m not taking Russian or Chinese or any outside influence because I don’t need it.’

HANNITY: What is wrong with listening to what they have to say?

KILMEADE: I don’t think you should be listening to what China has to say about your opponent.

HANNITY: Oh really, why not?

CO-HOST STEVE DOOCY: What about Norway?

HANNITY: Listen, when you listen you might learn something or you might learn something that you share with the FBI, as the president said. And I’m a believer -- look, if I ever was president of the United States, I’d talk to Putin; I know he’s a hostile actor. I’d talk to the Iranians. I wouldn’t give them $150 billion, like Biden and Obama. But I’d talk to them, and probably tell 'em, ‘If you ever make the wrong move, this is what’s going to happen.’

KILMEADE: But if they said, ‘Hey, I know you’re running against John Kerry, let me just tell you what John Kerry just did.’

HANNITY: Is it true or false? And you have to determine if it’s true or false. If it’s true, boom, you just got a big favor.

KILMEADE: Is that okay?

HANNITY: Sure, it’s okay. When did talking go wrong?

Almost in tandem, Trump and pal Hannity have been saying since the launch of the Mueller investigation in 2017, “no collusion.” Even now, nearly two months after the release of the redacted Mueller report itself, “no collusion” is a mantra for Hannity in his nightly monologues — a cudgel against Democrats and media outlets that pursued details on the contacts between Trump’s campaign and various Russians. Through all the harrumphing, you might suppose that these two would have learned what was wrong with foreign interference in U.S. elections.

Apparently not. They’re both on record as encouraging it.

Read more:

Greg Sargent: Trump just invited another Russian attack. Mitch McConnell is making one more likely.

Jennifer Rubin: Trump betrays his country again by inviting foreign interference

Tom Toles cartoon: Apparently Trump believes politics just ought to be dirty