“Fox & Friends” will forever be “Fox & Friends,” the morning show where President Trump can always count on the benefit of the doubt. Yet on Friday morning, the three anchors of the highly rated program essentially declared that they’re not “Hannity.” They’re not going that far.

In a stem-winder 53-minute telephone interview Friday morning on “Fox & Friends,” Trump elaborated on themes that he stokes on Twitter: That House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is a “sick puppy”; that the “phony fake dossier” constituted evidence that the Democrats were out to sabotage his campaign; that corruption is bad; and that you can’t hear someone else’s phone calls just by hanging out nearby: “Well, I have really good hearing. And I’ve been watching guys for 40 years make phone calls. And I can’t hear when — you could be two feet away; I can’t hear people making calls,” Trump said, attempting to debunk testimony in the impeachment hearing from an embassy official who claims to have overheard a phone call involving Trump and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.

It wouldn’t be a presidential “Fox & Friends” interview if Trump didn’t declare his devotion to the couch trio. “I get the word out on your show. I love your show,” Trump said in the closing moments of the session.

On this particular show, the word was a little wobbly. Perhaps expecting a bunch of nods from his hosts, Trump spun out one of his most self-serving lies/conspiracy theories, regarding the compromised server of the Democratic National Committee: “A lot of it had to do, they say, with Ukraine,” Trump said. “They have the server, right? From the DNC ... they gave the server to CrowdStrike — or whatever it’s called — which is a company owned by a very wealthy Ukrainian, and I still want to see that server. You know, the FBI has never gotten that server. That’s a big part of this whole thing. Why did they give it to a Ukrainian company?”

The impeachment inquiry into President Trump has exposed troubling cracks in the political system. (The Washington Post)

Co-host Steve Doocy wasn’t going to let Trump go on that one. "Are you sure they did that? Are you sure they gave it to Ukraine?” asked Doocy, prompting a well-trodden bit of Trumpian nonsense: “Well, that’s what the word is,” the president said.

Then “Fox & Friends” actually set up the president. Co-host Ainsley Earhardt asked him straight-up if there was any quid pro quo or bribery in his dealings with Ukraine, referencing the by-now-well-established fact that Trump, though personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, schemed to condition military aid to Ukraine and an Oval Office with President Volodymyr Zelensky on his announcement of an investigation into the Bidens.

“No, not at all,” responded Trump, who moved on to free-associating madness: “And let me tell you, he’s a sick puppy. He’s so sick. This guy is so — I’ve been going through it for 2½ years about Russia. I’ve been tougher on Russia than any president in history. But for 2½ years, I’ve had to listen. This was their talking point, Trump and Russia.”

With that denial established, co-host Brian Kilmeade — who has been the most Trump-skeptical of the three co-hosts in the past — placed this inquiry before him: “Mr. President, a couple of days ago, [Sondland] in his opening statement said that there was quid pro quo. ‘There was quid pro quo,’ he said, because you wanted an investigation into corruption, in exchange for a visit to the White House or something like that.”

Again Trump had trouble putting together a coherent thought: “Yeah, well, that’s total nonsense. I do want — always corruption. I say that to anybody. Why should we give money to a country that’s known corrupt? It’s a very corrupt country. I mean, I love the people in Ukraine. I know Ukrainian people. They’re great people.”

The conversation rambled on from there, with Trump filibustering via phone. Kilmeade intervened just enough, however, to ask Trump the sort of question you might hear on other TV news outlets: “Why was it necessary to put Rudy in the middle of the Ukraine, a country he knew little about, as opposed to let the people do their jobs there and just give the same mission?”

Trump responded as if he’d been asked how well he knew the central figures in the Ukraine impeachment proceedings: “Okay. First of all, [Kurt] Volker, I don’t know him," he said. "Don’t know him. But this guy, Sondland, hardly know him. I’ve had a couple of conversations with him. I see him hanging around, you know, when I go to Europe. But he was really the European Union ambassador, and all of a sudden he’s working on this, and, you know, ask about that.”

Given his many years of friendship with “Fox & Friends,” Trump felt enough kinship to place the hosts on the same page regarding the whistleblower who kicked off this entire affair. In weeks past, news organizations have struggled with the ethical question of whether to print the whistleblower’s identity, if indeed they could verify it. Conservative media outlets have taken the step of indeed naming an alleged whistleblower, prompting this exchange:

Steve Doocy: Do you think you know who it is?
President Trump: I know exactly who it is. Everybody does.
Steve Doocy: Is he still there? Does he go to meetings —
President Trump: Everybody does —
Steve Doocy: —does he go to meetings?
President Trump: And by the way, you know who the whistleblower is, too. Otherwise, you’re not doing your job. You know the — everybody knows it. If the whistleblower were on the other side, they would have revealed the whistleblower two months ago.

Moments later — perhaps after getting prodded by his producer — Doocy stopped the transition into a new topic: “Let me just interrupt for a second. Mr. President, you said we know the name of the whistleblower. We’ve seen names on the Internet. We have no idea who the whistleblower is.”

There’s some context to Doocy’s intrusion. Fox News had a minor flareup recently when a guest came on the air and blurted out a name alleged to be that of the whistleblower. Fox News put out a statement saying that it hadn’t verified the identity. It wasn’t a proud moment, and apparently the network was not going to relive it.

The real-time clarification irked Trump. “I don’t think Steve has ever told a lie, Ainsley and Brian, in his life. But that one I’m sort of thinking, ‘ ////, come on,'” said the most prominent and prolific liar in American political history.

There was more, of course, as there tends to be in a nearly hour-long interview with a president who has little to do. Earhardt got Trump to douse the speculation that he would abandon Vice President Pence for Nikki Haley as his running mate in 2020. They talked about China; they talked about his physical over the weekend.

In one telling moment, Trump suggested that he’s not in charge of his own media decisions, only to retract such a notion: “If it was up to me — and it is up to me, and we’ll do it more often,” he said, referring to his appearances on “Fox & Friends.”

“More often” would doubtless suit the folks at “Fox & Friends.” The president, after all, feels so comfy in these confines that he makes news even when he’s not being asked pertinent questions. CNN, for instance, found 58 “bananas” comments from Trump. And even when they’re inclined to press the president on this or that, the “Fox & Friends” crew cannot possibly keep pace with his lies and distortions. Meaning, the main casualties are the truth and a few Fox News commercial breaks.

Read more from Erik Wemple: