The New York Times report looked like a blockbuster: President Trump had said in the spring that he wanted the Justice Department to prosecute two political rivals — former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and former FBI director James B. Comey.
The report, published Tuesday night, ignited sharp criticism from prominent figures across party lines, many calling it a clear abuse of power.
“We live in a democracy, and you don’t go after political rivals,” said Alberto Gonzales, the former George W. Bush administration attorney general. It was, Gonzales said on CNN, “a very, very serious situation.”
But Sean Hannity had a different take on his Fox News show Tuesday.
When the story broke, Hannity said, a colleague asked him: “How is this even a story?”
"Does that sound like breaking news to you? Because it isn’t, it shouldn’t, and because we know how the president feels about Hillary and Comey,” Hannity said, mocking coverage of the Times report on CNN and MSNBC. “Maybe they could have listened to his rallies that they wouldn’t cover, when they were yelling: ‘CNN sucks’ and ‘Lock her up!’ ”
The charged reference dates to the 2016 presidential campaign trail, when Trump was emboldened by the three-syllable chant demanding that Clinton be prosecuted and jailed for using a private email server when she was secretary of state.
According to the Times report, when Trump suggested prosecution in the spring, then-White House counsel Donald McGahn had cautioned the president against using the Justice Department to further a vendetta against his adversaries. McGahn outlined potential consequences of ignoring counsel in a memo — including impeachment, the Times reported.
Still, the newspaper labeled the encounter “one of the most blatant examples yet of how Mr. Trump views the typically independent Justice Department as a tool to be wielded against his political enemies.”
On Fox, Hannity dismissed the Times report and taunted his cable rivals, ending his segment with a montage of legal commentators calling Trump’s reported efforts a “scandal,” “off the charts,” and something that “happens in authoritarian countries.”
He called it “fake news” and “a phony story.”
The morning after, though, a Trump-whispering legal expert on Hannity’s own network called weaponizing the Justice Department a “terrible mistake.”
“If you don’t like what people have done, run against them,” Alan Dershowitz said Wednesday on “Fox & Friends.” “Use political weapons; do not use the criminal justice system.”