On Monday, Donald Trump learned the hard way that openly conspiring with an adversary on live television is not a good look for the president of the United States. After spending 45 minutes bashing U.S. intelligence and praising Vladimir Putin – who stood grinning at Trump’s side – the president was lambasted from just about every direction, including Fox News, where one of Trump’s most trustworthy lapdogs, Neil Cavuto, went so far as to call the display “disgusting.” The president tried to explain himself with a tweet, and then with a few motivational poster-style graphics, but nothing seemed to quell the growing criticism.
Enter Sean Hannity.
On his radio show Monday afternoon, Trump’s favorite cable news host, golf partner and late-night confidant trashed the “pathetically weak,” “visionless,” uninspiring” and “spineless” Republicans criticizing the president’s performance. “The only thing they seem to care about in life is being loved,” Hannity said. He’d just finished recording an interview with the president that would air later Monday night. The focus of the sit down was the “phony” Mueller investigation. “You were very strong at the the end of that press conference,” Hannity reassured Trump, referencing the president’s bizarre invocation of FBI agent Peter Strzok and Hillary Clinton’s emails immediately before leaving the podium. “You said, ‘Where are the servers?'”
Yes, he did say that. Trump railed against the probe, which most recently yielded an indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking into the Clinton campaign and other Democratic organizations prior to the 2016 election (plus another indictment of a Russian national with ties to the NRA late Monday). “It’s driven a wedge between us and Russia,” Trump said of the investigation. Never mind the wedge Russia has successfully driven between the United States and its actual allies.
“They drove a phony wedge, a phony witch hunt, rigged deal, with guys like Peter Strzok and Comey and McCabe,” Trump continued.
“McCabe, Strzok, Page,” Hannity confirmed dutifully.
“The whole group,” replied Trump. “It’s a real shame.”
— Fox News (@FoxNews) July 17, 2018
The president wasn’t done. Not only would he continue to cite Putin’s comments as if they legitimized his belief that Mueller’s investigation is a witch hunt, he would defend his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who has pled guilty to lying to the FBI, and his former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who is currently in jail awaiting trial for a host of corruption-related charges stemming from Mueller’s investigation. “He really is a nice man,” Trump said of Manafort. “You look at what’s going on with him. It’s like Al Capone.” It’s unclear what point the president was trying to make there. Capone, an infamous American gangster, was charged with tax evasion in 1931. “It’s a sad thing,” Trump said. “It’s a very sad thing for our country to see this.”
On Mueller probe, Putin told Trump: "He said what a shame. He felt it was very hard for me to make a deal because you know, all of this nonsense." pic.twitter.com/drOOQVWhDN
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) July 17, 2018
The interview – during which Trump also implied Barack Obama helped Strzok rig the Russia investigation – contained no real revelations, only serving to affirm the president’s total, absolute trust in the word of Vladimir Putin, a notoriously manipulative authoritarian whose express purpose is to break up the alliance of Western nations. As he did during the press conference, Trump explained to Hannity why it is such a good idea to allow Russia to help investigate Russian interference, a concept as ludicrous as forming a joint cyber security task force with the nation who hacked the 2016 election. “I was fascinated by it,” Trump said of letting Russian intelligence investigate itself on behalf of America. “Robert Mueller’s people could go with them, but they probably won’t.”
Hannity’s slobbering was an anomaly of Fox News’ coverage of the press conference, which was for the most part critical. As mentioned, Cavuto came in hot shortly after the press conference wrapped up.
Neil Cavuto of Fox Business calls Trump's press conference "disgusting", "That sets us back a lot." pic.twitter.com/R2ZIjyFyPR
— Axios (@axios) July 16, 2018
Maria Bartiromo, who two weeks ago gave Trump one of the softest interviews of his presidency, said the presser was “probably the low point” of his time in office. Conservative General Jack Keane went on the network to say Trump’s performance “shocked” him. FoxNews.com ran an opinion piece about how Putin “ate Trump’s lunch.” On Tuesday morning, the entire panel of Fox & Friends, maybe the most reliable cabal of Trump sycophants in the media, expressed their disappointment.
President Trump fires back at critics over his meeting with Putin pic.twitter.com/Ycb1pkls9f
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) July 17, 2018
Though many on the right were shocked at how Trump handled himself during the press conference, it’s unclear what they expected. The president has done nothing but praise Putin since taking office, and has repeatedly suggested he believes the Russian president over the U.S. intelligence community regarding election interference. None of what Trump said in Helsinki was new. It would have been more surprising if Trump actually confronted Putin, who did not formally deny that he possessed compromising information on the president.
The criticism from Fox News will likely be short-lived, as the network is sure to rally around pro-Trump talking points. As he questioned the president’s performance Tuesday morning, Brian Kilmeade of Fox & Friends made sure to note that it is “easily correctable.” As long as Trump doesn’t renounce his American citizenship in the next 48 hours, the network will spin whatever he tweets or says into some sort of justification for the treasonous debacle Monday morning. Even as many on the network criticized the president Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, standbys like Lou Dobbs and Jeanine Pirro made sure to defend him. “What was he supposed to do, take a gun out and shoot Putin?” Pirro asked.
Tucker Carlson says that Mexico has been more successful at interfering in US elections and does it more routinely than Russia by "packing our electorate" pic.twitter.com/vYk0jyVFUZ
— Andrew Lawrence (@ndrew_lawrence) July 16, 2018
And then there was Tucker Carlson, perhaps the network’s second biggest name after Hannity. While the latter might be as thick-skulled as Trump, Carlson, who many moons ago was able to pass as a respectable journalist, should know better. On Monday afternoon, he tried to downplay Russian meddling by claiming that Mexico interferes in America’s elections more by “packing our electorate.” Latent white nationalism has been a growing theme of Carlson’s show, and it should return again Tuesday night. His main guest? President Trump.