President Donald Trump has made no secret of his extreme fondness for the Fox News Channel.
They’re the exception when he blasts the “fake media” in speeches. He regularly tweets out information and political commentary that had just been aired on “Fox & Friends,” the network’s daily early morning opinion program. Last week, the president tweeted simply “Watch Sean Hannity.” The conservative firebrand devoted his entire show that night to listing Trump’s accomplishments in 2017. And Trump defended cable news king Bill O’Reilly shortly before Fox News ousted him amid multiple sexual harassment accusations, saying “I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”
But as his presidency has progressed, the relationship between Trump and Fox News has become much more than just a favorite show to watch late at night. The network’s warm embrace of Trump, and sometimes direct communications with him, has given it a heavy hand in influencing Trump when it comes to some of his most consequential policy and executive decisions.
Last March, President Trump suddenly fired New York U.S. District Attorney Preet Bharara, along with 45 other federal attorneys who had been appointed by Barack Obama. While presidents regularly replace people in these positions when they come into office, Trump’s decision to fire Bharara came less than 24 hours after Sean Hannity said on his program that there should be a “purge” of all Obama-era appointees from the Justice Department and elsewhere in the federal government. The White House denied the firings were connected at all to Hannity’s segment and had been planned for a while, but Trump had asked Bharara to stay just two months earlier.
In May, former U.S. Attorney Joe DiGenova went on Tucker Carlson’s show and called then-FBI Director James Comey “a danger to the country,” saying that he should’ve been fired after the July 2016 press conference in which he exonerated Hillary Clinton in the email investigation.
“He never should’ve been permitted to stay after the inauguration. He should be fired now for the testimony he’s given over the last few months,” DiGenova said. “That July 5 press conference was the original sin.”
Six days later, Trump fired Comey, citing his handling of the Clinton probe as the reason, an argument that has largely never held up.
Just weeks later, Fox News’ “The Five” co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle announced on-airthat Trump had called her one morning, looking for reassurance before hours later announcing that the U.S. would be pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, an action his own secretary of state did not support.
Think about that for a moment. The fate of our crucial role in an agreement dealing with one of the world’s great threats came down to a former lawyer turned Fox News personality who has many times mocked climate change as a worldly danger.
It’s this kind of leverage that one media outlet has over this president that should worry us when it comes to the biggest thorn in Trump’s side — special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian collusion and obstruction of justice. Trump wants the damaging probe of him and his campaign over with, or at least discredited so it collapses on its own, and so does his favorite television network.
If Trump does end up firing Mueller, it won’t be because of advice from his advisors or associates in the White House. It will be because of Fox News.
And the nation’s most popular television outlet is throwing all it can at the president to steer him toward taking that step. Almost immediately after Mueller was appointed as the special prosecutor back in May, Hannity began dedicating his primetime platform to undermining the Mueller investigation, claiming it to be corrupt, partisan and abusing its authority. As far back as June, Hannity called to “shutdown this political witch hunt.” According to the liberal media watchdog group Media Matters in America, Hannity demanded Mueller’s resignation or his firing 40 times on air between May 17 and Nov. 3, calling him “the head of the snake” and “a disgrace to the American justice system.”
Hannity is hardly alone. Several Fox hosts have launched a relentless crusade to try to delegitimize the Mueller probe, the FBI and Department of Justice, insisting all three are infected with incurable Democratic anti-Trump biases, despite Mueller being a registered Republican who was once appointed to head the FBI by a Republican president, and despite the fact that the current FBI and DOJ are led by Trump appointees.
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a frequent guest on “Hannity,” praised Mueller when he was appointed last spring, tweeting that he was “a superb choice to be special counsel. His reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity.” Now, Gingrich says “Mueller is corrupt. The senior FBI is corrupt. The system is corrupt.”
Laura Ingraham said of the Mueller investigation, “What a total travesty, they should all step aside … including Bob Mueller.”
On his Fox Business show, Lou Dobbs said it was “time to kill the investigation.”
A few weeks ago, Jesse Watters made the absurd statement that the investigation means that America “has a coup on our hands.”
Remember, a coup is a violent takeover of the government by the military. That’s definitely not what’s happening here, nor is that likely to happen.
Recently before that, Judge Jeanine Pirro said there needed to be a “cleanse” of the FBI and DOJ, saying “It’s time to take them out in cuffs.”
Yes, you heard that right. Pirro, a former judge and prosecutor, said on-air that individuals who have neither been accused or charged with a crime need to be arrested. And ironically, she said that on her own show — which is called “Justice.”
Even after facing criticism for that statement, she only doubled down and repeated it the following week.
Now, even with Fox’s ever escalating efforts, Trump has said repeatedly in recent months that his administration is fully cooperating with Mueller and his team, and that he has no intention to fire Mueller, much to the insistence of Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, save for a few.
But it’s difficult to take Trump solely at his word. He has rescinded several of his campaign promises and reversed decisions during his presidency, among them Preet Bharara’s release. And it’s clear that the president is growing uneasy as the investigation creeps closer into Trump’s inner circle and charges continue to mount.
But if he fires Mueller, it will create a constitutional crisis. It will outrage Democrats, send Congress into a spiral and further legitimize the illusion that Trump has something to hide.
Most of his GOP comrades, his staff, close aides and assumably Trump himself, understand that forcing out Mueller or making any moves to shut down his investigation would have extremely negative consequences.
But as long as Fox News continues to spend hour after hour assaulting the Russia probe, and as long as Trump continues to be the cable news-consuming president he is, Robert Mueller will continue to be the most endangered of political species in the wilderness that is Washington.
Luke Parsnow is a digital producer at CNY Central (WSTM NBC 3/ WTVH CBS 5/ WSTM CW6) and contributing writer at The Syracuse New Times in Syracuse, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at http://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88