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Sean Hannity and Donald Trump

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On Friday, CNN reported on a newly unearthed set of text messages between former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and multiple Fox News hosts, exchanged during the two-and-a-half months between Election Day 2020 and President Joe Biden’s inauguration in January 2021. The texts further reveal the extent to which Fox was integral to Trump’s plot to illegally hold onto power after losing the election. The texts also prove yet again that Fox operates day-to-day as a propaganda arm for the Republican Party, not as a news organization.

Maria Bartiromo Gave Trump Questions And Guidance In Advance Of Interview

CNN reported that Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo gave Meadows the questions in advance of her interview with President Donald Trump on the November 29, 2020, edition of her weekend show on Fox News, Sunday Morning Futures. The texts reveal that Bartiromo also provided Trump with explicit messaging guidance and instructions on how to respond to her softball questions, which she intended to help him better make his case that the election outcome was illegitimate. The segment was Trump’s first TV interview since the election, and it aired roughly three weeks after all the major media outlets, including Fox News, had projected Biden as the winner.

Bartiromo texted Meadows that morning, hours before the interview with Trump, to claim that “the public wants to know he will fight this,” and that people “want to hear a path to victory” and that “he's in control.” (The entire premise of Bartiromo’s line of questioning was false, because a majority of “the public” had just voted for Biden.)

She then laid out the first question she would ask: “1Q You've said MANY TIMES THIS ELECTION IS RIGGED... And the facts are on your side. Let's start there. What are the facts? Characterize what took place here. Then I will drill down on the fraud including the statistical impossibilities of Biden magic (federalist).” (Based on Bartiromo’s word choice, it is possible that she was referring to a piece from a week earlier in the right-wing site The Federalist, titled “5 More Ways Joe Biden Magically Outperformed Election Norms.”)

Surely enough, the interview began exactly with that question: “Mr. President, you have said many times that this election was rigged, that there was much fraud, and the facts are on your side. Let's start there. Please go through the facts, characterize what took place.”

Throughout the rest of the interview, Bartiromo provided Trump with a platform to air a litany of lies about the election results, going on for 45 minutes, including his outlandish claims about voting machines being used to change the results. Dominion Voting Systems is currently suing Fox News for $1.6 billion for the network’s role in Trump’s defamation campaign against the voting machine company. Another voting technology firm, Smartmatic, is suing Fox News for $2.7 billion and has also named Bartiromo as a defendant for her role in promoting conspiracy theories that the company played a role in altering the election result.

Separately, ABC News’ chief Washington correspondent, Jonathan Karl, reported last year that Bartiromo had called then-Attorney General Bill Barr in mid-November 2020, complaining to him that the Justice Department had not taken action against supposed voter fraud. “She called me up and she was screaming,” Barr told Karl. “I yelled back at her. She’s lost it.” Fox News denied the reports of Bartiromo’s unprofessional conduct — though this wasn’t exactly convincing, because Bartiromo had publicly stated her hopes for Barr to intervene and help reverse the election results.

Hannity Was “At War" With Chris Wallace And News Reporters

Another Fox News host who is heavily implicated in the latest texts is Sean Hannity, who was already known to have functioned as Trump’s “shadow” chief of staff and as a constant sounding board for the disgraced former president. Previously released texts had shown that Hannity tried to work on damage control after the failed coup attempt on January 6, and that he had urged the White House to have Trump call off his supporters from attacking the Capitol. (In public, Hannity claimed the attackers were left-wing infiltrators.) Other texts show that Hannity took instructions from Meadows on coordinating get-out-the-vote messaging on Election Day in 2020. The latest revelations demonstrate the extent of Hannity’s efforts to keep Fox News from straying away from the administration’s illegal efforts to cling to power.

On December 6, 2020, Meadows sent Hannity a link to an article in The Hill, highlighting a segment from that morning’s edition of Fox News Sunday in which the show’s then-host Chris Wallace pointedly interrupted Trump’s former secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, after Azar had referred to Joe Biden as “Vice President Biden.”

“He's the president-elect, sir,” Wallace replied, repeating that point again in their conversation.

In texts to Hannity, Meadows castigated Wallace and Fox, writing, “Doing this to try and get ratings will not work in the long run and I am doubtful it is even a short term winning strategy.”

“I've been at war with them all week,” Hannity replied.

Meadows later asked on December 11, 2020, for Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott’s direct phone number — noting that he wished to avoid making a call to the network’s main switchboard. Hannity asked the next day whether Meadows had gotten through to Fox executives, again declaring, “I’ve been at war with them.” (As it turned out, Meadows had not yet called Scott, as he had been too busy working on the Trump administration’s lame-duck pardons.)

Keep in mind that the major news networks had all projected Biden as the winner a month before, on November 7 — and yes, that included Fox. The network, however, undermined its own decision desk’s projections by attempting to subvert the election results nearly 600 times in just the two weeks after the election call.

To the degree that tension existed between the opinion and alleged “straight news” sides at Fox, that conflict has since been resolved by Chris Wallace’s decision a year later to quit the network. Wallace said recently that he had been fine with opinion content on the channel, but he had reached his limit. “When people start to question the truth — Who won the 2020 election? Was Jan. 6 an insurrection? — I found that unsustainable.”

Hannity, of course, is still at Fox, where he is launching smear campaigns, parroting Kremlin spokespeople, and helping Trump to continue pushing the Big Lie.

Sean Hannity wrote one cheesy Trump campaign ad — and he may have written yet another one that never aired

This latest batch of text messages also reveals that Hannity lied last year about the extent of his connections to the Trump campaign — seemingly confirming a story that Hannity had previously described as being “full of shit.”

Last year, Wall Street Journal senior White House reporter Mike Bender published a book about the 2020 election and its aftermath, titled Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost. The book revealed that Hannity had actually written a Trump campaign ad, which insiders even referred to as “the Hannity ad” and “the one Hannity wrote.” The specific ad in question was an attack spot that seemed to deploy every anti-Biden talking point at once, referring to him as a “47-year swamp creature” who had “accomplished nothing,” and tying him to the so-called “radical, socialist Green New Deal.” Trump’s campaign staff reportedly ridiculed it.

“Inside the campaign, the spot was mocked mercilessly, mostly because of the dramatic, over-the-top language and a message that seemed to value quantity over quality,” Bender wrote. The campaign came up with a solution to the problem, by running the ad only during Hannity’s own show on Fox News: “If Trump and Hannity watched the spot on television – and were satisfied enough to stop asking about the commercial – that seemed to be the best result of the ad. The cost of that investment: $1.5m.”

Hannity, however, denied the story in very strong terms. “The world knows that Sean Hannity supports Donald Trump,” he told Bender. “But my involvement specifically in the campaign — no. I was not involved that much. Anybody who said that is full of shit.”

On December 8, 2020, however, as Hannity and Meadows commiserated via text, Hannity bemoaned that the campaign had not done more on the topic of election fraud during the campaign — including regarding an ad he had written for them.

“I was screaming about no ads from Labor Day on,” he wrote. “I made my own they never ran it. I'm not pointing fingers. I'm frustrated.” It is possible here that Hannity may have been referring to yet another campaign ad that he wrote, but which still went unaired.

Hannity’s vulgar denial to Bender of the earlier campaign ad not only reveals that he is a liar, but there’s more. In this instance, he also lied to a news reporter at The Wall Street Journal, the most prominent of the Murdoch media empire’s journalistic front operations and a perpetual doormat for the opinion side. The fact that he would lie to one of his colleagues from another Murdoch publication clearly demonstrates the sense of leverage Hannity has over anyone who thinks they really can report news while working at a Murdoch outlet.

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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