President Donald Trump spoke with Fox News host Sean Hannity for 45 minutes Thursday evening about a number of topics, including the nearly two-year long Mueller probe and his campaign pledge to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Much of the interview was an assortment of lies and misleading talking points. Hannity, who reportedly chats with Trump nightly on the phone, lobbed multiple softballs to the president, some of them reinforcing the “deep state” conspiracy theories he regularly discusses on his show. Trump, in turn, repeated many of his favorite falsehoods.
No ties to Russia
Trump claimed that the members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, which was tasked with investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election and allegations of presidential obstruction, “were going hog wild to find something about the administration which obviously wasn’t there.”
“We have nothing to do with Russia except that we have been tougher on Russia than any administration in 50 years,” he said Thursday.
That claim ignores the innumerable connections between the Trump campaign and Russia, as outlined in Mueller’s final report, including the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, which the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., took specifically because he believed a Russian agent would provide damaging information about his father’s campaign rival Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s claim that he has been “tougher on Russia” than other administrations — a favorite talking point he has repeated in the past — also comes up short. Trump has openly sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who maintains that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election, and has downplayed both Putin’s decision to annex Crimea and his brutal and violent crackdowns on the press and political dissidents.
Trump’s own advisers — including Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about his communications with Russian officials in December 2017 — have also worked to soften sanctions and punishment levied against Russia by the Obama administration.
The Mueller investigation was a “coup”
At least three different times during the interview, Trump insisted that the Mueller investigation constituted an attempted coup, a popular refrain he has evoked in the past.
“This was a coup. This was an attempted overthrow of the United States government,” he said at one point. “This was an overthrow and it’s a disgraceful thing. I think it’s far bigger than Watergate. I think it’s possibly the biggest scandal in political history in this country.”
As ThinkProgress previously noted, a “coup” is defined as a sudden, violent, illegal power grab that often involves the military. A legal, authorized investigation into possible misdeeds by the president and his associates does not constitute a coup.
Spying on campaign
Trump on Thursday once more accused Justice officials of “spying” on his campaign, an apparent reference to a FISA warrant used to surveil former foreign policy adviser Carter Page over his ties to Russia. “The attorney general said it better than anybody the other day when he was asked: ‘Yes, I think they were spying on the Trump campaign.’ You can’t say it any better than that. And I think so, too.”
There is no evidence to substantiate these claims. The term “spying” suggests a nefarious intent; surveillance of Page was warranted and approved by a FISA court judge.
Trump has echoed this claim in the past. In March 2017, the president claimed without proof that President Barack Obama wiretapped the phones in Trump Tower during the campaign, calling his predecessor a “bad (or sick) guy.”
“This is McCarthyism!” he tweeted at the time.
Both Comey and then-NSA Director Mike Rogers testified to Congress later that month that this was false, saying there was “no information that support[ed] those tweets.”
Peter Strzok and Lisa Page
Hannity and Trump dedicated a significant amount of time Thursday night to discussing former FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, former members of Mueller’s team. Prior to Trump’s election victory, the two had expressed in text messages to each other that they were concerned about him winning, with Strzok writing “we’ll stop him.”
Strzok later testified that he had not been referring to any sort of official FBI action, but was remarking “off the cuff.”
Trump on Thursday condemned both Strzok and Page for those conversations.
“These are sick, sick people,” he said. He also repeatedly referred to the “insurance policy” he claimed the pair had in case Trump won the election, a reference to a message Strzok sent to Page in August 2016.
That timing of that message, however, The Washington Post noted, is crucial to understanding its contents: Around that time, the FBI had launched its official investigation into allegations of criminal coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. The pair have said the “insurance policy” comment was a reference to how forcefully the FBI should investigate, if it was determined Trump was being controlled by the Russians.
Fox News and other conservative outlets have tried to make hay of the messages between Strzok and Page to suggest there was irregular conduct in the investigation. However, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz has investigated the messages himself and while he said in a report last summer that the two “brought discredit to themselves,” neither were politically motivated to stop Trump.
“13 angry Democrats”
Though the number fluctuates, Trump often objects to the “angry Democrats” who made up Mueller’s investigative team. On Thursday, he repeated that claim.
“It was as I call them, 13 angry Democrats. They were supplanted by five more, five more were added. And you got up to 18, 19, 20 — they are all Democrats many of them made major contributions to the Hillary Clinton campaign,” he said Thursday. “[They’re] bad, bad people. No friends of Trump.”
Mueller himself, however, is a Republican, as is Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who appointed him. While it’s true several members of Mueller’s team were registered as Democrats and a few gave some donations to Democratic candidates, there is no evidence this constituted any bias in the investigation. Trump invented the “angry” claim himself.
Speaking Friday morning, Trump explicitly lumped Mueller into his normal talking point. “We had 18 people that were Trump haters. That includes Mr. Mueller,” he claimed. “He was a Trump hater.”
Papadopoulos and Page
While both George Papadopoulos and Carter Page were both members of the Trump campaign in 2016, the president has repeatedly suggested he did not know them. On Thursday, he re-upped that claim.
“As soon as people saw their name[s] — even though I didn’t meet Carter Page — and Papadopoulos, I actually sat at a table with him for about 15 minutes and that was it. I never spoke to him or anything,” he said.
Trump is contradicted by his own past comments. In an interview with the Post during the campaign, Trump listed both Page and Papadopoulos as people who would be joining his foreign policy team, specifically calling Papadopoulos “an excellent guy.”
Papadopoulos would later plead guilty to making false statements to the FBI.
Trump once again bragged about the progress of the wall he’s dedicated to building along the southern border. “We are building many sections of wall right now that’s under construction right now,” he said. “And I intend to have by the end of next year over 400 miles of wall. We’ve renovated a lot of wall already.”
He claimed that the walls are “more beautiful and actually stronger” than previous border barriers.
While he is no doubt attempting to appeal to his base by highlighting his progress on one of his biggest campaign promises, Trump doesn’t actually deserve much credit for the work that’s been done. Trump has so far mostly replaced existing fencing, and the “new” border wall section completed in California last year had actually been planned throughout most of the Obama administration.
“Most transparent president”
One of Trump’s more impressive claims on Thursday was his suggestion that he is “the most transparent president in history.” This is directly contradicted by his recent decisions to flout the law by refusing to turn over his tax returns or to allow various members of his administration to comply with subpoenas from the House of Representatives.
In fact, the Trump administration has been one of the least transparent administrations, from hiding White House visitor logs to repeatedly attacking the press to avoid its scrutiny. The Sunlight Foundation has described it as “a secretive administration, allergic to transparency, shadowed by global conflicts of interest, [and] hostile to the essential role journalism plays in a democracy.”