How Fox & Friends spun Michael Cohen’s opening statement

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

The hosts and guests of Fox & Friends, President Donald Trump’s favorite morning news program, spent the hours before longtime Trump fixer Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony running cover for the president.

According to a copy of his opening statement obtained by reporters early Wednesday morning, Cohen will provide details to the House oversight committee about what he says is Trump’s knowledge of plans by WikiLeaks to release damaging emails about Hillary Clinton and of a meeting between the president’s son and Russians during the 2016 election, as well as Trump’s aggressive pursuit of a business deal in Russia at that time. He will also discuss the president’s role in an illegal scheme to keep his affairs private by paying hush money to women including the adult film actress known as Stormy Daniels. In the statement, he describes Trump as a “racist,” “conman,” and “cheat.”

Like the president and virtually everyone who has served him, Cohen is a liar -- in May, he will report to prison after pleading guilty to charges that include lying to Congress. But according to his statement, he also plans to provide physical evidence to the committee to bolster his remarks. Those documents include a $35,000 check signed by Trump that Cohen says was a reimbursement for payments he made at the president’s behest in order to silence Daniels.

On Fox & Friends, Fox personalities are furiously spinning this damning story in three ways.

Nothing to see here

Fox’s hosts and guests have been telling their audience that Cohen’s allegations are really much ado about nothing.

“This is a melodrama, it’s a soap opera, it’s a tabloid all wrapped into one,” in the words of contributor Jason Chaffetz, who as a Republican member of Congress previously chaired the oversight committee. “Michael Cohen didn’t serve in the government, he wasn’t part of the executive branch, everything that they’re talking about happened before Donald Trump became the president.”

After co-host Brian Kilmeade asked Chaffetz about Cohen’s allegation that longtime Trump political strategist Roger Stone was keeping Trump apprised of communications with WikiLeaks during the campaign, both Chaffetz and co-host Steve Doocy replied, “Where’s the collusion?”

Fox contributor Dan Bongino had a similar response later in the program when Kilmeade detailed Cohen’s Stone claim and asked, “What changes after that?” Bongino replied, “Nothing. I mean, there's nothing there. There's no there there.” He later added, “None of this is great politically. The question is, is it criminally damaging? And the answer is no.”

Bongino also argued that Cohen’s presentation of the reimbursement check he says he received from Trump for paying off Daniels is irrelevant. “I don’t think it’s damaging at all,” he told Kilmeade. “This has all been baked into the cake. There’s no news here.”

Meanwhile, co-host Ainsley Earhardt argued against believing anything said by Cohen, who worked in a senior role for the president for a decade, saying, “Plus when Michael Cohen talks, you kind of tune him out now because you don’t know what to believe; you don’t know which Michael Cohen you’re getting.”

Shame on the Democrats

Fox’s pro-Trump team repeatedly attacked congressional Democrats for scheduling the hearing at all, saying that it seemed intended to detract from Trump’s summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in Vietnam, which the program has been describing in hagiographic terms.

“You’ve got this major news story that’s happening on the other side of the world, and then in D.C., they’re trying to put this guy who already lied to that very committee ... and they’re putting him on the stand the very day that our president’s talking to Kim Jong Un,” Earhardt complained. “The public’s not stupid.”

Similarly, Chaffetz said, “This Cohen situation is such a distraction from what is going on that is actually going to matter in the world.” Kilmeade replied that the hearing was undermining the president’s ability to negotiate with both North Korea and China, saying, “This is really hurting our country, not a party or a person.”

And Bongino panned the timing of the hearing as “really one of the more disgraceful episodes in a litany of disgraceful episodes we’ve seen from this radical, far-left Democrat (sic) Party.”

Abject, self-described rumor-mongering

On Tuesday night, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who is one of Trump’s most fervent supporters, alleged on Twitter that Cohen has “girlfriends,” asking whether Cohen’s wife and father-in-law were aware of them and asking of Cohen’s wife, “I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot.” After numerous commentators pointed out that Gaetz appeared to be illegally tampering with a congressional witness, he deleted the tweet and apologized.

Doocy asked Bongino about Gaetz’s allegations on Wednesday morning on the specious grounds that Bongino is also from Florida. Bongino replied, “There’s a rumor about some apartment complex that was used by Cohen to, let’s say, keep some people in he probably shouldn’t have been dealing with, I guess is the best way to -- that’s what’s out there; that’s what’s circulating on Twitter. We’ll see if there’s anything to that. I believe that’s what [Gaetz] was alluding to.”

Fox & Friends has previously drawn criticism from Fox executives and a federal judge for its practice of sharing stories and rumors from the internet on the program without making the slightest attempt to verify them first.