President Donald Trump’s Fox allies are rallying around him following the revelation of a whistleblower complaint regarding a promise he made to a foreign leader, suggesting that Trump is under attack by the “deep state” and defending his conduct as an example of his affinity for “the art of the deal.”
The Washington Post reported Wednesday night that a U.S. intelligence official had been so alarmed by a “promise” the president had allegedly made during a recent communication with an unnamed foreign leader that the official filed a whistleblower complaint. The Post further reported that while Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson had reviewed the complaint and determined it credible and a matter of “urgent concern” that should be shared with congressional oversight committees, acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire had overruled him and blocked its release, in a possible violation of the law.
On Thursday night, the Post reported that the complaint “centers on Ukraine,” fueling speculation it is related to the Trump team’s public efforts to compel that nation’s government to reopen an investigation with the intention of damaging the 2020 presidential campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden. In a combative CNN interview later that night, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani confirmed that he had “ask[ed] Ukraine to look into Joe Biden.”
It’s early in the life of this story and while the reporting thus far seems ominous, there are a host of unanswered questions.
That hasn’t stopped Fox hosts and guests from offering a vigorous defense of the president, whatever he may have done. Here are some of the myriad, conflicting tacks they’ve taken.
Ignore the story
CNN and MSNBC both pivoted to cover the story after the initial Post article dropped at 8:56 p.m. EST on Wednesday, and each devoted more than two hours of coverage to it for the remainder of the night and through the following morning.
Fox, meanwhile, was slow to pick up on the story. While her competitors opened their 10 p.m. hours with coverage of the whistleblower complaint, Fox host Laura Ingraham was providing a diatribe on the “war against men.” By noon the next day, Fox News had provided fewer than 11 minutes of coverage -- and some of that highlighted how unimportant the network considered the story. “How’d that wind up on the front page of The Washington Post?” Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy asked during one such segment.
Denounce the story as “pure nonsense”
Late Thursday morning, President Trump tweeted that the story was “Fake News,” claiming he would not “say something inappropriate with a foreign leader” while on a call with “people listening from various U.S. agencies,” and “would only do what is right anyway.” And by Thursday evening, Fox’s pro-Trump hosts had begun assembling rebuttals to the story.
Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, one of the president’s biggest sycophants and his sometime adviser, suggested that the story has been vastly overblown.
“Can you imagine the inspector general of the intelligence community in any way withholding what would be a material and real threat against the republic as a result of a communication over an open line, populated -- overpopulated, perhaps, even -- by intelligence, State, Defense, whomever we may have on it?” Dobbs asked, apparently unaware that the inspector general had sought to provide that complaint to Congress but been overruled.
He added, “What do you think the odds are this is just pure nonsense, bunkum, and the Democrats doing what they do?”
Slam the media for reporting on the story
Fox’s pro-Trump hosts frequently respond to stories that seem damaging to the president by lashing out at the reporters who produced them, and this case is no different.
Ingraham argued Thursday night that the American media is “all about the whistleblower tonight” because “they need something, anything to avoid talking about Trump's actual record. The U.S. economy is the envy of the world.” Within the hour, the president had tweeted out a quote from Ingraham’s segment.
Attack the whistleblower as a “deep state” “punk”
Since the early days of the Trump administration, Fox personalities have depicted him as under siege by a shadowy network of “deep state” opponents in government. Former Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker adopted this strategy during a Thursday night interview on Fox’s The Story, saying that the whistleblower complaint is itself “outrageous conduct.”
“This is a clear example of someone from the deep state, ... from the intelligence community,” he argued. “It was completely overblown. ... It will be a big nothingburger.”
Fox contributor Geraldo Rivera similarly argued that the whistleblower is a “deep state” person and “a punk who’s snitching out the president’s phone calls to a foreign leader” on Fox & Friends Friday morning
Explain that the story is actually great news for Trump
Fox host Sean Hannity, another sometime Trump adviser who seems physically incapable of not defending his every move, skipped right past whether there’s something wrong with the president’s reported “promise” and instead excitedly speculated about the “information” Ukraine might provide about the president’s political enemies.
“I was happy at this news,” Hannity said. “Maybe they will give us information that they said that they want to give us, that we have not taken yet, about their influence in the 2016 election to help Hillary Clinton. Or maybe they're going to tell us, oh, why they really gave in to Joe Biden's pressure basically leveraging a billion of our taxpayer dollars.”
Laud the president’s reported promise as “The Art of The Deal”
Without knowing for sure what the president offered or what he sought in return, Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt praised him for it.
“They say the president was making promises, leaking maybe some delicate information to another heads of state,” she said. “But this is what they do. They talk, they negotiate. And the president's known for this, The Art of the Deal.”