Sean Hannity served the Trump DOJ’s Kool-Aid
On Thursday afternoon, The New York Times published a devastating portrait of special counsel John Durham’s nearly four-year probe into the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation — a right-wing media obsession during the Trump administration.
The Times found that “the Durham inquiry became roiled by internal dissent and ethical disputes as it went unsuccessfully down one path after another,” and came up all but empty-handed in establishing the misconduct that former President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr had publicly proclaimed existed. Its story details an array of previously unreported shady behavior by Barr and Durham — including the apparent concealment of a criminal investigation into Trump himself — and a series of clashes with U.S. and international intelligence officials flabbergasted by their pursuit of conspiracy theories.
The Times asks the right questions regarding Barr and Durham, via a former prosecutor who represented two subjects interviewed by the special counsel: “When did these guys drink the Kool-Aid, and who served it to them?” The person who served up the Kool-Aid that eventually led to the Durham probe was Fox News prime-time host and sometime presidential adviser Sean Hannity.
Trump’s own campaign explicitly credited Hannity’s crackpottery with the launch of Durham’s probe in May 2019. “Yeah, the work that you do every night, Sean, is going to go a long way,” Trump campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told him during an August 2019 radio interview. “It already has. We now have the Justice Department looking into the misdeeds of the Obama administration.” (McEnany would later serve as White House press secretary and is now a Fox host in her own right.)
McEnany wasn’t just ingratiating herself to the host. The Barr-Durham probe never would have happened without the influence of Hannity, who made his show the fulcrum of a network-wide effort to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Night after night, while Trump watched from the White House and tweeted along, the Fox host denounced the investigation and claimed that the real criminals were among the federal officials who had a hand in scrutinizing the myriad ties between Trump’s inner circle and the Kremlin.
Barr’s 2019 installation as attorney general ensured that the kooky insinuations of prime-time ranters would be investigated by the federal government. As I noted that year:
The Fox host and his allies have championed Barr, praising him specifically because they believed he would be willing to launch just such a probe. In December, days after Barr’s nomination was announced, Hannity expressed his hope that he would investigate the early days of the Russia probe. Hours after Barr’s confirmation in February, Hannity hinted that a reckoning was coming for 10 “deep state actors,” including former FBI Director James Comey, former CIA Director John Brennan, and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, on a variety of purported crimes.
And immediately after Mueller concluded his probe that March, Hannity and his colleagues started demanding an investigation of the investigators. They got what they wanted — two months later, Barr picked Durham to conduct the probe.
Durham’s investigation ended up providing Hannity and his colleagues with years of content. Fox has aired more than 2,400 weekday segments that discussed the probe or the origins of the Mueller investigation since Durham’s May 2019 appointment — with Hannity alone contributing nearly 400 — according to a review of the Media Matters database.
Hannity was particularly ecstatic about Durham’s work. He celebrated the October 2019 report that the investigation had become a criminal probe, calling the news “a major, huge development” and crowing that “the deep state, their messengers at the Times, they have every reason to be afraid, every reason to panic, because Barr, the attorney general, is now apparently getting closer to the truth.” (In an ironic turn, the Times reports that the probe went criminal due to a lead it received about potentially illegal behavior by Trump and that Durham and Barr concealed that, ensuring that journalists reached the same conclusion as Hannity and that the public was misled.)
But frothy conspiracy theories that make good content for Fox viewers do not hold up in court. Ultimately, Durham charged three people with federal crimes, none of whom had the famous names Hannity once claimed the investigation would bring to justice. Instead, a former FBI lawyer pleaded guilty to falsifying an email and got probation, while a former Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer and a Russian national were separately charged with lying to the FBI but were found not guilty by their juries. Hannity, meanwhile, responded to Durham’s failures by lashing out at “America's two-tiered system of justice” and suggesting that the verdicts were “meaningless.”
On Thursday night, the Fox host did not tell his viewers about the Times bombshell detailing the failed probe he helped to usher in.