After Donald Trump was indicted in the special counsel investigation into his mishandling of classified materials, right-wing media continued their flailing defenses of the former president by calling the whole investigation “election interference” and bemoaning the supposed end of democracy.
Following a search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home that recovered approximately 13,000 records, special counsel Jack Smith was appointed in November to investigate Trump’s potentially illegal handling of those materials. Nearly a year after the search, Trump was indicted on 37 felony charges, including 31 separate alleged violations of the Espionage Act.
Fox News hosts scrambled to defend the former president and complain about a supposed two-tiered system of justice, continuing to create a false equivalence to President Joe Biden’s supposed mishandling of classified materials.
Over the last year, right-wing media have consistently run defense for Trump as the documents scandal has unfolded, with prominent figures claiming the initial search on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home was an attack on “the American public” and others calling for otherwise violent responses to the investigation and seizure.
Now, right-wing media figures are using the same playbook. From claiming the indictment is an attempt at election interference to arguing that it is a distraction from Biden’s supposed crimes and an attack on American democracy itself, here is how right-wing media have reacted to the first federal indictment of a former president:
Claim: Trump’s indictment is evidence of a two-tier system of justice and a distraction from Biden’s classified document investigation
- Fox News host Jesse Watters claimed that the Biden administration was indicting Trump for something the current president is “probably five times more guilty of.” He said of Biden: “He’s just fallen, he’s been accused of taking bribes from Ukraine, China, and now he’s going to arrest his political opponent? … This does not smell right.”
- On Jesse Watters Primetime, Trump attorney Alina Habba dismissed the indictment as a “coordinated dance” to distract from investigations into the Biden administration. She added, “It is so obvious that there is this dual system of justice. This is selective prosecution — selective persecution. It is absolute persecution."
- After former Trump lawyer Pam Bondi called the indictment “weaponization” in the “ultimate sense,” Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade scoffed that “evidently they are not investigating anything on Hunter.” Kilmeade went on to evoke other investigations into the Biden administration, adding, “They are not investigating anything on the [FBI] whistleblower with the credibility.”
- On Fox & Friends, former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker declared that he thinks “the Pence case and Biden case actually are more serious,” before claiming that the documents had been declassified: “There is going to be an argument in this case that Donald Trump declassified these documents that he is being accused of illegally possessing.”
- On Fox & Friends, The Five co-host Geraldo Rivera suggested that the Bidens were trying to disrupt the Trump campaign, quipping, “You can’t beat him, I believe, on a library book that was overdue.” Co-host Steve Doocy kept the focus on the Bidens, asking, “Because there are the uneven standards between Biden and his documents and the Trump documents, you know, people are going to be talking about, you know, why is it taking four-and-a-half years for the Hunter Biden thing?’”
- On America’s Newsroom, anchor Bill Hemmer said, “Two tiers of justice — that is the refrain on behalf of Republicans. This as Donald Trump becomes the first former president indicted by the government that he used to run. Wow.”
- On Hannity, Fox News contributor Jonathan Turley suggested that Biden’s team should feel uneasy because “Biden mishandled material for a much longer period in many more locations than did President Trump.”
Claim: The indictment against Trump should be considered election interference, but it could also help him during the 2024 election
- The morning after Trump’s indictment, Rivera said he is “very upset” about Trump’s indictment and claimed that “it is an attempt, whether conscious or unconscious, to affect the election of 2024.” Rivera said the indictment won’t “affect his standing — he may still be running for president as an indicted person or even a convicted person —because there is nothing in the Constitution of the United States that bars a person under indictment or even a federal convict from running for president.”
- On his daily livestream, Timcast, Tim Pool declared: “The federal indictment by the Biden DOJ is direct election interference. It is subversion of the United States election.” He added, “I don’t see how the United States stands and continues to function when you’ve got the sitting president filing an indictment against his chief rival.”
- Conservative pundit Tammy Bruce argued on Hannity that Trump’s indictment is not about Trump, but rather, “it is about indicting and stopping his [Biden’s] main political opponent.” Bruce earlier argued that the FBI’s raid of Trump’s Mar-A-Lago “was obviously meant for television, obviously meant to interfere with this coming election.”
- On Fox News Tonight, Whitaker asserted that “Donald Trump seems to always get stronger when challenged.” He continued: “These types of things that would normally melt an average human being, I think, give him strength, and he continues to fight.”
- On Fox’s Hannity, Bondi declared that Trump will be stronger politically because of the indictment: “He believes more than anything this is a dark day for America, what they are doing to him. And as Pete said, if they can do this to him they can do this to anyone. And he will fight like no other human being because he loves our country.”
- On Fox’s The Ingraham Angle, Article III Project President Mike Davis baselessly concluded that Trump’s indictment “was a political hit by Biden and Garland to take out Trump for the 2024 presidential election.” Davis then neglected to talk about Trump’s alleged crimes and focused on Hillary Clinton.
- On Infowars’ The Alex Jones Show, host Alex Jones absurdly claimed that Trump’s indictment is “the assassination of Kennedy 2.0”: “They're assassinating him criminally and politically and taking your right to vote for who you want. Proof they stole the 2020 election. They're doing it now upfront because the landslide is gonna be so huge.
Claim: Trump’s indictment signals the end of American democracy as we know it
- Former Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller joined Fox News Tonight, claiming: “History will record today as the day that we ceased to be a democratic republic and we became a people ruled by an unelected government bureaucracy.”
- Whitaker said on Fox News Tonight, “It's really a sad day … and it's the stuff of banana republics, quite frankly.” This came after Whitaker claimed that Trump’s indictment was politically motivated.
- Fox News Tonight also hosted right-wing activist Ned Ryun, who argued that the U.S. is behaving like a “late-stage republic.” Trump’s indictment, he said, “is absolutely late-stage republic behavior. When you use the legal system as a weapon against political opponents, you’ve abandoned the rule of law. You’ve abandoned the equal application of justice.”
- Bruce said on Hannity that Trump’s indictment could “destroy the entire dynamic of our system” and is a “punch in the face” to “Washington and Adams and Jefferson and Hamilton and everyone who came after.” Bruce continued: “Lincoln, everyone who died on the field at Gettysburg to save this nation. That is who is being punched in the face right now.”
- Before ending a furious rant with the ominous threat “You have crossed the Rubicon twice … and we will never forgive you,” Fox host Mark Levin declared on Hannity that “June 8 is the day of the insurrection, not January 6” and compared the U.S. to stalinist Russia: “Let me say this. Today — what is today's date? June 8? June 8 is the day of insurrection, not January 6. … We have never seen anything like this in the United States. We saw it under Stalin. We have seen it in other autocracies, Marxist regimes, fascist regimes. The Third World. … You have crossed the Rubicon twice, which has never been done. And we will never forgive you. Never, ever! And that’s the bottom line. I'm done!”
- In his opening monologue, Hannity claimed, “Our system of justice has now been weaponized beyond belief and this country is in serious trouble." He also argued that Trump’s indictment proves that “there’s no equal justice. There’s no equal application of our laws.”
- On Hannity, Bondi claimed that the Constitution has “been shredded.” She went on to mischaracterize Trump’s indictment, claiming that Biden charged him with federal crimes (Biden didn’t — the Department of Justice did) and that this is only about “documents that he had the right to have.”
- Radio host Dan Bongino appeared on Newsmax’s Rob Schmitt Tonight to claim that American democracy is over and that “the police state’s here.” He said, “The idea that you live in a constitutional republic — take it, wipe your rump with it, and flush it down the toilet bowl.”
- Later on Eric Bolling: The Balance, former New York Police Department Commissioner Bernie Kerik said Trump’s indictment “scares the hell out” of him: “My fear is if they can’t imprison Donald Trump, what's next? Assassination? … I would not put it past them at this point. This is insanity.” Kerik earlier compared the U.S. to undemocratic countries that put political opposition in prison.
Correction (6/12/23): This piece originally stated that Dan Bongino appeared on Newsmax’s Eric Bolling: The Balance. In fact, it was Newsmax’s Rob Schmitt Tonight.