In June 2017, Sean Hannity hosted Sara Carter and John Solomon on his Fox News show to discuss their recent reporting in Circa News on then-interim FBI Director Andrew McCabe. Hannity, who had occasionally leaned on McCabe’s congressional testimony in his previous broadcasts to make arguments about the Russia probe, became increasingly critical of McCabe following the show.
Immediately prior to Solomon and Carter’s appearance on Hannity’s show on June 27, the duo had published multiple scathing stories about McCabe for Circa News, one of which tied McCabe to the fall of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Earlier that month, Reuters had reported that special counsel Robert Mueller planned on investigating Flynn’s work as a lobbyist for a Turkish businessman.
On his show, Hannity opened the segment by quoting what he called an “explosive new report,” titled “Did the FBI retaliate against Michael Flynn by launching Russia probe?” The article suggested that the FBI may have launched a criminal probe against Flynn in retaliation for Flynn’s involvement in sexual discrimination allegations against top FBI officials and McCabe two years prior. It also pointed out that McCabe’s position “as a central player in the FBI’s Russia election tampering investigation” meant he was “in a position to impact the criminal inquiry against Flynn.” Carter argued that McCabe has a “conflict of interest” and questioned why the acting director didn’t “recuse himself from this.”
Hannity and his guests also discussed other Circa reporting that noted several “federal inquiries” into McCabe and suggested that he may have broken the Hatch Act by publicly supporting his wife’s state Senate campaign.
The segment ended with Hannity bemoaning that Flynn’s “life was ruined because of illegal leaks,” and arguing that “somebody needs to make that right.” From the June 27, 2017 edition of Fox News’ Hannity:
SEAN HANNITY (HOST): So there is an explosive new report tonight by Circa News' Sara Carter, John Solomon. The report is entitled (sic), quote, “Did the FBI retaliate against Michael Flynn by launching Russia probe?”
This is big. Joining us now from Circa News, Sara Carter and John Solomon, and the chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice as well as the president's attorney, Jay Sekulow. Sara, let's start with this explosive report. So did the FBI retaliate against Gen. Flynn? Seems like there's a lot of evidence emerging yes.
SARA CARTER: Well, and there's a lot of concern, right, among FBI agents and people that were involved in the Russia investigation that this is what was going on, or at least partially what was going on. And they wanted to get it out there.
HANNITY: When you couple this with Andrew McCabe and the report that you guys released yesterday in a possible violation of the Hatch Act which prohibits anybody, FBI agents, from campaigning in partisan races, and then you see the money and the funneling and huge amounts of dollars for a race that never gets that kind of money. John, you –
JOHN SOLOMON: You have the guy that's running the Russian investigation right now, the acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, is under investigation by U.S. Office of Special Counsel for possible Hatch Act violations. There are photos of him wearing campaign shirts for his campaign, holding up a sign saying vote for my wife, and documents from Terry McAuliffe's own records showing that his official FBI bio was used to get him a meeting with Governor McAuliffe that resulted in $700,000 going to his wife. That's under investigation. So the investigator is under [investigation]. And then you take the possibility that he was investigating Mike Flynn because he was a hostile witness in another case, a real conflict of interest, real questions surfacing.
CARTER: People need to ask questions. Why didn't McCabe recuse himself from this? It is apparent conflict of interest. It violated -- and now we look at Terry McAuliffe. Remember Terry McAuliffe, the governor of Virginia, was also under investigation at the time.
HANNITY: Lynch needs to be investigated. Mueller needs to go, a hundred percent. Comey not only needs an investigation, but he, too -- we need to talk about his relationship with Mueller. Hillary, frankly, grand jury. Flynn, really his life was ruined because of illegal leaks, somebody needs to make that right. Guys, good to see you.
In months prior to the June 27 segment, Hannity occasionally cited McCabe positively, using his congressional testimony to argue that the FBI had plenty of resources to conduct the Russia probe and that no one was attempting to impede the investigation. According to a Media Matters analysis, Hannity did not call for McCabe’s resignation or firing at any point between Novermber 8, 2016 and June 27, 2017, nor did he accuse McCabe of having conflicts of interest.
Hannity appeared to change his tune after discussing Solomon and Carter’s articles during the June 27 edition of his show, and his references to McCabe grew more scathing. During the June 28 edition of Hannity, one day after Carter and Solomon’s initial appearance, Hannity suggested that McCabe had a “conflict of interest” because of his wife’s political campaign. Between June 27 and January 19, Hannity attacked McCabe at least 24 times. Hannity accused McCabe of having conflicts of interest 19 times, called for his resignation or firing three times, and claimed that McCabe harbored anti-Trump sentiments twice.
Media Matters searched Nexis for transcripts of Fox News’ Hannity between November 8, 2016 and January 19, 2018 mentioning the word “McCabe” or the word “deputy” within 20 words of “FBI.” Transcripts were then coded for statements -- which in this study we defined as a sentence -- that included the following:
- calls for McCabe to resign or calls that he be fired;
- suggestions that McCabe has a conflict of interest with the Russia investigation;
- mentions of McCabe’s wife’s political campaign;
- claims that McCabe is inherently partisan against the president; and
- instances in which Hannity asks guests if McCabe should resign or be fired.
Transcripts were reviewed by two independent coders and differences were then reconciled.