Fox News host Brian Kilmeade offered up a novel and deeply ironic retort to The New York Times’ Sunday night bombshell that President Donald Trump told then-national security adviser John Bolton military aid to Ukraine was conditioned on officials there aiding “investigations into Democrats including the Bidens,” which the paper reported based on descriptions by multiple sources of an unpublished manuscript of a forthcoming Bolton book.
“The one thing the president should take from this,” he said on Monday morning’s Fox & Friends, is that “he’s got to do a better job vetting his staff to find out if they actually want to work for him or not, or they actually want to leak out information about him.”
But if anyone could be said to have vetted Bolton for a top position in Trump’s administration, it was Fox.
Bolton spent the decade between his stints in the Bush and Trump administrations as a Fox contributor, serving as the network’s face for national security policy in frequent interviews on Fox & Friends and other Fox programs. Trump reportedly selected Bolton for the national security adviser position specifically on the strength those Fox appearances. And the network personalities Trump values most repeatedly vouched for Bolton on air, urging the president to give him a top post and applauding him when he did.
Indeed, when Bolton was under consideration for a senior State Department role back in December 2016, Kilmeade himself bolstered his colleague’s aspirations.
Kilmeade trumpeted fellow host Mike Huckabee’s call for Trump to name Bolton his pick for deputy secretary of state, while Fox & Friends’ chyron read “Number 2 Diplomat?” As co-host Steve Doocy led Bolton onto the set and urged him to get on a Simply Fit board, Kilmeade shouted, “Trump wants to see if you're in shape! He's watching! Mr. President-elect, this is what you could have!”
Fox & Friends wasn’t the only Fox show looking favorably on the notion of Bolton ascending to a top State role. Discussing his own decision not to make a bid for secretary of State, Rudy Giuliani told Sean Hannity that “John Bolton was on the list at that point, and I guess John was probably my favorite.” Hannity replied, “I think you and John together would have been a great team. That’s my opinion.”
Giuliani later became Trump’s personal lawyer, and his Ukraine machinations are at the heart of the scandal reportedly detailed in Bolton’s book, while Hannity became a close adviser to the president as well as the chief propagandist defending his actions.
Bolton ultimately did not take a position among Trump’s initial administration hires. Instead, he remained on Fox, where he lavished praise on the president’s decisions. That reportedly caught the eye of the president, who “relished the way he validated the administration’s policies,” and so when Trump soured on H.R. McMaster, his second national security adviser, he picked Bolton to replace him.
Bolton’s hiring earned plaudits on Fox, with the network’s hosts specifically highlighting his loyalty to the president and his agenda.
“This is, a friend of mine put it, a great day for the America and as well for the president,” argued Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs, perhaps Fox’s most sycophantic Trump fan and a sometime adviser to his White House, on his program the night the move was announced. “I think anyone who knows John Bolton is celebrating because of his intellect, his capacity, his experience, his talent,” he added.
Hannity likewise described Bolton’s hiring as “good news” and a “huge improvement” from McMaster on his March 22 program. “He will serve the president, right, and his agenda,” Hannity added.
“I know John Bolton,” former Bush White House press secretary and Fox contributor Ari Fleischer told Hannity the next night. “With John Bolton at NSA, even more is about to get done. John Bolton is one of the sharpest, savviest operators in Washington. And he is a true north. He is a principled conservative and I welcome John Bolton into this administration.” “Yes, me too,” Hannity replied.
On Fox & Friends, Pete Hegseth, another Fox host who also advises the president, claimed there was a “sense” that McMaster “felt like he was saving America from President Trump, as opposed to channeling why President Trump was elected and helping him do that.”
“That’s the switch you’re getting with Ambassador John Bolton,” Hegseth added. “We know him from this channel, and you know him from hearing from him, but those on the inside have seen him work inside bureaucracies and elsewhere and are very hopeful that this is the kind of guy that will advance the agenda this president ran on.”
And Fox contributor Dan Bongino said that unlike past members of the administration, Bolton would be loyal to the president. “One thing about Donald Trump we all know, and what I’ve heard from a lot of people who know him, and friends of mine who obviously still work there is he prizes loyalty over anything else, everything,” Bongino said, noting that his National Security Council members were “loyal to themselves, they’re loyal to the swamp, and strangely, they’re loyal to the press that will screw them over in a minute.”
“Now, he brings in John Bolton, and though John Bolton has some establishment ties, no one questions his loyalty,” Bongino went on. “He’s going to go in there, it’s going to be a housecleaning, and I think it’s exactly what Donald Trump needs to right this ship.”
That doesn’t seem to be the way events have played out.
The House impeachment investigation produced testimony that Bolton had opposed what he called a “drug deal” to condition a White House visit by Ukraine’s president on Ukraine opening an investigation into the Bidens. And after criticism from Fox host Tucker Carlson, who had Trump’s ear, forced him out of the administration, Bolton has now moved to the center of the Ukraine scandal, which developed because of the president’s affinity for the network and played out on its airwaves.
That makes him an obstacle his former colleagues must overcome if they hope to keep Trump in office, and so they are gearing up to tear him down.