This week, both The New York Times and The Washington Post reported that President Donald Trump berated outgoing acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire for allowing a briefing to members of Congress on Russia’s continued interference in the 2020 election to help Trump. Predictably, Fox News has risen to Trump’s defense.
According to the Times, “Intelligence officials warned House lawmakers last week that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get President Trump re-elected, … a disclosure to Congress that angered Mr. Trump, who complained that Democrats would use it against him.” From the report:
The day after the Feb. 13 briefing to lawmakers, the president berated Joseph Maguire, the outgoing acting director of national intelligence, for allowing it to take place, people familiar with the exchange said. Mr. Trump was particularly irritated that Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the leader of the impeachment proceedings, was at the briefing.
On February 19, Trump announced that he was replacing Maguire with U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell.
Thus far, Fox News has responded to the news with a series of commentary that curiously resembles the stages of grief: denial, then anger — plus some psychological projection — but no sign of acceptance.
Meanwhile, Trump responded Friday morning with a tweet that shows Russia meddling in the U.S. elections remains a major sore point for him from the 2016 election and subsequent investigations, as it continues to undermine perceptions of his own legitimacy:
Denial: Trump wasn’t really angry
This particular line of spin began on Fox’s purported “news” side — with the help of White House sources, as Fox News chief White House correspondent told anchor Bret Baier.
During a discussion on The Story with Martha MacCallum, former congressman-turned-Fox News contributor Trey Gowdy told guest anchor Ed Henry, “My sources on the Hill tell me he was not upset with Maguire, that this was a move that was coming anyway.”
Henry agreed, saying a little later, “That seems to be the crux of this New York Times report that's gotten folks on the left spun up tonight, the idea that the president allegedly berated Joseph Maguire and said, ‘Why did you go brief Adam Schiff and the rest? They were going to use this politically against me.’ We had gotten guidance a short time ago that this idea of the president berating Maguire was overstated.”
Prime-time host Laura Ingraham reiterated the point, with the words “Russia Hysteria!” splashed on the screen behind her.
Anger: Yes, Trump is angry — and here’s why
Some have set out to explain that Trump wasn’t angry at Maguire or the DNI office for the conclusions of the briefing — he’s just angry that it’s getting out to the public.
During the panel discussion on Special Report, Byron York of the Washington Examiner explained: “Well, there's really two aspects to the story. There's whatever the president did, angrily or not in — upon hearing the story, and then there is what the briefing actually consisted of. And apparently, a lot of people from the Director of National Intelligence Office went to Capitol Hill, a lot of staff, there were a lot of people — Republicans, some Republicans felt it was kind of designed to leak.”
Thus, the problem is really all the leaks about intelligence on Russian interference.
In the same interview where Gowdy and Henry insisted that sources said Trump wasn’t actually upset at all, Gowdy also explained why Trump really was angry: “This never should have been made public and that's why the president's upset, not at what the intelligence community found, but the fact that Adam Schiff has a beeline to The New York Times when it's negative information about Donald Trump.”
Likewise, on the Friday morning edition of Fox & Friends, Fox host Jeanine Pirro complained: “And don’t you think it’s interesting that they went right to House intel — gee, who’s on House intel? Go ahead, answer the question. Adam Schiff.” (Intelligence briefings are traditionally given to the House Intelligence Committee.)
More denial: What does the intelligence community really know, anyway?
When Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade pointed out that Trump’s own DNI authorized the briefing to Schiff, Pirro responded: “Oh, so what? Weren’t they wrong with weapons of mass destruction? Weren’t they wrong when it came to — what are all the other issues that they were wrong on, the intelligence community, that even [Sen.] Chuck Schumer said they’ll get you six ways to Sunday if they want.”
Also, in that same clip above of Gowdy and Henry, the former congressman stated: “I don't know anyone who really thinks that Russia prefers Donald Trump to win over Comrade [Bernie] Sanders. I don't know a soul that really thinks Russia wants Donald Trump to be the president instead of the guy that honeymooned in Russia.”
“Number two,” he continued, “is this the same intelligence community that told us it was a spontaneous reaction to a video in [Benghazi,] Libya, and the same intelligence community that promised us weapons of mass destruction and the same intelligence community that relied on the [Christopher Steele] dossier? I mean, I have respect for them, but they're not polygraph machines. I mean they gather information and they make assessments and then they give those assessments, but unfortunately, you give them to people like Adam Schiff who leak like sieves.”
More anger: Projection — no, you’re the problem
During the Special Report panel, contributor Marc Thiessen said Russia’s goal was really to simply sow discord — and that the Democrats and the media were playing into that.
Then on Fox & Friends, co-host Pete Hegseth declared: “This is what [Russia does]. The Democrats, the media fell for it — and they keep falling for it, because they hate Trump so much, they’re willing to parrot what the Kremlin is saying. They are the agents of Russia — not Donald Trump, not this White House. It is the people that are spinning this, continuing to drive this narrative.”
And later on America’s Newsroom, Henry and The Wall Street Journal’s Bill McGurn returned to this theme in the more measured fashion of a regular news program.
And just as a side note: McGurn made the claim that “the last time around, as I recall, didn’t the [Democratic National Committee] refuse to turn over its servers that were hacked?” Henry only responded, “The president’s talked a lot about that.” This continued to dignify Trump’s conspiracy theories about the mysterious Democratic server — which doesn’t exist as any kind of single physical object. (How’s that for covering a story about Russian interference?)