Significant for two reasons: First, it's well known that Hannity and the president are close and communicate regularly. The former has been a leading media advocate for the former, to put it mildly, for nearly two years -- and the pair have been personal friends for much longer than that. Second, it's even more well known that Fox & Friends is an exceptionally influential show, given the president's routine viewership of it, which sometimes entails real-time tweeting. That's why Hannity's offering this assessment (assurance?) on today's episode of that show means more in my book than any number of press statements from Republicans on Capitol Hill. Scroll ahead to roughly the seven-minute mark, when co-anchor Steve Doocy raises the prospect of firing Mueller, asking the primetime host, "you don't think that's a good idea, do you?" Response:
"The president didn't say he was going to fire him. This is the fake news media doing what they do best....[Trump] has every right, in my mind, to be frustrated, but we're getting to the end of the process, and there isn't going to be any firing of Mueller. The White House issued a statement late last night."
There are a few notable elements in this full reply. Keep in mind that Hannity has blasted Mueller as a "disgrace to the American justice system," so he is no way an ally of the special counsel's work. Nevertheless, he told Fox & Friends viewers this morning that if he were advising the president -- which he almost certainly is, at least informally -- he'd recommend letting Mueller complete his work without interference or public comment: "Maybe if I was advising the president, I'd say, 'let this investigation go forward. We're probably coming to the end of it'...and it would be in his best interest probably not to comment," Hannity said. He went on to affirm the reasons why Trump's frustrations with the process are justified, then concluded with the fairly definitive assertion that Mueller won't lose his job. But how does that jibe with evidence that Trump, who has begun tweeting directly about the special counsel by name, has decided to personally go after Mueller more aggressively?
Could it be that the list of potential questions Mueller's team sent over to the White House may have convinced Trump that while there may not be any evidence pointing to his team's supposed collusion with Russia, Mueller and company may be homing in on some other damaging issue? The president may suspect that the core of the Mueller probe will vindicate him on the Russia matter, but other tangential but problematic embarrassments might be on the special counsel's radar -- so some aggressive attacks are in order, to lay the groundwork for discrediting Mueller's impartiality if and when a final report is issued. The ostensible purpose of this letter was to assuage concerns from Trump's attorneys that the special counsel was simply interested in setting a so-called 'perjury trap' to ensnare the president:
Special counsel Robert Mueller has presented President Trump's legal team with a list of questions as investigators seek an interview with the president. The New York Times reported Saturday that the questions were a sort of starting point for Mueller, whose team is working to negotiate an interview with Trump as part of the investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 election. It was after his legal team received the questions that Trump launched into a series of tweets in which he denied that his campaign coordinated with Moscow during the 2016 election and lambasted Mueller's investigation as unnecessary.
The point of the questions was actually to demonstrate that they’re not trying to lay what Trump advisers keep calling a perjury trap.— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) March 18, 2018
But what if it's an obstruction of justice 'trap'? Meaning, Mueller could be tipping his hand about what he may be onto regarding possible non-collusion malfeasance, putting Trump in a tough spot. If the president has a limited preview of what Mueller is working on, then cans Mueller, that would very much look like the leader of the federal government's executive branch directly killing an investigation that was closing in on some form of illegality. That would be a disastrously bad look, at best; at worst, it would be a crime. That's pure speculation at this point, but something clearly triggered Trump's rhetorical shift against Mueller. Regardless, I maintain that POTUS would be wise to take Hannity's current advice on this matter: Let the special counsel finish his work and publish his findings, unimpeded. That view appears to be winning the day, at least for now. There's a good chance Mueller's findings will put the Trump-Russia "collusion" story to bed once and for all, even if it creates some new headaches. In the meantime, the media has a bottomless appetite for talking about a hypothetical Mueller firing because they enjoy fantasizing about an event that really would constitute a tipping point. If Trump axed Mueller, his presidency would devolve into a full-blown crisis, with a large number of Republicans breaking ranks. There's a reason why his closest advisers have reportedly mobilized decisively against such an outcome.
Meanwhile, it's been interesting to watch both Trump and his critics pursue the bizarre non-sequitur that the firing of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is really about Mueller. As we detailed this morning, the evidence suggests McCabe's pre-election misconduct would have rendered him worthy of termination regardless of who was president, and regardless of whether the Mueller investigation ever even existed. Former Attorney General Eric Holder has joined the chorus of voices hyping the McCabe firing as a "dangerous" development, a view that requires either ignoring or undermining the legitimacy of essential details and context:
Trump & his fiercest critics are making the McCabe firing about Mueller. It's a non sequitur, insofar as it glides past nonpartisan IG's findings & nonpartisan FBI ethics office's conclusions/recommendations based on McCabe's own pre-election misconduct: https://t.co/9cfheyvynb— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) March 19, 2018
Click through to be reminded of the facts that McCabe was dismissed for unauthorized leaking and misleading investigators, as determined by the Obama-appointed IG, in the course of a probe demanded by Democrats -- which was initiated before Trump was president. And the head of the nonpartisan FBI ethics office that recommended termination was installed by none other than Robert Mueller. On that score, I'll leave you with this headline -- to which Brit Hume quipped, "there are some limbs not even Adam Schiff will climb out on:"
Parting thought: Was Hannity telegraphing Trump's thoughts on this question, or was he staging an intervention targeting Trump?