Donald Trump Jr., you may have just incriminated yourself by posting emails that proved your intent to collude with Russia on Twitter—what are you going to do now? “I’m going on Hannity,” the first son thought to himself on Tuesday afternoon.
Inexplicably, Trump Jr. decided to continue his pattern of making things worse for himself and his father by sitting down Tuesday night for an exclusive interview with his family’s most ardent Fox News booster, Sean Hannity, who did his absolute best to trick his viewers into thinking the entire story was a liberal media invention while at the same time vowing to ask his guest “every single question I can think of on this topic.”
Like his father, Trump Jr. is not prone to apologizing, but he did admit to Hannity that “in retrospect” he “probably would have done things a little differently” when it came to setting up a meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer who promised him damaging information about Hillary Clinton last June. Apparently, that is at least in part because he did not realize at the time that the campaign’s apparent attempts to collude with Russia would be such a big deal.
Asked if the part of Rob Goldstone’s email that referenced “Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump” set off any “sirens” in his head, Trump Jr. shrugged and said, “Honestly, I don’t know,” without addressing the inherent concerns within the question. Hannity declined to push him any further. Some national-security lawyers have told The Daily Beast that Trump Jr.'s apparent ignorance of U.S. campaign laws could be a defense against prosecution.
The email exchange occurred “pre-Russia mania,” Trump Jr. said, before anyone was “trying to build up that narrative” about his father’s campaign’s connections to Russia. That’s why, he explained, the idea of Russia wanting to support Trump did not raise any red flags for him.
Rather than try to coax a more logical, truthful story out of his guest, Hannity did everything in his power to defend him during the interview. After all, before Trump Jr. publicly disclosed the emails that led to the meeting, Hannity was claiming on his show the night before that the whole thing “could have been a setup made to give the appearance of Russian collusion” on the part of a consulting group “connected to Democrats.” Now that that talking point seemed to be moot, he was forced to find a new tack, trying to argue that Hillary Clinton was guilty of the same thing and downplaying the meeting as politics as usual.
“For me, this was opposition research,” Trump Jr. told Hannity, saying he “wanted to hear out” the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who he believed might have some bombshell about his father’s opponent that had been “underreported” by the media “for years, not just during the campaign.” Instead, he said, the conversation “went nowhere and it was apparent that wasn’t what the meeting was about."
“I didn’t know if there was any credibility, I didn’t know if there was anything behind it, I can’t vouch for the information,” Trump Jr. added, defensively. “Someone sent me an email. I can’t help what someone sends me. I read it, I responded accordingly." He also maintained that he never told his father about the meeting, saying, “There was nothing to tell.”
In the end, Trump Jr. said, the acquaintance who set up the meeting ended up apologizing to him—not for potentially setting him up for charges of collusion—but for “wasting my time.” Notably, Trump Jr. also did not deny that he met with other Russians during the campaign, saying, “I don’t even know. I have probably met with other people from Russia, but certainly not in the context of a formalized meeting, because why would I?” Well, as he readily admitted previously, he would do so if it meant obtaining damning information about Hillary Clinton.
Trump Jr. was also quick to plead ignorance about the electoral process itself, telling Hannity, “This is the first time we’ve done any of this. I’m still way in the learning curve on all of this.” In business, he said, “If there’s information out there, you want it. If there was something that came from it that was shady, if it was a danger to national security, I would obviously bring it right to someone, but it turns out it was nothing.”
After a break, Hannity gave his guest a chance to join his attack on the rest of the mainstream media for even suggesting that the Trump campaign is guilty of “colluding” with Russia. “I think politics is a dirty game. We’ve seen the sides that they take, we’ve seen the commentary they have had on my father,” Trump Jr. said. “I think it’s a little bit ridiculous and overplayed and I think people are getting that. I think the media has really done themselves a disservice by taking sides so flagrantly.”
By the end of their conversation, when Hannity said he had exhausted every question he could think of on the topic, he moved on to softballs about the “double standard” he likes to talk about so often on his show.
“The double standard is upsetting,” Trump Jr. said. While he said he would love to “rant and rave” about it—a subtle shot at Hannity?—he believes people can “see it” for themselves. “I think the mainstream media has probably done themselves a pretty big disservice by going so far, by going so extreme, by being so sensational. It’s pushing regular people away.”
“I agree with you,” Hannity replied.
During a preview of the interview with Martha MacCallum on Fox News earlier in the evening, Hannity characterized Trump Jr. as being “very measured” and eager to “get it all on the table.” But he also raised the specter of the ex-British intelligence officer’s dossier on Trump and echoed Trump Jr.’s argument that this was nothing but routine “opposition research.” And Hannity spent the opening 10 minutes of his show pushing a story about what he called “Ukrainian collusion” with Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported Tuesday night that a friend of Trump Jr. said he viewed the Hannity appearance as his “Checkers” moment, referring to a 1952 speech then-vice-presidential candidate Richard Nixon gave to save his position on the Republican ticket.
That approach may yet save his place in the Trump family, but it could also accelerate the end of his father’s presidency.