Faced with one of the most damaging days of Donald Trump’s presidency, one of Trump’s chief defenders unwrapped a half-dozen counterarguments for why Michael Cohen’s plea deal, and Paul Manafort’s conviction, were all just a big nothing burger.
The only crime uncovered by prosecutors on Tuesday, Fox News host Sean Hannity insisted, was the crime of being too close to Donald Trump.
“Is it dangerous to be friends with Donald Trump?” Hannity asked at the top of his show. “We will call out the corruption justice system.”
Still, as news broke on Tuesday evening, it became clear that they’d have a lot to explain away.
On Tuesday afternoon, Trump’s former personal attorney Cohen pleaded guilty to eight criminal counts including campaign finance violations, tax evasion, and bank fraud. Shortly after Cohen’s plea, a jury convicted former Trump campaign chair Manafort of eight fraud-related counts related to filing false income tax returns and bank fraud.
During his show on Tuesday night, Hannity threw out a number of excuses for why Fox News viewers should not be concerned that two of the most senior figures in Trump’s campaign and business respectively were guilty in court on the same day.
Though he once praised Manafort's savvy political instincts, on Tuesday Hannity pointed out that Manafort only worked for the Trump campaign for "eh, a little over 100 days."
The Fox News host argued that Cohen—who recently also worked as a lawyer for Hannity himself—was “forced by the prosecutor” to say that Trump directed him to violate campaign finance laws by paying off Playmate Karen McDougal and porn star Stormy Daniels ahead of Election Day in 2016.
Hannity repeatedly invoked Hillary Clinton, claiming that the Department of Justice's decision not to prosecute the former Secretary of State for her use of a private server proved that “equal justice under the law, equal application of our laws is dead.”
And while he acknowledged that there were “lessons” to be learned about not committing election, bank, and tax fraud, Hannity said Tuesday’s news actually reflected more critically on special counsel Robert Mueller, who has not yet shown evidence that the Trump campaign actively colluded with Russia.
“How do you go from an investigation into Russia collusion in the 2016 election and this is what we have?” Hannity said. “Taxes from years and years ago? Bank Fraud? Medallions? Lying to the F.B.I.? Where is the Russia stuff?”
Other Fox News hosts tried different arguments to downplay Cohen’s guilty plea and Manafort’s conviction.
Earlier in the night, Fox News host Tucker Carlson said that Manafort’s conviction seemed straightforward. But he repeatedly argued that the charges Cohen pleaded guilty to were “confusing” because many famous people pay large settlements with nondisclosure agreements to keep affairs private.
“I'm so confused,” Tucker said. “If someone says ‘Give me money or I will humiliate you in public,’ and you do give that person money, that's a campaign donation?”
Ultimately, contributor Mark Levin summarized the conclusion opinion hosts wanted Fox News viewers to remember.
“I want the news media to understand: You know what took place in the Southern District of New York?” Levin said on Hannity’s show. “Nothing that matters."