House Republicans didn't need to read a briefing book to prepare for Robert Mueller's appearance on Capitol Hill. They had Sean Hannity.
During his Tuesday evening broadcast, the bombastic Fox News host dedicated nearly 15 minutes to rattling off questions he would want to ask the former special counsel when he appeared before two congressional committees on Wednesday.
“This is not me telling people what to do,” Hannity insisted.
But when it came time to publicly grill Mueller, many Republican questions lined up with Hannity’s script—and one committee member even openly cited the Fox star’s trusty pro-Trump on-air sidekick.
“Gregg Jarrett describes your office as the team of partisans,” Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) said to Mueller near the beginning of his allotted time.
Many of the Republican questions were nearly indistinguishable from the claims and accusations that have long been red-meat on Hannity’s show and among conservative media outlets throughout Mueller’s investigation. But over the course of the first several hours of the ex-FBI director’s testimony, GOP questions overlapped with at least 18 of those featured on Hannity’s show the previous evening.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), a Hannity favorite, asked the former special counsel multiple questions that Hannity proposed on his show, particularly zeroing in on the idea that Mueller’s friendship with fired FBI Director James Comey was an issue.
“Did [Trump] give you a reason for why he fired James Comey?” Hannity had suggested Republicans ask.
“Did [Trump] mention the firing of James Comey? Did he mention the firing of James Comey in your discussion with him?” Gohmert pressed during Wednesday’s hearing.
Another suggested Hannity question: “Is it fair to say that you’re friends with Jim Comey? Were you angry at his firing, Mr. Mueller?”
And Gohmert’s approximation: “You and James Comey have been good friends or were good friends for many years, correct?”
Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), a lesser-known name than some of the frequent Fox News guests on the Republican side of the committee, echoed multiple Hannity questions aimed at suggesting Mueller’s team was loaded with Democrats biased against President Trump.
“Were you aware that [Mueller deputy Andrew] Weissmann was a devout Democrat who was at Hillary’s victory party?” was Hannity’s recommended question.
Armstrong asked, “[Weissmann] attended Hillary Clinton's election night party. Did you know that?”
Another set of parallel questions concerned attorney Jeannie Rhee.
“Were you aware that Jeannie Rhee, who worked for you, worked for Hillary Clinton on the Clinton foundation as her lawyer? Why was she on your team? Was that a conflict of interest?” was Hannity’s question. Similarly, Armstrong asked Mueller if he is “aware that Ms. Jeannie Rhee represented Hillary Clinton originating in her time as secretary of state?”
Hannity also insisted GOP lawmakers ask Mueller why he fired former FBI agent Peter Strzok, whose anti-Trump texts had become fodder for conservative outrage throughout the probe. Armstrong and several other Republicans dutifully followed script, emphasizing—as Hannity did—that such a firing was suggestive of Mueller’s concerns about the perceived independence of his office’s investigation.
After further peppering Mueller with Strzok-related counter-narratives frequently featured on Hannity’s show, Gohmert asked one of the Fox host’s questions about the unfounded accusation—one which President Trump has repeatedly boosted—that the FBI willfully deleted Strzok’s political texts. “Did you ever order anybody to investigate the deletion of all of their texts off of their government phones?” Gohmert inquired.
Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) also rattled off several questions suggested by Hannity, largely related to Christopher Steele, author of a controversial dossier outlining alleged Trump-Russia ties—a document that Hannity and others have falsely claimed kicked off the Mueller probe.
The congressman followed through on Hannity’s call to ask about whether Mueller’s team ever interviewed Steele, whether they were aware that the dossier was “full of Russian lies,” and about how his document was used by law-enforcement officials. Like Gohmert before him, Steube also asked about Mueller’s relationship with Comey, another question suggested by Hannity.
During his Tuesday evening show, Hannity also generously allowed Jarrett—a former Fox News anchor who has morphed into a right-wing, anti-Mueller pundit in recent years—to submit a bevy of possible questions for Republicans.
Not only did Rep. McClintock specifically cite Jarrett’s commentary on two separate occasions, but while facing Mueller, the California Republican asked the Fox News pundit’s question accusing the special counsel’s office of “political bias” and deliberately withholding information about a telephone message left by Trump lawyer John Dowd on short-lived national security adviser Michael Flynn’s phone.
—With additional reporting by Justin Baragona.