President Donald Trump is at odds with his own chief law-enforcement officers over a controversial memo fueling Republican allegations of a conspiracy against the Trump presidency. But by all indications, the president is less amenable to the concerns of his own FBI than those shared by a less formal, more bombastic adviser.
That adviser is Sean Hannity, who has been hyping the so-called Nunes memo all week, and with whom the president continues to speak regularly.
According to three sources with knowledge of their conversations, Trump has been in regular contact with Hannity over the phone in recent weeks, as the Fox News prime-time star and Trump ally has encouraged the prompt release of a controversial four-page memo crafted by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee. Hannity has gone to the wall to push for the public release of the memo, which the intelligence panel and its chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), authorized this week in a party-line vote despite the classified information therein.
Sources say Hannity’s persistent advocacy reinforced Trump’s already growing determination to get that memo into the public realm—despite huge potential fallout within the law enforcement and intelligence arms of his own administration.
In their conversations, Trump and Hannity discussed the Nunes memo’s supposed bombshell-level significance, and how it could shed light on the alleged anti-Trump bias and “corruption” at the FBI. On these calls, Trump has directly referenced specific recent Hannity segments related to #ReleaseTheMemo, according to one of three sources with knowledge of their conversations.
The White House press office did not respond to requests for comment, and Hannity declined to comment. Sources, two in the White House and the other an outside adviser, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Trump not only deeply values the private, after-hours political and policy advice and gossip from his favorite cable-news hosts, but is a notoriously avid consumer of their broadcasts, particularly highly sympathetic shows like Hannity and Fox & Friends. As he has inched closer to publicly releasing the Nunes memo—he has privately said it’s all but a foregone conclusion—cable news and right-wing media have shaped his views on the issue, as they have on many other topics, far more so than the briefings or private intelligence provided by those within his administration, White House officials say.
On Monday afternoon, the day before President Trump’s State of the Union address, the White House summoned some of the president’s most trusted allies and outside advisers to the Entrance Hall in the official residence. The meeting included a who’s who of pro-Trump surrogates and media commentators, including cable-news regulars Jason Miller, Larry Kudlow, and Jack Kingston.
“Man, are you a warrior—you’re a warrior!” Trump told a person in the group, according to three sources present. “We’re all warriors in this fight.”
As the meeting wound down, President Trump made sure to approach people one-on-one to commend them for their performances and appearances on live TV. In some cases, he cited specific TV interviews and segments from the past weeks that he found particularly compelling and fun to watch. Some attendees were surprised at how closely the president of the United States had been watching them. For others, it was simply additional confirmation of “how much of a [TV] addict” Trump is, according to another person at the White House meeting.
Hannity, while not in the room that day, is one of Trump’s top “warriors” on the outside, along with his other Fox News colleagues who double as informal advisers to Trump, such as Lou Dobbs and Laura Ingraham. Among other things, Trump consulted Hannity on the Iran deal late last year shortly before the president strongly weighed killing it.
"Senior counselor to the president, Sean H[annity]," one senior White House official joked to The Daily Beast this week.
Hannity has worked himself into a frenzy this week, promising viewers “the biggest political scandal in American history.” On Wednesday evening, Hannity even hinted that he was privy to non-public information. “There's so much more coming, I wish I could share it with you now,” he said.
Fox News host and former judge Jeanine Pirro (another part-time Trump adviser) has already determined culpability.
“I have been saying from the beginning, Sean, this guy McCabe needs to be taken out in cuffs,” she told Hannity on Tuesday evening.
For other Fox opinionators, it’s been a week of pleading with the president to release an unredacted copy of the memo—direct pleading, in some cases, in the hope that Trump happens to be tuned in.
“I know he watches certain shows on this channel, so let’s send a very clear message,” said Sebastian Gorka, current Fox News contributor and former official in the Trump White House, in a Tuesday appearance on Lou Dobbs’s Fox Business show. “Mr. President, the American people need to see the whole memo. Please release the unredacted memo.”
Though Hannity and other Trump-friendly pundits will likely proclaim its vast significance in any case, releasing the memo could produce little tangible upside for a president who hopes to kneecap special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation—even as it results in massive political fallout.
According to CNN, the White House is also concerned that releasing the memo would spur FBI Director Christopher Wray to resign in protest. If that happens, former FBI agents told The Daily Beast on Thursday, Wray’s subordinates should consider following his lead.
“People in Washington should be prepared for a Saturday Night Massacre,” said former Special Agent Ali Soufan, referring to the Nixon White House bloodbath. “Many honorable men and women should be prepared to resign, to walk out over this.”
In the end, though, Trump’s favorite media personalities may hold greater sway over the president’s decision than even his own FBI director.