Sean Hannity Talks to Mediaite About Flynn, ‘Obamagate’, Coronavirus and Why the Economy is Worse Than ‘Dire’


Sean Hannity wants you to know he was right. The Fox News host, and most-watched broadcaster on cable news, has been taking a victory lap over the latest developments in the investigation of the Russia investigation. And he is insistent that his years-long assault on the legitimacy of the probe has been vindicated.

A few developments have prompted this victory lap, which has manifested on air in recent weeks as Hannity’s focus has shifted from blanket coverage of the coronavirus pandemic to look at what happened at the start of the investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia. The Justice Department has (controversially) moved to drop the case against former national security advisor Michael Flynn, who twice pleaded guilty to lying to investigators. Meanwhile, Trump’s acting director of national intelligence has been declassifying selected documents pertaining to the Russia investigation, in an apparent effort to undermine the origins of the investigation and raise questions about the Obama administration’s handling of it. Trump has slapped a somewhat comical name on this alleged scandal: Obamagate. He is calling for investigations into his predecessor as well as his 2020 rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, though he has not pointed to a crime or even specific acts of wrongdoing on their parts. Even Attorney General William Barr has dismissed the idea that they will be investigated, though he has argued the Trump administration was unfairly targeted.

Hannity has argued on air that the alleged scandal is unprecedented. The Fox News host and I spoke by phone on Thursday, for a rare interview that has been condensed for length and clarity.

Let’s start with Michael Flynn. You’ve been on this story for years. The Justice Department is now looking to drop the case against him, which is a pretty unusual step given that he already pled guilty to lying to investigators. Why do you think that’s justified?

Well, everybody’s got to understand the full picture where he was at the time. And and this is what is so infuriating about what Judge Emmet Sullivan is now doing. I think it’s a grave miscarriage of justice. You know, we’ve got to come to grips with how our justice system fails us in big ways and small ways. I always say, the 99 percent of good people in law enforcement, the 99 percent of good people in the world’s premier law enforcement organization, the FBI, the 99 percent of good people in the intelligence agencies that keep us safe every day. And what’s so insidious about this — there are so many different levels — is that part of a tactic, technique that is widely used by prosecutors can be abused. And that is when you are offering people something of great value in exchange for them to say something. And you know, this this happens all the time. In other words, Oh, well, if you tell us this, this and this about this person, well, we’ll let you go. And we know over the years that might have done that, mob cases, etc. What do you want me to say? You mean I get a get out of jail free card? That is a huge value for people. So they might be willing to say things, whether they’re true or not true. And there are prosecutors that will use that — in the case of Michael Flynn. Let’s go back and look at what we know. We now know that. And I was right on this from the get go that the full investigation into the Gen. Flynn was complete and the case was ready to be closed completely.

Where the abuse of power comes in, in the situation with Flynn, how did we get to him finally deciding to agree to something he did not do. The case is dead. Peter Strzok in a panic, is riding to the seventh floor of the FBI and asking that it stay open. [James] Comey gives the go ahead.

And then that leads to Jan. 20, the president is inaugurated. That’s the day of the Susan Rice letter. Four days later, you have Gen. Flynn, a 33 year war hero, combat veteran, calls Andrew McCabe, the deputy FBI director, and asks him, Well, do I need a lawyer? And the answer is given No, you don’t need a lawyer, it has nothing to do with anything like that. OK, no problem. So in comes Strzok and in comes another FBI agent. And we able to finally glean one thing from the original 302 that is missing in the in the recent document dump from the House Intelligence Committee. And that was. That that the original 302, the answer on the question of what he spoke about with his soon-to-be Russian counterpart, that he remembered the call, that he didn’t remember specifically if they talked about items involving any type of sanctions. Then we also uncovered a long time ago that the agents didn’t even think he was lying. [The FBI memo, or 302, from that meeting stated that Flynn “did not give any indicators of deception.” Lawyers for the Special Counsel argued that the agents’ impression of Flynn’s demeanor did not change the fact that he lied.] Now we still don’t have the original 302. Where did that go? That needs to be brought up.

If this was the case, why would Flynn plead guilty to lying?

So now Flynn is going bankrupt. Now Flynn can’t afford his lawyers. Now Flynn has to sell his family home. And after a period of time when you’re out of money and you had to sell your house, and the next thing these prosecutors are telling you is, Well, either you admit to this or we’re going to go after your son. And I’ve been able to confirm through all of my sources and I’ve said this a long time now, because it was confirmed, that that was the moment. He said, You mean you’re going to put my son in jail unless — you want me to sign something that’s untrue. It’s not true, but I have to say this to save my son.

His son had been working for him.

Correct. In business dealing with international affairs. Now, I don’t know about you Aidan, you’re young, do you have kids yet?

No kids.

Okay. He’s a general. He served his country. He served his family. He dove on the sword… If you have prosecutors that are threatening to put your own child in jail as a means of pressuring you to get a guilty plea so they can move on to bigger fish — that always being Donald Trump. I would argue as a father, I would dive on the sword also.

Do you think Michael Flynn did lie, to at least Mike Pence, when he said that he didn’t discuss sanctions with Sergey Kislyak? Which is what President Donald Trump fired him for.

I think what would be more revealing, what is more revealing, is what the 302 said. Is that when they asked him, he said, I know I talked to him. I don’t remember any specific discussion, us specifically discussing that. Now, Aidan, I know about you. I could tell you Reagan’s record, top to bottom, sideways, up, down, forward, crossways. I can tell you the same thing about George 41’s record. I could give you chapter and verse on Bill Clinton. I could give you chapter and verse on George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. But you ask me who I had on my show last Tuesday, I can’t tell you. So the idea that he wouldn’t remember a phone call with a soon to be counterpart, which is perfectly legitimate, as admitted to by [Samantha] Powers and Rice and the testimony released by the House Intel Committee, that you have somebody who was basically doing their job. And I don’t know whether or not Pence was told that he lied. Was Pence told that the FBI didn’t think he was lying? Because that was in the original 302. What was Pence told?

But Pence went on television and said that Flynn and Kislyak didn’t discuss anything to do with sanctions, and investigators saw that. Their two conclusions would have been either Pence was in on it with Flynn, or Flynn had lied to Pence. And they knew the Russians knew that, because they were aware of the call between Kislyak and Flynn. Presumably as an investigator, you would find that alarming, that the vice president of the United States is saying something that differs from reality. And the Russians know that.

Well, I think the vice president, I assume the vice president, this we don’t know, we really need to get to the bottom of this part. I assume that the vice president was told that he lied as it relates to the call with Kislyak. But now the original 302 now confirms that Flynn said he remembered the call, he didn’t deny talking about the call, he didn’t remember the specifics of the call. Which, by the way, I don’t think would be unreasonable. Do you remember who you talked to three days ago? I don’t.

I might remember if it were Sergey Kislyak.

I don’t think so, because that would be extraordinarily common by that point. General Flynn, I would think that he was talking to other soon-to-be counterparts around the world. And the idea that the president-elect’s policy at that point was very clear that he hoped that he could have good relations with Russia.

Michael Horowitz, the inspector general, examined the Russia investigation. He concluded that the FBI had “authorized purpose” when it initiated its investigation and that there wasn’t evidence of political motivation in launching it. Doesn’t that dispel the idea that this was an attempt to handicap the administration as it came in?

I will tell you, I think the effort to handicap the administration, now we have to go back further in the timeline. We have to lay the foundation for everything that that happened prior to the election. Now, remember, there was I think Michael Horowitz did a great job within the confines of only being able to review that which is in the Department of Justice. Versus, say, John Durham. And remember, Bill Barr said, Yeah, we don’t agree with some of the conclusions of Michael Horowitz. He wasn’t being critical of Horowitz. There are parameters that Horowitz had that John Durham does not have. So there was other information now that has been accumulated.

Now, as it relates to Gen. Flynn, there’s so many injustices here on so many different levels. Number one, if the case was closed, why did they reopen it? Number two, why did they ambush him? Number three, why did McCabe tell him he didn’t need an attorney. Number four, why would James Comey, Mr. Super Patriot, Mr. Higher Honor, brag about doing something he wouldn’t do in another administration? And that is take advantage of the chaos on day four of the Trump administration. I sent them in, he says with passion. I sent them in to do something he wouldn’t do or get away with it, any other administration. And the normal process would be to go through the White House counsel, which is what he should have done if he had any honor at all.

Do you think the president intends to pardon Roger Stone?

I don’t talk to the president about such. That’s not my place. I hope he does. Frankly, I hope he pardons all of them.

I have a question about James Comey. One thing I’ve always tried to understand about this is: If the FBI, led by James Comey, was intent on sabotaging Trump, why didn’t they leak news of the Russia investigation during the campaign? And why did James Comey come out a week before Election Day and announce the reopening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton?

You’re asking a great question that I have an answer to. Because remember that information came from Anthony Weiner’s laptop. Where did it come from? It came from the New York law enforcement officials. I’ve spoken to numerous New York law enforcement officials involved in that, and other people. I guess what, [Comey] was told you get it out or we’re putting it out. He was forced to do something he had no plans on doing.

The existence of the Russia investigation and the investigation and potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. We didn’t learn about that until after Trump was elected.

That’s not true, there were leaks coming out if you remember. [Michael] Isikoff and David Corn had written some of the dossier. I believe the hooker-Ritz Carlton story.

The president has now been asked twice, most recently an interview with Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business, to explain “ObamaGate.” And he didn’t. He went on a riff about Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, but didn’t give a convincing answer as to what the scandal was. Now, Attorney General William Barr says he doesn’t think there’s going to be a criminal investigation of Obama or Biden —

Not at this time. That is not their focus. But he also said, read the whole statement. He also said it was “unprecedented.” [Hannity proceeded to read Barr’s recent statement on the Russia investigation: “The law enforcement and intelligence apparatus of this country were involved in advancing a false and utterly baseless Russian collusion narrative against the president. The proper investigative and prosecutive standards of the Department of Justice were abused, in my view, in order to reach a particular result. We saw two different standards of justice emerge, one that applied to President Trump and his associates and the other that applied to everybody else. We can’t allow this ever to happen again.”]

What he is saying here is exactly what my show has reported on for over three years.

Do you want Obama and Biden investigated?

I want to know, what did Obama know. Now that we know that he knew about the Flynn call, for example. Now that we know that very day of the meeting that he shocked Sally Yates, his own chief of staff, who asked for the unmasking of General Flynn. And then two days after that, his own vice president asked for it. I want to know what he knew and when he knew it. I want to know why Susan Rice was so urgent to go back, 15 days later, on the day Trump was inaugurated, to memorialize a note to self that Obama said to everything by the book.

But there is no evidence that any of this is criminal. Unmaskings are not criminal.

You’re going to have to talk to the legal experts. But if you’re using the powerful tools of intelligence, turning them on the American people and denying them their civil liberties and constitutional rights. I do believe Gregg Jarrett has identified, rightly so… [Alan] Dershowitz, there’s a whole bunch of lawyers that I’ve spoken to that think there is a criminal conspiracy here.

Do you have faith that Trump takes the threat of Russian interference in the upcoming elections seriously enough?

A thousand percent. I don’t think there’s anybody that’s been screwed over more by Russian disinformation than Donald Trump.

But he does downplay it. In part because he thinks that people cite Russian disinformation as having helped him win in 2016. So he very often dismisses it.

I think they wanted they wanted to create chaos and they did. Look, Putin is a hostile actor. I’ve said this a million times. Russia is a hostile regime. Donald Trump understands the world. His approach is, if we can get along I’d rather get along because I’d rather not have these long conflicts abroad. And I’m going to get us out of these conflicts.

Let’s talk about coronavirus. You have been calling for the country to open up.

For the country to open up safely.

Yes. But then you look at the cases: New York is still adding some 2,000 cases a day. And it’s not clear that we have the infrastructure to handle a safe reopening of the state yet. The economy is one thing, but what happens if states start to open up prematurely and deaths go up?

It’s a great question, and I don’t think there’s a perfect answer, but I think there is an answer. You know, we have to learn what did we do right in this, what did we do wrong. For example, they were the meatpacking plants. There were three instances, one in South Dakota, one in Iowa, one in Washington state, and very, very successfully they were able to immediately jump on those three hotspots and and contact trace and make sure that the people that had contracted the virus were isolating at home and not infecting their family. So, you know, we’re now learning. I’m not blaming people, but there were some very dumb decisions made. The most egregious decisions were made in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan. March 25th’s executive order. You live in New York. You read the New York papers. That executive order, forcing patients into nursing homes and long term care facilities, was an unmitigated disaster.

Do you have anything to say to people that refuse to wear a mask?

Yeah. Wear the mask for other people. Maybe it won’t impact you or take your life. But if you contract this virus and you don’t know you have it, and you’re asymptomatic and you’re shedding the virus and you come in contact with somebody that has an underlying health condition, they may end up dead because you weren’t willing to wear a mask. Wear the mask. It’s only temporary.

Do you think the president is working enough to ramp up the infrastructure — that a lot of other countries have — that will be needed, once we reopen the country, to control the spread of the virus, like contact tracing and testing?

It’s so funny to listen to, you know, all of these people — for example, on March 2nd, when the governor of New York said We are New Yorkers, we’re not like these other countries, we’re prepared. The same day, March 2, Comrade de Blasio was saying, Oh, here are my recommendations, go out on the town, here’s where I recommend March 2-5. They weren’t prepared.

Well, you criticize de Blasio for saying, go out and be outside as if it’s normal, but in late March, Trump was still comparing coronavirus to the flu. Is that not a double standard?

I don’t remember that he was comparing it at that point — again, let’s, for example, look at [Dr. Anthony] Fauci because he is the gold standard, right? Feb. 29 he’s saying the risk is low. I think it was March 9th he’s saying if you’re young and healthy, there’s no problem go on a cruise.

But Trump said in March “we’ve never closed down the country for the flu.”

I would blame New York more. They didn’t listen to the health departments and have any preparation. They didn’t listen by the ventilators or the PPE equipment. They were told to buy it. They didn’t. They chose over the years not to do it. Then they were screaming at the federal government to provide it.

Dr. Fauci, he didn’t get it right. And I think the world of this guy, this guy dedicated his entire life saving the lives of others. This guy was instrumental in helping six presidents.

Do you object to your fellow primetime hosts’ criticisms of Dr. Fauci? Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham have been harsh on the on the doctor.

I don’t reject anybody having an opinion at all. I applaud opinions.

Do you disagree with them?

Other networks could be a little more honest, they’re all opinion all the time. And it’s all in one opinion. Fox is not all one opinion. Fox has varying opinions. I’ll run through the lineup if you want me to.

No need. I did want to ask about the upcoming election. President Trump was pitching his reelection in 2020 on the booming economy. This pandemic has evaporated those gains. As you know, when you hear Kevin Hassett or Larry Kudlow talking about the next couple of months, it’s a pretty dire forecast. Do you think Trump’s still going to win?

Dire doesn’t even capture it. The second quarter in this country is going to be -35%, I wouldn’t be surprised to see -40%. I mean, we shut down the country. The country demanded it…. By the way, anybody with a brain already understands the second quarter why it’s down. Do I think the American people are going to hold [Trump] accountable, meaning You’re responsible for the virus? No. That’s ridiculous. I think the American people are smart, they’re smarter than the media or people give them credit for. And I think the American people understand why it needed to be done. But now that we’ve learned the lessons of it, we’ve got to reopen. We’ve got to think of creative ways to do it safely. We are doing. You see it emerging everywhere. I look at the picture of the models that are being built for the potential opening of casinos. I’m pretty impressed by that. Yeah. If you add to that, temperature checks, turnstiles everywhere which can be mass produced. I like it. You know, Purell sanitizer everywhere. I like that, too.

Here’s my wrap up. Tying all of this in. We have an election in 166 days. We’ve been through the worst pandemic since the Spanish flu in 1918. And everything is political. This is a broader media analysis. I’ve never seen such breathtaking intellectual dishonesty, laziness, I’ve never seen a media so corrupt. I’ve never seen a media so singularly focused on this groupthink, psychotic hate-Trump every second, minute, hour of every day. Go look. Watch any 24 hours of fake news CNN, Roswell Rachel Maddow’s Area 51 conspiracy TV channel MSDNC. You hardly ever hear a single good word about Donald Trump. They wake up in the morning hating this guy. I said in 2007 and 2008 journalism is dead, fully dead and buried. They have now become the mob and the media. And I say mob because it’s groupthink.

I follow the stories they will not touch. And we’ve ended up being right. We were right on Flynn. We were right on Hillary’s server. We were right on FISA abuse, pre-meditated fraud. We were right about the dossier. We were right every step of the way.

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Aidan McLaughlin is the Editor of Mediaite. Send tips via email: Ask for Signal. Follow him on Twitter: @aidnmclaughlin