Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large
Updated: Fri, 26 Apr 2019 16:44:29 GMT
Evoking the days of the 2016 campaign, President Donald Trump called into Sean Hannity's Fox News show on Thursday night and the two men spent 45 minutes chatting in what was less an interview and more a sharing of conspiracy theories and reckless rhetoric.
I went through the transcript and picked out the lines you need to see. They're below.
1. "These are people that should be getting Pulitzers, not the ones that got the Pulitzers that got everything wrong."
Trump is referring to two reporters for Fox and another opinion columnist for the Hill newspaper who have reported on stories that he sees as favorable to him. Therefore they deserve Pulitzer prizes. Oh, and also the people who did win Pulitzers? They got everything wrong! And away we go!
2. "People have been saying this whole -- the concept of Ukraine, they have been talking about it actually for a long time."
Go on ... (Just as an FYI, Trump and Hannity are referring to this piece by opinion writer John Solomon in The Hill newspaper that alleges the Obama White House used Ukraine to push the Russia collusion idea.)
3. "They were the same two, the two lovers that decided to use the FBI server instead of their private so they didn't get caught. These two were beauties. There is no doubt about it. They were going hog wild to find something about the administration which obviously wasn't there."
Trump is referring here to Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, both of whom worked for the FBI during the 2016 election and sent a series of anti-Trump tweets back and forth. (They were also engaged in an affair.) Trump, Hannity and their world are convinced that Strzok and Page are the leading edge of a "deep state" conspiracy against the President.
4. "Now, she lost and now they are trying to infiltrate the administration to -- really, it's a coup. It's spying. It's everything that you can imagine. It's hard to believe in this country that we would have had that."
A coup! Spying! Worth noting: The "spying" I think Trump is referring to is related to a legal FISA warrant that was approved (and then re-approved three times) on Carter Page who the FBI was concerned was a Russian asset.
5. "I don't know if you remember a long time ago, very early on, I used the word 'wiretap' and I put it in quotes, meaning surveillance, spying, you can sort of say whatever if you want."
Trump is referring to tweets he sent in the spring of 2017 in which he accused then-President Barack Obama of ordering a wire-tap on his phone at Trump Tower. Which never happened.
6. "They thought two years ago when I said that just on a little bit of a hunch and a little bit of wisdom, maybe, they -- it blew up because they thought maybe I was wise to them or they were caught. And that's why."
Wait, so Trump accused his predecessor in the White House of spying on him on "a little bit of a hunch and a little bit of wisdom?" Sort of a big charge to bring based on that, right? Also, Trump wasn't "wise to them." There is zero evidence that Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump's phones at Trump Tower during the campaign. None.
7. "And you see Comey lied to Congress. Nothing happened. You see him leaking. Nothing happens."
Trump says this a lot. He never offers any specifics of what the former FBI director lied to Congress about.
8. "I want to find out what's on that server, the DNC server, because that's the big thing. Nobody has seen that server yet. The FBI didn't see it, and these are the top people at the FBI where you had absolute dirty cops. These were dirty cops."
No big deal. Just the President of the United States saying that there are "absolutely dirty cops" at the FBI. All normal!
9. "Now, the FBI -- I know FBI guys, these are the best in the world."
Wait, but what about the "absolutely dirty cops" that run it?
10. "So, I really say, now we have to get down because this was a coup. This was an attempted overthrow of the United States government."
[narrator voice] It wasn't. (Related: This is what an attempted overthrow of the government looks like.)
11. "And this was an overthrow and it's a disgraceful thing. And I don't -- I think it's far bigger than Watergate."
[narrator voice] It wasn't.
12. "It's inconceivable when it goes to Clapper, Brennan, Comey, these people -- I would imagine that some other people may be a little bit higher up also knew about it and maybe a lot higher up."
This conspiracy might just go all the way to the top. Which means ... [mind explodes]
13. "And you got up to 18, 19, 20, they are all Democrats, many of them made major contributions to the Hillary Clinton campaign."
According to Politifact, there were 13 registered Democrats on the Mueller team. It's not entirely clear how many of them were "angry."
14."It was like a one-sided witch-hunt as I called it."
"One-sided witch-hunt" feels sort of redundant.
15. "He was conflicted for that reason. He also was conflicted because of the fact that Comey and him are best friends."
Comey and Mueller are not best friends. They are acquaintances who have known each other for years because of their shared time in DOJ. And the DOJ itself found that Mueller was not conflicted in any way that would keep him from overseeing the probe.
16. "So, if not best, very close to best. But I would say best friends. You look at pictures of the two of them in the past."
By this definition, if you appear in a photo with someone else, you are best friends. Sorry, that's just the rule.
17. "We had a nasty business transaction the two of us. I have a nasty transaction with him and then all of the sudden he is my prosecutor. Very, very unfair."
They, uh, didn't. As Mueller explained in his report, he decided to end his membership with Trump's country club because his family lived in DC and they weren't using the club very much. Mueller asked about whether he could get any of his club dues back. That was it. It was not a "nasty transaction."
18. "Great people that came to Washington, they came to DC to set the world in a very positive way on fire. They wanted to clean things up and do a great job."
I am sure there are some "great people" in all of this. But let's remember that seven people in Trump's world pleaded guilty to lying to investigators or other crimes. So the idea that this was a witch hunt that destroyed the lives of great civil servants who were only trying to do good in Washington is a bit of a stretch.
19. "No collusion and also no obstruction, because the statement was made and the attorney general, you know, understood it very well and he read it and he made a decision right on the spot. No obstruction."
To be clear: Mueller documented a number of incidents of potentially obstructive behavior. The idea that Mueller found Trump had committed "no obstruction" is disputed by the text of the report itself. In the report, Mueller makes clear that one of the reasons he did not recommend Trump be charged with obstruction is because under Justice Department guidelines a sitting President cannot be charged with a crime. Therefore, Mueller didn't even consider it. William Barr, Trump's hand-picked attorney general, decided to not pursue an obstruction charge.
20. "So, you had no collusion, no obstruction, $35 million spent, and unlimited manpower, woman power, and there is nothing. Nothing."
"(I)f we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state," reads the Mueller report. "Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. ... Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him." -- The Mueller Report
21. "It's very important for the country to now find out how that whole thing started. And in all fairness to Bob Mueller it started long before he was appointed. This was going on long before that. You understand."
I do! As documented in the Mueller report and in sworn testimony by DOJ officials on Capitol Hill, the FBI's counterintelligence probe into Russian interference began in the summer of 2016 because Australian officials warned their US counterparts that a Trump aide -- George Papadopoulos -- had been bragging that he knew the Russians had dirt on Clinton.
22. "The first lady and I came down on the escalator on June 16. And this started very shortly after that. It was a disgrace. Disgrace."
It didn't. Trump's announcement was the summer of 2015. But, why not repost that amazing moment?
23. "This was a coup. This wasn't stealing information from an office in the Watergate apartments. This was an attempted coup."
I'd say this was deeply irresponsible for the President of the United States to repeatedly insist there was a coup against him with absolutely no actual evidence but, well, you already knew that.
24. "He didn't mention Strzok and Page and McCabe and Comey and the lies and the leaks and overthrow and the whole thing with the Hillary Clinton got a win 100 million to 1, two lovers, two sick lovers, especially the one."
Remember that Mueller's mission was to detail Russian interference in the 2016 election and the possibility of collusion or obstruction. His task did not include investigating the "two lovers, two sick lovers."
25."I'm trying to be very nice and I want to be very tempered, but there are tremendous problems on the other side."
So this is what "trying to be very nice" looks like? Got it!
26. "The fake dossier which even 'The New York Times' now says was fake, which, again, I respect that they came out and said it."
The Times story didn't say the dossier, put together by former British spy Christopher Steele, was "fake," but rather noted that the Mueller report didn't validate many of the claims in it. (Worth noting: Trump has spent lots of time insisting the report was a) illegal and b) made up.)
27. "Papadopoulos who nobody knew, and Carter Page, who I actually feel very sorry for. I never met them. But you know, they made him -- they used him to try and get -- to try and spy on the campaign."
Papadopoulos and Page both worked on the Trump campaign for periods of time. So, there's that. Then there's the fact that the FBI didn't try to get Page to spy on the Trump campaign. They attained a FISA warrant to surveil him. It's not even close to the same thing.
28. "But to me it seems to be pretty obvious when you look at what happened with Carter Page and it's -- they were spying."
Again: Carter Page was the subject of a FISA warrant. The reason the warrant was approved (and re-approved three times) was because the FBI had sufficient evidence to convince a FISA court judge that Page may have been a Russian asset.
29. "Everything is going to be declassified and more, much more than what you just mentioned. It will all be declassified."
We are going to declassify the hell out of this place!
30. "He is not the brightest light bulb in the group, I don't think, but he has a name that they know."
Donald Trump has a fire take on Joe Biden, as you might imagine.
31. "We have ordered jets, the likes of which no country has. We have fighter jets, the F- 35, the F-18. We have jets the likes which no country has at all."
The best jets. No one else has these jets.
32." I can tell you, the bigger the window, the better I did with it."
Donald Trump likes big windows ... (in reference to New York City's plan to cut building emissions).
33. "People want big windows and now they're going to take them down to nothing."
Small windows?! What is this, Russia?
34. "A lot of the wall was, you know, I'm good at this stuff. That's what I do. We renovated a lot."
35. "I watch you and Tucker and I watch Laura and your great guys in the morning with Steve and Ainsley and Brian. Brian came a long way. I kid him but he came a long way, and so many other people."
Three things here: a) Trump watches so much TV b) he refers to a slew of Fox News anchors by their first names and c) Trump thinks Brian Kilmeade came a long way because the Fox anchor now agrees with him all the time.
36. "And a term that, you know, I'm very proud of somebody said which is the best of the names, I don't know, maybe fake news. Who knows what it is?"
So ... [looks around] anyone, uh, catch the meaning here?
37. "They are tricky people. But they were fake, they were corrupt."
What Trump is really saying here about the mainstream media is that they didn't write "nice" stories about him and, therefore, are "fake" and "corrupt."
38. "I figured at least they would give me, for whatever reason, they would give me great, but they were --- I think they were more hostile frankly than CNN, which is hard to believe."
The "they" here is NBC. And Trump's thought is worth exploring. He believes that because "The Apprentice" ran on NBC for more than a decade, that NBC News would give him favorable coverage. This statement reveals how little he understands how independent journalism does -- and should -- work.
39. "But we have a fantastic [health care] plan that we'll be rolling out and subject to us winning back the House, keeping the presidency, which I think we're going to do. And also obviously winning the Senate."
[Jim Halpert look straight to camera] There is no plan.
40. "I could have fired everybody. I could have fired Mueller. I could have fired anybody that I wanted to fire, Article 2."
That's not actually true. Or it's legally dubious. First of all, Trump wouldn't be the one directly doing the firing -- that would fall to the Justice Department, where Mueller was technically an employee. Department of Justice regulations make clear that a special counsel can only be removed for "good cause," like misconduct, medical reasons, or violating internal policies.
41. "I was totally transparent. I didn't tell anybody you can't go. I could have. I could have said 'You are not going to testify. Nobody is going to testify.'"
Trump sought to meddle in the Mueller probe on a number of occasions, according to the Mueller report. He tried to remove Mueller. The Mueller report made clear that not only did Trump tell McGahn to get rid of Mueller but, when The New York Times broke that news, he called McGahn into his office again to ask him to issue a statement denying that the incident had occurred. McGahn refused. Trump pressured then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to unrecuse himself from the probe. He asked former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to tell Sessions that Mueller's probe had to be limited to future election interference.
42. "I have known him for a while and he's a pretty sleepy guy."
Judging from the context here, I think Trump means "dumb" when he says "sleepy." Because I don't think he actually believes Biden is narcoleptic.
43. "A lot of people wanted me to take the word 'sleepy' to something that rhymes with it. Does that make sense to you? And I thought it was too nasty."
44. "He's got a lot of energy but he has got misguided energy and he's done very poorly in terms of the Senate."
Bernie Sanders and the case of the misguided energy.
45. "I would hope he would. I hope -- I'm rooting for him but he is not going to make it."
The "he" is South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, aka Trump's favorite candidate. Too bad Mayor Pete's "not going to make it" to the general election, per Trump. So, yeah, this feels like a good place to end.