Donald Trump's "Fox & Friends" debacle: President throws himself under the bus

Fox News' morning talk-show hosts ultimately pulled the plug on a disastrous Trump interview. Was it too late?

By Heather Digby Parton


Published April 27, 2018 8:15AM (EDT)

 (AP/Evan Vucci/Getty/Salon)
(AP/Evan Vucci/Getty/Salon)

President Trump started off the week in a beautiful bromance with French President Emmanuel Macron and ended it with his nominee for Veterans Affairs secretary, White House physician Ronny Jackson, forced to withdraw under allegations of illegally dispensing drugs and passing out drunk on the job. In between, the media harangued Trump repeatedly about his growing legal troubles, and his Parisian bestie appeared before Congress and declared in so many words that since the U.S. has a buffoon for a president, its allies will take up the job of articulating the values of civilized nations. When the pressure builds up like this, Trump simply has to vent. And for some reason he has to do it in public.

Since Trump doesn't give normal press conferences and is refusing to give many interviews, his only outlet was his morning briefing team of Brian Kilmeade, Steve Doocy and Ainsley Earhardt of "Fox & Friends," who happily accepted his call on Thursday morning. He sounded unusually energized, speaking at twice his normal speed, and was obviously extremely agitated. The president doesn't drink coffee, or I might have suspected he'd had a couple of quad espressos before he picked up the phone. Perhaps he downs a six pack of Diet Cokes upon waking. Whatever the case, he was as manic and disjointed as we've ever heard him. And that's saying something.

He started off by saying it was Melania's birthday, admitting he had only gotten her a card. Then he went on about how much France loves him and then said something about Iran and small boats circling and "barrels" full of money. Next he launched into a long diatribe about the supposed Democratic obstructionists who are failing to confirm his appointees, followed by a big shout-out to people he called "warriors," which included the extremists of the Freedom Caucus, his onetime campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and the pro-Trump performance art duo known as Diamond and Silk. (They happened to be testifying before Congress that morning, and it was almost as surreal as Trump's call.) Then he rambled on about Dr. Jackson and appeared to threaten Sen. Jon Tester, the Democrat who had released damaging allegations about Jackson, warning the senator that his constituents in Montana really love Trump.

Doocy then led Trump into an angry denunciation of James Comey, filled with what are apparently a bunch of Fox News conspiracy theories that only people deeply enmeshed in that cocoon can possibly unravel. Trump didn't even seem to understand them, so he just worked himself up into a frenzy culminating with this:

There's no collusion with me and the Russians. Nobody's been tougher to Russia than I am. You can ask President Putin about that. There's been nobody. Between the military and the oil and all of the other things that I've done — the aluminum tax. They send us a lot of aluminum, and I put tariffs on aluminum coming in. The 60 people that we sent out — the 60 so-called diplomats. Nobody's been tougher. Nobody's even been close to as tough as me, and we hear this nonsense. So there's no collusion whatsoever.

You have to love the idea that he says they should ask Putin.

He went on a bit more about Comey and then digressed to some old news about CNN having given debate questions to Hillary Clinton, at which point the "Fox & Friends" hosts started to look a bit green around the gills. He was rapidly melting down.

They chatted about Kanye West's ecstatic support for Trump, and the president asserted, on no evidence whatsoever, that African-Americans had voted for him. "People don’t realize, you know, if you go back to the Civil War it was the Republicans that really did the thing," he said. "Lincoln was a Republican." This appears to be one of those historical facts Trump learned only recently.

There was more craziness, most of it just vintage incoherent Trump rambling, escalating in tone and manic energy all the way through. But threading through the entire conversation was a lot of discussion about the Justice Department, the FBI, Michael Cohen and Robert Mueller, all of which are obviously very much on his mind. Some of what the president said immediately got him into trouble, and the rest may have far-reaching ramifications.

First, Trump said that Cohen only did "a tiny, tiny little fraction" of his legal work but that "Michael would represent me and represent me on some things, he represents me — like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal." There happened to be a hearing in the Cohen case later in the morning, and federal prosecutors used that quote in court to undermine Trump's claim to attorney-client privilege, since he had said Cohen only did a small fraction of his legal work.  They weren't the only lawyers who jumped on it:

Trump also may have stepped in it with his comments maligning the Department of Justice and the FBI. Early in the conversation he said, "I have decided that I won't be involved. I may change my mind at some point, because what's going on is a disgrace." Then he got very wound up and circled back to the topic later:

You look at the corruption at the top of the FBI. It's a disgrace. And our Justice Department, which I try and stay away from, but at some point I won't.

Later in the morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 14–7 to advance legislation to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller from an unjustified firing. In an unprecedented move in this Congress, four Republicans joined with the Democrats to vote for it. Even some who didn't, like Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, suggested that there could be an impeachment if Trump interfered with the investigation. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska called that possibility “politically suicidal," and even Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, generally a loyalist, said it would be “disastrous” if Trump tried to shut down the Mueller probe.

Trump's greatest mistake, however, may have been tossing Michael Cohen to the wolves by saying, "I have nothing to do with his business." That's a little hard to believe, since Cohen was an executive vice president of the Trump Organization for more than a decade. Cohen certainly had to hear it as his old boss casting him aside. It was also cruel of Trump to destroy Cohen's claim of attorney-client privilege for his own sake. You can bet that prosecutors will remind Cohen of Trump's words when they ask him if he might have some information he'd like to share with them.

Trump's lawyers have to hope that his little venting session relieved some of the pressure and that he'll keep his mouth shut for awhile. They should all send a thank you note to the "Fox & Friends" producers (and maybe even Rupert Murdoch himself) for insisting that their hosts pull the plug on the president, something I've never seen happen before. Any other news organization would have kept on going as long as he wanted to talk. But Fox is on Trump's team, so they valiantly tried to save him from himself. Unfortunately for him, it was way too late.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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