The hosts of “Fox & Friends,” President Donald Trump’s favorite morning news show, on Wednesday were quick to distance the president from legal troubles plaguing his former top aides.
In a whirlwind day of news Tuesday, Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, was found guilty on eight counts of bank and tax fraud. Potentially more consequential for the president was Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, pleading guilty to eight counts, including illegally interfering in the 2016 election at Trump’s direction.
But the Fox News hosts were ready to move the goal posts once again on Wednesday. They acknowledged that Cohen paid women to stay silent about alleged affairs with Trump but claimed the president likely didn’t do anything illegal.
“In the past, [Cohen] said he paid off Stormy Daniels without the president knowing. Now he’s saying the president directed him,” co-host Ainsley Earhardt said. “Why did he change his story? This is a guy, keep in mind, who is pleading guilty to eight really bad crimes.”
Earhardt later questioned whether breaking campaign finance laws was even illegal in an attempt once again to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump obstructed justice.
“The president yesterday said, ‘No Russia collusion,’” she said. “Republicans are accusing Mueller of building his team full of Democrats, people who don’t like this administration, will they get him on something else? Would they get him on breaking campaign finance laws? Is that a crime? Is it illegal?”
Prosecutors had argued Cohen’s $130,000 payment to Daniels, an adult film star who claimed she’d had an affair with Trump, in 2016 qualified as a donation to Trump’s campaign because it attempted to derail any negative coverage of the then-candidate that could affect the outcome of the election. Campaign finance laws prohibit donations of more than $2,700 in a general election.
Cohen told the court Tuesday that Trump had directed him to make payments to two women, presumably Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, in exchange for their silence. Prosecutors say the Trump Organization reimbursed Cohen over $420,000 for the payments.
“The question is when the money was ultimately paid back, was it taken from campaign funds? I don’t think there’s any indication that there was,” Brian Kilmeade, co-host of “Fox & Friends” said Wednesday.
His colleague Steve Doocy backed him up: “According to the experts I was reading this morning, the prosecutors would have to show that Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump knew they were breaking the law, which is a gray area and is hard to prove.”
Fox News political analyst Greg Jarrett on Wednesday flatly denied the possibility Cohen’s admission legally implicated Trump.
“As long as there is a secondary or dual purpose, the law says it’s not a campaign expense,” Jarrett said on the show. “So for the president, there would be personal and commercial reasons for paying money in exchange for a nondisclosure agreement.”
“This really isn’t a campaign violation, and it’s certainly not criminal,” he added.
The Fox News personalities’ defense of the president fell perfectly in line with comments made by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, following Cohen’s plea deal.
“There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the President in the government’s charges against Mr. Cohen,” Giuliani told The New York Times on Tuesday. “It is clear that, as the prosecutor noted, Mr. Cohen’s actions reflect a pattern of lies and dishonesty over a significant period of time.”
Other cable news networks focused largely on the Cohen bombshell Wednesday morning, but “Fox & Friends” dedicated a portion of its airtime to bashing MTV’s Video Music Awards and celebrating National Tooth Fairy Day.