- Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images
- Fox News commentator Sean Hannity knew about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting more than a week before The New York Times first reported on it in July 2017, according to the special counsel Robert Mueller’s report in the Russia investigation.
- Former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus told prosecutors Hannity told him about the meeting “in late June 2017.”
- Trump and Hannity have been close for years, and Hannity has long served as a de facto adviser to the president, even joining Trump on stage at his final campaign rally before the 2018 midterms.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Sean Hannity, one of Fox News’ star opinion commentators and a staunch ally of President Donald Trump, knew about a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between top Trump campaign officials and Russian lobbyists at least a week before it was first reported by The New York Times.
That’s according to special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report in the Russia investigation, which was released on Thursday with light redactions.
The Times first revealed the existence of the meeting in a July 8, 2017 report.
But Reince Priebus, Trump’s former White House chief of staff, told prosecutors he first learned of the meeting from Hannity “in late June 2017,” according to the report. Priebus testified that he then notified one of Trump’s personal lawyers, who told Priebus he was “already working on it.”
Trump and Hannity have been close for years, and Hannity has long served as a de facto adviser to Trump. Trump reportedly often calls Hannity after the Fox Host’s nightly program to discuss the issues and get advice on policy.
Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, also said that Hannity was one of his clients. Hannity said that he “occasionally had brief discussions with [Cohen] about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective” after Hannity was listed as Cohen’s client in federal court last year. Hannity insisted that he never hired Cohen to be his lawyer.
Hannity’s relationship with Trump drew further scrutiny last November when he joined the president on stage at a campaign rally just days before the 2018 midterm elections after insisting he was simply there to cover the rally for his show.
Fox later issued a statement saying it “does not condone any talent participating in campaign events” and called Hannity’s appearance “an unfortunate distraction.” Fox News did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Hannity’s knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting.
The Trump Tower meeting
The Trump Tower meeting was central to Mueller’s investigation into whether members of the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government to tilt the 2016 election in his favor.
Donald Trump Jr. first received an emailed offer for the meeting in early June 2016 from the British music publicist Rob Goldstone. Goldstone works for the Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, and he pitched the meeting on behalf of Emin and his father, the Russian real-estate developer Aras Agalarov.
In the email, Goldstone offered the Trump campaign compromising material on the Hillary Clinton campaign and specified that the overture was “part of Russia and its government’s support” for Trump’s candidacy.
Trump Jr. replied, “I love it.” Trump Jr., then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and senior adviser Jared Kushner eventually attended the June 9 meeting representing the campaign. They met with two Kremlin-linked lobbyists, Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin.
After The Times reported on the meeting in July 2017, Trump Jr. put out an initially misleading statement saying it had nothing to do with campaign business.
- REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Eventually, it surfaced that he had accepted the meeting because of the Russian offer of dirt on Clinton’s campaign, but that he never received the compromising information and that Veselnitskaya instead wanted to discuss repealing the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which has been used to sanction wealthy Russians suspected of human-rights abuses.
For several weeks after The Times reported on the meeting, Trump insisted he had no knowledge of it until reading about it in the news. But Mueller’s report revealed that Trump knew about the meeting as early as June 2017 and directed his communications staff not to publicly disclose information about it, even after being warned that the fallout could be catastrophic if the emails and details about the meeting leaked to the press.
Mueller’s team also confirmed media reports that said Trump “dictated” the initially misleading statement his son put out when The Times first revealed the meeting.
Prosecutors said in their report that they considered charging Trump Jr. and other participants in the meeting with campaign-finance violations but chose not to because they did not believe the individuals understood that they were breaking the law.
In other words, one former White House official involved in the Mueller probe told INSIDER, “they were saved by their own incompetence.”