It would probably be useful for each school to treat the other’s position more seriously. It’s useful, for example, for those who see Trump as incorrigibly corrupt to consider how that generates a demand that politicians will be eager to fill. It’s probably more useful, though, for Trump supporters to consider that perhaps Trump has faced a lengthy list of investigations because he has engaged in a lot of questionable behavior, relying on partisan politics as a shield.
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Fox News host Sean Hannity is by all appearances an earnest member of School One, the category in which Trump is simply a humble public servant who faces a barrage of unfair hostility from the elite. On Monday night, he sought to make that point in an unexpected way, presenting his audience with a looooong list of investigations of Trump.
“Instead of trying to fix the economy or dare talk about it or the border or the fentanyl or opioid crisis or the crime crisis,” Hannity said, “Democrats have been wasting almost all of their time and billions of your tax dollars with one investigation after investigation into all things Donald Trump. And this has been going on now for years.”
And then came the list. The tactic (which Hannity deploys with some regularity) was to imply unimportance by indicating volume. Surely this barrage, unspooling slowly over Hannity’s shoulder, is proof that Trump’s opponents are trying to use any possible tool to derail him?
If we slow it down, though, picking out the actual investigations included by Hannity, the picture changes. A lot of these investigations … make a lot of sense. They aren’t ideal for Trump or for those seeking to apologize for the former president on their cable-news shows. When extracted from the cable-news throw-it-at-them-and-move-on format, the evidence at hand certainly seems to bolster School Two’s position more than School One’s.
Here is what Hannity offered and what each investigation involved. (All descriptions are as shown on Hannity’s show.)
Russia collusion investigation. I’ll note at the outset that Hannity uses the term “investigation” somewhat flexibly. He includes actual criminal probes, congressional inquiries and vaguer what’s-going-on-here sniffing around. So when Hannity mentions the “Russia collusion investigation,” it’s not really clear what he means. Just the unproven idea that Trump explicitly partnered with Russia to aid his 2016 campaign? Does that include media reporting? Just the work of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III? Who knows.
Regardless, we can explain this in similarly broad strokes. Despite the effort to suggest that the Russia probe was a “hoax,” investigations identified numerous contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russian actors. It established clearly how Russia sought to influence the election and how people on the campaign team — his campaign manager, deputy campaign manager and two policy advisers included — had intentional contact with people linked to Russian intelligence or the Russian government. An internal investigation found that the Russia probe was valid and grounded in real questions; a subsequent effort to undermine it has come up short.
Crossfire Hurricane investigation. “Crossfire Hurricane” was the FBI code name for its investigation into Russian interference. It’s not clear why Hannity breaks this out, unless it’s to differentiate between a “collusion” probe and the FBI effort. But: See above.
One thing Hannity didn’t mention, of course, were the very real questions about efforts to obstruct the Mueller probe that Trump avoided largely thanks to the intervention of his attorney general, William P. Barr.
D.C. investigates inaugural funds. After Trump won in 2016, he formed a nonprofit committee to fundraise for his inauguration. It was wildly successful, vacuuming up millions of dollars. A lot of that money ended up being spent for inaugural events at Trump’s D.C. hotel, where prices skyrocketed as the inaugural committee was booking rooms.
The committee and the Trump Organization ultimately settled for $750,000 a lawsuit filed by D.C.
New York investigates inaugural funds. D.C. wasn’t alone in probing how inaugural funds were raised and spent. While Hannity calls this a “New York” investigation, it was actually a federal probe. In January 2020, a prominent donor to the committee pleaded guilty to obstruction charges.
New Jersey investigates inaugural funds. There was also an investigation in New Jersey that began in 2019. Nothing appears to have come of it.
Emoluments clause investigations. When Trump took office, his failure to separate cleanly from his business interests immediately raised questions about conflicts of interest. That’s particularly the case, given the Constitution’s emoluments clause, a line which prohibits the nation’s chief executive from receiving benefits from foreign governments. Like, say, their booking a huge block of rooms at one of his hotels.
A lawsuit centered on the emoluments issue was dismissed by an appeals court in 2019.
Ways and Means tax investigation. Trump’s declining to provide tax returns during the 2016 election was a break with decades of precedent. When Democrats took over the House majority in 2019, the Ways and Means Committee subpoenaed the documents, arguing that the president’s complex business dealings demanded more scrutiny than past presidents’. That effort was unsuccessful.
It’s not clear what “investigation” might have occurred in the absence of the documents. But the committee tried again in 2021 and, last month, the request was granted. So we may find out.
Trump hotel lease investigation. This one also wasn’t much of an “investigation.” When the Trump Organization took over the old D.C. post office to develop its hotel, the lease with the government (which owned the building) blocked federal officials from being party to the agreement. Then Trump became a federal official.
The General Services Administration determined in 2017 that the lease was still valid, even with Trump as a signatory. An internal watchdog later decried the decision. The hotel was sold earlier this year.
Foreign gifts investigation. For presumably obvious reasons, there are rules that prevent a president from accepting expensive gifts from foreign officials. When Trump left office, it became clear that his administration’s documentation of the gifts provided by foreign governments was unreliable. The House launched an investigation in June.
After its search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate last month (see below), federal investigators reported recovering a number of items identified as “gifts.”
Fulton County D.A. 2020 election investigation. The district attorney of Fulton County, Ga., is investigating whether Trump violated the law by pressuring state officials to overturn the certified 2020 vote in the state. The investigation is ongoing, with numerous Trump allies receiving subpoenas.
That Hannity simply slots this in the middle of the list is telling. This is a big deal, with a well-documented predicate — the recorded call of Trump asking that votes be “found.” But Hannity’s viewers are asked to simply consider this as equivalent to, say, the New Jersey inaugural probe.
NAACP Michigan Voting Rights Act investigation. Hannity also leverages his loose definition of “investigation” to make his list longer. This one, for example, is a lawsuit filed by the NAACP in response to the efforts of Trump allies to subvert the 2020 election results in Michigan. The suit has not yet been settled; there does not appear to be any “investigation.”
Mar-a-Lago search. Another little trick by Hannity: leverage the pejoratives he and his network have spent months or years constructing as shorthands for the audience to scoff any questions away. What Hannity calls “Mar-a-Lago raid” might also be described as “federal probe into Trump’s unauthorized retention of government documents, including ones marked ‘top secret’.” Or “investigation into mishandling classified materials and possible efforts to obstruct federal investigators.”
To each his own, I guess.
House Oversight classified materials investigation. It’s not uncommon for a criminal probe to sit alongside a civil one. So the House Oversight committee is also investigating whether Trump stashed classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago event space. It is a separate investigation, yes, but largely of the same thing as is being considered by the Justice Department.
Jan. 6 committee investigation. A House select committee is investigating the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and Trump’s months-long effort to retain power despite his loss in the election. To Hannity and his allies, this is a partisan attack, despite the committee’s inclusion of two House Republicans.
Interestingly, Hannity doesn’t include the federal investigation into the riot on his list, despite abundant evidence that the Justice Department is collecting evidence — including that gathered as part of the House’s civil probe.
D.C. attorney general investigation into Jan. 6. D.C.’s attorney general filed a lawsuit of his own in December.
That Hannity includes this on his list is fascinating, since the suit doesn’t even target Trump! This is a “Trump investigation” only if one believes that Trump has some ownership over the Capitol riot. Apparently Hannity believes that.
Jan. 6 impeachment investigation. A week after the riot, Trump was impeached by the House for stoking the day’s violence. He was acquitted by the Senate after the chamber did not meet the two-thirds requirement for conviction. But, in a remarkable rebuke, seven members of Trump’s party voted to convict.
There wasn’t much investigation here, though. There was one article of impeachment predicated on Trump’s behavior before and on Jan. 6. Hannity includes it because “they tried to impeach him twice” is another scoffing shorthand among Trump supporters — a two-item version of what Hannity wants this full list to do. As though neither impeachment had any basis in fact.
Ukraine phone call impeachment investigation. Speaking of which! Over several weeks of testimony in late 2019, House investigators outlined how Trump sought to leverage governmental power to pressure Ukraine into aiding his 2020 reelection bid. There was a lot of hand-waving around and rationalization of his actions, but the investigation left little doubt about what transpired. Trump was impeached — but acquitted at trial thanks to Senate Republicans.
Hush money payments investigation. Trump was involved in two separate instances of paying women money to keep quiet about their alleged sexual encounters with him. There were obvious questions about how this might have violated campaign finance law. His lawyer pleaded guilty to his involvement in the schemes. The publisher of a tabloid newspaper copped to involvement in the effort.
For anyone else, this would be the end of their political career. For Trump, it’s 17th on a list of investigations.
Michael Cohen pardon investigation. The aforementioned lawyer was Michael Cohen. Cohen also said that Trump’s team floated the possibility of a pardon before the attorney’s decision to cooperate with federal prosecutors. The Manhattan district attorney reportedly opened an investigation.
Save America PAC investigation. A new entry on the list: The government is apparently investigating Trump’s efforts to fundraise in the aftermath of the 2020 election. In recent days, dozens of subpoenas were issued to Trump allies, some of which apparently involved details about the fundraising.
This investigation overlaps heavily with the criminal investigation into the Capitol riot, as The Washington Post has reported. Same players to a large degree, and the same focus.
White House security clearance investigation. This is another one of those that most people probably have forgotten. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a top presidential adviser, failed to get security clearance from federal officials due to concerns including his interactions with foreign officials. (Kushner’s difficulty documenting his connections is well-established.) So Trump sidestepped the process and gave him clearance. House Democrats announced a probe.
Trump’s net worth investigated in House. The Washington Post reported in early 2019 that Trump had for years inflated the components (and value) of his properties to lenders. House Democrats announced that they would investigate whether doing so amounted to bank fraud. More on this in a second.
Use of private email by Jared and Ivanka. After elevating questions about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was serving as secretary of state, Trump was faced with the awkward revelation that members of his own family had used private email after joining his administration.
If that irony isn’t enough for you, how about this: The first investigation in this case was launched not by House Democrats but by the White House itself. The Democrats joined in later.
Again, though, we should step back and pose a question to members of School One: Is this investigation inherently unnecessary or invalid?
Investigation into communications with Putin. In early 2019 — a popular period, as Democrats had retaken the House — the chairs of several congressional committees asked that the White House provide documentation on Trump’s communications with the president of Russia.
There was obviously some politics at play, given the focus on Trump and Russia. But there was also a real question of whether Trump was complying with the Presidential Records Act in documenting his interactions with Vladimir Putin — the law governing retention of documents that also undergirds the Mar-a-Lago search.
Possible money laundering investigation. In May, the Federal Election Commission announced that it had deadlocked on the question of whether Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign committees had engaged in a widespread effort to conceal the nature of hundreds of millions of dollars in spending by moving it through consulting firms.
The FEC is made up of three Democratic and three Republican appointees, meaning that investigations into campaigns have often been blocked by partisan disagreements.
Saudi Arabia nuclear venture investigation. Michael Flynn’s tenure as national security adviser was short-lived but not inconsequential. Whistleblowers told investigators that he’d sought to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia in violation of federal law; the House announced an investigation. Another Trump ally, Tom Barrack, was also reportedly involved; he has been charged with illegal lobbying on behalf of United Arab Emirates.
New York A.G. Trump property values. So you will recall that the Trump Organization was accused of offering inflated valuations for its properties to investors. Well, it also allegedly understated the values to the IRS to reduce its tax bills. The attorney general for New York state began an investigation.
Manhattan A.G. Trump property values. So did the district attorney for New York County, N.Y.
Westchester A.G. Trump property values. So did the district attorney for Westchester County, N.Y. After all, if Trump’s golf course in Westchester was underreporting value, it was underpaying taxes and shortchanging the municipality where it’s located.
Trump SPAC/Truth Social investigated. Both the Securities and Exchange Commission and federal law enforcement are probing possible insider trading involving the special-purpose acquisition company intended to fund the parent company for Trump’s social media platform. Here, too, Trump is involved only tangentially, but the probe earns a spot on Hannity’s list.
Inflated insurance claims investigation. Last October, Rolling Stone reported that investigators were looking at whether a Trump property had overstated storm damage more than a decade ago. It’s not clear how extensive this investigation might be.
Bank officer sought Trump job investigation. Perhaps you noticed that we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel here a bit. Add this one to the list: A banker was indicted for allegedly approving loans to Trump ally Paul Manafort in exchange for landing a job with the Trump White House. He was convicted of bribery and conspiracy and sentenced to prison.
Should he not have been investigated because his case involved the word “Trump?” That appears to be Hannity’s argument, given that the banker made it onto this list.
Hannity seems to want his viewers to believe that none of this was worth any level of investigation, that all of it was simply an effort to exact revenge against Trump. That any questions about Trump Organization property valuations or Russian efforts to influence the election or Trump’s use of governmental power for his own purposes or other people’s possible insider trading or how Jared Kushner got his security clearance or whether Trump followed document retention laws or how he tried to retain power after losing the election or how his team vacuumed up contributions or how those contributions were reported or how much he paid to cover up alleged affairs — that this is all just people being mean to a guy they didn’t like.
You may judge that for yourself.