NEW YORK (AP) — Like his son the night before, President Donald Trump sought out a friendly face in the media Wednesday with the news still dominated by talk of Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a woman tied to Russian leaders who offered campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton.
The president was interviewed in the White House by Pat Robertson, the 87-year-old founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network. It was his first non-Fox News Channel interview in several weeks.
Robertson did not ask about the story involving the president’s son, a spokesman said. It seemed to be on the president’s mind, since he told Robertson that he doubted reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin would rather see him as president than Clinton. In the overture his son had received for the meeting last summer, Trump Jr. was told that Putin supported his father’s candidacy.
Trump also spoke Wednesday to Reuters, telling the news agency that he wished he had asked Putin whether he was actively supporting his candidacy when the two heads of state met last week. “It’s really the one question I wish I would have asked Putin: Were you actually supporting me?” Trump said.
Wednesday’s White House briefing was off camera, led by Sarah Huckabee Sanders. She was asked why the president had not had any public appearances in three days, and said he will appear at a news conference in France on Thursday.
Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity reached just under 2.9 million viewers for his interview with Trump Jr. on Tuesday, the most-watched program in a busy night on cable news, the Nielsen company said. That is 8 percent above his season average.
The show was a soft landing spot for the young Trump; Hannity has repeatedly described himself as an opinion host and not a journalist, and preceded the interview by outlining stories critical to Democrats that he claimed were unjustly ignored by a mainstream media that has “zero credibility.”
Hannity missed opportunities. When Trump complained about how the story had slowly unfolded over four days in The New York Times, he didn’t ask whether Trump could have sped things up by being more forthcoming.
Hannity walked Trump through a description of how last summer’s meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya took place. His interview’s enduring value may be in putting Trump on the record on several points, saying the meeting offered little of value, that there were no follow-up emails or meetings, he didn’t fill in his father about it, that he felt it didn’t represent collusion and that he’d cooperate fully with a special prosecutor looking into the Trump team’s dealings with Russia.
Hannity said he’d asked Trump “every question I could think of.”
Although Trump supporters in the media had their defenses ready, there were signs that not everyone on Trump-friendly media were buying the talking points that the latest revelations were an overreaction from a hysterical media.
In a statement about his son, President Trump praised his “transparency” in releasing the material.
Fox News Channel anchor Shepard Smith reported that President Trump had praised his son’s “transparency” in releasing an email exchange about last summer’s meeting, noting wryly that “transparency is something that normally happens prior to learning somebody else is about to document-dump you.”
While on Monday Fox’s Eric Bolling said the story “was an insult to nothing-burgers,” several commentators subsequently suggested that it would be wrong to dismiss the story.
“We shouldn’t get in front of our skis, either calling it a ‘nothing burger’ or collusion,” said commentator Meghan McCain, on the Fox midday show “Outnumbered.”
Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, just named Monday as a regular Fox contributor, said that where he doesn’t think the story provided evidence of collusion, he said it was “deeply incompetent.”
“When you get someone from a foreign government saying they want to be involved in an election, the reaction should be ‘no, thank you,'” said Fleischer, making a “hands-off” gesture with his arms. He said, “I wouldn’t have taken the meeting,” and that it shows the difference between people experienced in politics and those who aren’t.
Another organization in Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, the New York Post, published a blistering editorial on Wednesday saying, “we see one truly solid takeaway from the story of the day: Donald Trump Jr. is an idiot.”