By Jamie Gangel, Jeremy Herb, Elizabeth Stuart and Brian Stelter, CNN
Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Fox’s Sean Hannity exchanged more than 80 text messages between Election Day 2020 and Joe Biden’s January 2021 inauguration, communications that show Hannity’s evolution from staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump’s election lies to being “fed up” with the “lunatics” hurting Trump’s cause in the days before January 6.
CNN obtained Meadows’ 2,319 text messages, which he selectively provided in December to the House committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. While the logs show Meadows communicating with multiple Fox personalities, as well as a number of journalists from other organizations, Hannity stands out with 82 messages. The texts, including dozens of newly disclosed messages, offer a real-time window into how Hannity, a close friend of Trump, was reacting to the election and its aftermath.
Throughout the logs, Hannity both gives advice and asks for direction, blurring the lines between his Fox show, his radio show and the Trump White House.
On the afternoon of Election Day, Hannity texted Meadows at 1:36 p.m. to ask about turnout in North Carolina. Two hours later, Meadows responded: “Stress every vote matters. Get out and vote. On radio.”
“Yes sir,” Hannity replied. “On it. Any place in particular we need a push.”
“Pennsylvania. NC AZ,” Meadows wrote, adding: “Nevada.”
“Got it. Everywhere,” Hannity said.
The texts also show the two men debating Trump’s strategy to challenge the election, complaining about Fox, and plotting about what to do after Trump left office — including possibly working together.
“You also need to spend at least half your time doing business with us,” Hannity texted Meadows on December 12. “And I’m serious. Did u ever talk to Fox. I’ve been at war with them.”
“I agree. We can make a powerful team,” Meadows responded. “I did not talk with (Fox News CEO) Suzanne (Scott) because I got tied up with pardons but I will make sure I connect. You are a true patriot and I am so very proud of you! Your friendship means a great deal to me.”
“Feeling is mutual,” Hannity wrote back.
While Hannity did not respond to CNN’s invitation to comment on his text exchanges with Meadows, he appeared to address the matter Friday night on his Fox show.
“I’m on the Fox News channel, which is a news channel, but I don’t claim to be a journalist, I claim to be a talk show host. But I can produce thousands of hours of straight news, thousands of hours of investigative reporting,” Hannity said. “I’m upfront about who I am, I am a registered conservative. Yes, I voted for Donald Trump, I make no apologies. I give my opinion straightforward.”
Meadows and his lawyer did not respond to CNN, but according to a Friday night court filing, Meadows maintains that his texts “are devoid of any evidence that Mr. Meadows had any knowledge of, let alone any role whatsoever in, the untoward events at the Capitol.” The filing also states that the January 6 committee has used the texts Meadows has already handed over “to vilify him publicly through the media.”
Feeding the fraud conspiracies
Initially after the November 2020 election, Hannity appeared to be all in with Trump’s false election claims. On November 29, he texted Meadows saying he had his team trying to prove election fraud: “I’ve had my team digging into the numbers. There is no way Biden got these numbers. Just mathematically impossible. It’s so sad for this country they can pull this off in 2020. We need a major breakthrough, a video, something.”
Meadows responded, “You’re exactly right. Working on breakthrough.”
“Ok. Would be phenomenal,” Hannity texted back.
But several weeks later, as Trump’s team lost court challenges and the wild claims from attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell failed to materialize into anything more than false conspiracy theories, Hannity’s tone shifted.
Hannity checked in with Meadows on December 22, asking him how he was doing.
“Fighting like crazy. Went to Cobb county to review process. Very tough days but I will keep fighting,” Meadows said, referring to the Trump team’s objections to votes from Cobb County, Georgia.
While Hannity never appeared to dispute Trump’s false claims about the election itself, he expressed alarm at the tactics of some of those pushing Trump’s case. Hannity responded to Meadows, “You fighting is fine. The fing lunatics is NOT fine. They are NOT helping him. I’m fed up with those people.”
By New Year’s Eve, Hannity warned about the fallout if top White House lawyers resigned in protest. Hannity also appeared to accept the fact that the election was over and the President’s best course of action was to go to Florida and engage Biden from there.
“We can’t lose the entire WH counsels office. I do NOT see January 6 happening the way he is being told,” Hannity said. “After the 6 th. He should announce will lead the nationwide effort to reform voting integrity. Go to Fl and watch Joe mess up daily. Stay engaged. When he speaks people will listen.”
Prepping for a Trump interview
Hannity’s text messages to Meadows are of interest to the House select committee, which wrote to Hannity in January requesting an interview. That month, the panel released some of Hannity’s texts to Meadows showing his concern about what would happen on January 6, 2021.
After the letter was sent, Hannity’s attorney, Jay Sekulow, told CNN, “We are reviewing the committee’s letter and will respond as appropriate.”
The texts provide evidence of what many White House and Fox sources claimed during Trump’s time in office: That Hannity acted as a “shadow chief of staff” while also juggling radio and TV shows. Trump would frequently call into Hannity’s show — and Hannity appeared on stage with the President during his final 2018 campaign rally.
While Hannity was fiercely loyal to Trump on-air, his off-air relationship was more complicated. He sometimes complained about Trump’s conduct and fretted that the President was hurting the Republican Party writ large.
Hannity has said he is not a journalist, and Fox does not hold him to traditional journalistic standards. He is more akin to a GOP activist and entertainer, like some of his fellow Fox hosts. In addition to Hannity, Fox’s Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, Maria Bartiromo and Brian Kilmeade all sent messages to Meadows as well.
A spokesperson for Fox did not respond to a request for comment.
In one noteworthy text, Bartiromo messaged Meadows on the morning of November 29, less than an hour before she was set to conduct Trump’s first interview since Election Day. The text included questions she planned to ask Trump.
“Hi the public wants to know he will fight this. They want to hear a path to victory. & he’s in control,” Bartiromo texted at 9:21 a.m. “1Q You’ve said MANY TIMES THIS ELECTION IS RIGGED… And the facts are on your side. Let’s start there. What are the facts? Characterize what took place here. Then I will drill down on the fraud including the statistical impossibilities of Biden magic (federalist). Pls make sure he doesn’t go off on tangents. We want to know he is strong he is a fighter & he will win. This is no longer about him. This is about ????. I will ask him about big tech & media influencing ejection as well Toward end I’ll get to GA runoffs & then vaccines.”
At 10:12 a.m., Trump called into Bartiromo’s show, “Sunday Morning Futures.” Her line of questions mirrored much of what she laid out in the text message.
“Thank you for talking with us in the first interview since Election Day,” Bartiromo said. “Mr President, you’ve said many times that this election was rigged, that there was much fraud. And the facts are on your side. Let’s start there. Please go through the facts. Characterize what took place.”
The committee previously released texts from both Kilmeade and Ingraham expressing alarm over the attacks at the Capitol and its effect on Trump’s legacy. Tucker Carlson appears in only one exchange in the Meadows text logs, when he was trying to speak to Meadows while prepping for his show on November 17.
“Sorry I missed you. I was writing the show. Figured it out I think, but I appreciate it,” Carlson wrote.
The logs also show there were dozens of journalists from other organizations who texted with Meadows during this time period. In contrast to Hannity’s messages, these reporters were frequently seeking the White House chief of staff’s confirmation of breaking news or trying to secure an interview with Trump.
Meadows received texts from reporters with the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Politico, Bloomberg, NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN, among others.
‘I’m beginning to feel down’
As the returns were coming in on Election Night, Hannity pinged Meadows to share a tweet about early vote totals out of North Carolina, a state that was crucial to Trump’s reelection hopes. “Will we hold??” Hannity asked Meadows.
“We are still good,” Meadows wrote back.
A week later, Hannity checked in again to see how Meadows was “holding up.”
“I am doing well. Working around the clock. We are going to fight and win,” Meadows said.
“You really think it’s possible,” Hannity responded. “I’m beginning to feel down. To (sic) much disorganization. We need Jim to front the messaging. Someone that’s credible.”
“Arizona now down just 12813. Still ballots to count,” Meadows wrote back. “Very disorganized but I have been busting heads yesterday and today. Let NOT your heart be troubled my friend.”
Hannity and Meadows’ texts underscore the insular effects of the right-wing media echo chamber, where little if any accurate information about the election results was able to break through.
In November and early December, Hannity’s show often amplified Trump’s election lies. Guests including then-White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany made near-nightly appearances to sow doubt about the election results and stoke support for doomed legal challenges. “We will follow the facts,” Hannity claimed on his December 2 program, one day after Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, declared there was no evidence of widespread election fraud.
But in his texts with Meadows, Hannity sounded resigned to the fact that the election was over.
“Texas case is very strong. Still a Herculean climb. Everyone knows it was stolen. Everyone,” Hannity wrote on December 8. “I vacillate between mad as hell and sad as hell. Wtf happened to our country Mark.”
Meadows responded, “So upset to see what we allowed to happen.”
“Honestly we think alike. That’s another discussion,” Hannity wrote back.
‘I’ve been at war with them all week’
The text messages also shed light on Hannity’s tensions with Fox. The Trump-aligned channel infuriated the former President by calling Arizona for Biden on Election Night.
On December 6, Meadows sent Hannity an article about then-Fox host Chris Wallace (who has since been hired by CNN) interrupting Trump’s HHS Secretary Alex Azar when Azar called Biden vice president instead of president-elect.
“Doing this to try and get ratings will not work in the long run and I am doubtful it is even a short term winning strategy,” Meadows wrote.
Hannity responded with a jab at Fox and a suggestion about what Meadows should do after leaving the White House: “I’ve been at war with them all week. We will talk wen I see u,” Hannity wrote. “Also if this doesn’t end the way we want, you me and Jay are doing 3 things together. 1- Directing legal strategies vs Biden 2- NC Real estate 3- Other business I talked to Rudy. Thx for helping him.”
Hannity expressed his frustrations again several days later, telling Meadows that he had made a campaign ad.
“I was screaming about no ads from Labor Day on,” Hannity wrote on December 8. “I made my own they never ran it. I’m not pointing fingers. I’m frustrated.”
In his book, “Frankly, We Did Win This Election,” reporter Michael Bender reported that Hannity had scripted an ad for the Trump campaign, which then paid Fox more than $1 million to run. According to Bender, the ad ran only on one show, Hannity’s. When Bender’s book was published last year, Hannity denied writing a Trump campaign ad.
On December 11, Meadows asked Hannity to send him the phone number of Suzanne Scott, the Fox News CEO. “I can call through switchboard but that makes it a bigger deal,” Meadows said.
The next day, as Hannity pitched Meadows about working for Fox, he also offered an insightful window into how he views Trump. Hannity texted, “I truly feel sorry for our friend. He’s never had a days peace. On the other side of this, he’s exposed a very dark side of the swamp that’s far worse than I ever imagined and I am not particularly optimistic for the future.”
‘The seats are slipping away’
By mid-December, both Hannity and Meadows were concerned about the two Senate run-offs in Georgia that would decide control of the chamber in 2021. By that point, Trump had started his harsh attacks on Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp for certifying the state’s election for Biden.
Hannity and Meadows also began making plans for after the Trump administration, discussing how Trump could fashion a comeback bid and how Meadows could work against the Biden administration.
“These 2 senate seats are slipping away. Kemp is a total idiot,” Hannity wrote on December 12.
Hannity argued that Trump should make the Senate race about him.
“He has to make this about him. I’ll make a deal with you, If you (elect) 2 R’s to the senate, I’ll run again in 2024,” Hannity wrote of Trump. “Make it about him. 2 of the worst candidates I’ve ever seen.”
“The seats are slipping away,” Meadows responded. “I agree that he has to give some hope for the future. Connect the future to these candidates.”
Meadows continued, “Additionally. I think we set up a group of administrative lawyers, with a communication arm that fights election laws in every state and fight Biden actions every day, starting on Jan 20. ACLU filed over 400 lawsuits against Trump administration. We need to do the same. I think I can raise around 10 million dollars to hire a team to make sure the fight continues and prepares the way for 2024.”
‘He can’t mention the election again. Ever.’
As January 6 approached, Hannity expressed his concern about what would transpire. He texted Meadows on January 5, “Im very worried about the next 48 hours. Pence pressure. WH counsel will leave.”
On January 6, after the Capitol was breached by pro-Trump rioters, Hannity was one of a number of people texting Meadows urging Trump to intervene. “Can he make a statement. I saw the tweet. Ask people to peacefully leave the capital,” Hannity texted Meadows at 3:31 p.m.
“On it,” Meadows responded.
Later that evening, after Trump had sent another tweet attacking Vice President Mike Pence, Hannity expressed more alarm to Meadows, “Wth (What the hell) is happening with VPOTUS.”
In the January 6 aftermath, Hannity sounded a glum note to Meadows as many Republicans looked to cast Trump out of the party. Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell gave a floor speech on January 19 saying the mob was “provoked” by Trump, prompting Hannity to share the video with Meadows. “Well this is as bad as this can get,” Hannity texted.
Hannity spoke to Trump several days after January 6. The call did not go well, Hannity wrote in a group text to Meadows and GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. Hannity said he wanted Trump never to speak about the 2020 election again, but that Trump was unwilling, and Hannity appeared at a loss for what to do next.
“Guys, we have a clear path to land the plane in 9 days. He can’t mention the election again. Ever,” Hannity wrote. “I did not have a good call with him today. And worse, I’m not sure what is left to do or say, and I don’t like not knowing if it’s truly understood. Ideas?”
Neither Meadows nor Jordan appeared to respond.
This story has been updated to include Hannity’s recent comments and Meadows’ comments in a court filing.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correctly reflect the reporting in Michael Bender’s book, “Frankly, We Did Win This Election,” regarding an ad Hannity scripted for the Trump campaign. Bender reported that the ad ran only on one show on Fox, Hannity’s.
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