Fox News pundits responded furiously after it was implied they had used White House talking points to make the case Donald Trump had done nothing wrong in his dealings with Ukraine – despite similarities between the cable news network’s arguments and the official Trump administration line.
Following a day of coverage on the transcript of Trump’s controversial phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, The Five presenter Juan Williams referenced the White House's leaked defence of the president – adding “Just listening here, boy, those talking points, they have made the rounds”.
“Whoa whoa whoa, what does that mean - Are you saying I got talking Points Juan?” his colleague Greg Gutfeld said, cutting the co-host off and calling the accusation “unbelievable”.
Fellow presenter Jesse Watters added: “Are you saying I got told what to say by the White House?”
“I’m just saying they’re all around," Williams said.
Despite a strong response to the contrary, many of the arguments put forward by Fox News pundits after the document was released to the public echoed the White House’s talking points on the phone call which were accidentally sent to congressional Democrats on Wednesday - including three core media “myths”.
The executive’s position paper argued that what the president discussed on the call was “entirely proper” – and rebuked claims Mr Trump had pushed Mr Zelensky to talk to his lawyer Rudy Giuliani about Mr Biden’s engagement with Ukraine eight times, stating: "Fact: The president mentioned Rudy Giuliani only after Zelenskyy (sic) mentioned him first and referred to Biden in only one exchange".
Fox News’s chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge said: “The key thing from the initial reading of this transcript is that there are not multiple references, as widely reported, to the former vice president and his son.
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“Based on our count, there’s a key reference and then some follow-up references. There’s a handful, approximately three.”
The talking points added that the president had not offered a direct "quid pro quo" deal and there was no “mysterious ‘promise’” made to Mr Zelensky, a point made by several Fox News hosts throughout the day including Bret Baier who said “To the president’s point, you don’t see a direct quid pro quo in the language tying this to that”.
On Wednesday, the president released the transcript of a phone call between himself and Mr Zelensky amid allegations the White House had withheld financial aid from the eastern European country to pressure them into investigating Donald Trump’s possible rival in the 2020 presidential race – former Vice President Joe Biden - and his son, Hunter.
The White House has claimed Mr Biden meddled in the sacking of prosecutor general Viktor Shokin who was investigating firm Burisma Holdings, of which Hunter was a board member, to protect his son – claims strongly denied by the Obama-era VP, who was one of many world leaders to call for the Ukrainian official’s removal.
The allegations against Mr Trump, which have led to an official attempt to remove him from office, were spurred on by an anonymous whistle-blower from the intelligence community whose statement was withheld from congress by the Justice Department.
While the Trump administration had hoped to ease tensions around the president’s dealings with the eastern European nation by releasing the call transcript, it has done little to cool Democratic politicians’ push for impeachment.
“The president has tried to make lawlessness a virtue in America” the party’s most senior official Nancy Pelosi said in a statement shortly after the document’s release, “and now is exporting it abroad”.
She added: “Either the president does not know the weight of his words or he does not care about ethics or his constitutional responsibilities.
“The transcript and the Justice Department’s acting in a rogue fashion in being complicit in the President’s lawlessness confirm the need for an impeachment inquiry. Clearly, the Congress must act.”