Former President Donald Trump generated backlash late last month as Russian President Vladimir Putin was amassing troops at the Ukrainian border ahead of his invasion.
Trump praised Putin's strategy—declaring two pro-Russia separatist regions of Ukraine as sovereign and sending troops there—as "genius." Later, to a crowd at his Mar-a-Lago resort, Trump said Putin was "smart" for taking over a country "for two dollars' worth of sanctions."
Even within the Republican Party, Trump's comments were controversial. Right-wing Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of Trump's most vocal allies in the Senate, pushed back, with Graham saying he believes he knew what Trump was trying to say, but that "Putin's not a genius, he's a war criminal." House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also disputed Trump's comments.
Enter far-right Fox News host Sean Hannity.
Hannity's relationship to the former President has come under heavy scrutiny throughout the last four years, generating concerns about how his allegiance to Trump affects his coverage. Hannity generated controversy when he spoke at a Trump rally in 2018, despite technically being considered a journalist.
More recently, investigators with the House Select Committee investigating the pro-Trump insurrection at the Capitol last year uncovered texts Hannity sent to Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, urging Meadows to convince then-President Trump to call off the rioters.
On Thursday night, Trump called into Hannity's show for an interview, where Hannity once again sought to do Trump's damage control by eliciting a condemnation of Putin from him.
It didn't exactly go well.
"When you got criticized for saying Vladimir Putin is smart. We've had many conversations, and you've often quoted to me Sun Tzu, The Art of War, 'Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.' Is that how you viewed Vladimir? Did you view Vladimir Putin and people like President Xi and Kim Jong Un and the Iranian mullahs as enemies that you needed to keep close?"
Trump wasn't taking the bait:
"I got along with these people. I got along with them well. That doesn't mean they're good people, it doesn't mean anything other than the fact that I understood them and perhaps they understood me. Maybe they understood me even better. That's okay, because they knew there'd be a big penalty. ... I got along with Putin, I got along with Xi."
Hannity tried again:
"I want to understand your thinking though, and the thinking is 'We got along,' but you knew they were looking out for their interests and you understood that they were capable of evil things."
Saying he agreed with Hannity "100 percent," Trump responded:
"Putin is for Russia and you see what happened. And that's all because they didn't respect our leader."
The response on social media was swift.
Some accused Hannity and Fox News of working overtime for years to prop up the former President.