As some of then-President Donald Trump’s closest allies hit the exits after the violence of the Jan. 6 insurrection, longtime informal adviser and Fox News host Sean Hannity took a different approach: He tried to convince Trump that he could use his office to help heal some of the wounds from the insurrection.
Trump was a lame duck, facing a second impeachment with only two weeks left in office. He had few friends, a skeleton staff, and was coming out of a public relations nightmare. His powers were limited. But he still had one unlimited power: the presidential pardon.
On Thursday, the Jan. 6 Committee released text messages between Hannity and then-White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. In those text messages, Hannity appears to debrief McEnany on a conversation he had with Trump the day after the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
One item from that conversation: “He was intrigued by the pardon idea!! (Hunter)”
A person familiar with the conversations confirmed to The Daily Beast that the “Hunter” in the text was, in fact, Hunter Biden, the son of President Joe Biden and a longtime target of conservative critics—Hannity foremost among them.
According to the source, Hannity had proposed that Trump issue a last-minute pardon for Hunter Biden, whose business dealings had two years prior been at the center of the ex-president’s campaign to extort an investigation out of the Ukrainian government—efforts that led to Trump’s first impeachment in 2019.
Hannity pitched the idea in a Jan. 7 conversation, framing it as a gesture that might help “smooth things over” after the insurrection’s traumatic rift, this person confirmed. But ultimately, the idea, like others in the text to McEnany—such as “no more stolen election talk” and “attending inauguration”—ultimately went nowhere.
“It died on the vine,” the person recalled, adding that, despite Trump’s initial interest, the pardon was “never seriously considered.”
One Trump loyalist told The Daily Beast that pardons for Democrats like Hunter Biden and Hillary Clinton had been something of a running joke in Trumpworld, but nothing the former president had taken at face value.
The Hunter Biden idea wasn’t originally Hannity’s, another source said, though the host, shaken by the events of the insurrection, brought it to Trump’s attention in earnest—along with the others—because he “genuinely wanted some healing.”
Previously released text messages from around Jan. 6 show the Fox News star floundering among a vanishingly small circle of Trump whisperers who could not access the president during the most desperate hours of the attack—including fellow network personalities Laura Ingraham and Brian Kilmeade.
Hannity had expressed concern in other text messages that Trump was getting bad advice in the run-up to the “Stop the Steal” rally, and warned then-chief of staff Mark Meadows on Jan. 5, “I’m very worried about the next 48 hours.”
In the immediate aftermath, Hannity—who condemned the attack that same evening and called for the perpetrators to be “prosecuted”—was apparently one of the only people who could access Trump directly. But while a strain of optimism laced his texts to McEnany on Jan. 7, hopes faded as Trump appeared to grow more unstable.
“I did not have a good call with him today,” Hannity wrote to Meadows and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) on Jan. 10, three days after the pardon conversation. Hannity flatly stated that “we have a clear path to land the plane in 9 days,” but Trump “can’t mention the election again. Ever.”
“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?” he wrote.
The Daily Beast reached out to Fox News, McEnany, and a Trump spokesperson for comment, but received no replies.
Conservatives have hammered Hunter Biden for years, invoking everything from alleged financial crimes to sordid Page 6-style sex gossip in an effort to paint Biden’s son as a national security threat. The story has factored heavily in Fox News programming—specifically during the 2020 election, and even more specifically, on Hannity’s show.
The pardon, then, would have been a hard shift into reverse for both Trump and Hannity, and could have complicated the network’s plans for its coverage of the Biden White House. Although, a pardon also would have come with the implicit suggestion that Hunter Biden had actually done something wrong—a supposition that has never been proven, much to Fox News’ chagrin.
The hard news division at Fox News joined other outlets when it reportedly passed on what was seen at the time as the bizarre Hunter Biden laptop story weeks ahead of the 2020 election. But after the New York Post’s report, the network enacted a full-court press, airing dozens of segments during news and opinion shows alike.
Hannity pushed the story as far as he could, even sending a camera crew to stake out Joe Biden’s home and asking the Democratic nominee to “walk outside your house, leave your basement bunker” and “answer any of these pressing questions.”
Since 2019, more than 300 segments on Hannity’s show have discussed Hunter Biden in some capacity, including more than 70 host monologues, according to media watchdog Media Matters’ internal database.
Hannity is even tied to the initial publication of the notorious laptop story. One of the bylines on the New York Post report that broke the news belonged to a former Hannity producer.
While it’s not clear whether Hunter Biden would benefit from, or accept, a pardon, he is the subject of an ongoing Justice Department investigation. He confirmed that prosecutors had been investigating his tax history about a month before the Jan. 6 attack, though reports at the time painted a broader picture of the probe, including inquiries into whether the younger Biden and associates broke money laundering laws in their foreign business dealings, specifically in China.
After that confirmation, a Dec. 10 editorial in the right-leaning National Interest speculated whether Trump would pardon Hunter Biden as a show of “magnanimity and evenhandedness” that might help insulate him from criticism of possible pardons for members of his own family—pardons Hannity had endorsed on his show.
On Jan. 11, the day after Hannity told Meadows and Jordan that he’s “not sure what is left to do or say” that would change Trump’s mind, Trump awarded Jordan the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And that evening, the primetime star took to the airwaves to say that, when they’re finally fully revealed, the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop will “shock the soul of the nation.”