Former President Donald Trump returned to Fox News on Monday night and aired a host of grievances about investigations he’s facing, mail-in voting and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in his first interview with the network since legal filings showed network leaders privately condemning him.
There was no hint of the acrimony detailed in those communications, made public as part of Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against the network. Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner, spoke for nearly an hour with prime-time host Sean Hannity, long one of his most outspoken Fox News backers.
Trump found a welcome environment for his attempt to tie a potential indictment he faces in New York City to the 2020 election-rigging myth that led to his supporters’ attack on the Capitol, defend rioters who were arrested in its aftermath and say he and DeSantis — his chief rival for the GOP presidential nomination — were never friends.
“It’s a new way of cheating in elections,” Trump said when asked about Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s hush money probe. “It’s called election interference.”
On March 18, Trump predicted he would be arrested in three days, which turned out to be wrong. But he has shared more heated rhetoric about a potential indictment in recent days, including warning of “potential death and destruction” should he be indicted.
Trump said Monday he was not calling for violence and added that his Truth Social post of an article featuring a split photo of him holding a baseball bat opposite Bragg was done unknowingly.
“We didn’t see pictures. We put up a story that was very exculpatory, very good story from the standpoint of what we’re talking about,” he said.
He expressed relatively little emotion when he was asked about how he was handling the chance of arrest, later shifting in his answer to a riff involving the supposed emptying of South American prisons and “mental institutions.”
“Well, I deal with it,” he said of a possible indictment. “We’re dealing with very dishonest people. We’re dealing with thugs. We’re dealing with people I actually believe that hate our country.”
Elsewhere in the conversation, Trump promoted the “Justice for All” song, which features a choir of men incarcerated for their roles in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol singing the national anthem, interposed with Trump reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Trump began his rally Saturday in Waco, Texas, by playing a video version of the recording, which also featured images of the insurrection.
“The J6 is beating Taylor Swift,” Trump said, pointing to the song’s success on a variety of music charts. “It’s Donald Trump and the J-Sixers on iTunes and on Amazon and on Billboard, which is the big deal. No. 1, Donald Trump.
“That’s a tribute to the fact that people feel the J6 people have been very unfairly treated,” he added.
Reflecting on some of his personnel decisions during his presidency, Trump said he “may have made a mistake” in choosing FBI Director Christopher Wray and added he “didn’t like” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.
But Trump’s saved his harshest criticism for DeSantis.
“Not friends,” Trump said of their relationship before DeSantis became a presidential prospect. “I didn’t know him well.”
Trump described DeSantis as a “desperate” politician who, he claimed, came to him with “tears in his eyes” asking for an endorsement in a 2018 primary race for governor against Adam Putnum, then the Florida agriculture commissioner.
As Trump sees it, DeSantis owes him for his good fortune and shouldn’t run against him in 2024.
“I helped a lot of people get elected,” he said, adding: “But some I got in. Ron, I got in. He was losing. There was no way. It was over. He was dead. He was going to drop out. He was gone.”
A DeSantis spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. DeSantis’ polls far and away as the second-most-favored contender in the GOP’s 2024 field, but amid intense attacks by Trump, some donors and allies have questioned whether he is ready for what would be a bruising primary fight. Trump has increasingly focused on DeSantis since he wrongly predicted his arrest date.
The interview was the first Trump has conducted with a prime-time Fox News anchor since September.
After the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch said in emails that the network wanted “to make Trump a nonperson” and was “pivoting as fast as possible,” recent legal filings as part of Dominion’s lawsuit revealed.
But Trump’s team has felt Fox’s coverage of him this year is an improvement over its coverage in 2016, the last time he faced a seriously contested primary.
“They were openly hostile to him in 2016,” an adviser said this month. “They’re not as openly hostile” now.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com