Business

Jeanine Pirro of Fox News Helps an Old Friend: President Trump

Posted December 22, 2017 8:03 p.m. EST

A few years ago, not long after Jeanine Pirro paid a visit to Donald Trump at his Trump Tower office, a box arrived at her home in Rye, New York.

Inside was a gift: a selection of shoes from the latest Ivanka Trump footwear collection.

Pirro, the prosecutor-turned-politician-turned-television personality who hosts a weekend show on Fox News, has been friends with Donald Trump for decades, their careers forged in New York’s tabloid caldron. But these days their relationship is playing out on a bigger stage.

Pirro has lately emerged as a force in a right-wing media effort to undermine the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who is leading the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Like other pro-Trump commentators, Pirro has called for Mueller to be fired. But she has gone further, saying on the air that “individuals” in the FBI and Justice Department “need to be taken out in cuffs.”

In a fiery monologue Dec. 16, she told her viewers, “There is a core group of arrogant, corrupt and lawless individuals that felt that they, and not we, should decide a presidential election. And when they failed, they conspired to create the false narrative to not just muddy our choice for president but to bring down his presidency and his family as well.”

She is not the only media figure attacking the inquiry and the law enforcement officials in charge of it. Other Fox News commentators, like Sean Hannity, have labeled Mueller and his team hopelessly biased. On Jesse Watters’ Fox News show last weekend, an onscreen graphic asked, “A Coup in America?” The Wall Street Journal — like Fox News, a media property owned by Rupert Murdoch — called for Mueller to be fired on its editorial page.

“This is the stuff you would expect in authoritarian states, in Russia or North Korea,” David Axelrod, President Barack Obama’s chief political strategist, said. “It’s an obvious effort to lay the groundwork for ending or discrediting the probe, even at the cost of further eroding trust in our institutions.”

Pirro, 66, who declined to be interviewed for this article, is undeterred by such criticisms — and her increasingly severe denunciations of Mueller have translated into big ratings.

Her show, “Justice With Judge Jeanine,” reaches more than 2 million viewers on Saturdays at 9 p.m., up 25 percent from a year ago. When she guest-hosted Hannity’s prime time show Monday, she pulled in more viewers than MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who was on at the same time.

One of those viewers is Trump, who rarely misses an episode and who has urged his Twitter followers to tune into her show along with him. In May, Pirro conducted one of the few one-on-one interviews with the president that he has granted since taking office.

Pirro’s ex-husband, businessman and lobbyist Al Pirro, served as Trump’s Westchester County power broker in the 1990s, navigating deals for the Manhattan developer. That was before Al Pirro went to prison for conspiracy and tax evasion, a scandal that hindered Jeanine Pirro’s tenure as district attorney in Westchester and, later, her brief candidacy for U.S. Senate.

Through it all Pirro and Trump remained close. He told New York magazine in 1999 that she was “sexy as hell.” In 2006, he donated $20,000 to Pirro’s unsuccessful run for New York attorney general.

Nowadays, Pirro’s access to the president goes beyond television interviews. On Nov. 1, she was granted a one-hour Oval Office meeting with Trump, during which she denounced the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, spoke forcefully against Mueller and accused the former FBI director, James B. Comey, of using Mafia-style tactics. Trump became visibly agitated, and his chief of staff, Gen. John F. Kelly, interrupted Pirro, because, he said, she was not “helping things.” Pirro’s new proximity to power represents a rise in fortune and influence for someone who, until recently, was a minor Fox News player mired in its weekend backwater. A syndicated show, “Judge Jeanine Pirro,” was canceled in 2011. In May, another reality vehicle featuring Pirro (“You the Jury,” on the Fox broadcast network) was pulled after two episodes.

And while she was once viewed as a rising Republican star — a tough talker with centrist views who had the support of Geraldine Ferraro — Pirro’s political prospects have since dimmed. She flubbed the start of her campaign for a U.S. Senate seat, appearing flummoxed at the lectern after a page went missing from her prepared speech. Federal prosecutors later investigated her for reportedly wiretapping her then-husband with the help of Bernard B. Kerik, the disgraced former New York City police commissioner.

She might have remained a locally famous Manhattan character — in the ranks of semi-celebrities like Bo Dietl, Elaine Kaufman and Curtis Sliwa — had she not joined Trump in riding the tide of rising right-wing sentiment. Now her hard-line views earn plaudits from the Trump base.

“She continues to remind her viewers of the promises made and kept by this administration,” said Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager and continuing political adviser. (Pirro, he added, “is a great person.”)

Not surprisingly, critics of the president disagree. One of them is Lisa DePaulo, who briefly worked on a book project with Pirro about wealthy murder suspect Robert Durst.

Their collaboration unraveled in 2015, when DePaulo sued Pirro, claiming breach of contract, and accused the Fox News host of forcing her to perform menial household tasks, like cleaning glass doors and picking up droppings from Pirro’s poodles. (Pirro’s representatives have called DePaulo a disgruntled ex-employee; the complaint went to arbitration.)

In an interview, DePaulo said Pirro’s elevated influence has left her alarmed. “You’re playing with fire here,” DePaulo said. “This is the country. This is the presidency.”

In her view, Pirro is merely doing Trump’s bidding.

“If Trump told her tomorrow that Satan was a swell fellow, she’d be on her show saying Satan’s a swell fellow,” DePaulo said. “They take care of each other. She will do whatever she thinks helps.”

Through a Fox News spokeswoman, Pirro said that DePaulo “doesn’t know the first thing about my relationship with President Trump.” Pirro eventually published the book, “He Killed Them All: Robert Durst and My Quest For Justice,” as the sole author; details of her account have been disputed by numerous parties in the Durst case.

Pirro’s renewed fame has revived interest in the smaller details of her life. Last month, she made headlines after receiving a summons for driving her 2017 Cadillac at 119 mph in upstate New York. The former prosecutor said she had been on her way to visit her 89-year-old mother, whom she called “ailing.”

“I believe in the rule of law,” Pirro said in a statement at the time. “And I will pay the consequences.”