Kelly to Bannon: You're fired

Reporting by John Roberts

In the early days of the administration Steve Bannon appeared untouchable--the campaign chairman turned top strategist who shared a virtual mind-meld with the president on populist ideology.

But today, the release from the White House:

“White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day. We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.”

The writing had been on the wall for weeks. President Trump is said to have grown frustrated at the reputation Bannon developed as the real power in the White House. A figure portrayed on late-night as a grim reaper/Darth Vader character who pulled the president’s strings.

But while President Trump had growing reservations about Bannon, it was the new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly who sealed the deal.

An administration source tells FOX News discussions about Bannon leaving have been in the works for almost since Kelly came on board.

At the presidents now infamous Trump Tower press conference on Tuesday, Bannon appeared to be on thin ice, with President Trump replying “we’ll see” when asked whether Bannon would remain in his position.

The next day, he gave a stunning interview to the left-wing American Prospect magazine in which he attacked his colleagues and contradicted the president’s North Korea policy. An administration official told FOX News the interview “didn’t help” Bannon’s case.

Bannon’s departure drew the expected reaction from the left. The environmental group Sierra Club wrote:

Good riddance to Steve Bannon, as his disgraceful brand of hate and vitriol deserves no place in the White House.”

Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin of New York on the other hand lauded Bannon’s expertise and smarts, saying “He’s someone that brought a lot of talent and wisdom. He understands world history like few others do in this country. So, he brought a lot of skills.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi welcomed Bannon’s departure using an opportunity to bash the president in a statement: “Personnel changes are worthless as long as President Trump continues to advance policies that disgrace our cherished American values.”

Leaders respond to President Trump's presser on Charlottesville

Reporting by Kevin Corke

After a wave of CEO’s resigned from his advisory councils following his response to the deadly rally in Charlottesville, President Trump reacted by abruptly dissolving the groups on Twitter.

“Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!”

A change in tone from yesterday when he tweeted that CEO’s dropping out were “grandstanders” and he had plenty of replacements.

Members had begun to distance themselves from the Trump White House because of his contention that “both sides” at the rally were to blame for the violence that ended with one woman being killed.

“You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent,” the president said. “Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now.”

Drawing parallel between the groups at the rally unleashed a torrent of political criticism across the aisle from former presidents and governors, to sitting U.S. senators in condemnation and pushing the president to take a tougher stance.

The president’s suggestion that the “alt-left” protestors were part of the problem in Charlottesville drew praise from former Klansman David Duke, who tweeted: “Thank you President Trump for your honesty and courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa.”

It’s the latest challenge for White House Chief of Staff John Kelly who stared at the floor as his boss launched into his stream of consciousness Tuesday—a stark contrast to his comments just the day before.

In a two pronged approach to manage the fallout, the White House today named longtime aide Hope Hicks interim communications director filling –for now—the post vacated by Anthony Scaramucci.

Fox News also obtained White House talking points about the president’s response to the rally which encouraged surrogates to say:

“The President was entirely correct. Both sides of the violence in Charlottesville acted inappropriately, and bear some responsibility. The President condemned—with no ambiguity—the hate groups fueled by bigotry and racism over the weekend, and did so by name yesterday, but for the media that will never be enough.”

Acknowledging that a similar rally is planned for Lexington, KY, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement today “there are no good neo-Nazis, and those who espouse their views are not supporters of American ideals and freedoms.”

A subtle shot across the bow perhaps at a president who has gone to great lengths to criticize him.

White House tries to woo senators on Obamacare repeal

Reporting by John Roberts

In the State Dining Room today President Trump gathered together all of the Republican senators who would come for a spirited sales pitch on getting rid of Obamacare.

“Any senator who votes against starting debate is really telling America you’re fine with Obamacare,” said Trump. “But being fine with Obamacare, it isn’t an option for another reason: it’s gone. It’s failed.”

While the vote next week is to simply repeal Obamacare and replace it later, President Trump today repeated his call to repeal and replace Obamacare at the same time and that Congress should stay in Washington until it is done.

“My message today is really simple: we have to stay here. We shouldn’t leave town. We should hammer this out and get it done.”

The president also chastised senators who repeatedly voted to repeal Obamacare during the Obama Administration when they knew their vote was nothing more than a political show.

“For seven years, you had an easy route. We’ll replace, we’ll replace and he’s never going to sign it. But I’m signing it. So it’s a little bit different. I’m ready to act. For seven years you promised the American people you would repeal Obamacare. People are hurting. Inaction is not an option.”

The three senators who voted to repeal Obamacare in 2015, but say they’re against it now will come in for some special White House attention—as did Senator Dean Heller of Nevada—an opponent of repeal and replace who found himself seated right next to the president at lunch.

“You didn’t go out there. This was the one we were worried about, you weren’t there. You’re going to be,” Trump joked. “Look, he wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?”

Heller is considered to be one of the most vulnerable Republicans up for re-election in 2018 and will likely vote to save the seat—not the president’s plan. Two of the opponents of repeal, Lisa Murkowski and Rob Portman, were just re-elected. Shelly Moore Capito isn’t up for re-election until 2020 so it’s unclear how much leverage the president will have over them.

As he seeks to woo senators on Obamacare repeal, President Trump is lashing out at reports he had a ‘secret’ second meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at last week’s G-20.

The president tweeting: “Fake News story of secret dinner with Putin is “sick.” All G 20 leaders, and spouses, were invited by the Chancellor of Germany. Press knew!”

The President talked with Putin for more than two hours in a bilateral meeting in Hamburg on July 7th. That night, at the official G20 dinner, the president spent more time with Putin one-on-one with only a Russian interpreter. The White House denied a report the two spoke for nearly an hour and would not disclose the content of the conversation.

The White House has accused the press of a double standard, pointing out that President Obama had private conversations at previous G20’s that the press never made an issue of.

On Obamacare, the White House will continue its sales pitch tonight by hosting a special meeting with senators who are having a difficult time getting to a yes.

Trump trip overshadowed by yet another controversy

Reporting by John Roberts

President Trump leaves for his third foreign trip tomorrow this week. What was designed as a show of solidarity between the U.S. and France in the fight against terrorism has yet another cloud of controversy threatening to overshadow the agenda.

In his first public comments since his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin President Trump did not talk about his new firestorm surrounding his son, Donald Trump Jr. today, but he did say on CBN that he thinks he and Putin can get along.

“I think we get along very, very well. We are a tremendously powerful nuclear power, and so are they. It doesn’t make sense not to have some kind of a relationship.”

In an appearance with Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity last night, Donald Trump Jr. acknowledged that he took the meeting with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya because she may have had useful information about Hillary Clinton and ties to Russia.

“I had been reading about scandals that people were probably underreporting for a long time so maybe it was something that had to do with one of those things,” Don Jr. said. “I mean this was perhaps involvement with the Russian government.”

Trump Jr. played down the significance of encounter, saying Veselnitskaya revealed nothing about Hillary Clinton and instead wanted to talk about Russian adoptions.

The President praised the appearance, tweeting this morning: “My son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!”

The meeting came up on Capitol Hill today. Senator Lindsey Graham pushed FBI nominee Christopher Wray into directly contradicting the president.

Graham: Do you consider this endeavor a witch hunt?

Wray: I do not consider Director Mueller to be on a witch hunt.

Asked about the contradiction White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders backed up her boss.

Senator Graham also pressed Wray whether he thought Trump Jr. should have brought the matter to the attention of the FBI. 

Wray replied by saying “ to the members of this committee any threat or effort to interfere is the kind of thing the FBI would want to know.”

Russian officials today denied any involvement in the meeting between Trump Jr. and Veselnitskaya, mocking the whole episode as worthy of a soap opera.

For his part, the president tried to force the spotlight onto the Democrats, tweeting: @WashTimes states Democrats have willfully used Moscow disinformation to influence the presidential election against Donald Trump. Why aren’t the same standards placed on the Democrats. Look what Hillary Clinton may have gotten away with. Disgraceful!”

After smothering any progress that came out of President Trump’s  meeting with Vladimir Putin last week, the controversy now threatens to overshadow his upcoming trip to France. But amid reports the White House is in a state of paralysis and President Trump obsessed with the bad news on cable TV, he took a “nothing to see here” attitude today tweeting: “ The WH is functioning perfectly, focused on HealthCare, Tax Cuts/Reform & many other things. I have very little time for watching T.V.”

Trump on Comey: That is so illegal!

Reporting by Catherine Herridge

A legal source close to the matter tells Fox News the Fired FBI Director James Comey’s memos documenting his conversations with President Trump are considered government records and some of the material contained classified information as first reported by The Hill newspaper.

All FBI employees sign employment agreements that block the unauthorized storage or sharing of government records.

Comey justified his actions to a Senate panel last month.

Senator Blunt: “So you didn’t consider your memo or your sense of that conversation to be a government document? You consider it to be somehow your own personal document     that you could share with the media as you wanted to?

Comey: Correct. I understood this to be my recollection, recorded, of my conversation with the president. As a private citizen, I felt free to share that. I thought it very important     to get it out.

Writing in a tweet, President Trump said, “James Comey leaked classified information to the media. That is so illegal!”

Kellyanne Conway went even further on Fox and Friends.

“The boy scout-choir boy defense doesn’t hold up here…by handing over, admitting under oath, handing over classified information through quote private recollection it doesn’t matter what he calls it. It matters what it is.”

A year ago this month, then Director Comey publicly chastised Hillary Clinton and her team for their careless handling of highly classified information and the use of a personal server for government business.

A Columbia Law School professor also tells Fox News that he never gave reporters hard copies of the Comey memos, and none of the memos had classification markings. But Comey could be criticized over retroactive classification—the same issue that damaged Clinton’s campaign.

Trump and Putin come face to face

Reporting by James Rosen

Of all that hangs on the handshake between President Trump and President Putin, nothing is more consequential than the Syrian civil war, now it in its seventh year, with more than 400,000 lives lost.

Shored up by Russian air strikes and Iranian-backed militias, the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad has driven US backed rebels from much of the territory they once controlled.

While the US led coalition force has gutted the self-proclaimed caliphate of the terror group ISIS “Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham.” The Al-Qaeda offshoot formerly known as Al-Nusrah, remains a potent force.

Virtually entire cities have been obliterated, five million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries, and more than six million still in the country have been forced from their homes.

In Europe this week, President Trump called on the Kremlin to jettison Assad.

“We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes—including Syria and Iran—and to instead join the community of responsible nations…”

The State Department said the US is open, with Russian assistance, to creating no-fly zones in Syria.

Part of a preview of the Trump-Putin dialogue offered Thursday by spokesperson Heather Nauert.

“We believe that Russia has a special responsibility. They have unique leverage over the Syrian regime and so we’re going to continue to put pressure on them to ask them to do more…”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hailed the two presidents’ agreement on a cease-fire zone in Southwest Syria as the “first indication” that Washington and the Kremlin can work together in-theater.

Charles Lister, Middle East Institute Senior Fellow says he has seen this movie before.

“The previous de-escalation zones that Russia claimed to have negotiated for different parts of Syria included one for southern Syria…but after Russia negotiated that de-escalation zone in southern Syria, we saw the largest escalation in Assad regime bombing in southern Syria for nearly three years. So …Russia doesn’t have the necessary leverage in Syria over Assad or over Iran to actually bring forward these agreements and make them genuinely durable.” 

Criticism over source of CNN/Trump meme

Howie Kurtz

The individual behind the wrestling video tweeted last week by President Trump, who’s seen tackling a man with a photo shopped CNN logo, has apologized, but the story behind that apology has sparked new criticism of CNN.

The network, saying the video endangers journalists, tracked down its creator who first posted it on the online message board Reddit. CNN is not disclosing his identity which triggered a Twitter uproar and an on-air debate.

The Story by CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski says CNN is not publishing “Han****Solo’s” name because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology, showed his remorse by saying he has taken down all of his offending posts, and because he said he is not going to repeat his ugly behavior on social media again. CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.

Donald Trump Jr. accused the network of bullying the man, tweeting: If only @CNN spend as much time tracking down info on IRS targeting, Fast & Furious, Iran deal etc. as they did a meme writer! #CNNBlackmail.

A network spokesman said today, “CNN decided not to publish the name of the Reddit user out of concern for his safety. Any assertion that the network blackmailed or coerced him is false.”

 CNN said the man apologized and deleted his account before speaking to its reporter and that the network explained the withholding of his identity to be completely transparent.

“CNN never made any deal, of any kind, with the user.”

The Reddit user posted an apology for “the posts made that were racist, bigoted, and anti-Semitic. I am in no way this kind of person…the meme was created purely as satire. It was not meant to be a call to violence against CNN or any other news affiliation.”

Tax Reform Next On The Trump Agenda

By Jake Smith

After a bruising defeat on the Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, the White House and Congressional Republicans set their sights on the first revitalization of tax reform in three decades.

"I would say that we will probably start going very, very strongly for the big tax cuts and tax reform. That will be next," President Donald Trump told reporters in the Oval Office after the decision to pull the healthcare bill from the House floor.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan encouraged President Trump to address healthcare first, if passed it would make tax reform easier. "Yes, this does make tax reform more difficult. But it does not, in any way, make it impossible. We will proceed with tax reform," Ryan told reporters last Friday.

The administration’s plan is to “lower rates for Americans in every tax bracket, simplify the tax code, and reduce the U.S. corporate tax rate.”

Cutting the effective corporate tax rate to 20 percent, down from 35 percent, has been proposed by the White House to boost economic growth to four percent GDP growth per year.

President Trump has yet to commit to the border adjustment tax propelled by House Republicans, which would raise more than $1 trillion from taxing imports and exports.

Trump may not see the same fight from the House Freedom Caucus as he did during healthcare. “Does it have to be fully offset? My personal response is no,” House Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina said on Sunday suggesting he is open to cut taxes even if it raises the deficit.

 “We’re driving the train on this,” Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on Monday concerning the White House’s involvement in the tax cuts efforts. Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin has estimated a bill for tax reform will be ready around August. 

Comey calls impending terrorist diaspora from ISIS territory the "ghost of Christmas future"

By DOJ Producer Matt Dean

Speaking this morning at a national security summit at UT Austin, FBI Director Comey repeated his concerns over a "terrorist diaspora" that he believes will occur once ISIS territory in Iraq and Syria is "crushed" by coalition forces. 

He said that he expects these individuals to flow outward largely to Western Europe, Southeast Asia, and North Africa.

Labeling the impending phenomenon the "ghost of Christmas future," Comey used his remarks to urge government leaders and intelligence officials in Western Europe to "break down the barriers" in the EU and share intelligence and critical information in an effort to crack down on the terrorism threat. He did not make any references to Wednesday's attack in London. 

Comey compared Europe's need to unite on security issues to the United States' national security 180 that followed the 9/11 attacks. He described Western Europe as FBI's front lines in preventing those individuals from committing violence outside of the so-called caliphate.

In speaking to trend shifts the FBI has seen domestically with ISIS followers, Comey said that the foreign traveller issue that peaked during the summer of 2015 "hit the floor" in 2016 and has since stayed there. While ISIS's capacity to direct people to travel to the caliphate has dropped, the FBI chief called the ability of terrorists to use social media and the internet to inspire and enable individuals toward violence a "lingering phenomenon."

Comey said that the FBI currently has in the area of 1,000 open homegrown terrorism cases in the U.S. trying to determine where people are on the spectrum of "consuming poison and acting on that poison." 

Speaking to the difficult nature of the current threat environment, the Director said these consumers of ISIS propaganda are people "of all backgrounds." Comey said that FBI's terrorism-related cases have spanned the age range of roughly 15-60, adding that there is no one particular "hot spot" in the U.S. for extremist activity because a lot of the recruitment and inspiration continues to happen online. 

Notably, Comey acknowledged instances where individuals who had prior contact with the FBI went on to carry out attacks in the U.S. Specifically, he mentioned Orlando Pulse Nightclub attacker Omar Mateen and the fact that the Bureau had already done a months long investigation on him that "produced nothing to incapacitate him on." 

Comey said that he personally reviewed the case file and called the work a "quality investigation," adding that he believes Mateen radicalized closer to the actual attack. 

Asked during the Q&A portion of the event whether his public statements on the findings of the Clinton email investigation had any bearing on his decision Monday to publicly acknowledge the existence of an FBI counterintelligence investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russian officials, Comey playfully said "I'm not gonna talk about it." 

NUNES/TRUMP: The search for a "smoking gun" at NSA

By James Rosen

Capitol Hill sources tell Fox News that the classified intelligence that Chairman Nunes has seen and only vaguely described in his public appearances over the past twenty-four hours came to him from multiple sources; corroborated information about surveillance of the Trump team that had been known to the chairman even before the president’s now-famous tweets of March 4; and leaves no doubt that the Obama administration, in its closing days, was using the cover of legitimate surveillance on foreign targets to spy on the president-elect.

The key to the last conclusion is the unmasking of selected U.S. persons whose names appeared in the intelligence, the sources said, adding that the documentary trails leaves no other conceivable purpose for the unmasking to have been done other than for its fruits to be used selectively against Mr. Trump.

The FBI has not been responsive to the House Intelligence Committee’s request for documents, but the National Security Agency is expected to produce documents to the committee by tomorrow (Friday). The NSA document production is expected to provide more than that which Chairman Nunes has been describing, including what one source described as a potential “smoking gun” establishing the spying. The materials will take time to be assessed properly, with the result that congressional investigators and attorneys won’t have a solid handle on their contents, and their implications, until early next week or mid-week.

Because Nunes’s intelligence came from multiple sources over a span of weeks, and he has not shared the actual materials with his colleagues, he will be the only committee member in a position to know whether NSA has turned over some or all of the intelligence he is citing. However, Fox News is told that Ranking Member Rep. Adam Schiff has been briefed on the basic contents of Nunes’s intelligence, so he can no longer truthfully state that he has no idea what Nunes is talking about.

Fox News is further advised that CIA Director Mike Pompeo is sympathetic to the effort to determine, with documentary evidence, the extent of Obama administration spying on the Trump team, if any, in its final days.

 

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