**Want FOX News Halftime Report in you inbox every day? Sign up here.**
On the roster: Whom is Trump fighting on Russia hacks? - Obama, Pence address ObamaCare with party leaders - Trump picks Wall Street lawyer as top cop for industry - Audible: Quick sidebar, counselor - Oh, sorry, I had my earbuds in
WHOM IS TRUMP FIGHTING ON RUSSIA HACKS?
Grant us briefly the assumption that Donald Trump is following his own playbook in his feud with America’s intelligence community. Trump likes to take provocative positions to keep his adversaries off balance with the hope of advantaging himself in the final showdown.
By seeming to favor the findings of Julian Assange over those of the CIA and FBI, Trump has kicked off a predictable freak-out. And it wouldn’t be the first time that Trump whisked up a wild claim in order to wave away the conspiracy after his objective was obtained. Hardly.
Trump’s apparently baseless suggestion that the heads of those agencies were forced to postpone their scheduled briefing about Russian hacking of Democratic campaign emails generated the kind of anxiety that Trump specializes in creating among his foes.
Combine that with Trump’s credulous recounting of claims from Assange – a man deemed by House Speaker Paul Ryan and many others as “a sycophant for Russia” who is opposed to U.S. interests – and you have high tension on the Potomac.
So if this is Trumpian conspiracy theorizing as psy-ops, the question here is who does Trump consider his foes?
Trump clearly believes that the intelligence agencies at least exaggerated their findings as part of an effort by President Obama and his fellow Democrats to delegitimize Trump’s victory. Given the narrowness of Trump’s win, he and his team are understandably sensitive about such efforts, including the misbegotten gambit by Democrats to stage a revolt in the Electoral College.
But here’s where it gets tricky.
Certainly, politicians spin the findings of professionals in the intelligence community. As Trump was quick to point out, Democrats still feel like they got buffaloed by the Bush administration over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And we’ve also seen the Obama administration cherry pick intelligence to cast its Middle Eastern forays in a better light.
And certainly, too, there is no doubt that some Democrats have exaggerated the role Russia played. While there are lots of reasons to believe that Russia was involved in hacking Democratic campaign emails, there is no reason to believe that Russia interfered with the recording or casting of votes.
But through lazy or misleading language, the inference has been that because the Russians messed with the campaign it’s the same as “hacking the election.” Trump, facing gales of opposition even before he takes office, would understandably not want to reinforce any narrative of illegitimacy.
If Trump considers his adversaries here to be just the Democrats, then we can see how this showdown could easily end.
After his briefing Friday, the president-elect can say that the Democrats got it all wrong about the election but that Russia was, in fact, up to some tricks. Trump can, with a wink, offer some kind of cryptic warning in keeping with his penchant for secret plans, and say all will be revealed at a later date.
After Obama and his top intel team are gone in 16 days, Trump can re-address the issue on his terms and with his people.
The other alternative is that Trump sees the intelligence community itself as his foe. If the president-elect believes that the massive intelligence apparatus is either so corrupt or so incompetent that it cannot be trusted, we are going to be in for a very rough ride.
Indeed, U.S. intelligence does fail. We observe the anniversary of its most notorious failure each September. But we also keep no complete record of its successes since attacks thwarted or espionage interrupted are not advertised.
If Trump believes that the system itself is rotten, he is setting himself up for a long struggle with an entrenched foe. If the professional intelligence community sees Trump as a threat, not only will he be denied its best insights but also face an intractable fight with a formidable adversary.
We will find out after he gets his briefing Friday whether he sees his enemies in this fight as the politicians or the spies.
THE RULEBOOK: THE GIMMIES
“Territorial disputes have at all times been found one of the most fertile sources of hostility among nations. Perhaps the greatest proportion of wars that have desolated the earth have sprung from this origin.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 7
TIME OUT: THE BEGINNING OF THE END
On this day in 1974, President Richard Nixon refused to hand over his taped conversations to the Senate Watergate committee, which would result in his resignation eight months later. NYDN story that day ran: “President Nixon declined flatly today to produce any of the more than 500 documents subpoenaed by the Senate Watergate committee, branding the request ‘an overt attempt to intrude into the executive office to a degree that constitutes an unconstitutional usurpation of power.’ Nixon’s refusal to supply recordings of his conversations and other materials came in a letter addressed to the committee chairman, Sen. Sam J. Ervin Jr. (D-N.C.)…Speaking to reporters at the Western White House, Deputy Presidential Press Secretary Gerald L. Warren declined to say what the next move would be in the impasse between the President and the committee, or to comment on the possibility of contempt-of-court action against Nixon by Federal Judge John J. Sirica.”
Flag on the play? - Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions
OBAMA, PENCE ADDRESS OBAMACARE WITH PARTY LEADERS
AP: “Donald Trump’s ‘first order of business’ will be to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law and replace it, but Republicans must avoid hurting consumers as they do that, Vice President-elect Mike Pence said Wednesday. Sixteen days before leaving the White House, Obama championed his landmark overhaul before Democratic lawmakers and urged them to remind voters of how the statute has helped them. ‘Keep up the fight,’ Obama told congressional Democrats at a strategy meeting in the Capitol visitors’ center, according to Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio…Pence spoke to reporters after holding an hour-long session with House Republicans in the Capitol. Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., said Pence told them the goal was to get legislation dismantling the health care law to Trump for his signature by Feb. 20…Pence did not specify what those actions would be. But House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters that they would involve ‘transition relief.’”
TRUMP PICKS WALL STREET LAWYER AS TOP COP FOR INDUSTRY
LAT: “President-elect Donald Trump intends to nominate Wall Street attorney Jay Clayton to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, transition spokesman Sean Spicer said Wednesday. Clayton, a partner with New York-based global law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, would take over for Mary Jo White, who announced in November she would step down at the end of the Obama administration. Trump reportedly had been considering Los Angeles lawyer Debra Wong Yang, a former federal prosecutor, to head the SEC. The agency is the federal government's top watchdog for Wall Street. … Among his clients listed on the firm's website have been Goldman Sachs Corp., Bear Stearns, Ally Financial Inc. and British Airways. Clayton also worked on the 2014 initial public offering of China's Alibaba Holding Group, which was the largest IPO in U.S. history.”
Tillerson, Exxon part financial ways ahead of confirmation hearings - AP: “Rex Tillerson, the nominee of President-elect Donald Trump for secretary of state, is severing ties with Exxon Mobil through a $180 million retirement package one week before his Senate confirmation hearing begins. Tillerson will surrender, if confirmed, all unpaid stock that was part of his pay package, more than 2 million shares. In exchange, the company will make a cash payment equal to the value of those shares to a trust to be overseen by a third party, according to a regulatory filing Wednesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.”
Police end NAACP sit-in at Sessions’ Ala. office with six arrests - Time: “The president of the NAACP on Tuesday said he and a group of demonstrators were arrested after staging an all-day sit-in inside the Alabama office of Sen. Jeff Sessions in protest of the legislator’s nomination for attorney general. The civil rights group broadcasted the peaceful arrest of NAACP President Cornell William Brooks and five others on Facebook Live.”
AUDIBLE: QUICK SIDEBAR, COUNSELOR
“Now, I don’t actually know most of you so it perhaps it’s not actually be true love but it’s the kind of feeling that makes one feel connected to another human being. And that after all is why I believe we’re here – human connection.” – Megyn Kelly announcing to her viewers her departure from Fox News at the end of this week.
[Ed note: It has been more than my privilege to work with Megyn for the past six years. She is as tough and smart as they come in this business. She is always a professional, but always with humanity and grace. She also happens to be one of the funniest humans I know. I’m grateful for the opportunities she has provided me and the chance to help her bring viewers the clearest picture possible of the political landscape. And as sorry as I am to see her go, I am glad for her and her family that this next chapter may give them a moment to enjoy the greatest privilege God affords us in this life: to be truly known and truly loved. Good luck, Counselor.]
You might even call it a big bleeping deal: Biden discusses post-White House plans on hot mic - The Hill
RSVP: Clintons, Dubya all plan to attend Trump inauguration - Time
Liberal group targets Trump Treasury pick with ad buy - Allied Progress
Josh Kraushaar lays out a blueprint for Dem comeback - National Journal
Grassley says he plans to take up bipartisan sentencing bill - Politico
Conservatives outnumber liberals by a narrowing margin - Gallup
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“What is Trump going to with all the Obama Czars?” – Richard Kuntz, San Marcos, Calif.
[Ed. note: The czarist approach to governance of the early Obama era long ago lost its luster. The confounding bureaucracy of the executive branch is hard to defeat and every president takes a slightly different approach to wrangling it. Obama’s choice, initially, was the creation of these interdisciplinary honchos to push key agenda items. But in nearly every case, it was a bust. Obama eventually accepted the reality of working through existing agencies to achieve his goals. Trump is attempting something similar in a couple of areas, particularly trade and China. He is assembling a team seemingly led by Commerce Secretary-designee Wilbur Ross to go after China on trade. But given the missed expectations of the “czar” title, one doubts Trump will revive the moniker Obama expanded.]
“What were these guys thinking with a new boss who campaigned on ‘Drain the Swamp?’ Their first order of business is to put the fox in charge of guarding the hen house?” – Kurt Lorentzen, Port Angeles, Wash.
[Ed. note: Well, Mr. Lorentzen, the timing was certainly inauspicious. And that seemed to be the thrust of Trump’s complaint. But reasonable people agree that the ethics system for Congress is in need of substantial reform. Ethical guidelines too often become road maps for evasion rather than the intended goal of accountability. It would seem that Trump is not opposed to the Republican’s intent, but rather their timing and gimmicky approach.]
“Let 2017 be a return to the purpose of inaugurations. We have a new president. No need to be entertained, just have a simple inauguration and get on with business.” – Mary Jeansonne, Lafayette, La.
[Ed. note: Certainly, the mood of the country would calls for a more somber observance, but there’s a lot to celebrate here regardless of your partisan affiliation. Very arguably, the best thing America has going for it is our unbroken string of peaceful transference of power dating back 219 years. We maintain this enviable string amid travails far worse than the ones our nation currently faces. It should be a point of pride for this country and a sobering reminder to the new president and the party outgoing that this is a matter of great importance. America has a great deal to be proud of and remains an envy of the world. There’s no shame in striking up the band and putting on your Sunday best to acknowledge the majesty of our republic.]
Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.
OH, SORRY, I HAD MY EARBUDS IN
The Straits Times: “A husband in Japan went for 20 years without speaking to his wife because he was jealous of the attention she paid to their children, according to reports. Eventually, the couple’s desperate 18-year-old son wrote to a Hokkaido TV show asking them to fix the situation as he had never heard his parents have a conversation. Dad Otou Katayama would reportedly only grunt and nod in response to wife Yumi’s efforts to speak to him, despite the pair having three grown-up children. A meeting was arranged for the pair on a park bench where they had their first date, as their emotional offspring looked on. ‘Somehow it’s been a while since we talked,’ said Mr Katayama, from Nara, in southern Japan, according to a Daily Mail report…He said he was envious of the attention she gave the children… Background laughter is heard when he recommends they speak again sometime.”
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES
“I think when [Donald Trump] is in office, [tweeting] will be a little more problematic because people will be presuming policy out of this, and it’s hard to be…either detailed or specific enough in a tweet to actually make coherent policy periods.” – Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Sally Persons contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in you inbox every day? Sign up here.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.