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On the roster: Trumps erupts over salacious report - Tillerson takes hard line on Russia - Republicans delay four Trump cabinet hearings - Audible: Lolzzzzzzzzzz - Maybe the hare set him up
TRUMPS ERUPTS OVER SALACIOUS REPORT
In a press conference that was by turns both surreal and chaotic, President-elect Donald Trump today opened a new front in his ongoing fight with the press.
The crescendo came as Trump got into a shouting match with a CNN reporter that concluded with the incoming president denouncing the organization as “fake news.”
At issue is a report from the network that Trump was presented with evidence of the existence – widely known but unreported in political media – of uncorroborated claims that Russian agents had been trying to compromise Trump through bribery and blackmail.
CNN’s report, substantially corroborated by the NYT, went thermonuclear after the web site Buzzfeed published the actual allegations. What had been a significant but incremental scoop in the larger story about Russian interference in American politics turned into a tabloid sensation involving kinky sex.
Trump denied the alleged 2013 romps with Russian prostitutes, saying that he wouldn’t have done such a thing knowing that his hotel rooms were likely under surveillance.
“You’d better be careful or you’ll be watching yourself on nightly television,” Trump said of his warnings to his traveling companions.
Trump himself raised the most salacious claim, which involves his alleged interest in erotic micturition, saying that he would not have participated because he is “too much of a germaphobe.”
In the end Trump spent only about half of his first press conference since July actually answering questions.
The rest of the time was given over to Sean Spicer, the press secretary, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Trump’s tax attorney, Sherri Dillon, who outlined the arrangement Trump has chosen to avoid conflicts of interest.
The plan seems to exceed the initial expectation that Trump would look to fudge his withdrawal from business. The promised ethical strictures ought to be enough to appease all but his staunchest foes.
Here’s the gist: Trump’s holdings will be placed in a trust, he will relinquish all managerial control, his sons will run the company, they will not do deals in foreign countries and any revenue generated from foreign nationals will be donated to the Treasury.
Trump covered not just his plan for avoiding ethical entanglements, but also broke several other pieces of news. He named his choice to lead the troubled Veterans Affairs, David Schulkin, currently the undersecretary of health for the agency. Trump also said he would likely name his nominee to the Supreme Court the week after next.
And what would have been otherwise the biggest news of the day: Trump promised to immediately replace ObamaCare upon its repeal.
That’s a huge promise and arguably the most ambitious concrete policy promise yet from the new administration. Congress having to build and pass a replacement for the law at the outset would be daunting under normal circumstances. Given the current political chaos in Washington, though, it would be nearly miraculous.
Brace yourself for one of the biggest, baddest political fights since, well, the last time the government tackled health insurance.
But because of the sensational subject and because Trump fought with a reporter and discussed his aversion to certain fetishistic behaviors, the story today is mostly about Trump’s tempestuous love affair with the press.
What comes next, however, could be a bigger deal.
Trump, Spicer and Pence were all directing their anger at the press and Buzzfeed in particular. But there is also an undercurrent of Trump’s apparently unresolved feud with the intelligence community.
The president-elect seemed perhaps even angrier with the intelligence agencies for ever touching the embarrassing reports and wondered openly if they were, ahem, leaked intentionally to harm him. If Trump sees the leak as part of his at-times intense feud with the intelligence community over Russia’s role in the 2016 campaign, we could see further escalations soon.
Trump said he accepted the findings that Russia was behind the cyberattacks aimed at Democrats. But that doesn’t apparently mean he’s ready to make nice.
THE RULEBOOK: TEST RESULTS
“It has been observed in a former paper, that ‘the true test of a good government is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration.’ …It is not easy to conceive a plan better calculated than this to promote a judicious choice of men for filling the offices of the Union; and it will not need proof, that on this point must essentially depend the character of its administration.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 76
TIME OUT: MITHRIDATES AND THE DEA
The Atlantic: “Martin Shkreli has nothing on Mithridates VI. During his reign (120 to 63 B.C.E.), this king of Pontus (located on the southern edge of the Black Sea) worked as a toxicologist in between waging wars on Rome. His efforts to create a universal antidote helped pave the way for modern drug regulation…Once he became king, Mithridates consulted physicians, scientists, and shamans in the hopes of creating a foolproof remedy to toxins…Mithridates cultivated unique poisons in his laboratories and gardens, and, some historians say, may have even tested them on condemned criminals, in the interest of finding ways to counteract them…Over the next few centuries, recipes for universal antidotes proliferated worldwide…In order to prevent apothecaries from passing off cheap ingredients as expensive ones and poor-quality theriacs (that didn’t adhere to the ‘official’ recipes put forth by medical authorities), as the real thing, city authorities and unions began to oversee production, forming the foundation of modern drug regulation.”
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TILLERSON TAKES HARD LINE ON RUSSIA
Fox News: “Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson sought Wednesday to assuage bipartisan concerns about his ties to Russia, testifying at his confirmation hearing he thinks Moscow poses a ‘danger’ and blasting the country’s annexation of Crimea -- though he refused to go so far as to call Vladimir Putin a ‘war criminal’ during a contentious back-and-forth with Sen. Marco Rubio. During the tense exchange at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rubio persistently questioned Tillerson in an attempt to get him to call Putin a war criminal for Russian military intervention in Syria. Tillerson refused to do so.”
Republicans delay four Trump cabinet hearings - NYT: “Hearings for Betsy DeVos, Mr. Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Education; Andrew Puzder, his labor secretary nominee; and Representative Mike Pompeo, Republican of Kansas, Mr. Trump’s pick to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, have all been pushed back as Democrats clamor for more time to collect and review the standard background checks that nominees traditionally undergo before their hearings commence. Wilbur Ross, Mr. Trump’s pick for secretary of commerce, will also be delayed several days because his ethics agreement is not complete, according to the chairman and ranking Democrat of the commerce committee.”
[Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., tells the WaPo he made the decision to testify against Jeff Sessions over the issue of civil rights on the second day of hearings for the attorney general designee.]
McCain says he’s the one that gave Trump accusations on to intel agencies - WashEx: “Arizona Sen. John McCain confirmed he passed along a 35-page report to the FBI that details unverified allegations that President-elect Trump’s team coordinated with the Russian government to defeat Hillary Clinton. In a statement released Wednesday, McCain said passing the report along was the extent of his involvement in the process. ‘Late last year, I received sensitive information that has since been made public,’ McCain said… Reports surfaced Tuesday night that a foreign contact of McCain’s passed along the report detailing alleged compromising information the Russian government has on Trump.”
“If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try talking with one of them in real life.” – President Obama in his farewell address Tuesday in Chicago.
Jonathan Chait says Obama’s farewell address a call to defend Democracy against Trump - NY Magazine
Trump already looking ahead to 2020 run - Politico
Dems try to get Trump to soften on federal employee hiring freeze - WaPo
Trump’s promise not to touch Medicare upsets some in GOP - The Hill
Anti-vaccination activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. says Trump asked him to head presidential commission on vaccine safety - USA Today
Pro-Dem David Brock PAC launches effort against Trump over conflicts of interest - The Hill
W.Va. Republican attorney general likely to launch campaign against Manchin for Senate - The Hill
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Hey Chris, Watching you with your incredible sense of humor and infectious laugh on the Kelly File was the highlight of my evening news with the Fox team!! Please tell me you will regularly appear on one of the nightly shows (We watch them all). Here’s hoping you’ll find your way to Tucker’s show. I have to have my nightly Stirewalt fix! PLEASE!! You’re too funny and too smart! Best regards.” – Donna Davide, Naples, Fla.
[Ed. note: And you are too kind, Ms. Davide! Thank you for your lovely sentiments. As for me, I’m the same as I ever was, a simple country pundit. I’ll go where I’m needed and am happy to serve. One of the good things about being me is that I get to go to work every day knowing that I am a very lucky man. See you on television!]
“Re the discussion of Social Security, we should all remember that it is not a savings plan but a tax. More descriptively, it is a transfer of income from working people to retirees. How else could the government pay benefits at the plan’s inception? In the 80’s the government raised payroll taxes to build a cushion, but that cushion is inexorably deflating due to the continued rise in the ratio of retirees to workers.” – Steve McCardell, Redding, Conn.
[Ed. note: Well, yes, but… Certainly the first recipients of social security were harvesting what amounted to a tax on younger workers. But if Congress had not raided the trust fund with such glee for decades there wouldn’t just be enough money to pay current retirees, there would be a massive surplus. That endless pillaging did, in fact, turn what was intended as a true entitlement into a tax. But that’s not the fault of social security recipients. That’s the fault of lawmakers who have been playing a shell game since the days when cars still had fins on them. You’re also quite right that the Baby Boom will prove to be a bust for social security and Medicare. One thing Millennials are quite right to complain about is the fact that their cohort is likely to get stuck with the bill for their parents’ generation’s benefits.]
“Hens cluck; roosters crow. Cockadoodledooo.” – Victor Workman, Santa Monica, Calif.
[Ed. note: You are referring here to my answer to Emma Grimes in Tuesday’s bleachers in which I referred to “clucking, strutting roosters of Washington.” And you are quite right, Mr. Workman. Roosters do not cluck, but they do things other than crow. I can’t find an agreed or proper name for their other vocalizations, but they have lots of ways to boss around the hens and constantly make their opinions known. Reminds me of some folks I know… But thank you for keeping us in check! ]
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MAYBE THE HARE SET HIM UP
KSAT: “SAN ANTONIO – A 150-pound pet tortoise is being blamed for a fire that caused heavy damage to the home of a neighbor on the city’s far Northwest Side. The fire broke out shortly after midnight Tuesday…Firefighters said it appears the tortoise knocked over a heat lamp inside its outdoor cage and started a fire that spread to the home next door. The fire then spread moving into the walls and attic by the time firefighters were able to extinguish it. They said the fire also caused minimal damage to the pet owner’s home. The damage was estimated at $150,000. They said no one was hurt, including the tortoise.”
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“But I think the very fact that this story has surfaced is the way for the CIA to be telling Trump, ‘You mess with us, we have a lot of information. We can mess with you.’” – Charles Krauthamer 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 your inbox every day? Sign up here.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First" political news note and hosts "Power Play," a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace." He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.