Fox News Halftime Report

Trump knocks down 'Deep State' claims

President answers John Roberts' question at White House news conference

 

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On the roster: Trump knocks down ‘Deep State’ claims - Trump reverts to campaign strategy: Beat the press - New GOP ObamaCare plan: Replace as you go - Mattis: U.S. not ready for closer Russia collaboration - Luckily, he wasn’t making a belt buckle

TRUMP KNOCKS DOWN ‘DEEP STATE’ CLAIMS
Some American liberals have found something other than infrastructure spending and the shared hatred of the Republican leadership on which they think they might agree with President Trump: The malevolent presence of the “Deep State.”

That is not the name of the latest Matt Damon spy thriller, but rather the term for what its adherents believe is the government within the government that operates beyond the reach of the electorate.

Movies, though, can help you understand the theory. When one of Damon’s characters is hunted by murderous CIA agents or an agent played by George Clooney stumbles upon an assassination plot executed at the behest of, who else, a massive oil corporation, it’s all about the deep state.

The current screenplay being offered by some in Washington is something of a remake of a 1980s classic: The military-industrial complex orchestrated the takedown of a conscientious general, Michael Flynn, as national security adviser because Flynn was trying to bring about a new era of peaceful accord with the misunderstood Russian government.

Salon puts it the most pungently: “But this is not about whether you’re for or against Trump. It’s about whether there’s a cloak-and-dagger effort to subvert American foreign policy and ignite a new Cold War under false pretenses and spend tens of billions of dollars — that most certainly could be better spent elsewhere — to thwart a threat that doesn’t truly exist.”

You can get a similar dose over at the pro-Trump site Breitbart: “In other words, the Deep State is still actively investigating – some might say, hounding – the President. And, yes, of course, still leaking about it. So what’s going on here?  How did the Deep State get to be so powerful?”

It all sounds very ominous, right? An unelected cabal within the government plotting against the duly elected leadership of the nation? And doing it whip up a fake war for fun and profit?

But nobody really cares too much about the opinions of people who think WikiLeaks is on that level and that Edward Snowden is a patriot and a hero. Cranks gonna crank.

And despite Trump’s thunder about leaks, he doesn’t actually seem to agree with the crank cases even as they take his side in the fight.

Flynn’s firing needs no Hollywood story lines to explain. The president and his aides had been warned repeatedly about the retired general’s disquieting proximity to the Kremlin. That was no small matter for an administration branded by its critics as a Putin puppet show.

But Trump, whose candidacy Flynn had helped enormously, went ahead and tapped the retired general anyway. When Flynn was found to have misled Vice President Mike Pence and others about his contacts with Putin’s government, Flynn had to go. As Trump said in his press conference today, “He didn’t tell the vice president of the United States the facts.”

That’s not the Deep State. That’s deep doo-doo on public relations.

Now, it doesn’t take Jason Bourne to figure out that the leaks that forced Trump’s hand came from Flynn’s foes and Trump’s ideological and political rivals – or, as Trump put it more bluntly today, “people probably from the Obama administration.”

But also, as Trump tweeted today, “leaking, and even illegal classified leaking, has been a big problem in Washington for years.” That’s for sure.

Even aside from Snowden, who was once heralded as a hero and for his “public service” on the right, the practice of leaking classified and sensitive material to cause political harm is nothing new.

It was a leaker turned whistleblower at the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms who exposed the botched gunrunning sting at the ATF dubbed “Operation Fast & Furious” in 2011. Republicans so successfully jammed up then-Attorney General Eric Holder over the debacle that his boss at the time, President Obama, had to exert executive privilege to save him from the Hill hounds.

But maybe even more politically damaging to Obama and his party than either of those two was the leak from the FBI – quite likely the same agency from whence the damaging Flynn leaks occurred. Agency sources told Fox News less than a week before the 2016 election that there was a “very high priority” corruption investigation targeting Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s family foundation.

That news, especially when coupled with the public statements from the FBI about Clinton’s use of an unsecure personal email server to transmit state secrets, did unknown damage to the Democrat’s already shaky status with voters.

It’s hard to imagine that the leakers didn’t know that, just as the Flynn leakers surely meant to do him harm.

Trump, like Obama will prosecute leakers and seek to snuff them out, probably with about as much success. One man’s leaker is another man’s conscientious objector, and there will always be perceived rewards for those who leak, even if they get caught.

But what Trump made clear in his press conference today is that he sees it for what it is: the political and ideological struggle that always buffets behind-the-scenes Washington, not a part of a vast conspiracy.

The president seemed quite content that with his team in place, the leaks will begin to dry up and he will be able to implement his agenda. The political press will be in a froth today over his attacks on them, but Trump’s stand against conspiracy theorizing may be the biggest news out of today’s event.

THE RULEBOOK: THERE’S ALMOST AN ART TO IT…
“War, like most other things, is a science to be acquired and perfected by diligence, by perserverance, by time, and by practice.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 25

TIME OUT: PANDA EXPRESS
Washington’s National Zoo returns Bao Bao the panda to China this month, but what does it take to actually pull of such a travel expedition? Smithsonian: “Ultimately, moving a panda…isn’t all that different from transporting other animals, and FedEx has delivered plenty. David Lange, the company’s director of charters, says that he and his team regularly arrange for the transport of teams of horses to equestrian competitions. And Capt. John Hunt, who will pilot the Boeing 777 carrying Bao Bao to China, adds that they’ve carried penguins, brown bears, and at least one dolphin, among others…They’ll need to prepare support equipment, from cargo palettes to supplemental oxygen. They’ll have to confirm that everyone’s documents—including Bao Bao’s own papers—are in order, to avoid complications on landing… Indeed, they won’t even be bringing any toys along for Bao Bao, since pandas typically don’t need external objects for stimulation.” 

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TRUMP REVERTS TO CAMPAIGN STRATEGY: BEAT THE PRESS
Fox News: “President Trump’s feud with the media turned into an all-out war Thursday afternoon. His early presidency beset by damaging leaks and a burst of staff turmoil, Trump used a hastily called press conference to blast the media’s coverage of his administration in his strongest terms yet. He claimed the press are ‘out of control,’ reports on his team’s ties to Russia are ‘fake,’ and news outlets are attacking him because they oppose his agenda. ‘The media’s trying to attack our administration because they know we are following through on the pledges that we made, and they’re not happy about it,’ Trump declared at the White House. The president spoke and took questions for over an hour…Trump, who is dealing with the roughest stretch of his presidency so far, unleashed the battery of accusations after first announcing his newest pick for Labor secretary. Moving quickly to fill the void left after his original nominee withdrew, Trump nominated law school dean and former federal prosecutor Alexander Acosta for the secretary post. ‘He has had a tremendous career,’ Trump said, noting he's been through Senate confirmation three times for past positions.”

Upcoming executive action to address travel ban - WashEx: “President Trump said on Thursday that his administration would unveil a new executive action next week ‘tailored’ to address judicial concerns that have held up his order temporarily banning travel from seven countries where terrorist organizations operate. ‘We are issuing a new executive action next week that will comprehensively protect our country,’ Trump said during an East Room press conference. The second order could address the legal sticking points in the original action, such as language that was interpreted to apply to green-card holders.”

NEW GOP OBAMACARE PLAN: REPLACE AS YOU GO
Roll Call: “Developing House Republican legislation to repeal the 2010 health care law would also include replacement provisions that are controversial among GOP rank and file, like a refundable tax credit to help individuals purchase insurance and a plan for dealing with Medicaid expansion. Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden, and Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady on Thursday presented to the Republican Conference their vision for a ‘repeal plus’ health care bill that would undo most of the Affordable Care Act and set up some pieces of a yet undeveloped Republican replacement. Ryan told reporters Thursday that the repeal and replace measure will be introduced after the Presidents Day recess.”

MULVANEY IN AS BUDGET DIRECTOR
[Charlotte] News & Observer: “The Senate voted 51-49 to confirm Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina as the government’s new budget chief Thursday, less than two weeks before the president is expected to present a pared-down ‘skinny’ budget to Congress at the end of the month. Mulvaney, known as a fiscal hard-liner, was confirmed despite the opposition of Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who cited the South Carolina Republican’s inability to remember voting for a defense spending cut when questioned at his confirmation hearing.”

Pruitt advances to full Senate vote Friday - The Hill: “The Senate is moving forward with Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s nomination to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The chamber voted 54-46 to advance Pruitt’s nomination, clearing the simple majority needed. Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Joe Manchin(D-W.Va.) were the only Democrats to vote in favor of cloture on Pruitt's nomination, joining all 52 Republicans. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Wednesday became the only Republican senator to announce that she would oppose Pruitt, though she voted in favor of cloture for his nomination on Thursday.”

[Trump’s pick for U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, expressed regret for calling former President Obama an anti-Semite during his hearing today on Capitol Hill.]

I’LL TELL YOU WHAT: HOW MUCH FREAKING OUT IS TOO MUCH?
What’s the vibe in Washington? Pure chaos? Well, it’s kinda the same as with every new administration. Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt break down the various kinds of leaks that President Trump has condemned and how the GOP’s ambitious legislative agenda keeps hitting roadblocks. Plus, why you should or shouldn’t put green olives in sausage balls. [Hint: You shouldn’t.] LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE.

MATTIS: U.S. NOT READY FOR CLOSER RUSSIA COLLABORATION
AP: “The U.S. is not ready to collaborate militarily with Russia, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday, appearing to close the door for now on any effort to work more closely with Moscow in the fight against Islamic State militants in Syria. His blunt rejection came after Russian President Vladimir Putin called for increased intelligence cooperation with the U.S. and NATO, and it makes such coordination less likely at least in the near future. Mattis followed his dismissal with a sharp assessment of Russia's alleged election meddling, saying there is ‘very little doubt that they have either interfered or they have attempted to interfere in a number of elections in the democracies.’”

Tillerson says Russia must honor deal to cease conflict with Ukraine - The Guardian: “The new US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has met his Russian counterpart on the margins of a G20 foreign ministers summit in Bonn for the highest-level face-to-face contact between the two countries since the inauguration of Donald Trump. Speaking to reporters after his meeting with Sergei Lavrov, Tillerson said he was ready to work with Russia if there were common areas for cooperation, but that Moscow had to adhere to commitments made over Ukraine. ‘As we search for new common ground we expect Russia to honour its commitment to the Minsk agreements and work to de-escalate violence in Ukraine,’ he said.”

AUDIBLE: #LOL
“It would be, I think, easier for us to succeed were there fewer daily tweets.” – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to WSJ on how Trump could help lawmakers push through his ambitious agenda.

PLAY-BY-PLAY
GOP Senators say they could be open to a select committee on Trump’s Russia relations -
The Hill

Criminal complaint against Christie in ‘Bridgegate’ to proceed -
AP

In bid to tamp down White House civil war narrative, Bannon knocks his own news site -
Weekly Standard

Trump calls on Venezuela to release prisoner after meeting with Rubio - WaPo

Spat over plum ambassadorial posts draws in Kushner family’s business plans -
ESPN

In a boon for Trump’s business, Chinese government reverses course on trademark - ABC News

Zeke Miller
goes behind the scenes at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago - Time

Harry Enten says GOP shouldn’t take House majority for granted -
FiveThirtyEight

Republicans look for a serious challenger to unseat Warren in 2018 Senate run -
The Hill

As ObamaCare staggers, pressure grows to settle on a replacement -
Bloomberg

THE JUDGE’S RULING: A REPUBLIC, NOT A DEMOCRACY
Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano breaks down Trump’s refugee ban arguing that judges have the ability to interpret laws, but must do so with political indifference: “It is the job of the judiciary to say what the Constitution means, say what the statutes mean and determine with finality whether a governmental actor used governmental power consistent with the Constitution and the statutes. When the courts do this with intellectual honesty and indifference to the political outcome, they are doing their job, and we should accept the outcome.” More here.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“With all of the talk that is going around about that bad Russia, and they have been bad for a long time, we tend to forget that the Democratic President Roosevelt worked with Stalin to defeat the Nazis and that was after Stalin signed a treaty with Hitler.” – David G. Zlotnick, Santa Fe, N.M.

[Ed. note: Quite so. Stalin was one of history’s most deplorable butchers but his country was arguably the most important component of the Allied victory. No country lost more of its people or killed more Germans than the U.S.S.R. And America has worked with other gangsters, thugs and brutes since then, too. Saddam Hussein comes first to mind, but there were many others. Strategic alliances with wicked leaders who do not share our views on the value of human life or the concept of individual liberty are part of the cost of doing business as a global superpower. But these fall into a different category than our real allies like Britain and the rest of the Angloshpere (Canada and Australia, most notably) or other nations that share our aims and our values. We can do business with a bad guy like Putin, but we can’t ever truly be his partner.]  

“Chris, in the following excerpt shouldn’t, that be homing instead of honing? That’s the way I learned it anyway. ‘Meanwhile, Trump’s detractors are honing in on a NYT.’” – Bob Pruden, Owingsville, Ky.

[Ed. note: You got me! I will attribute to sloppy thumbs and an obtuse autocorrect function. Thanks for catching.]

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LUCKILY, HE WASN’T MAKING A BELT BUCKLE
The Hamilton [Ontario] Spectator: “OSHAWA, Ont. - An Ontario man is recovering from surgery after he shot himself in the leg while making a necklace out of a bullet. Durham Regional Police say a 50-year-old Oshawa, Ont., man tried to pull apart a bullet with vise grips around 5 p.m. on Tuesday. They say the powder inside the bullet ignited, which caused an explosion and propelled the bullet into the man's thigh. Police say the man told officers he was making a necklace and didn't realize the bullet could explode. Police say the man was taken to hospital where he underwent surgery to remove the bullet and shell casing fragments from his leg.”

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“If it turns out there were other high officials who are now in the government or if there was extensive negotiations or talks between [Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn] and the Russians, and in particular Russian spies, that would be an issue, but we don't know.” – 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 your 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.