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On the roster: Defenders or enablers? - Trump suggests there may be secret White House tapes - White House confirms shortlist to head FBI - Republicans mangling message on ObamaCare cuts - With garlic bread of despair and side salad of doom
DEFENDERS OR ENABLERS?
Let’s start at the beginning: The president of the United States said that part of his reason for firing the top federal investigator was his handling of a criminal probe into the president’s election campaign.
In the same interview with NBC News, President Trump even said that he had asked former FBI Director James Comey whether the investigation was targeted at the president himself.
No matter what, these are serious and significant developments. If you find yourself dismissing them or focusing on misplaced partisan reactions to them, you are doing no service to Trump or the country.
In life and in politics there is a line between defending someone and enabling them. What is happening these days with Trump and his core supporters is getting way past defense.
In the end, if Trump is proven right, and there was no information sharing or collusion between his campaign and Kremlin-allied entities, the president’s intemperate comments will not add up to much.
All this will have been is a sorry incident in which a frustrated commander in chief lashed out against his critics, making his reputation and his staff collateral damage in the process. Also harmed will have been Trump’s agenda and the already weak bonds of trust between him and his fellow Republicans in Congress.
And that’s the best case scenario.
The darker side of the street looks like this: Democrats retake the House in 2018, investigators find that one of Trump’s underlings had been in cahoots with Putinists and Trump’s remark to Lester Holt “when I decided to [fire Comey], I said to myself, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story,” would surely make it into the articles of impeachment.
This is deadly serious stuff. And many of the president’s supporters seem either unaware or unwilling to confront the situation as it exists. Just because one thinks that Democrats are hysterical in their responses to Trump does not mean that Trump is doing the right things.
His team had been, under the adverse conditions Trump created for them, working hard to offer the best rationale for firing Comey: That the former director’s mishandling of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s case left him unable to suitably lead the agency.
Whether Trump was frustrated by not getting adequate credit for toppling Comey, a man he clearly had come to despise, or if Trump did not understand the legal and communications necessities of the moment doesn’t matter. Whatever the reason, Trump harmed himself, his party and his agenda.
No matter how much his supporters want Trump to succeed, if they can’t be clear-eyed and plainspoken about the current situation things are going to get worse, not better.
The undisciplined, erratic approach to a scandal that represents mortal peril for this presidency is not primarily the fault of bad staff work, the “lying press” or Democrats. It is primarily the fault of a president who steadfastly refuses to empower his staff, show respect for the separation of powers or exhibit patience.
There will always be people who will tell the president that escapades like the one this week are a refreshing departure from stuffy old Washington and that all he really needs to do is keep kicking the walls of the barn down until he gets his way.
There will always be such people because there will always be, in any administration or organization, those willing to enable damaging behavior in order to gain power and access.
What Trump badly needs now is straight talk and honest appraisal from his advisers and supporters and desperation enough to be willing to listen.
THE RULEBOOK: TIED UP IN KNOTS
“Admitting that we ought to try the novel and absurd experiment in politics of tying up the hands of government from offensive war founded upon reasons of state, yet certainly we ought not to disable it from guarding the community against the ambition or enmity of other nations.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 34
TIME OUT: MOUNTAIN MAMMAS
Time: “Perhaps it's appropriate that the day on which Americans celebrate mothers has an odd set of parents: President Woodrow Wilson is usually seen as the ‘father’ of Mother's Day — for signing a proclamation on May 9, 1914, declaring the second Sunday of May ‘a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country’ — while copywriter Anna Jarvis is usually seen as the ‘mother’ of Mother's Day, for creating the movement that led to the proclamation. It was on May 10, 1908, that Jarvis sent 500 white carnations to Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in her hometown of Grafton, W.Va., in honor of her late mother Ann. … Jarvis' own mother, had come up with such an idea in the mid-19th century. … Evidence suggests that the original idea was for a ‘Mothers' Day’ — a day for mothers, plural, not a day for one's own mother — on which mothers would get together for a day of service to help out other mothers who were less fortunate than they were, according to Katharine Lane Antolini…”
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TRUMP SUGGESTS THERE MAY BE SECRET WHITE HOUSE TAPES
Chicago Tribune: “President Donald Trump, in an apparent warning to his fired FBI director, said Friday that James Comey had better hope there are no ‘tapes’ of their conversations. Trump's tweet came the morning after he asserted Comey had told him three times that he wasn't under FBI investigation. … The president's morning Twitter comments again raised the specter of Richard Nixon, who secretly taped conversations and telephone calls in the White House during the Watergate investigation that ultimately led to his downfall. Trump's firing of Comey already has left him with the dubious distinction of being the first president since Nixon to fire a law enforcement official overseeing an investigation tied to the White House.”
White House confirms shortlist to head FBI - Fox News: “The Trump administration is considering nearly a dozen candidates -- a list that includes top current and former lawmakers as well as law enforcement figures -- to replace fired FBI Director James Comey, a White House official briefed on the matter told Fox News on Friday. The timeline for a nomination is unclear, but the official said they are moving quickly. ‘We are moving quickly and expeditiously to pick an interim and a permanent replacement, and we’re doing our due diligence—we’re not going to cut any corners,’ the source told Fox News.”
Trump lawyers says tax returns show ‘some exceptions’ on Russia income - AP: “President Donald Trump’s lawyers say a review of his last 10 years of tax returns do not reflect ‘any income of any type from Russian sources,’ with some exceptions. The lawyers did not release copies of Trump’s tax returns so The Associated Press cannot independently verify their conclusions. The letter says there is no equity investment by Russians in entities controlled by Trump or debt owed by Trump to Russian lenders. It does reflect income from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant held in Moscow and a property sold to a Russian billionaire in 2008 for $95 million.”
Administration under siege, divided within - The Hill: “The conflict with Comey appears to have launched a new round of leaks from the Justice Department and the FBI. Citing sources close to Comey or lawmakers in touch with the FBI and DOJ, media outlets ran with stories about how Comey was fired because the administration felt the noose tightening on the Russia investigation. At a moment of crisis, the White House looks surrounded on the outside and divided on the inside. ‘It’s total chaos,’ said one former transition team official with close ties to the administration.”
Grassley and Feinstein suggest Trump not the target of criminal probe - Wash Ex: “In a carefully-written statement, [Sen. Charles Grassley] said that he and [Sen. Dianne Feinstein] were indeed briefed by Comey on the particular individuals targeted in the current FBI investigation. And Grassley strongly implied — in fact, did everything but come out and say directly — that the president is not one of those individuals. … ‘Hopefully, that will help temper some of the unsubstantiated statements that have been made,’ Grassley said.”
GOP senators still oppose special prosecutor… for now - Politico: “Even Republicans who’ve criticized the timing behind the abrupt firing aren’t yet willing to trigger a confrontation with the Trump administration by demanding an independent counsel. ‘I say, let’s see who he nominates to replace Comey,’ Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who tweeted after Comey’s firing that he could not find an ‘acceptable rationale’ for its timing, said of a special prosecutor.”
[Matthew Continetti considers life in the presidency of perpetual crisis.]
REPUBLICANS MANGLING MESSAGE ON OBAMACARE CUTS
WaPo: “The American Health Care Act that narrowly passed out of the House earlier this month cuts $880 billion from Medicaid — but that won’t affect anyone’s coverage. It keeps the GOP’s promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act — but doesn’t really repeal the Affordable Care Act. It passed after conservatives demanded that it allow states to nix some mandated benefits — but states aren’t actually going to do that. Such pronouncements from Republicans in the days since they passed the AHCA and celebrated in the Rose Garden reflect a deep struggle to sell the bill at home. The bill falls short of the GOP’s long-standing promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. But most Americans now oppose the ‘full’ repeal that so many Republicans have pledged to make happen year after year.”
House GOP, Team Trump divided on 2018 strategy - NYT: “The House Republican campaign arm is increasingly at odds with the White House over how best to retain the party’s congressional majorities. … The friction came into view this week after Representative Steve Stivers of Ohio, the National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, told The New York Times that he had lobbied the White House to appoint some House Democrats from Republican-leaning districts to the cabinet or ambassadorial posts, in hopes that the party could flip the seats.”
Trump net job-approval rating: -12.8 points
Change from one week ago: -4.8 points
Trump wants ‘goddamned steam’ catapults on new aircraft carriers - The Hill
Pence met with Russian Orthodox cleric on counter-terrorism - Time
Sessions steps up drug war with order for prosecutors to seek harsher penalties - WashTimes
Under fire, Kushner clan said to drop China visa pitch - Time
ANY GIVEN SUNDAY
The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner D-Va., joins Chris Wallace to discuss the ongoing investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election. Also appearing will be Sen. Mike Lee R.-Utah. Watch “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace” Check local listings for broadcast times in your area.
#mediabuzz - Host Howard Kurtz has the latest take on the week’s media coverage. Watch #mediabuzz Sundays at 11 a.m. ET.
AUDIBLE: ALL OF THE THINGS
“In a short period of time, I understood everything there was to know about health care. And we did the right negotiating, and actually it’s a very interesting subject.” – President Trump in an interview with Time.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“As was rightly pointed out, it wasn't up to Comey to recommend nor not-recommend charges against any person under investigation. Nor is it his prerogative to conduct a press conference on any investigation. His job is to present the evidence against the person being investigated to the Department of Justice, nothing more. On-going, inconclusive, or otherwise incomplete investigations may not have had as much to do about Trump firing Comey as the press, among others, are want to believe.” – Mark Hoffman, Des Moines, Iowa
[Ed. note: Or they might. That’s the thing about ongoing investigations: we just don’t know. But as for Comey’s reboot of “The Untouchables,” you are quite right.]
“Sen. [Mark Warner, D-Va., Thursday] informed us in no uncertain terms that (1) he believes we need a Special Prosecutor to examine the Russian issues, and (2) that the Senate Intelligence Committee is bipartisan and will get to the bottom of the Russian issues. If the second is true then why do we need the first?” – Bill Panagakos, Santa Fe, N.M.
[Ed. note: I’m not so sure about the first, Mr. Panagakos. I think that is Warner’s threat to pry cooperation from the administration for the probe he is helping to lead. Warner is a very dangerous man when it comes to this case. He is a moderate who is respected by many Republicans. If he declares the administration as non-compliant and sounds the bell for a special prosecutor in earnest, it means big trouble.]
“Historically during economic downturns governments have employed three techniques to stimulate economic growth to reduce debt and deficits. Those are: sell bonds, quantitative easing (i.e. buy bonds with new ‘electronic money’) and manipulation of interest rates. I believe Obama and his economic advisors employed all three measures and yet they only produced very anemic growth for the entirety of his 8 years in office and produced a near doubling of the national debt. Talk about the gang that could not shoot straight.” – Mike Larson, Walton, Ky.
[Ed. note: What about tax cuts, Mr. Larson? I didn’t know they had so many Keynesians in Boone County! Just kidding… What is often forgotten in the discussion of Obamian economic policy is that the former president was quite the Goldilocks. He was just as concerned about rapid growth leading to uncontrolled inflation as he was stimulating growth in the first place. And, to be fair, that was a worry held by both supply siders and demand siders in the aftermath of the panic of 2008. As growth has accelerated – somewhat – in the past few quarters we have seen interest rates creeping up. Can the new team turn up the thermostat without overheating the furnace? We’re getting ready to find out.]
“What ever happened to Huma Abedin? She obviously sent classified documents to an unsecured laptop. To whom she sent it is irrelevant. Why hasn't she been arrested for that action? Isn't that a felony? In a day when other federal employees are prosecuted for bringing classified documents (i.e. work) home from the office and sentenced to jail, it would seem this is a glaring case of misconduct. Simple fairness would seem to dictate others be pardoned or she join them in the federal pen!” – Richard Jamison, Shreveport, La.
[Ed. note: It remains something of a marvel that there was not even a sacrificial lamb in the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of state secrets. One would have thought that decency demanded at least the appearance of consequences for such willful and careless conduct. It is possible that there are other shoes to drop. But, in speaking to members of the intelligence and law-enforcement communities, I can tell you that the sour taste left from that inquest does still linger.]
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WITH GARLIC BREAD OF DESPAIR AND SIDE SALAD OF DOOM
Financial Times: “Of all the images used to describe the populist wave sweeping Europe at the moment, Peter Kazimir has perhaps concocted the strangest: the lasagne of evil. Each layer of the lasagne, Slovakia’s finance minister explains, represents a different part of society that has failed to curb the swelling unrest — the media, politicians, corporations, even religion. ‘Now we have to eat it,’ he says, pointing to Britain’s impending departure from the EU, but with an eye on the rising poll numbers for far-right parties from France to Hungary to Greece. This unpleasant gastronomic comparison does not sour his outlook for Slovakia. The former Soviet-dominated nation that joined the EU in 2004 and embraced the euro in 2009, is establishing itself as one of central Europe’s industrial powerhouses. The country, fresh from elections last year that saw the ruling Smer-SD party reinstated as part of a three-party coalition, has good reason to be optimistic about the future.”
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“You can say the president is not the most reliable narrator, which is a very kind way of saying: ‘You put out a statement on a Tuesday, by Wednesday it’s completely the opposite, and you pretend that nothing has changed.’ That's beyond being an unreliable narrator. That is kind of entering a little ‘Twilight Zone’ where the facts of yesterday and where the statements of yesterday disappear into thin air.” – Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland 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.