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On the roster: Trump helps Democrats, but can they help themselves? - Trump volunteers financial information - McConnell changes his tune on Garland - High stakes as Trump meets with Turkey’s budding strongman - Now, if it had been Five Guys…
TRUMP HELPS DEMOCRATS, BUT CAN THEY HELP THEMSELVES?
It is telling that the defense of President Trump’s sharing of secrets with top Kremlin officials includes the clarification that no law was broken since the president is the ultimate authority on declassification.
Reading between the lines, the essence of the White House response to WaPo’s report that Trump inappropriately shared intelligence from a U.S. ally with top Russian officials is this: So what?
The “what” in the short term, at least politically, is likely to be “not much.” Yes, it will deepen Republican anxieties about Trump’s capacities and perpetuate the damaging story line that has dogged him since even before taking office. But those who are talking about this marking a sea change in the already roiled administration are wrong.
Look at it this way: Trump had not quite a clean slate, but at least something of a new beginning on the story of Russia’s interference with the 2016 election after he ordered air strikes on Russian client state Syria on April 6.
That’s when even critics of the president said that he had exorcised the demons of Putinic possession with the move. Said one: “Donald Trump became president today.”
Five weeks later and we are witnessing an administration deeper in the throes of Russia crisis than most would have guessed even when Trump, as president elect, was rejecting the findings of the intelligence community that Russia was behind the hacks targeting Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
We discussed Monday how important a top-drawer FBI pick was to Trump. We are re-upping that sentiment times infinity. There’s nothing Trump will do at this point to convince Democrats that he is not at least a dupe for Vladimir Putin, but the necessity of convincing Republicans that he is serious about getting to the bottom of whether anyone on his staff was inappropriately in contact with Russia has become paramount.
Much of the spin from Trump supporters, though, has focused instead on the unfairness of the press and what they see as the inappropriate outrage among Democrats.
One of the persistent mysteries about the Trump White House and the president’s supporters is the degree to which they express surprise about negative media coverage and Democratic opposition.
That’s a little bit like historians who blame the harsh Russian winter for Napoleon Bonaparte’s 1812 defeat. They have winter every year in Russia. You just have to be ready for it.
But Democrats have a new set of worries of their own. Impeachment talk is getting increasingly hard for the Democratic establishment to stifle.
When your party spends the run-up to Inauguration Day trying to bar the president elect from taking office, the events of the past five months have left many in the “resistance” in such a froth that there’s barely any room for cappuccino in the cup.
Certainly if Democrats do manage to take control of the House next fall, impeachment will be a real possibility. The past week has provided at least two articles for the charge: Trump saying that firing James Comey was in part because of the investigation into Trump’s own campaign and now, sharing secrets with Russia.
Remember, the Constitution provides large latitude to the House for bringing articles of impeachment. A better way to think of the constitutional threshold is this: whatever can get a majority in the House. Much like the criminal justice system, there is a far lower bar for bringing charges than there is for obtaining a conviction.
But, that’s not exactly a winning platform for midterms. Things would have to be far worse than they are for Democrats to take the House on a pitch of “elect us so we can plunge the nation in to the dark miasma of constitutional crisis! Woot!”
That’s the catch-22: those who actually would like to impeach Trump need to not talk about impeaching Trump in order to get the power to do so.
Here’s Nancy Pelosi from an interview on CNN Monday night: “Again, if you’re talking about impeachment you’re talking about ‘what are the facts?’ Not ‘I don’t like him and I don’t like his hair.’ What are the facts that you would make a case on?”
Shorter: Chill, people.
Certainly running as a check on an intemperate president is a good place for Democrats to be. But running as the party of impeachment, at least so far, will not be.
The challenge for the Blue Team in the months and weeks to come is to sound like a serious, reasonable alternative to a party in power that looks like neither of those things right now.
THE RULEBOOK: NOT SO GRAND
“An ambitious man might make his own aggrandizement, by the aid of a foreign power, the price of his treachery to his constituents.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 75
TIME OUT: SO THAT’S WHAT THOSE ARE FOR…
NatGeo: “The unicorn of the sea just got a little less mysterious. Until now, how narwhals used their long tusks had been subject to much speculation by scientists. Behavior captured for the first time on camera shows narwhals using the long tusks protruding from their heads to stun Arctic cod by hitting them, using jagged, quick movements. This behavior immobilizes the fish, making them easier to prey upon. The footage was shot by two drones in Tremblay Sound, Nunavat, in Canada's far Northeastern regions by Adam Ravetch for the World Wildlife Fund Canada and researchers from Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Brandon Laforest, a senior specialist of Arctic species and ecosystems with WWF-Canada, explained why narwhals have been such a mysterious species. ‘They don't jump like other whales. They are also notoriously skittish,’ said Laforest. ‘This is an entirely new observation of how the tusk is used.’”
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TRUMP VOLUNTEERS FINANCIAL INFORMATION
AP: “President Donald Trump is preparing to go public with information about how last year shaped his personal fortune, a White House official says. The plan was disclosed Monday as Vice President Mike Pence filed his own 2016 personal financial disclosure form with the Office of Government Ethics. … The White House official who said Trump will ‘soon’ submit his 2016 personal financial disclosure did not give details about when it would be released and demanded anonymity to discuss the matter ahead of the filing. … Until Monday, the White House had not indicated whether Trump would follow that tradition or take advantage of his ability under the law to wait a year. … Trump’s 2016 form will span his general election candidacy, election and transition to power — potentially shedding light on the immediate impact his Republican nomination and election had on his Trump Organization.”
MCCONNELL CHANGES HIS TUNE ON GARLAND
The Hill: “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kent.) is throwing his support behind an unlikely proposal that Judge Merrick Garland should replace fired FBI Director James Comey, acknowledging on Tuesday that he had recommended the former Supreme Court nominee to President Trump. ‘It may surprise people, but he has a deep background in criminal law, he was the prosecutor in the Oklahoma City bombing case and I think it would make it clear that President Trump will continue the tradition at the FBI of having an apolitical professional,’ McConnell said during an appearance on Bloomberg. The endorsement was an about-face for McConnell, who was instrumental in blocking former President Obama's attempt to confirm Garland to the Supreme Court last year by refusing to hold hearings or votes on the judge. But Democrats are unlikely to accept Garland trading his lifetime appointment on the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia…”
Gowdy withdraws from consideration as next FBI director - Free Beacon: “Rep. Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.) took himself out of consideration to be the next FBI director on Monday. In a statement, Gowdy said he told Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he ‘would not be the right person’ to replace James Comey, who President Trump fired last week. Gowdy, a former prosecutor who chaired the House Benghazi Committee, was one of the first names under consideration by the Trump administration to take the job. He said he shared with Sessions the qualities he felt necessary for the next FBI director to have but stressed it was his ‘firm conviction’ that he was not the right choice.”
YATES SAYS RUSSIANS HAD ‘LEVERAGE’ OVER FLYNN
Politico: “The Russian government had ‘real leverage’ over former national security adviser Michael Flynn when he was fired by President Donald Trump, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates said in an interview that aired Tuesday morning. … ‘I think that this was a serious compromise situation, that the Russians had real leverage. He also had lied to the vice president of the United States,’ Yates said… Yates denied an allegation from the president that it was she who had leaked the information regarding Flynn to the Post, telling [Anderson Cooper] that she had never leaked classified information to the newspaper nor had she authorized anyone else to do so. She also said that Flynn’s actions were potentially criminal in nature, even though White House press secretary Sean Spicer has said that the former national security adviser was let go because of a ‘trust issue’ and not over legal concerns.”
HIGH STAKES AS TRUMP MEETS WITH TURKEY’S BUDDING STRONGMAN
Free Beacon: “President Donald Trump will meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Washington, D.C., for the first time [today], one week after the White House announced plans to arm Syrian Kurds fighting the Islamic State despite fierce opposition from Ankara. The meeting comes amid strained relations between the two NATO allies. Erdogan is expected to call on the Trump administration to reduce cooperation with the Kurdish YPG and renew demands for the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric whom the Turkish president accuses of masterminding last year's failed coup. The prominent Turkish newspaper Sözcü in an op-ed published Sunday urged Erdogan to evict U.S. troops from the strategic Incirlik Air Base, located 60 miles from the Syrian border in southern Turkey. American forces have used the base to launch airstrikes against ISIS since 2015.”
Trump recognizes importance of first foreign trip - WaPo: “… Trump still made time to start preparing for a trip that could become a resounding triumph or go horribly awry with just one mistake. On foreign soil, Trump will have to navigate diplomatic land mines — from negotiating peace between the Israelis and Palestinians to reassuring jittery European allies to following protocol in greeting Pope Francis. … Trump’s advisers say the president understands the stakes and is taking his preparation seriously. His team deliberately scaled back his public schedule in the two weeks leading up to his planned Friday departure, even though much of his time last week was eaten up by the Comey drama and talks about shaking up his West Wing staff.”
Trump net job-approval rating: -13.8 points
Change from one week ago: -5.2 points
Cybersecurity positions remain empty as federal agencies confront global cyber crisis - Politico
Cornyn and McCaul crafting immigration bill - WaPo
AUDIBLE: EVERYBODY’S A CRITIC
“Guys, have you been reading American newspapers again? You shouldn't read them. You can put them to various uses, but you shouldn't read them. Lately it's become not only harmful, but dangerous too.” – Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in response to Trump leak reports.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Congress has ceded too much of its authority to bureaucratic executive agencies and lost its nerve to use challenge real executive overreach. That, in turn, gives judicial more prominence, as it provides the only avenue for redress. And as the executive is responsible for appointing judges it spirals downward. ‘Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.’ I have felt for some time that I am watching one version of Yeats play out before my eyes.” – Triche Osborne, Baton Rouge, La.
[Ed. note: One of the things the Framers did not envision would be that one branch of government would intentionally diminish its own authority. There are a lot of reasons for this, but they all lead back to, essentially, craven self-interest. The cry for term limits or some other remedy for the self-protective motivations of individual politicians is in response to this deepening sense that something is broken in our system. Whatever the remedy, agreement is growing as to which branch is to blame. The assumption in the period after 1933 was that the executive branch and its constant grabbing of power was to blame. Now we see the truth: this was no holdup. It was an inside job.]
“We've had great presidents from many walks of life. General [George Washington]. Farmer [Thomas Jefferson]. Lawyer [John Adams]. Businessman . . . Calvin Coolidge. Admittedly, college professors haven't worked out too well. You are welcome to quibble with my list, but I think we will be ready for a journalist next time. Maybe someone who understands the separate-but-intertwined history of our culture and our democracy. One who can sincerely state things like ‘the still-boundless energy and creativity of this people are more than equal to the moment.’ A man with clear vision: Chris Stirewalt 2020!” – Tom Parks, Rogers, Ark.
[Ed. note: If the republic is in such bad repair that more than a handful of people outside of institutional care would agree with such a sentiment, it is far too late anyway! But I appreciate the thought. I am sure that the new generation of leaders rising up, even now, contains in it those equal to the moment.]
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NOW, IF IT HAD BEEN FIVE GUYS…
WPXI: “A Washington State driver made a big mistake when he allegedly tried to bribe a police officer with fast food when the officer noticed drugs in his car. Officer Joshua Glass pulled a vehicle over on Thursday for a minor equipment violation, the Pasco Police Department wrote on its Facebook page. Glass noticed baggies containing white powder in the center console, which the driver tried to conceal with a cellphone, authorities said. Eric Xavier Vela Arriaga, 27, allegedly asked Glass to disregard the cocaine and in exchange offered him a ‘hook-up’ at Taco Bell, police said. Officer Glass thanked Arriaga for the offer, since he likes Taco Bell, but declined, police said. Arriaga was charged with cocaine possession.”
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“What clearly happened here, what seems to be the implication of the story is that an ally might have been sort of revealed to have -- let's assume, some kind of asset inside of ISIS. Sometimes it can take years to plant an asset such as that.” – 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.