Republicans step up countermeasures against Mueller

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On the roster: Republicans step up countermeasures against Mueller - GOP needs to plug gaps in tax plan - Farenthold looks to hang on for another year - FCC rolls back internet regs - ‘Triple dog dare you’

REPUBLICANS STEP UP COUNTERMEASURES AGAINST MUELLER

We’ve seen even less evidence that Robert Mueller is a crook than we have that Donald Trump helped Russia meddle in the 2016 election.

But just as Democrats have done in pushing hard on circumstantial evidence and isolated leaks to cast Trump as a Kremlin dupe, Republicans are now out with guns blazing trying to shoot down the former FBI director’s reputation before he can finish his investigation.

And the GOP is acting with about as much restraint as their counterparts, which is to say: Precious little. 

Let’s pause here to separate facts from political spin, which is relatively easy since the latter so seldom troubles itself with the former. 

There is overwhelming evidence that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, and none of it to Trump’s detriment. Several of Trump’s top advisers have had inappropriate relationships with Kremlin-connected figures before and during their time with the campaign or administration. Trump advisers were also apparently eager to get help from the Kremlin in the form of dirt on his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Now, before you tell us about dirty dossiers and the deep state (which is up for grabs as a band name if you’re looking), save your keystrokes: These are not controverted facts by anyone who doesn’t think that InfoWars is the new “See it Now.” 

You may think that’s all there is and the probe has outlived its usefulness. You may even think there is more but that it doesn’t matter because it’s still better than having the Clintons back in the White House. Bully for you. We wish you a MAGA Christmas and a happy tax cut. But there’s no disputing the basics.

Conversely, there’s no disputing some basic facts about the investigation. 

The former FBI director who initiated the probe was a doozy of political operator. This is the guy who brought the federal police to bear on a presidential election twice and in opposite directions. It’s also true that the upper echelons of the Justice Department are salted with Democrats, especially after a two-term Democratic presidency. 

It’s also true that Mueller booted an agent from the investigation over sending texts to his girlfriend, also a DOJ employee, fricasseeing Trump during and after the election. And it’s also true that the investigation explored the skeezy but unverified findings of a private investigator retained by a firm working for Democrats to dig up dirt on Trump.

Before you tell us about criminal statutes on obstruction of justice and send us a link to James Comey’s sun-dappled Instagram posts with quotes from Pliny the Elder, save your strength for the coming Festivus celebrations. Unless you are joining the quest for the lair of the marshal of the Supreme Court, the facts above are not in dispute.

Just as the facts about Trump and Russia are not commensurate with the speculation by Democrats, the Republicans are taking their turn at hysterical bleating. This is hardly surprising as even the most obtuse observer could have known six months ago

“The option short of a bloodbath at the Justice Department, however, is to do what Bill Clinton did when he was similarly under siege 20 years ago, and seek to discredit Mueller. Trump is working right out of the Clinton playbook as he tries to turn Mueller into a 21st century Ken Starr.

Certainly, for the 27 percent of voters in this week’s Fox News poll who said that they strongly support Trump, attacking Mueller in advance of any findings will help inoculate the president when the evidential findings to come. 

And for surviving the scandal, it may be Trump’s only remaining hope. 

Keeping core Trump supporters on board as bad news comes in requires doing just what Trump is doing: Attack the process as corrupt, attack the reporters covering the story and attack the prosecutor on the case.”

It gets truer by the day. And now, the assault has expanded not just to Mueller but, in fact, the entire Justice Department.

But Republicans have to bear in mind that they are engaged in a riskier gambit than the Democrats. If Mueller comes back with an empty net on Trump or his campaign directly aiding Russian malfeasance, they’ll just move to some different motive for impeachment.

But if the Republicans hounding Mueller are wrong and Trump is in serious trouble, they will look like they were running interference to obscure corruption.  

THE RULEBOOK: OF, BY AND FOR 
“It is SUFFICIENT for such a government that the persons administering it be appointed, either directly or indirectly, by the people… otherwise every government in the United States, as well as every other popular government that has been or can be well organized or well executed, would be degraded from the republican character.” – James Madison, Federalist No. 39

TIME OUT: THE VIEW FROM THE OTHER SIDE 
NatGeo: “Early maps of the Americas made by indigenous people are rare—extremely rare. This map, dated 1593, is one of fewer than 100 such documents that have survived the ravages of time. It provides a fascinating glimpse into the early interactions between the indigenous people of Mexico and the recently arrived Spanish. … It covers an area that runs from just north of Mexico City to just below Puebla, roughly 100 miles away to the southeast. … The map shows both indigenous and Spanish influences. ‘On the one hand, the map is a traditional Aztec cartographic history with its composition and design showing Nahuatl hieroglyphics, and typical illustrations,’ [John Hessler] writes, referring to the indigenous language of the region. The bold colors on the map come from natural dyes, including Maya Blue (made from indigo plant leaves and a type of clay) and carmine (made from a cactus-dwelling insect).”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump net job-approval rating: -21.2 points
Change from one week ago: down 0.8 points

[President Trump’s score is determined by subtracting his average job disapproval rating in the five most recent, methodologically sound public polls from his average approval rating, calculated in the same fashion.]

I’LL TELL YOU WHAT: TWIZZLER FIZZLER 
This week Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt discuss the fallout from the Alabama Special Election and the duo gets into a heated debate over red vines or Twizzlers. Plus, Dana answers the mail bag and Chris plays a game of “Name that Presidential Bro.” LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE

GOP NEEDS TO PLUG GAPS IN TAX PLAN  

Bloomberg: “Tentative details that have emerged on a consensus tax plan would wipe out more than $200 billion in revenue over 10 years -- leaving lawmakers to find additional ways to make up the cost, according to one independent analyst’s calculations. As a consequence, lawmakers may look to set new time limits on the individual tax cuts they intend to offer, wrote Henrietta Treyz, the director of economic policy for Veda Partners LLC… The Senate bill would already wipe its individual tax cuts off the books beginning in 2026 to help meet budget constraints. GOP lawmakers have stressed that they believe the tax cuts would continue -- but that would be up to a future Congress to decide. House and Senate lawmakers are putting the finishing touches on a compromise measure that they hope to send to Trump next week. Tentative changes would include cutting the top individual rate and expanding an individual deduction for state and local taxes…”

But Rubio is a ‘no,’ unless…  - WaPo: “Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) informed Senate leaders he intends to vote against the Republicans’ $1.5 trillion tax plan unless it includes a larger expansion of a child tax credit, according to a Senate GOP source. Rubio and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) proposed a change to expand the tax credit as part of the tax bill that passed the Senate, but the plan was opposed by GOP leadership and voted down. He has been negotiating a change to the child tax credit that would allow millions more low-income families to take advantage of the bill’s expanded credit. If Rubio votes against the bill, Republicans can afford to only lose one more vote on their tax plan and pass it through the Senate. … But Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) already opposes the plan because of its effect on the federal deficit.”

Thune remains confident they’ll have the votes - WashTimes: “Sen. John Thune said Thursday there are a few members who still have concerns about parts of the tax bill. ‘When we vote on it next week, we will have the support for it,’ Mr. Thune, South Dakota Republican, said on Fox News. ‘But I’m very confident it’s going to pass, and it’s going to end up on the president’s desk hopefully by the end of week.’ Mr. Thune said there were a few senators who still had concerns about parts of the bill, but said that they are working toward a solution to those problems. … The tax plan is now in conference where the House and Senate will each work out their differences into one bill that will be voted on and sent to President Trump.”

Ryan ready to retire or just trolling? - Politico: “Despite several landmark legislative wins this year, and a better-than-expected relationship with President Donald Trump, [Paul Ryan] has made it known to some of his closest confidants that this will be his final term as speaker. He consults a small crew of family, friends and staff for career advice, and is always cautious not to telegraph his political maneuvers. But the expectation of his impending departure has escaped the hushed confines of Ryan’s inner circle and permeated the upper-most echelons of the GOP. In recent interviews with three dozen people who know the speaker—fellow lawmakers, congressional and administration aides, conservative intellectuals and Republican lobbyists—not a single person believed Ryan will stay in Congress past 2018.”

Disaster-stricken states worry aid won’t make it into gov. funding - Politico: “Lawmakers from Texas and Florida are exceedingly anxious that hurricane recovery aid will be sidelined in next week’s government funding scramble amid internal disputes over who should get how much cash. Congress was widely expected to approve its next multibillion-dollar disaster request as part of the year-end spending bill. But with just days to go until the Dec. 22 deadline when government funding expires, lawmakers are still haggling over the fine points of the next round of disaster aid. House GOP leaders are now preparing to take up a stopgap spending bill next week that would not include any money for hurricane relief, potentially causing problems for passage if members from affected states rebel.”

McCain hospitalized, questions about when he will return to work - AZ Central: “U.S. Sen. John McCain has been hospitalized at Walter Reed Medical Center where he's being treated for ‘normal side effects of his ongoing cancer therapy,’ according to a statement Wednesday from his office. McCain, who missed votes on Monday and Tuesday, will return to work in the U.S. Senate ‘as soon as possible,’ the statement said. His hospitalization comes amid speculation about his future, and as the House of Representatives and Senate attempt to hold final votes next week on a $1.5 trillion tax-cut bill. … It was not immediately clear how long McCain would be hospitalized. … But the disease is clearly taking a toll. He has been in a walking boot for weeks after tearing a tendon in his leg, which was also ascribed to the effects of his treatment.”

FARENTHOLD LOOKS TO HANG ON FOR ANOTHER YEAR  
Texas Tribune: “U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, will retire from Congress after finishing his current term, a source close to the congressman told The Tribune Thursday morning. Farenthold soon confirmed the decision in an emotional video posted on Facebook. The decision came after a difficult December for the four-term congressman. Farenthold, one of the quieter members of the Texas delegation, found himself embroiled in a charged atmosphere of sexual harassment allegations in Washington, D.C. The final blow came in the form of a CNN report on Wednesday night highlighting new sexual harassment allegations that included former employees describing the congressman as verbally abusive and sexually demeaning.”

Ethics panel named in Farenthold sexual harassment investigation -
 [Corpus Christi] Caller Times: “A panel of two Republicans and two Democrats will examine whether U.S. Rep Blake Farenthold violated the House code of conduct or any laws in connection with the allegations of sexual harassment that were brought in a now-settled federal lawsuit filed by a former aide. The House Ethics Committee appointed the subcommittee Wednesday afternoon, but did not say when its work would begin or how long it was expected to take to determine whether any action is warranted against the four-term congressman. No other public comment will be made on this matter except in accordance with Committee rules.” 

Second woman accuses Rep. Kihuen of sexual misconduct - The Nevada Independent: “Once-rising Democratic star Rep. Ruben Kihuen made repeated and unwanted sexual advances toward a female lobbyist while he was a state senator, the woman told The Nevada Independent. The woman, who requested anonymity because of concerns about being identified and the possible consequences in Nevada’s small political world, says that Kihuen touched her thighs or buttocks on three separate occasions without her consent. She also showed the Independent hundreds of suggestive text messages she received from Kihuen — including invitations to come sit on his lap in the middle of a committee hearing and repeated requests to spend the night at her place — over the course of the 2015 legislative session.”

Gowdy passes Trump sexual assault allegations to Justice Dept. - Politico: “House oversight committee chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) has referred allegations that President Donald Trump sexually assaulted women to the Justice Department, rebuffing a request from House Democrats that his committee investigate the claims. ‘This Committee, nor any other Committee of Congress, does not, and cannot, prosecute crimes. This is true for many reasons but especially true in crimes of this serious nature,’ he wrote in a reply to Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.), who gathered signatures from Democratic colleagues calling for the investigation.”

Carper admits to hitting wife 16 years ago - Free Beacon: “Delaware senator Tom Carper admitted to slapping his wife in a 1998 interview with a veteran political journalist in the state, confirming an accusation he denied when first running for Congress. … He fought the accusation that he hit his wife when it first emerged during his 1982 run for Congress, saying it was ‘without basis in fact’ and pledging to sue the New York Post, which first published the accusation in 1982, for libel. Carper won in 1982 largely by attacking his Republican opponent for his ‘vicious’ efforts to ‘smear’ him and his wife, but 16 years later he admitted to Delaware reporter Celia Cohen that the accusation was true all along.”

FCC ROLLS BACK INTERNET REGS  
The Hill: “The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to repeal its landmark net neutrality protections, capping off a months-long campaign by the agency’s Republicans to deregulate the broadband industry. The FCC voted along party lines Thursday to scrap its 2015 Open Internet Order as Democratic lawmakers and dozens of activists protested outside. In a dramatic moment, the meeting was abruptly evacuated in the middle of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's remarks ahead of the vote. Reporters and attendees were forced to exit the hearing room and leave their belongings as police brought in K9 units to sweep the room. Attendees were allowed to re-enter the room within 15 minutes of the evacuation. The FCC declined to comment on the reasons for the evacuation. Democrats, consumer groups and tech companies have been rallying for months to try to stop the repeal plan, arguing that the rules are essential for preventing companies like Comcast and Verizon from abusing their powers and internet gatekeepers.”

THE JUDGE’S RULING: RULES ARE RULES
Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano explains the importance of the Constitution even in the time of ‘ISIS-inspired monsters:’ “This view of human liberty treats personal rights -- even those guaranteed by the Constitution -- as if they were gifts from the government offered in return for good behavior. Yet it defies history and the plain meaning of the Constitution. [NY attempted bomber Akayed Ullah’s] rights to legal counsel and to a jury trial are expressly guaranteed by the Constitution; hence, no government official, no matter how powerful or well-intended, can interfere with them. The right to counsel attaches whenever anyone is confined against his will, charged with a crime or interrogated by authorities -- whichever occurs first.” More here.

PLAY-BY-PLAY 
Trump ‘dossier’ firm filed in court saying Republicans leaked company’s banking data - Reuters

Iowa Poll shows Iowans aren’t happy with president’s performance - Des Moines Register

Moore continues to hold out on concession in Alabama Senate race - Fox News

One graph explanation for Democrats’ success with special elections - WaPo

Dem donors disclose new data and political analysis for political spending - USA Today

Eric Trump dismisses Gillibrand, recalls her visits ‘every three days, asking for money’ - The Hill

AUDIBLE: CRYING OUT
“I hope to go to the public and put the pressure on our government to do something — do something more than what you have done so far, because obviously, it’s not working.” – Laurie Holt, the mother of 25-year-old Joshua Holt, held 18 months on weapons charges in a Venezuelan jail. The Salt Lake City woman told “Fox News @ Night with Shannon Bream” about news that her son, whom she says is gravely ill, will soon face trial in a Maduro-regime court. 

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“I hate to say it but you are really incorrect on this. Democrats did not just rise up in Alabama and create a revolution. Nothing really changed in our state other than the Republican candidate was a dud, and had a terrible reputation. Not only is Moore a morally corrupt person but many of us hate his practices of ‘taking his baseball and going home’ when he does not get his way. Many times he got his feelings hurt and left the entire state hanging. Besides, Moore was only popular with about 38% of the voters in the primary and the Republican base was never excited about him. I voted for him by default and while holding my nose as a vote against Jones. But, I know a lot of Republican hard core or leaning voters that did not vote for Moore because he is a bad candidate and he was not liked. Jones did not win - the Republicans lost when Moore won the primary. Jones will lose by a landslide in the next non-special election.” – Tom McDougal, Birmingham, Ala.

[Ed. note: What a revolution, Mr. McDougal. The future of Alabama politically looks very much like its recent past, that is to say dominated by mainstream Republicans. The 2018 primaries for governor and other offices will tell us a great deal, but I suspect that Alabama Republicans will be ready to move past the unhappy episodes of both the Bentley scandal and the Moore nomination. I think you’re quite right in your analysis of the race. I was just fitting some of the pieces together for folks beyond your borders who might not be as conversant with your state’s dramatic brand of politics. Congratulations on surviving the vote.]

“Could you share a quick snapshot of Fox’s data on voters in the Trump states with a Dem incumbent defending in 2018? Any predictions? What reasons is the Senate still ‘out of reach’ for Dems? – Jack Whiteman, St. Louis

[Ed. note: I promise, Mr. Whiteman, that we will be out with Senate ratings quite soon. We are, after all, only 18 days away from an election year! But for now, accept this: It is an accident of political geography. Class 1 of the Senate is up this year, which happens to include 24 Democrats but only 8 Republicans. So think of it that way, one third of the Senate is up for election but there are three times more Democrats than there are Republicans. That’s the case because Democrats did very well the last two times Class 1 was up, 2012 and 2006. But rest assured, we will have much, much, much more to say about all of that.]

“I would GLADLY support a federal holiday for biennial elections IF there was a corresponding moratorium on electioneering for Congressional and Presidential office until 120 days before the new holiday!” – Clark Acton, Anderson, Ind.

[Ed. note: You’ve got a deal, Mr. Acton! I will sign on to that constitutional amendment in a heartbeat.]

“Why don’t we just let big business write the tax plan in the first place? Cut out Congress as the sham middle man.” – Anna Kingry, Salem, Ore.

[Ed. note: History will probably wryly note that the way Republicans ultimately responded to a populist revolt in their party was an enormous corporate tax cut. Weird, right? Our current president and his immediate predecessor both campaigned with torches and pitchforks for Wall Street and corporate fat cats. But upon assuming office, both changed their tunes to varying degrees. I can forgive much of this on the grounds that politicians say a lot of things and woe betide the citizen who takes campaign blather at face value. And, giving them the benefit of the doubt, we might grant that things look different from the inside than they were on the outside. Presidents of either party want growth, strong markets and economic stability. They know voters are supremely unforgiving of anything else. But, there’s also this: While popular sentiment is fickle, easily distracted and often divided, the lobbyists never miss a beat.]

Share your color commentary: Email us at 
HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

‘TRIPLE DOG DARE YOU’
CNYCentral: “A Marcellus [N.Y.] man’s loving recreation of the setting for A Christmas Story could become an official Lego set you can buy in stores. Jason Middaugh says what started as a family project, sparked by his daughter’s love of the building blocks, turned into a crazy journey to recreate the house from the popular holiday film. ‘We spent close to six-months kind of scouring the Internet for all of the individual pieces that we needed,’ Middaugh says. The final product is made of roughly 2,000 pieces, complete with the ‘fragile’ marked shipping container, Ralphie in his bunny suit, and, of course, the infamous leg lamp from the movie. … Indeed Middaugh and his family have sweated the details for the set, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Nearly 9,000 people have endorsed having the set reviewed by Lego to become an actual set sold in stores.”

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.