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On the roster: Michael Cohen ≠ Scooter Libby - Report scorches McCabe for leak, cover-up - Ryan goes all in for McCarthy - Rokita accused of abusing post as state elections boss - Oh heyyyyyyyyyyyyyy…
MICHAEL COHEN ≠ SCOOTER LIBBY
Revisiting the case of Lewis “Scooter” Libby on the occasion of his pardon from President Trump today makes the whole affair seem rather quaint by comparison to our current political moment.
We will not attempt to scale the heights already surmounted by advanced Scooterologists who have studied his case for years, but we will offer this shorthand version:
In 2003, the Bush administration was eager to discredit Joseph Wilson, a career diplomat who accused George W. Bush of fabricating evidence about weapons of mass destruction to support the invasion of Iraq. In so doing an administration official, later revealed to be Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, leaked to reporters that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA official pushing an antiwar agenda from within the agency.
The Department of Justice undertook an investigation into the leak but, ultimately, Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself, making way for acting Attorney General James Comey to pick a special prosecutor to handle the case. Comey, ever solicitous of good press, tapped Patrick Fitzgerald, the hard-charging U.S. attorney in Chicago to come to town and start wrecking shop.
Almost two years after Fitzgerald began, he brought his only criminal charges in the case. He charged Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, with obstructing the investigation, lying to the FBI and perjuring himself before a grand jury. A federal jury convicted Libby on four of the five counts of the indictment and a judge sentenced him to 30 months in prison and $250,000 fine. But before Libby began to serve his term, Bush commuted the prison sentence, though let stand the fine and the convictions.
Bush’s decision to not offer a full pardon to Libby has remained a sore spot among the strongest proponents and defenders of the Iraq invasion, particularly Cheney. From their point of view, Libby was the victim of a political prosecution and a martyr to their cause. Bush’s half measure on Libby’s behalf was deemed a slight against those who had battled what they believed to be a biased press and dishonest Democrats for whom they blamed much of the war’s failure.
Trump’s move today buttons off that long, complicated story, but also is part of a new one.
As Trump was pardoning Libby, Trump’s own lawyer, Michael Cohen, was in a Manhattan federal courthouse fighting to have a judge throw out evidence obtained by the FBI in raids of Cohen’s office, home and hotel room.
Trump no doubt was hoping that Cohen and others who have been drawn into the widening criminal investigations in to the president and his associates got the message: Where Bush may have been unwilling to grant pardons to the perceived victims of his political enemies, Trump will not be so queasy.
From today’s hearing, though, we got a picture of Cohen not as someone in the dock for defending the president, but rather, according to prosecutors, the target of an investigation into his own alleged misdeeds. The argument from prosecutors to maintain the evidence they obtained from Cohen was that none of this was about Cohen’s attorney-client relationship with Trump, but rather other unspecified personal conduct related to Cohen’s own business dealings.
As if to further illustrate the point, the WSJ reported during that same hearing that Cohen had facilitated a $1.6 million payout to a nude model on behalf of Trump mega-donor Elliott Broidy. Broidy, who until today served with Cohen as a top fundraiser for the Republican National Committee, impregnated the woman last year and got Cohen to arrange the hush money, according to the Journal. (By the way, the RNC’s original Trump-era finance team of Steve Wynn, Cohen and Broidy has been on quite a roll…)
Aside from the parallels to Cohen’s 2016 arrangement with a sex worker who claims to have had congress with Trump 12 years ago, the Broidy affair illustrates what appears to be Cohen’s unique legal specialty: Handling the cases that no reputable attorney would ever touch. Cohen even compares himself to the fictional character Ray Donovan, an enthusiastically scummy “fixer” who circumvents the law to protect his powerful patrons.
It would seem, though, that Cohen was not hardly the fixer he fancied himself to be. The ongoing catastrophes of the arrangements he made for Trump hint at what could be much worse to come.
The political press is agog over the chance to cover porno performers, a pregnant Playmate and other luridness it sure beats budget markups when it comes to chasing clicks. What’s at stake here, though, transcends carnality. As the White House tries to navigate the troubles around Cohen, it does so with the knowledge that there could be much more yet to come. Even if Cohen is willing to be the Susan McDougal of this play, investigators may still be able to uncover damaging, compromising information about the president. We are told today, for instance, that Cohen had been under surveillance for some time prior to the raids.
Given Cohen’s approach to the practice of law we can only imagine what they might have heard.
Libby made a pretty convincing martyr for pro-war Republicans a decade ago. Here was a guy who had been in public service for much of his career and who believed passionately in the ideas that he was trying to advance. Libby wasn’t trying to protect the president as a person, but rather the endeavor that defined the Bush presidency. Nor would Libby have found himself in trouble had it not been for the investigation into the misdeeds of others. Whether or not you think Libby did, in fact, interfere with a rightful investigation, there’s no claim that he committed any crime prior to the beginning of the probe.
Trump may be trying to invite comparisons between Libby and Cohen, but we doubt that the president’s lawyer will much benefit from the juxtaposition.
THE RULEBOOK: HYBRIDS GET BETTER MILEAGE
“The proposed Constitution, therefore, is, in strictness, neither a national nor a federal Constitution, but a composition of both.” – James Madison, Federalist No. 39
TIME OUT: THE (SEA)GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER
Atlas Obscura: “Far from shore, the ocean floor is more than an unbroken swath of sand and mud: It can be blanketed with lush, green carpets of seagrass. … There’s a general consensus that these undersea meadows are numerous and widely dispersed in shallow and deeper water alike, since seagrasses can survive on fewer nutrients than some other plants can manage. But grasses growing far beneath the waves often go unstudied compared to those closer to shore. Since green turtles (Chelonia mydas) are known to nibble on seagrasses, researchers at Swansea University trailed them, with the idea that they might lead the way to their sunken grazing grounds. The scientists tagged turtles with GPS devices… With information about location and depth in hand, divers went to check out where the turtles were headed. In this remote tract of ocean, the scientists found previously unknown meadows of a seagrass known as Thalassodendron ciliatum. Writing in Marine Pollution Bulletin, the researchers describe the abundance of marine life they encountered there—nearly a dozen fish species, including a large shark.”
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Trump job performance
Average approval: 41 percent
Average disapproval: 53.2 percent
Net Score: -12.2 points
Change from one week ago: down 0.2 points
[Average includes: Quinnipiac University: 41% approve - 52% disapprove; Gallup: 41% approve - 54% disapprove; IBD: 38% approve - 56% disapprove; CNN: 43% approve - 53% disapprove; Marist College: 42% approve - 51% disapprove.]
Control of House
Republican average: 41.4 percent
Democratic average: 47.2 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 5.8 points
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage down 0.6 points
[Average includes: Quinnipiac University: 46% Dems - 43% GOP; CNN: 50% Dems - 44% GOP; Marist College: 44% Dems - 39% GOP; Fox News: 46% Dems - 41% GOP; NBC News/WSJ: 50% Dems - 40% GOP.]
REPORT SCORCHES MCCABE FOR LEAK, COVER-UP
Fox News: “Andrew McCabe, the onetime acting FBI director, leaked a self-serving story to the press and later lied about it to his boss and federal investigators, prompting a stunning fall from grace that ended in his firing last month, according to a bombshell report released Friday by the Justice Department's internal watchdog. … The report, handed over to Congress on Friday and obtained by Fox News, looked at a leak to The Wall Street Journal about the FBI's probe into the Clinton Foundation. The report says McCabe misled investigators about leaks and did so in a way that did not fall under a ‘public interest’ exemption. … The report says that McCabe ‘lacked candor’ in a conversation with [James Comey] when he said that he had not authorized the disclosure and didn't know who had done so. The IG also found that he also lacked candor when questioned by FBI agents on multiple occasions since that conversation…”
FBI taps Bowdich to replace McCabe - WashEx: “FBI Director Christopher Wray has tapped Associate Deputy Director David Bowdich to replace Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month. Bowdich, who began his FBI career in 1995, oversees the management of all FBI personnel, budget, administration, and infrastructure, ‘as well as the inspection and insider threat programs,’ the FBI said.”
Comey was trying to help Hillary with release that sank her campaign - Vox: “In his new book A Higher Loyalty, former FBI Director James Comey admits what most observers had inferred: that the overwhelming conventional wisdom that Hillary Clinton was going to win on Election Day played a role in his fateful decision to refocus the campaign on the email matter in late October. ‘It is entirely possible,’ Comey writes, ‘that because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president, my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in all polls. But I don’t know.’”
RYAN GOES ALL IN FOR MCCARTHY
USA Today: “House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., endorsed House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy for speaker Friday, a move likely intended to clear the field and make way for his top deputy. ‘We all think that Kevin is the right person,’ Ryan said in an interview with NBC's Meet the Press set to air Sunday. McCarthy ran for speaker in 2015 but dropped out at the last minute when it became clear he didn't have the votes. Some conservative House members were unhappy with him. But this time will be different, Ryan said, because “what’s changed is we have gotten a lot done." … However, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the GOP whip, has not ruled out a run for speaker under the right circumstances. He has said he would not run against McCarthy. Ryan's announcement comes hours after the former chairman of the House Freedom Caucus Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said he was considering a run.”
Resists calls to step aside for quicker transition - WaPo: “House Speaker Paul D. Ryan insisted Thursday that he would serve until the end of his term, forcefully rejecting the growing calls within the Republican caucus for him to step aside and allow a quicker transition to a new leader. Ryan’s defiance came as President Trump is being urged to take a hands-off approach to the expected leadership race, in which Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) are considered front-runners to lead the fractious caucus.”
Balanced budget amendment vote a bust - WaPo: “After passing tax cuts and spending that added massively to the deficit, congressional Republicans made a show of fiscal austerity Thursday by voting for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. As expected, the measure failed, falling short of the two-thirds vote needed to advance. The vote was 233 to 184.”
ROKITA ACCUSED OF ABUSING POST AS STATE ELECTIONS BOSS
CBS News: “Senate candidate Todd Rokita likely violated ethics laws as Indiana's secretary of state by repeatedly accessing a Republican donor database from his government office, prompting party officials to lock him out of the system until he angrily complained, three former GOP officials told The Associated Press. Rokita, currently a congressman, is in a bitter primary fight for the right to challenge Joe Donnelly, who is considered one of the Senate's most vulnerable Democrats. The alleged ethics flap over Rokita's use of the Indiana Republican Party's Salesforce database during work hours occurred in 2009, as he was wrapping up a second term as the state's chief elections official and angling for higher office. Indiana law prohibits state employees from engaging in political activity while on duty or acting in an official capacity. It also prohibits work on anything outside official duties while on the clock, or ordering others to do so, and from using state resources for political purposes.”
PAC with establishment ties gunning for Blankenship - Charleston [W. Va.] Gazette-Mail: “A super PAC with ties to the national Republican Party is taking out ads opposing former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship. Filings with the Federal Communications Commission show ‘Mountain Families PAC’ has purchased nearly $220,000 in ads from TV broadcast stations around the state. The ads are scheduled to begin running Friday. On its FCC form, Mountain Families PAC lists a PO box based out of Arlington, Virginia, and the phone number of Benjamin Ottenhoff. According to the PAC’s statement of organization with the Federal Election Commission, it organized March 29 with Ottenhoff as its treasurer.”
Blankenship hits foes with ‘fact-check’ site - AP: “There’s a new fact-checking operation in West Virginia, and it buries one fact — that it’s run by U.S. Senate candidate Don Blankenship’s campaign. The website www.factcheckwv.com explores issues in the Senate Republican primary that pits the former Massey Energy CEO against U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and three others. Those issues include whether President Donald Trump blamed Blankenship for the deadly 2010 Upper Big Branch explosion. At the bottom of the site, below all the updated items, is a small box that says ‘Paid for by Don Blankenship for U.S. Senate.’ The campaign ‘didn’t want to bias it with who paid for it,’ Blankenship campaign spokesman Gerg Thomas said Thursday. ‘We just want people to know the truth.’”
Like a dog on a meat wagon? Sen. John Kennedy may seek governorship -Roll Call: “Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy says he is weighing a challenge to the state’s incumbent Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards. Kennedy told WWL that he had not made a final decision while also calling Edwards ineffective. ‘He’s basically let illegal immigrants in, and let dangerous criminals out and whined for more money,’ Kennedy said. In a separate interview with KPLC, Kennedy further expanded on his criticism of Edwards on education, the economy and infrastructure. ‘I just don’t see the progress we have made in terms of education, economic development — our labor participation rate is an embarrassment,’ he said. ‘I don't see what he’s done in terms of infrastructure. I don’t see what he’s done in terms of health care. He’s spending more money, but I don’t see any metrics of our people getting any healthier.’”
Republicans rush to shore up seats previously thought safe - Politico: “Republicans are rushing to shore up congressional seats deep in the heart of Trump country as they come to an alarming realization: In this midterm election, few GOP lawmakers are safe. GOP leaders are pressing Republican lawmakers in conservative areas to get their sluggish campaigns in order. They’re pleading with major donors to open their wallets for incumbents in seats previously thought to be secure. And they’re polling districts President Donald Trump won comfortably just a year and a half ago, searching for signs of trouble. While most of the party’s efforts have been focused on defending swing districts, Republicans are increasingly turning their attention to more conservative areas, from suburban Phoenix to rural Virginia, fearful that they too could be casualties of a midterm bloodbath.”
Berning down the House? - AP: “The ‘resistance warriors’ are coming. Hundreds of liberal candidates, most running in state and municipal elections this fall, are streaming into Washington this week as the Democratic Party’s left flank intensifies in its push to seize control of Congress, statehouses and local governments across the country. They are excited. They are angry. And animated by opposition to President Donald Trump, they are ready to fight any calls to moderate their liberal passions. ‘We’re at a moment when we need to be unapologetic,’ said Greg Edwards, one of a half dozen Democrats running for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 7th district, which is considered a prime pickup opportunity for his party. … Roughly 450 like-minded Democrats [gathered] in Washington on Thursday for a four-day conference that offers a new window into intraparty tensions over how to capitalize on the surge in grassroots enthusiasm in the age of Trump.”
Joe Kennedy III dips a toe in 2020 - Boston Globe: “Even as he repeatedly denies any interest in running for president in 2020, US Representative Joe Kennedy III will head to New Hampshire, a state that kicks off the presidential primary season, to deliver a keynote speech at a major Democratic Party dinner this fall. Kennedy, a Democrat from Newton, will be a featured speaker at the Grover Cleveland dinner this October, an event that raises money for the Carroll County Democrats. He will headline the event with onetime US Senate candidate Jason Kander of Missouri, who is making moves to run for president. The dinner is traditionally considered a testing ground for those considering a run for president — a forum in which they can try out their message and meet key Democratic activists in the months ahead of the primary.”
Trump putting his Bezos beef into action - WashTimes
Trans-Pacific Partnership just part of effort to put the screws to China - WSJ
Trump seeking to take back as much as $60 billion from spending deal he signed - Politico
Continetti: ‘American politics in a convex mirror’ - Free Beacon
AUDIBLE: MIC DROP
“The other thing that surprises me, frankly, is how bitchy the book is.” – Fox News Sunday Anchor Chris Wallace reacting to former FBI Director James Comey’s new book.
ANY GIVEN SUNDAY
This weekend Chris Wallace will sit down with Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. 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.
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HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.
WPXI: “Two boys from Illinois did what almost any diehard Cubs fan would do: They skipped school to get to the home opener this week. Tucker and Gunner Speckman tempted fate with a sign that caught a lot of attention, WQAD reported. It said ‘Skipping school. S-h-h-h, don’t tell Principal Versluis.’ The sign was intended to get them on television. It did its job and got the attention of the MLB, which posted it to its Twitter account. But Tucker and Gunner weren’t alone at the game Tuesday. Little did they know Principal Patrick Versluis, the same principal on the sign, also skipped school. He actually called off sick so he could take his son to the first home game of the season. As much as the boys probably didn’t want to see the administrator, he didn’t want to see his students either.”
[Ed. note: Just deserts for rooting for the Cubs… Viva el Birdos!]
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.