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On the roster: Comey says Trump is creepy but not a crook - About those FISA courts… - GOP gets go ahead to use reconciliation for ObamaCare cuts - Justice ends ‘slush fund’ payouts to outside groups - Boo, eh
COMEY SAYS TRUMP IS CREEPY BUT NOT A CROOK
Former FBI Director James Comey intends to testify not that President Trump tried to obstruct the bureau’s investigation to Russian efforts to compromise the 2016 election but rather that the president is uncouth.
In the prepared testimony Comey shared with the Senate Intelligence Committee ahead of his testimony Thursday, the former G-Man describes in detail a number of conversations he had with Trump in which the president sounds more than a little obsessed with the Russia probe but still staying on this side of obstruction.
Comey’s testimony describes increasing pressure from the president on Comey to help Trump lift “the cloud” of the Russia probe leading up to Trump’s dismissal of Comey on May 9.
There’s much discussion in Washington already about how creepy and inappropriate Trump sounds in Comey’s recounting, but the major victory for the White House is that Comey makes it clear that Trump’s conduct did not cross the line into obstruction or other illegal behavior.
Being a creep, after all, is not against the law.
Comey’s testimony about Trump’s pressure plays will not likely help the president’s flagging standing with voters, which clocks in at a new low of 34 percent job approval rating in a Quinnipiac University poll today.
But the fact that Comey makes it clear that while Trump might have been untoward he was not engaging in criminal conduct, which will allow the White House to take a deep breath.
With the pro-Trump super PAC already slamming Comey’s reputation and Trump allies armed with talking points to further diminish the former FBI boss, Comey’s claims can be expected to end up where most of the discussion about Trump and Russia has gone: Throaty denunciations among Trump’s base, enormous outrage among his critics and a general queasy feeling among everybody else.
That’s about what came out of today’s appetizer for the Comey feast.
Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, and Adm. Michael Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, were asked again and again and again about their conversations with the president about the probe that has swept up Trump’s campaign and now has come to dominate his administration. The answers came down to variations on one theme: While they would not overtly confirm media reports that Trump had tried to get their help in getting the investigation nixed, they weren’t going to deny them either.
They said it in 100 different ways but in not so many words: Yes, Trump was looking to take the heat off the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election but no, they didn’t feel like he was ordering them or even pressuring them to act. It was the same thing Comey’s going to say but without the breathless literary tone.
The defense from here for the White House looks like a version of the same pitch that won Trump the presidency. The argument is that Trump says many unpleasant, impolite things but that deep down he’s basically okay. He may give you the willies a little bit, but he knows where the line is and doesn’t cross it.
That defense will depend on a couple of things: First that the damage from the Russia probe is limited to campaign underlings and that Trump has plenty of plausible deniability. But second, that he shows good conduct henceforth. Now that Trump presumably knows about the impropriety of trying to get an investigation into his own campaign “lifted,” he can’t claim ignorance anymore.
Here, there are, as usual, conflicting signals.
On the con side, Trump gave his attorney general a pretty thorough public thrashing on both Twitter and in what appears to be leaks to some of Trump’s favored news outlets. That’s a pretty clear warning to Jeff Sessions that he could meet the same fate as Comey.
On the pro side, Trump tapped a new FBI director that won immediate bipartisan praise for his integrity and abilities. Christopher Wray is the kind of nominee who can survive the confirmation process, even in these tumultuous times. Trump making a conventional pick to replace Comey is a signal that he recognizes some boundaries here.
Which side wins out will probably depend on Trump’s ability to control his temper after two days of wall-to-wall Comey coverage.
THE RULEBOOK: MINI-MES
“Civil power, properly organized and exerted, is capable of diffusing its force to a very great extent; and can, in a manner, reproduce itself in every part of a great empire by a judicious arrangement of subordinate institutions.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 13
TIME OUT: FISHY LOAVES
Atlantic: “Unlike industrially-made white loaves, which are baked using yeasts that date back just 150 years, the microbes in sourdough cultures have been used since ancient times. … The acids produced by those microbes have another purported benefit. According to The Guardian, they ‘slow down the rate at which glucose is released into the blood-stream.’ … But according to a team of Israeli scientists led by Eran Segal and Eran Elinav at the Weizmann Institute of Science, this common claim is wrong—or, at least, not universally right. In a small but thorough study, they put volunteers on week-long stints of eating either white bread or sourdough. All the while, they performed a wide battery of blood tests, and they analyzed the community of microbes that live in their guts. … They also showed that overall, eating bread did change a variety of factors including cholesterol, iron, and calcium levels. It wasn’t that eating bread did nothing; it was that eating sourdough wasn’t radically different to eating white.”
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Trump net job-approval rating: -18.6 points
Change from one week ago: -2.4 points
ABOUT THOSE FISA COURTS…
Business Insider: “Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats defended Section 702 on Wednesday, telling the committee that 702 collection ‘has produced and continues to produce foreign intelligence information that is vital to protect the nation against international terrorism and other threats.’ … ‘Have there been any instances involving a deliberate or intentional compliance violation?’ [Sen. Richard Burr R-N.C.,] asked NSA Director Mike Rogers, who replied that there had not been, and said that if Section 702 collection was not authorized, the NSA would be unable to identify and prevent critical threats to US national security. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein agreed, adding that if the intelligence community needed to get a warrant every time it sought to use Section 702 to target foreigners not on US soil, ‘it would be very time-consuming’ and would hinder intelligence agencies' efficiency. … Republican Sen. Roy Blunt asked acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe whether the FBI ever seeks collection under Section 702. McCabe replied that it does, but that if the bureau is seeking to collect intelligence on a US person, it has to obtain a warrant first from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.”
White House seeks permanent extension of spy powers - WashTimes: “The Trump administration endorsed a full extension of the intelligence community’s most controversial snooping powers Wednesday, saying that the public has gotten the wrong impression about tools that are designed to target foreigners but, increasingly, have ensnared Americans as well. Thomas P. Bossert, President Trump’s top counterterrorism adviser, in an op-ed in the New York Times, said they are backing a new bill introduced this week to permanently extend Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — the part of the law that allows snooping.”
GOP GETS GO AHEAD TO USE RECONCILIATION FOR OBAMACARE CUTS
WaPo: “Imagine Obamacare repeal as a football team. It has just made it to the Super Bowl. Late [Tuesday] afternoon, the Senate parliamentarian gave the thumbs-up to the House-passed GOP bill overhauling the Affordable Care Act, despite speculation that it might contain some elements that would ultimately prove fatal and force the House to take another vote on it. But Republicans have not yet claimed the Vince Lombardi trophy. The initial score simply means that the American Health Care Act complies with overall budget reconciliation rules -- the process Republicans are using to pass a health-care bill so they can bypass Senate Democrats with just a simple majority. … But now there's a second hurdle. Each of the AHCA's individual provisions will be subject to challenge by Democrats in a process known as a ‘Byrd bath’ and must be stripped out if the parliamentarian decides they aren’t directly enough related to federal spending.”
But what’s the plan? - LAT: “President Trump summoned Republican leaders to the White House on Tuesday to discuss his summer legislative agenda, but progress is being stalled by the GOP’s inability to fulfill its long promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. …Senate Republicans now face a legislative logjam that could imperil other priorities, such as tax reform and infrastructure. This week was expected to be a pivotal one for the healthcare overhaul, which lawmakers hope to finish before the July 4 break in order to move to other pressing issues. Among them is raising the debt ceiling to avoid defaulting on the nation’s bills, always a thorny political lift. But glum senators emerged from a series of closed-door meetings Tuesday no closer to an agreement than they have been after weeks of private talks. ‘The areas we have consensus on? Let’s see, Obamacare sucks,’ said Sen. John Kennedy, a first-term Republican from Louisiana. ‘We may be working on this for a while.’”
HANDEL, OSSOFF STICK TO SCRIPTS IN NASTY DEBATE
Politico: “Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel clashed on the debate stage for the first time Tuesday night, sparring face-to-face over their resumes, campaign financing and foreign policy positioning in Georgia’s special House election after months of trading campaign attacks over the airwaves. Ossoff and Handel, who are running to replace HHS Secretary Tom Price in Congress in suburban Atlanta, stuck largely to the same lines of attack repeated in the flood of TV ads that have made their race the most expensive House contest ever.”
Murphy, Guadagno win gubernatorial primaries - Politico: “New Jersey’s Democratic and Republican gubernatorial front-runners easily won their party primaries Tuesday night, setting up a November battle between Phil Murphy, a wealthy former Goldman Sachs executive, and Republican Kim Guadagno, the state’s current and first ever lieutenant governor.”
Gomez wins House seat to replace Becerra in California - LAT: “State Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez was elected as Los Angeles’ newest member of Congress on Tuesday, defeating attorney Robert Lee Ahn in a sharply contested battle for the 34th Congressional District. Gomez will take the seat vacated by Xavier Becerra, who became state attorney general earlier this year, and will represent one of the poorest, most immigrant-heavy districts in the state, where the effects of President Trump’s policies on immigration and healthcare will be acutely felt.”
JUSTICE ENDS OBAMA-ERA ‘SLUSH FUND’ PAYOUTS TO OUTSIDE GROUPS
Fox News: “The Justice Department announced Wednesday it will no longer allow prosecutors to strike settlement agreements with big companies directing them to make payouts to outside groups, ending an Obama-era practice that Republicans decried as a ‘slush fund’ that padded the accounts of liberal interest groups. In a memo sent to 94 U.S. attorneys' offices early Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he would end the practice that allowed companies to meet settlement burdens by giving money to groups that were neither victims nor parties to the case. Sessions said the money should, instead, go to the Treasury Department or victims. ‘When the federal government settles a case against a corporate wrongdoer, any settlement funds should go first to the victims and then to the American people—not to bankroll third-party special interest groups or the political friends of whoever is in power,’ Sessions said in a statement.”
Senate attempting to add Russia sanctions to Iran bill - WaPo
Freedom Caucus calls on Congress to work through summer recess to pass tax cuts - The Hill
House votes to condemn Turkish security officers' attack on Embassy protesters - Time
Ethics office won’t probe Trump on hotel payments - The Hill
McCaskill amends financial disclosure to reveal investments in opioid makers - St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Trump pitched GOP leaders on a 50-foot-tall border wall covered in solar panels that would pay for itself by generating electricity - Axios
AUDIBLE: BUT OTHER THAN THAT, THEY’RE COOL
“To me, they’re not even people.” – Eric Trump in an interview on “Hannity” talking about how he views Democrats.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Maybe it's too much Grisham, but does something about this fortuitous discovery of a leaked document whose contents the government so casually and readily verified in the middle of an ongoing investigation into election fraud, and the 25-year old apparently so readily confessed to, seem, well, strange?” – Rebecca Baisch, Idaho Falls, Idaho
[Ed. note: And the name! Reality Winner! It gets so wild that I’m not sure whether this story is by John Grisham or Tom Wolfe. But resist with all your might the impulse to try to treat this as a thriller. I have covered enough investigations over the years to say that they tend to be far, far more boring than we expect. Most investigations are about assembling the evidence to prove the obvious not shocking plot twists.]
“I always enjoy reading your Halftime Report. You use language in a way that's clear and focused. The thought you offered about moving the Capitol to Ohio Co., WV is the same one I've had ever since I visited Washington several years ago. It dawned on me how people who run for election with the best, purest of intentions could move to DC, with all its history and trappings of power, and say to themselves ‘My neighbors sent me here just like they did Jefferson, Lincoln, and so many other great Americans, so I must be as good as them.’ The inflated egos would make it easy to lose sight of their purpose. Therefore, let's rotate where Congress meets. I'm sure we can find the money to rent lodging and meeting rooms at inexpensive hotels for each legislative session. Congress people would have to share rooms, as would the staffers (each Congressperson would be allowed one staff member). The first year, maybe they meet in Fargo, ND. The next year, they meet in Tucson, AZ, and so on. I'm sure those are all great cities with great people, but the winters and summers alone should ensure only the most committed representatives want the job.” – John Carter, Atlanta
[Ed. note: I love it! The Founders picked Washington for the very reason that it would be equally inconvenient to as many people as possible. The initial homes for the American government, New York and Philadelphia, were considered not just geographically imbalanced in favor of northern states but also in states and regions too powerful in their own rights. To that end, let me offer an alternate proposal, one I have submitted previously: Omaha! It’s taken Washington 218 years to get in this shape, so making the move would at least buy us some time. Plus, the steaks…]
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HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.
Global News: “The Edmonton Oilers better win the whole show next year… or else a ‘kick-ass sporty’ lady might just make them pay. An Edmonton (Canada) woman remembered in a witty obituary Monday wanted her team to win Stanley Cup so badly, her family says she’s ‘not above haunting Rogers Place’ if they don’t. The humorous tribute to Loretta Workun was shared in the obituary section of Monday’s edition of the Edmonton Journal. The 85-year-old was born Feb. 6, 1932 and passed away on May 30. Her obituary reads: ‘It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our kick-ass sporty mom. She was grumpy and fiery till the end. ‘Somehow she was survived by two fat kids and one grumpy old kid. In passing she joins her husband and son, both of whom she can now tell again to: ‘go soak your heads!’ No service, but she warns the Oilers that they better win next year because she’s not above haunting Rogers Place.’ This year, the Edmonton Oilers made it to the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. The team beat the San Jose Sharks in the first round but lost to the Anaheim Ducks in the second.”
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“Why should the president interpose himself in what is a major attempt by the majority of our allies in the Middle East to get Qatar to shape up? They are doing this thing, this boycott, cutting them off from diplomatic relations, everything. Why say, ‘Well, this is a response to my trip?’ It's not about you. And if you make it about you, it looks like the Saudis are doing the bidding of the American imperials.” – 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.