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On the roster: Mueller’s initial revelations singe, not burn - Kelly: ‘Let the legal justice system work’ - Bipartisan blowback for Facebook, Twitter - GOP may phase in tax cuts over five years - Boss blanches at bathroom bobcat
MUELLER’S INITIAL REVELATIONS SINGE, NOT BURN
Washington is still gnawing on Monday’s criminal charges from Special Counsel Robert Mueller like an Everlasting Gobstopper.
But in truth, there isn’t much more nutrition to be obtained that hasn’t already been extracted.
Two senior Trump campaign officials got lit up for alleged shady dealings with Russia prior to their work for now-President Trump. One lower-level campaign official pleaded guilty this summer and seems to have been working for the prosecution prior to Monday’s announcement.
We have no way to know how many days or weeks or months it will take to put all that in perspective. It is equally reasonable to suggest that this is the fizzle of a wet wick as it is to say that it is the smoldering punk that will be applied to a powerful rocket.
We cannot help but wonder, even when wondering is fruitless. But what may be fruitful, though, is to consider what success or failure would look like so that we are able to recognize it when we get there.
There is now a second known instance in which individuals associated with the Trump campaign were eager to receive “dirt” on Hillary Clinton from sources known to be connected to the Kremlin.
But, to be fair, we could say almost the same thing about the Clinton campaign, which financed and subcontracted a dirt-digging expedition by a firm with its own Kremlin ties.
Team Trump may have acted in an amateurish fashion, but both sides have bragged about their willingness to use Kremlin crud to win an election. We may lament this moment as Americans, but so be it.
There is also a suggestion that the Trump campaign may have had foreknowledge of the hacking of Clinton campaign emails by Russian operatives. This would take us into the realm of a citizen’s duty to report criminal misconduct. If you knew that one of your country’s foes was engaging in what is tantamount to cyberwarfare, what is your obligation to inform authorities?
But even if someone in or around the campaign knew about the Boris and Natasha bit, it would probably be a matter of passing political consequence.
As we have discussed many times before, Trump’s success was predicated on the intense loyalty of a relatively small number of supporters. It’s fair to point out that Trump’s support was already in a trough before Monday’s bombshells, but it would also be wise to remember that Trump wasn’t that much more popular than he is now on the day he won the presidency.
It’s probably safe to say that a revelation like Russia tipping off campaign staffers to hacked emails or even the timing of their leaks is priced in to Trump’s current levels of support. Provided that Trump himself was not aware, such a revelation would likely be greeted with little surprise, even if served with copious amounts of outrage.
What would be ruinous for Trump, however, would not be the revelation that Russia had helped him, but that his campaign had helped Russia. And on that count, there was no evidence of malfeasance.
What worries Republicans in Washington is the possibility that someone in Trump’s employ or orbit provided information to Russian operatives to coordinate attacks. If any American provided polling data or strategic advice to help Russia’s hack attacks on election officials or to target fake news dumps, it would be hard for even the most cynical or craven Republicans to stand by their man.
Conspiring with a hostile foreign power is a very different thing than merely benefitting by the bad actions of that power.
But unless Mueller can get there, this scandal will likely be a survivable one for Trump. With the help of the Clintons, Trump’s team has defined down appropriate behavior for opposition research and dirty tricks. There is probably not enough spin in all the world, though, to make normal the idea of conspiring.
THE RULEBOOK: $
“Money is, with propriety, considered as the vital principle of the body politic; as that which sustains its life and motion, and enables it to perform its most essential functions.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 30
TIME OUT: SOLA GRATIA
Eric Metaxas, author of a just published biography of Martin Luther offers a Reformation Day meditation on what that Augustinian monk loosed upon the world 500 years ago today. WSJ: “He did not intend to be defiant or to cause trouble. And he certainly did not plan to shake the foundations of the church he loved and obediently served. … The powerful ideas Luther's writings conveyed would in time lead to virtually everything we now take for granted in the modern world. … In the coming centuries, this attitude would help elevate the concepts of religious pluralism, tolerance, democracy and freedom. … But by humbly raising the questions he had in 1517, and then by responding to the attacks that followed as truthfully and carefully as he could, Luther ended up cracking the great edifice of medieval Christendom in twain. And for good and for ill both, out of that opening the future itself seemed to fly.”
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Trump net job-approval rating: -20.6 points
Change from one week ago: Unchanged
[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.]
KELLY: ‘LET THE LEGAL JUSTICE SYSTEM WORK’
Fox News: “In a wide-ranging interview on Fox News’ ‘The Ingraham Angle’ Monday night, hours after charges were announced against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, White House chief of staff John Kelly said the administration believes the law should run its course before jumping to conclusions. ‘All of the activities, as I understand it, that [Paul Manafort and his aide Rick Gates] were indicted for were long before they ever met Donald Trump, or had any association with the campaign,’ Kelly said. ‘I think the reaction of the administration is let the legal justice system work — everyone’s … presumed innocent and we’ll see where it goes.’ Asked if a special counsel is necessary regarding the recent revelations that the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee funded research that led to the controversial dossier of allegations about President Trump’s connections to Russia, Kelly said he believes U.S. citizens have a right to know what’s going on behind the scenes of their government.”
Turley: Manafort made headlines, but Gates is the real story - USA Today: “It is the Washington version of the Academy Awards. … The winners are former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former deputy Rick Gates. Manafort was no surprise, but Gates’ selection in the supporting actor category was the most notable aspect of the indictment. … Gates could well seal a case against his former associate if he were to go all in on the prosecution’s narrative. If he could implicate Manafort and potentially others, Gates could well walk with little or no jail time. This is why charging him with Manafort maximized the pressure. For Gates, going to trial with Manafort is a chilling prospect alone. Manafort has long had a controversial reputation in Washington as someone who actively cashed in with shady international figures and clients.”
Bannon dumps on Trump’s lawyers - Daily Beast: “Steve Bannon spoke on the phone with his old boss, Donald Trump, on Monday and offered a message: get yourself some new lawyers. The former White House chief strategist has grown increasingly concerned that the president’s legal team is falling down on the job, proving too accommodating to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and leaving Trump vulnerable as former campaign aides are handed indictments. ‘In terms of Steve’s thinking of how the president is handling this, yeah, he thinks the legal team was not prepared for what happened today—they’re not serving the president well,’ a source close to Bannon said. Added another confidant: Bannon believes Ty Cobb and John Dowd, the top two attorneys on the president’s legal team, ‘are asleep at the wheel.’”
GOP senators say Mueller is safe - The Hill: “Senate Republicans, including some of President Trump’s sharpest GOP critics, are rebuffing Democratic demands to pass legislation protecting special counsel Robert Mueller as his investigation into the 2016 election ramps up. ’I can’t imagine any administration taking a move like that,’ Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told reporters Monday when asked if legislation to shield Mueller from a potential firing was necessary. … But Republicans argue the legislation isn’t needed, for now, because they don’t believe Trump would fire or try to have the Department of Justice (DOJ) fire Mueller, who is widely respected in Washington.”
Carter Page ‘may have’ emailed Papadopoulos about Russia - Politico: “Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, said he might have exchanged emails about Russia with a fellow adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the president’s campaign and possible collusion with the Russian government. ‘It may have come up, yeah,’ Page told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes when asked whether he may have exchanged emails with George Papadopoulos and whether the two discussed Russia.”
Criminal case clouds Clovis confirmation - WaPo: “Sam Clovis was always a pretty suspect pick by President Trump to become the chief science adviser at the Agriculture Department — mostly because he’s not actually a scientist. His chief qualification for the job seems to be that he was national co-chairman of Trump’s 2016 campaign. … And now we can add another reason his nomination could be a key battle for Democrats — and a dicey proposition for Republicans. The Washington Post [reported] that Clovis was one of those anonymous campaign officials cited in former Trump aide George Papadopoulos’s plea deal. Clovis was the one named as a ‘campaign supervisor,’ and he both praised Papadopoulos’s efforts to broker a meeting with the Russians as ‘great work’ and later urged Papadopoulos to make the trip rather than Trump.”
BIPARTISAN BLOWBACK FOR FACEBOOK, TWITTER
WaPo: “Facebook plans to tell lawmakers on Tuesday that 126 million of its users may have seen content produced and circulated by Russian operatives, many times more than the company had previously disclosed about the reach of the online influence campaign targeting American voters. The company previously reported that an estimated 10 million users had seen ads bought by Russian-controlled accounts and pages. … Google acknowledged for the first time Monday that it had found evidence that Russian operatives used the company’s platforms to influence American voters, saying in a blog post that it had found 1,108 videos with 43 hours of content related to the Russian effort on YouTube. It also found $4,700 worth of Russian search and display ads. Twitter also plans to tell congressional investigators that it has identified 2,752 accounts controlled by Russian operatives and more than 36,000 bots that tweeted 1.4 million times during the election, according to a draft of Twitter’s testimony obtained by The [Washington] Post. The company previously reported 201 accounts linked to Russia.”
Experts offer ways to save Facebook - NYT: “…the cloud over Facebook extends far beyond Russia. Critics say the company’s central role in modern communication has undermined the news business, split Americans into partisan echo chambers and ‘hijacked’ our minds with a product designed to keep us addicted to the social network. Of course, criticism of Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, is easy to come by; solutions aren’t as clear. We asked nine technologists, academics, politicians and journalists to propose the steps they would take to improve Facebook — as a product, a company or both.”
GOP MAY PHASE IN TAX CUTS OVER FIVE YEARS
Bloomberg: “House tax writers are discussing a gradual phase-in for President Donald Trump and Republican leaders’ proposed corporate tax-rate cut -- on a schedule that would put the rate at 20 percent in 2022, according to a member of the chamber’s tax-writing committee and a person familiar with the discussions. The phase-in plan is under discussion, but isn’t yet final, said a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private. Other members said they planned to discuss the proposal during a private meeting Monday afternoon. House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady told reporters Monday that there hasn’t been a decision yet. … The phase-in proposal would reduce the rate from its current 35 percent rate by three percentage points a year starting in 2018. If adopted, it would delay some of the economic effects Trump and his advisers have sought to emphasize from their tax cuts.”
Collins lists her demands on tax plan - Bloomberg: “Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said Monday she’s opposed to two tax breaks for the wealthy that her party leaders are pushing for, indicating that her vote won’t be easy to win on President Donald Trump’s top legislative priority. … Collins, a moderate Republican who played a decisive role in thwarting several iterations of Obamacare replacement legislation, offered her most pointed comments on her priorities for a tax bill to date. She added that the structure of the estate tax -- a 40 percent levy applied to estates worth more than $5.49 million for individuals or $10.98 million for couples -- means it avoids hitting ‘the vast majority of family-owned businesses and farms and ranches.’ She said she’s open to adjusting the cutoff level slightly upward.”
STEYER BUILDING POTENT LIST BY PUSHING IMPEACHMENT
Fortune: “California billionaire and political activist Tom Steyer has put some serious money behind impeaching Trump – and it looks like his efforts might be paying off, at least in terms of signatures. On October 20, Steyer launched a campaign to impeach Trump, with an ad that quickly went viral and a petition to get others to join his effort. According to sources, Steyer spent ‘well over’ ten million dollars to air the ad in all 50 states. The efforts quickly triggered the wrath of Trump, who tweeted on Friday that “Wacky & totally unhinged Tom Steyer, who has been fighting me and my Make America Great Again agenda from beginning, never wins elections!” But according to figures acquired by Axios, Steyer’s petition has already collected more than one million signatures to date—1,119,720, to be exact.”
Pelosi endorses Feinstein for re-election to Senate - Fox News: “House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi backed fellow Californian Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s re-election bid on Monday. ‘Dianne Feinstein is uniquely positioned to defend California against Donald Trump’s constant attacks on health care, immigration, and voting rights,’ Pelosi said in a statement. ‘Senator Feinstein’s standing in the Senate is a source of strength to California and is especially needed at this time. I proudly support her re-election.’ Feinstein hailed Pelosi as a ‘friend’ in a statement welcoming her endorsement. ‘I look forward to continuing to work with her for California and against Donald Trump’s attacks on our state and our citizens,’ Feinstein said.”
Q Poll: Northam maintains wide lead in Virginia - Quinnipiac University: “With overwhelming support from non-white voters and double-digit leads among both men and women, Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam holds a 53 - 36 percent likely voter lead over Republican Ed Gillespie in the Virginia governor’s race, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. Libertarian Party candidate Cliff Hyra has 3 percent. Today’s result compares to a 53 - 39 percent likely voter lead for Northam in an October 18 survey by the independent Quinnipiac University. Non-white likely voters back the Democrat 72 - 15 percent, with 2 percent for Hyra. White voters are divided 46 - 46 percent, with 4 percent for Hyra. Women back Northam 56 - 36 percent, with 1 percent for Hyra. Men go Democratic 51 - 37 percent, with 5 percent for Hyra.”
Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, won’t seek re-election - Dallas Morning News
Mattis, Tillerson tell Congress there’s no need to update 15-year-old war authorization - NYT
FBI is investigating Puerto Rico’s decision to give $300 million contract to a Montana energy firm - WashEx
Noemie Emery: Trump’s critics understand everything but the most important thing - WashEx
AUDIBLE: SGT. FRIDAY, R-UTAH
“I think they’re getting to the bottom of some of these facts. I don’t think all of these facts are leading where the Democrats wanted. But that’s part of the reason why we have investigations and that’s why we follow the facts.” – Sen. Mike Lee, on “Fox News @ Night,” discussing the pace of the various congressional investigations on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Re your statement that ‘the constituency for more generous benefits is just as potent, if not more so, than the one for lower taxes,’ I must point out the area that I think begs for reform: the use of IRS and tax law to provide ‘the new welfare.’ I think if people realized how much money goes out in ‘refundable tax credits,’ – i.e. money paid through ‘refunds’ to people who have not paid any taxes in the first place, they would be appalled. This is a fitting place for reducing government giveaways while tightening up the deficit problems in the tax reform process. And the argument that this ‘raises taxes on the middle class’ should be easy to counter: If a person ends up with a zero tax liability, that person can’t argue that his taxes were raised!” – Anna Marie Davis, Douglasville, Ga.
[Ed. note: A very good point, Ms. Davis! In order to obtain stimulative tax cuts, Republicans have for years traded Democrats for what are essentially welfare payments administered by the IRS. It insulates the GOP from claims that they are handmaidens to the wealthy and since neither party cares particularly about deficit spending these days it’s an easy concession to make. One of the chief problems in Washington today is that we use the wrong implements for the wrong jobs. The Federal Reserve is supposed to take care of our monetary supply, but then is called to act as an employment agency. The Department of Defense is supposed to protect us from our enemies, but we use it as everything from a laboratory for social experiments to an international relief agency. But it is the IRS that is probably the most egregiously misused. A sub-department of the Treasury charged with collecting taxes is used to regulate political speech, encourage virtuous behavior, encourage investments thought desirable and, yes, provide welfare payments. All of those things may or may not be good aims for the government, but it is very difficult to have a worthwhile conversation about those topics when they are being appended to the duties of unrelated agencies.]
“What then are we to make of an appointed government official who so blatantly uses blackmail for what appear to be political purpose: ‘We are after power and we mean it....There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted - and you create a nation of law-breakers - and then you cash in on the guilt. Now that’s the system…’ (Dr. Ferris to Hank Rearden - Atlas Shrugged)” – Patsy Fields, Aliso Viejo, Calif.
[Ed. note: I would suggest, Ms. Fields, that “political purpose” and “blackmail” are both in the eyes of the beholders. Political prosecutions are baneful things to republics. The criminalization of politics is a hallmark of totalitarian states and banana republics. That’s why when some radical Democrats demanded prosecutions of Bush administration officials for their alleged misdeeds, including the former president himself, reasonable people in both parties said no. We talk a lot about the presumption of goodwill in political opponents, even when there is evidence to the contrary. That is particularly true in this case. Siccing prosecutors on your political opponents is almost always a bad idea. You have concluded that Robert Mueller’s investigation falls into that category, and because you hold that belief, you see what would otherwise be normal prosecutorial conduct as blackmail. I have not seen any convincing evidence yet that Mueller is a partisan or that his inquest is motivated for political advantage. But, we should always be paying close attention on that count, lest we fall into a trap that has hobbled many nations.]
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BOSS BLANCHES AT BATHROOM BOBCAT
AP: “A small-town Oklahoma newspaper publisher found a startling front-page story practically in his newsroom: There was a hissing bobcat in the bathroom. Sapulpa Herald publisher Darren Sumner says the wild animal jumped at him one recent morning as he was heading into the restroom at his office in Sapulpa, a Tulsa suburb. Sumner shut the door and trapped the adult male cat inside until police and a game warden arrived. Wildlife control workers captured the bobcat in a cage and released it in nearby Pawnee County. Neither Sumner nor the wild cat was injured in the confrontation. Sumner said the animal likely got into his building through an open door.”
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.