One crazy summer for Trump and Mueller

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On the roster: One crazy summer for Trump and Mueller - Time Out: Bring on the Dubble Bubble - South Dakota gubernatorial race is a toss-up - Trump admin plans to proceed with tariffs - A story you’ll relish 

The good news, America, is that we are in the closing weeks of the probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. 

The bad news is that things are likely to get crazier and uglier every minute closer we get to the end. 

We should point out that we don’t particularly pay attention to individual theories of the case. We will leave the shadowboxing to others.

Our interest is in how matters will affect the fall elections and the 2020 contests thereafter. With that in mind, let’s batch through some of the news that has been breaking on this front. 

- President Trump
 is limbering up his pardon pen. Trump raised eyebrows last summer with his pardon of a former Arizona sheriff who was facing contempt charges for refusing to comply with court orders. The sheriff, though, had been a stalwart for Trump during not just the 2016 campaign but also during Trump’s effort to convince Americans that then-President Obama was a secret Kenyan and usurper of the Oval Office. Now, Trump is preparing to pardon Dinesh D’Souza, who pleaded guilty to campaign finance fraud in a New York Senate election. D’Souza, for the uninitiated, is an all-star Twitter troll with a robust following among the Rosanne Barr set. Trump is also said to be considering pardons for the ultra-corrupt former governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, and lifestyle guru Martha Stewart. While Stewart’s case is rather different in that she may really have been steamrolled, what ties the three together is that in each instance, the potential recipients blame figures common to the probe into potential wrongdoing in Trump’s campaign, particularly James Comey. This is probably just setting the table for what we expect to be the pardons of Trump intimates now or potentially facing federal charges.

Do you know any of those people who just send you email calendar invites to meetings you haven’t agreed to? This is kind of the approach that Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani is taking with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller can’t close his investigation until he interviews the president, but Giuliani says that can’t happen until late June at the earliest because Trump is too busy preparing for a potential summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to get ready to meet with Mueller. Giuliani also says that Mueller told him that if the interview happens soon that the whole investigation can be concluded by Sept. 1, an assertion that Mueller’s team hasn’t knocked down. Now, Giuliani says that the matter must conclude by Sept. 1 or it will amount to prosecutorial interference with the midterm elections in the same way that former FBI Director James Comey helped tank Hillary Clinton’s bid with an October surprise about her emails that turned out to be a fizzle. Oh yeah, Giuliani also says Trump won’t talk to Mueller until the prosecutor turns over everything in his case file for review. But other than that, he’s ready to get ‘er done…

The Trump team continues to read out of the Clinton playbook for dealing with the Mueller investigation. One of the key strategies is to enforce strict partisan discipline. Witness the comments from Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who sought to reassure Americans that the FBI had not become the Stasi as Trump’s frothiest defenders claim. Team Trump is coming hard after Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor, for “drinking the Kool Aid” and suggesting that he was soft on Hillary Clinton in his interrogation over her role in the Benghazi debacle. Some of the president’s defenders are even suggesting Gowdy is a liar because the key documents may not have been present at a briefing. What makes it all so funny is that Gowdy has been the one having to hold the hand of Mueller foe Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, who apparently doesn’t want to or isn’t able to read certain classified documents. It’s important for Team Trump to keep supporters focused on their enemies – Obama, Clinton, Comey – but even more important to punish members of the tribe who dissent from the party line.

Do you remember when Republicans used to complain so loudly about the way then-President Obama reflexively blamed his predecessor, George W. Bush? As Fred Barnes rightly observed in May 2009 “True, presidents have blamed the prior administration for problems they inherit, but I can't think of a president who did so as aggressively and with such moral preening as Obama.” Fred was right. It was unbecoming, unhelpful and divisive. So what are we to think about an administration even more obsessed with its predecessor? Imagine if Obama had opened new investigations into the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the handling of Hurricane Katrina or the Panic of 2008. All would have been merited by facts, supported by facts in evidence and enormously pleasing to Obama’s base.

If President Trump doesn’t feel like he can get away with firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions why doesn’t he leave the poor guy alone? Trump insiders say in piece after piece about the president’s abuse of his top cop that firing Sessions is impossible because it would bring “political consequences.” Now, we will allow that in the current climate it would be hard to get an attorney general nominee through the Senate. To get someone through, the nominee would have to show sufficient independence and skepticism to be confirmed that he or she would offer no relief to a president who seems to want an umpire who calls them for the home team. So we ask you quite sincerely: Is there some point to the ongoing humiliations of Sessions? The AG has made it clear that he’s not going to be bullied out, so why not leave him be? After all, Sessions continues to score policy victories for the administration. We hope that there’s some purpose here – even a cynical one – because otherwise it’s just pure sadism.

Each Thursday we pass along the columns of our friend Judge Andrew Napolitano. We know that some of you chafe at his libertarianism, but also know how much you appreciate his faithful reading of law, devotion to Madisonian precepts and willingness to tell the truth even when it goes against his own stated interests. We would suggest that this week’s installment of what we call “The Judge’s Ruling” is particularly useful for Republicans trying to separate their feelings from facts as it relates to the Mueller probe: “If [Trump and Giuliani] are successful, they will have assaulted the rule of law by persuading the public to accept innuendo and known untruths. … Giuliani's job is not to be Trump's lawyer; rather, it is to effect public sentiment. For the government, as Abraham Lincoln once said, with public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed. Trump and Giuliani understand that better than they understand the rule of law.”

“I am convinced that this is the safest course for your liberty, your dignity, and your happiness.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 1

New Yorker: “For too long, we have asked one another, typically as an insult, ‘Can you chew gum and walk at the same time?’ A better question might be, ‘Why aren’t you chewing gum and walking right now?’ That’s the apparent takeaway of a study that was presented this week at the European Congress on Obesity, in Vienna, Austria, and which appears in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science. The researchers, led by the sports scientist Yuka Hamada, of Waseda University, in Japan, found that people who chew gum while walking expend more energy than non-chewing walkers. … The authors noted that, if you did nothing but chew gum all day for a year, you could lose eleven pounds. ‘Its potential effect on energy balance should not be discounted,’ they wrote. … Unlike most gum-chewing studies, Hamada’s looked at people in motion rather than at rest. … They conclude that ‘gum chewing during walking may increase the physical and physiological functions of middle-aged and elderly male participants in particular.’”

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Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
40.8 percent 
Average disapproval: 
54.2 percent 
Net Score:
 -13.4 points
Change from one week ago: 
down 0.6 points 
[Average includes: Gallup: 40% approve - 55% disapprove; CBS News: 40% approve - 55% disapprove; CNN: 44% approve - 51% disapprove; IBD: 38% approve - 56% disapprove; Pew Research Center: 42% approve - 54% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 
41.8 percent
Democratic average: 48.4 percent
Democrats plus 6.6 points
Change from one week ago: 
no change 
[Average includes: CNN: 47% Dems - 44% GOP; CBS News: 50% Dems - 41% GOP; Pew Research Center: 48% Dems - 43% GOP; Monmouth University: 49% Dems - 41% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 48% Dems - 40% GOP.]

Argus Leader: “A week ahead of the South Dakota Republican primary election, two gubernatorial hopefuls are neck-and-neck, according to a poll commissioned by the Argus Leader and KELO TV. In a survey of 625 registered Republican voters likely to cast their ballots in the election, 45 percent said they would vote for Kristi Noem if the race were held today. Forty-four percent, meanwhile, said they'd vote for Marty Jackley. Another 11 percent said they were undecided. Jacksonville, Florida-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy polled voters by telephone between May 21 and May 23. The margin of error is 4.5 percentage points. The numbers illustrate what those closely watching the race have known for a while: it's close. And with one week until the primary, candidates have a tight window to win over voters still on the fence or steal support from their competitor. Both campaigns seemed keenly aware of the tight nature of the race. In the days ahead of the primary, they took digs at one another in interviews with the Argus Leader and in television and radio ads that began airing over the weekend.”

No special Senate election in Arizona this year - 
KNXV: “A key deadline quietly passed overnight, with huge political implications in Arizona and across the country. Senator John McCain’s seat will officially not be up for grabs this November. That deadline passed at midnight and it’s important for several reasons, especially for Republicans who are fighting to keep control in the Senate in the upcoming November mid-terms. Sen. McCain is battling brain cancer and hasn’t returned to Washington in months. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s office confirmed that he and First Lady Angela Ducey met with the McCains near Sedona on Tuesday. Since the midnight deadline passed, Ducey would appoint someone to McCain’s seat should he step down. … Should the senator decide to step down now, some of the names being talked about to replace him are his wife, Cindy McCain, but also former Attorney General Grant Woods and former Senator Jon Kyl.”

All eyes on Montana Senate primary -
Roll Call: “The next big Republican Senate primary is in Montana, where voters will choose Democratic Sen. Jon Tester’s opponent on Tuesday. The GOP contest in Big Sky Country was a sleepy affair for much of this year, lacking the verbal ax throwing that animated similar contests in Indiana and West Virginia this spring. ‘It kinda starts late in Montana, it always does,’ said a GOP strategist who works in the state. Not to mention that voters there went through a grueling gubernatorial race in 2016, shortly followed by an expensive special election for the at-large House seat. ‘Some people just don’t want to pay attention,’ the strategist added. More than 130,000 people had voted early as of Tuesday night, and with the June 5 primary inching closer, outside groups have increasingly been saturating the airwaves and candidates have been scrambling to differentiate themselves.”

Trump endorses Dan Donovan in NY-11 House race - WashEx: “President Trump is backing Rep. Dan Donovan, R-N.Y., in the primary race for New York’s 11 Congressional District against Michael Grimm, who is running to win his seat back after stepping down in 2015. ‘There is no one better to represent the people of N.Y. and Staten Island (a place I know very well) than @RepDanDonovan, who is strong on Borders & Crime, loves our Military & our Vets, voted for Tax Cuts and is helping me to Make America Great Again,’ Trump tweeted Wednesday evening. … Donovan did not vote for the GOP's tax reform measure that passed in December, citing that the ‘bill that came out of the conference committee still means a tax increase for many Staten Island and Brooklyn residents.’ Earlier this month, Donovan released an ad where he touted how he was working to advance Trump’s agenda.”

Gubernatorial candidate in Md. fights to correct ballots after sudden death of running mate - Baltimore Sun: “Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidate Valerie Ervin has filed a lawsuit seeking to force state officials to reprint primary elections ballots with her name on them. In a filing in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, Ervin and her running mate, Marisol Johnson, argue that not printing new ballots ‘will cause confusion and cause voters to reassess who to vote for since their candidate does not appear properly on the ballot.’ Ervin had been the lieutenant governor running mate for Kevin Kamenetz, who was a leading Democratic contender for governor. After Kamenetz died of a sudden cardiac arrest on May 10, Ervin decided to take his place at the top of the ticket, as state law allows. She picked Johnson, a former Baltimore County school board member, to be her running mate.”

New Mexico gubernatorial candidate made profit off state insurance plan - Politico: “Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the leading Democratic candidate for governor in New Mexico, profited from the state’s use of a high-priced health-insurance program for seriously ill patients, even after Obamacare made such programs virtually obsolete. As most states were shuttering their subsidized health-insurance programs for people with pre-existing conditions because they could get coverage through Obamacare, a firm co-founded by Lujan Grisham and a close political ally received millions of dollars to run New Mexico’s program, even as she served in Congress. The state’s high risk pool is still open even though its premiums are higher on average than Obamacare — 10 percent higher this year — and while all but nine of the 35 states that once had such programs either shut them down or cut off new enrollment.”

Trump in Texas for shooting victims and campaign donors - Dallas Morning News: “President Donald Trump arrived Thursday in Houston and met privately with relatives of students killed at Santa Fe High School two weeks ago, before rubbing elbows with high dollar donors in Houston and Dallas. The trip was scheduled before the May 18 school rampage that left 10 people dead. The president will raise campaign funds for Senate Republicans at a luncheon in Houston before heading to Dallas for a high-dollar dinner to benefit the national party and his own 2020 reelection effort. … Donors in Dallas will pay at least a $2,700-per-person for a reception at the Adolphus Hotel downtown. VIP tickets for dinner cost $50,000 and include a photo with the president.”

WSJ: “The Trump administration, unable to win concessions from European Union counterparts ahead of a Friday deadline, is planning to make good on its threat to impose tariffs on European steel and aluminum, people familiar with the matter said. The administration is expected to make an announcement as early as Thursday. The move, which has been threatened for months, is almost certain to draw a response from the EU, which has threatened to retaliate with its own tariffs on such American products as motorcycles, jeans and bourbon. President Donald Trump announced in March global tariffs of 25% on imported steel, and 10% on aluminum, based on national security concerns. The White House delayed implementation for some countries, giving those trading partners a chance to offer concessions to avoid the tariffs. The U.S. is now planning to let the EU’s exemption lapse. One person familiar with the matter said the administration’s plans could still change, particularly if the two sides are able to cobble together a last-minute deal, though both sides suggest such a deal is unlikely.”

Mexico to impose tariffs right back at the U.S. - The Hill: “The government of Mexico announced on Thursday it would implement new duties on various U.S. products in response to President Trump's decision to levy steel and aluminum tariffs on the country. ‘Mexico reiterates its position against protectionist measures that affect and distort international commerce in goods,’ the government said in a statement. ‘In response to the tariffs imposed by the United States, Mexico will impose equivalent measures to various products like flat steels (hot and cold foil, including coated and various tubes), lamps, legs and shoulders of pork, sausages and food preparations, apples, grapes, blueberries, various cheeses, among others, up to an amount comparable to the level of affectation.’”

Beijing official warns China would retaliate against US trade crackdown -
Fox News: “China reserves the right to retaliate if U.S. trade measures against it violate World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, the Chinese commerce ministry said Thursday. Gao Feng, a Chinese commerce ministry spokesman, said a White House proposal to limit Chinese investment in the U.S. would violate the ‘rules and basic spirit’ of the WTO. ‘The Chinese side will carefully evaluate the U.S. measures and reserves the right to take corresponding measures,’ Gao said. China believes the two countries have a huge potential for cooperation and does not want to see an escalation of Sino-U.S. trade frictions, Gao told reporters at a regular news briefing, Reuters reported.”

Boehner: ‘The Republican Party is kind of taking a nap somewhere’ - NBC News

White House to launch opioid ad push next week - Axios

McConnell’s reign in the Senate will soon be record-breaking - Politico

Congress mulls lowering age requirement for truck drivers to prevent national shortage - Fox News

Trump’s net worth at the lowest since campaign - Bloomberg


“Why would you need a Republican wannabe if you can have the Republican?” – Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., referring to Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. There have been growing concerns that Heitkamp’s cordial relationship with the president could be trouble for Cramer’s Senate hopes.

“Chris, I look forward to the rationality of the Halftime Report each day. I’m currently reading Lynne Cheney’s biography of Madison – a good reminder that politics in America has always been rough and tumble and apropos for today’s events. Andrew Jackson killed my distant cousin Charles Henry Dickenson – note the spelling difference. The Dickensons arrived in America through Georgia when it was a penal colony. They were horse thieves in England. The American branch of the family had a problem with alcohol, which along with an inability to pay the bet when Jackson’s horse won led to Cousin Charlie’s demise.” – Chuck Gibson, Lakeland, Fla.

[Ed. note: The old saying is that a family’s interest in genealogy ends when they find the first horse thief. I am glad you persevered, Mr. Gibson!]

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BBC: “It’s the wurst thing that can happen to a sausage dog - ending up looking more like a meatball. The four-year-old pet, named Trevor, went from wiener to whopper when a hole in its windpipe left air trapped under its skin in a rare condition. Vets soon had the distended dachshund back to its saveloy-like self after a minor operation to ‘deflate’ it from more than twice its normal size. ‘He’d blown up like a balloon,’ said owner Fran Jennings. … Tests were carried out and the dog was diagnosed with sub-cutaneous emphysema, an abnormal collection of air under the skin. … Ms. Jennings’ daughter Jessica, who shows sausage dogs at Crufts, added: ‘He looked like a big fat seal. His whole body was like a blob…. But now he’s back to his normal self, chasing the chickens and we wouldn’t have him any other way.’”

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.