By Chris Stirewalt, ,
Published August 23, 2018
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On the roster: Report: Trump tabloid pal cut deal with feds - Fox News Poll: Dems maintain lead in race for House - NFL anthem protests blitzes Texas race - Never mind… DNC says hack attempt was just a test - For Sale: 3BR, 2BA, ranch home, T. Rex incl.
REPORT: TRUMP TABLOID PAL CUT DEAL WITH FEDS
NYT: “The tabloid executive David J. Pecker has been granted immunity by federal prosecutors investigating payments during the 2016 campaign to two women who said they had affairs with Donald J. Trump, a person familiar with the investigation confirmed on Thursday. Mr. Pecker is chief executive and chairman of American Media Inc., the nation’s biggest tabloid news publisher, best known for its flagship, The National Enquirer. He is close to Mr. Trump and the president’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, and had been integral to a campaign effort to help protect Mr. Trump from embarrassing stories about women as he ran for the presidency. … The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday night that Mr. Pecker was cooperating with prosecutors, and Vanity Fair published news of the immunity deal on Thursday. The agreement adds another unusual aspect to a case never seen before in the annals of presidential campaign finance history. It means that a company that operates as a news organization is cooperating with federal authorities on an investigation that involves its work with a campaign.”
Trump tries a new line on hush money payments - WSJ: “President Trump denied playing a part in illegal hush-money payments to two women during the 2016 campaign and berated his former lawyer for swearing in court a day earlier that he had, leaving the White House and both political parties Wednesday to sort through the fallout less than three months before midterm elections. Mr. Trump and administration officials sought to discredit Michael Cohen, who said Tuesday as part of a guilty plea in federal court that the president directed him to buy the silence of the women so their allegations about affairs with Mr. Trump wouldn’t harm his presidential bid. On Twitter, Mr. Trump accused Mr. Cohen of lying and mocked his legal talents. On Fox News, Mr. Trump said he became aware of the payments to the women ‘later on,’ echoing his statement in April that he wasn’t aware of the payment to Stephanie Clifford, the former adult-film star who goes by the name Stormy Daniels, at the time it took place.”
Decries plea deals with prosecutors - CBS News: “President Trump suggested that ‘flipping’ or cooperating with prosecutors in return for a reduced sentence, similar to what Mr. Trump's former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen did, should be ‘illegal.’ The president, in an interview with ‘Fox and Friends’ that aired on Thursday, said that Cohen implicated him in his fraud trial in order to get a better deal with prosecutors. ‘It's called flipping and it almost ought to be illegal,’ he said. ‘[Cohen] makes a better deal when he uses me.’ As part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors, Cohen pleaded guilty Tuesday to eight counts — including two campaign finance violations involving payments to silence women he believed could be detrimental to the 2016 presidential campaign. Cohen testified in federal court, according to his lawyer, that Mr. Trump himself directed Cohen to commit a crime. ‘They go from 10 years [prison] to they're a national hero. They have a statue erected in their honor. It's not a fair thing,’ Mr. Trump said.”
The story of a lie - WaPo: “The first denial that Donald Trump knew about hush-money payments to silence women came four days before he was elected president, when his spokeswoman Hope Hicks said… The second came in January of this year, when his attorney Michael Cohen said the allegations were ‘outlandish.’ By March, two of the president’s spokesmen — Raj Shah and Sarah Huckabee Sanders — said publicly that Trump denied all the allegations and any payments. … In April, Trump finally weighed in, answering a question about whether he knew about a payment to porn star Stephanie Clifford, who uses the stage name Stormy Daniels, with a flat ‘no.’ It’s now clear that the president’s statement was a lie — and that the people speaking for him repeated it.”
Sessions defends himself - NYT: “Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, pushed back against President Trump’s recent attack on him — namely that Mr. Sessions never took control of the Justice Department — and said on Thursday that as long as he is the attorney general, he would not be influenced by politics. ‘While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations,’ Mr. Sessions said in a rare public statement released Thursday afternoon.”
Graham, Grassley clear path for Trump to sack Sessions after midterms -Bloomberg: “Two key Republican senators signaled to President Donald Trump that he could replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions after the midterm elections in November, a move that would open the way for firing Robert Mueller or constraining his probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. … Graham warned against acting against Sessions before the election, calling that possibility ‘a nonstarter.’ That ‘would create havoc’ with Senate efforts to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and with the midterm elections in November, he said. That represents a significant shift from Graham’s stance a year ago, when he warned Trump publicly that if he fired Sessions ‘there will be holy hell to pay.’ Senator Chuck Grassley, the current Judiciary chairman, also changed his position on Thursday, saying in an interview that he’d be able to make time for hearings for a new attorney general after saying in the past that the panel was too busy to tackle that explosive possibility.”
Juror agrees with Trump on Mueller, but still convicted Manafort - Fox News: “Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team was one holdout juror away from winning a conviction against Paul Manafort on all 18 counts of bank and tax fraud, juror Paula Duncan told Fox News in an exclusive interview Wednesday. ‘It was one person who kept the verdict from being guilty on all 18 counts,’ Duncan, 52, said. She added that Mueller’s team of prosecutors often seemed bored, apparently catnapping during parts of the trial. The identities of the jurors have been closely held, kept under seal by Judge T.S. Ellis III at Tuesday's conclusion of the high-profile trial. But Duncan gave a behind-the-scenes account to Fox News on Wednesday, after the jury returned a guilty verdict against the former Trump campaign chairman on eight financial crime counts and deadlocked on 10 others.”
Dem leaders keep their distance from impeachment talk - Politico: “As Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, was pleading guilty in a federal court to campaign charges implicating the president, House Democratic leaders were on a conference call warning rank-and-file lawmakers: Don't use the word ‘impeachment.’ Speaking to members back home in their districts, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s leadership team Tuesday cautioned lawmakers to frame Cohen's plea deal as further evidence of a corrupt administration that needs a Democratic check in Congress, they said. Or, play up Hill Republicans’ apathy in the face of Trump’s endless scandals, they encouraged. But be wary of impeachment, they insisted — it could backfire. With 76 days to go until the midterm elections, Democratic leaders are adamant that they will not turn Nov. 6 into a litmus test for impeachment — even though Cohen accused Trump of directing him to break campaign-finance laws to win the presidency. Party leaders believe that’s the wrong hill to die on and the issue won’t register with voters. And most rank-and-file Democrats in both chambers are following that advice.”
THE RULEBOOK: DOCTOR’S ORDERS
“Our own experience has corroborated the lessons taught by the examples of other nations … that the idea of governing at all times by the simple force of law … has no place but in the reveries of those political doctors whose sagacity disdains the admonitions of experimental instruction.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 28
TIME OUT: ALREADY GONE
New Yorker: “Earlier this week, the Recording Industry Association of America—the trade organization that periodically bestows sales certifications—updated its calculations, which resulted in a reshuffling of the top-selling album of all time: Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ was unseated, once again, by ‘The Eagles: Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975.’ … In 2018, sales numbers of any sort can seem like a quaint metric for success—the methodology for gathering and collating those numbers hasn’t caught up, in any satisfying way, to cultural shifts in how people actually consume music. It wasn’t until 2016 that the R.I.A.A. even agreed to tally on-demand audio and video streaming. (Now fifteen hundred streams count as one sale.) Yet, even long before streaming complicated the mathematics, accurately determining a record’s sales was something of a fool’s errand. Prior to the introduction, in 1991, of Nielsen SoundScan (itself a flawed point-of-sale electronic tracking system), the Billboard charts were determined by ‘store reporters,’ or record-store clerks who would call the magazine and simply describe what was selling.”
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Trump job performance
Average approval: 43 percent
Average disapproval: 52.6 percent
Net Score: -9.6 points
Change from one week ago: up 2 points
[Average includes: Fox News: 45% approve - 53% disapprove; Monmouth University: 43% approve - 51% disapprove; Gallup: 42% approve - 52% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 41% approve - 54% disapprove; CNN: 44% approve - 53% disapprove.]
Control of House
Republican average: 40.6 percent
Democratic average: 49.2 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 8.6 points
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage up 2 points
[Average includes: Fox News: 49% Dems - 38% GOP; Monmouth University: 48% Dems - 43% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 51% Dems - 42% GOP; CNN: 52% Dems - 41% GOP; Pew Research Center: 46% Dems - 39% GOP.]
FOX NEWS POLL: DEMS MAINTAIN LEAD IN RACE FOR HOUSE
Fox News: “Democrats are in a strong position for the midterms, according to the latest Fox News poll. Several findings point to the potential for a blue map in November: President Trump’s job rating remains underwater. Republicans alone say the economy is in positive shape. The GOP tax law is less popular (40 percent favorable) than Obamacare (51 percent favorable). The Republican Party is less popular (39 percent favorable) than the Democratic Party (50 percent favorable). Optimism about life for the next generation of Americans is down eight points from last year. There is greater enthusiasm to vote in the midterms among out-of-power Democrats. Meanwhile, the Trump/Russia probe isn’t going away. Approval of Special Counsel Robert Mueller stands at 59 percent, up 11 points since July, and 40 percent expect the investigation will find Trump committed criminal or impeachable offenses, up 5 points. Tuesday afternoon, a jury found former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort guilty of tax and bank fraud in the first trial to come out of Mueller’s probe and, around that same time, Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign-finance violations and other charges.
Hunter pleads not guilty to corruption charges - AP: “U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter and his wife Margaret pleaded not guilty Thursday in San Diego to charges they illegally used his campaign account for personal expenses. The California Republican and his wife entered their pleas in federal court, where prosecutors said bond could be set low because the couple is living paycheck to paycheck. Bail was then set at $15,000 for the congressman and at $10,000 for his wife. A handful of demonstrators outside courthouse held signs that read ‘Lock him up!’ And ‘Crooked Duncan Hunter.’ … Even as the five-term incumbent was under investigation by the FBI, Hunter easily finished first by a 30-point margin in a June primary and established himself as a strong favorite to hold onto California’s strongly Republican 50th Congressional District in San Diego and Riverside counties, where his father held the seat for many years. Hunter’s attorney, Gregory A. Vega, has claimed there was politically motivated pressure to tarnish Hunter before the general election.”
North Dakota Senate race not so nice - Roll Call: “The congressman and the senator circled each other, sometimes so close they were back-to-back, but always finding anyone’s hand to shake but each other’s. Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer, in their official capacities, both turned up at an airport hangar last week for an informal send-off for National Guardsmen being deployed to the Horn of Africa. They’re facing each other in an increasingly nasty race for a Senate seat Democrats need to hold if they’re going to have a chance to win the majority. Control of the narrowly divided Senate could either propel or derail President Donald Trump’s agenda — and perhaps even decide the future of his presidency if he is impeached. But Heitkamp and Cramer were focused on giving the service members a bipartisan sendoff at the hangar. Asked to say a few words, the candidates closed the noticeable physical gap between them and laughed about how they’d usually be singing the national anthem at an event like this.”
Kaine cruising - Roanoke College: “Democrat incumbent Senator Tim Kaine holds a 17-point (51%-34%) lead over Republican challenger Corey Stewart, according to The Roanoke College Poll. Libertarian Matt Waters garners the support of 4 percent of likely voters. The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research interviewed 512 likely voters in Virginia between August 12 and August 19 and has a margin of error of +4.3 percent. A plurality of voters (25%) see economic issues as most important in the Senate election, followed by health care (11%), education (6%), immigration (6%), honesty/character (6%), and stopping Donald Trump (5%). Half of likely voters (50%) have a favorable view of Kaine (33% unfavorable), while a plurality (43%) still does not know enough about Stewart to have an opinion. Those who do are split evenly, with 23 percent having a favorable view of Stewart and 23 percent having an unfavorable view.”
NFL ANTHEM PROTESTS BLITZES TEXAS RACE
Dallas Morning News: “The culture clash over NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem has hit the Senate race in Texas, where Rep. Beto O'Rourke's defense of the protests has drawn viral attention — and a sharp rebuke from incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz. Celebrities and sports figures have lauded O'Rourke for his willingness to stand up for the players, who face ongoing criticism from President Donald Trump and others on the right. The moment occurred at an Aug. 10 town hall event in Houston. A man who identified himself as a veteran from a family of veterans told the congressman that he is deeply offended when football players take a knee as the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ is played before each game. He asked if O'Rourke agreed. ‘My short answer is no, I don't think it's disrespectful,’ the El Paso Democrat replied. … He then invoked the nonviolent civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr., noting that players started the protests to call attention to police brutality involving unarmed black men, women and children. … Video of the exchange has been watched online more than 6 million times, mostly in the last week.”
Ed Rogers: ‘Kneeling NFL players will help Republicans in November’ - WaPo:“I am often frustrated that President Trump and Republicans do what their political opponents want them to do. But in this case, it is the Democrats who are being escorted by a few athletes into a position they would rather avoid. In June, shortly after the NFL owners passed a new league-wide policy requiring players on the field to stand during the national anthem, FiveThirtyEight published an analysis of several polls that were conducted on the issue and ultimately concluded that ‘the NFL’s new policy is a win for Trump — and on a field that matters, even though it’s not a policy or electoral victory.’ A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted in January and February found that 53 percent of Americans think ‘it’s never appropriate to kneel during the national anthem in protest.’ The voters who care most about football and tend to be offended by what they see as players using the game in furtherance of some political grievance are mostly Republican voters.”
NEVER MIND… DNC SAYS HACK ATTEMPT WAS JUST A TEST
WSJ: “A suspected attempt to hack into the Democratic National Committee’s voter database was actually a cybersecurity test, the organization said. The DNC, which was hacked by Russian intelligence officers during the 2016 presidential campaign, said Tuesday it had contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation after being alerted to an apparent phishing scheme by the computer security firm Lookout Inc., which uncovered a replica of the login page to the DNC’s VoteBuilder database during an online scan. In a statement early Wednesday, Bob Lord, the DNC’s chief information security officer, said the DNC and its partners who reported the site ‘now believe it was built by a third party as part of a simulated phishing test.’ The test mimicked attributes of a real attack on the committee’s voter database but wasn’t authorized by the DNC, Mr. Lord said. ‘There are constant attempts to hack the DNC and our Democratic infrastructure, and while we are extremely relieved that this wasn’t an attempted intrusion by a foreign adversary, this incident is further proof that we need to continue to be vigilant in the light of potential attacks,’ Mr. Lord said.”
State officials oppose bipartisan election security bill - Axios: “The Secure Elections Act, which would make states run post-election audits to determine if election results reflect the way people voted, stalled in a Senate committee Wednesday night per CNN. The big picture: The bipartisan election security bill — cosponsored by Republican Sen. James Lankford and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar — had support from several election security experts. However, Secretaries of State from around the country have been opposing the bill’s mandate on post-election audits, in particular because some view it as too strict a requirement without adequate, simultaneous funding to meet the requirement. Between the lines: The rub is, in part, that states are supposed to run their own elections, and some argue the audits could lead to federal overreach.”
Senate set for marathon stretch on conformations - Roll Call: “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moved to thwart filibusters of more than a dozen of President Donald Trump’s nominees Wednesday afternoon. The move sets up the potential for weeks of virtually continuous sessions of the Senate, although it is more likely that a bipartisan agreement will be reached at least ahead of the long Labor Day weekend. The list of 17 nominees is highlighted by Richard Clarida to the Federal Reserve and a slew of Trump nominees to fill federal judgeships in seats across the country. If senators were to object to time agreements, the Senate could literally spend weeks doing little other than considering the nominations, a move that complicates much of the legislative agenda for the rest of the year, particularly when it comes to finishing consideration of government spending bills before the end of the fiscal year on September 30.”
If Dems take the House, what does that mean for voters’ taxes? - Bloomberg
AUDIBLE: THE BIG CHEESE
“I do my fair share of grocery shopping, especially at Market Basket. You think you’re the only one who deals with this every week, when the thing tears and you have to re-seal your cheese.” – Gov. Chris Sununu, R-N.H., in a tweet declaring solidarity with other shoppers of the New England grocery chain who complain about how deli counter employees place price stickers that interfere with zip-top bags.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Chris: Your comparison of Republican support for President Trump versus Democratic support for President Clinton was enlightening. I'm a lifelong conservative, and not much of a fan of most campaign finance laws. But they ARE laws. If there is compelling evidence that President (or candidate) Trump violated them, as appears increasingly likely, the Republican House should impeach, and the Republican Senate should swiftly convict. A principled stand in support of high ethical standards would add luster to a rather tarnished Republican image, and provide a satisfying retort to the tiresome ‘both parties are exactly the same’ argument. Besides, the prospect of President Michael R. Pence is not exactly a boogeyman those on the right should fear. … Alas, I fear the siren song of short-sighted partisan politics will prove as irresistible to the Republican leadership of 2018 as it did to the Democratic leadership 20 years ago. But I hope I'm wrong.” – Jay Williams, Siloam Springs, Ark.
[Ed. note: Who knows what might transpire if members of Congress voted by secret ballot? Not only would what you described possibly come to pass, but much more. The truth is that most Republican members’ constituents have been apparently little troubled by this and other developments. Something better than 80 percent of GOP voters stand solidly behind the president. Unless that changes, Republicans will mostly stay in line, regardless of what transpires.]
“Twice in as many days you’ve been critical of commenters here who are very specific in their criticism of DOJ and FBI leadership. Neither writer painted every agent or employee as corrupt in those departments. But you were very quick to infer otherwise in your response to each of them. Why? Leadership is practicing double-standards in applying the laws and to whom, not rank and file member of law enforcement.” –Mark Hoffman, Des Moines, Iowa
[Ed. note: Mr. Hoffman, Tuesday’s correspondent stated that he concluded the Department of Justice, FBI and CIA were all corrupt – “You and others have mentioned the hardworking, patriotic people in the Justice Department and intelligence agencies. I can't buy that characterization. When you have leaders like John Brennan, James Comey, Andrew McCabe, etc. it makes you wonder how those types of people rise through an organization if it isn't corrupt.” That is not a specific criticism. That is a blanket condemnation that covers even rank-and-file employees. When people like Comey and McCabe fail in the execution of their duties, they should be called to account and appropriately punished. Attacking the men and women who are doing their jobs with integrity and honor, sometimes at grave personal risk, is unworthy.]
“Chris, Your comment, ‘Was the Continental Army corrupt just because Benedict Arnold could rise to the very top?’ [in Wednesday’s From The Bleachers] was interesting because, in fact Benedict Arnold did not rise up higher in the Continental Army BECAUSE it WAS a bit corrupt, or at least very political. Arnold was passed up for a well-deserved promotion due to politics in the Continental Congress. This marginalization fed the wound to his vanity and his resentment bloomed into betrayal of his country and General Washington’s trust. Motivations are complex, and one could argue whether Arnold would have stayed true to the cause or later betrayed his country anyway, had he not been passed over for promotion. Regardless, his being the victim of regional political egos devastated his pride (not an uncommon flaw then or now) and likely helped lead him to put self before country. Up until that time, there does not appear to be evidence that Arnold rose in the ranks of the Continental Army due to anything but merit.” – Kent Haldorson, Beaverton, Ore.
[Ed. note: Thanks, Mr. Haldorson. I often think of Arnold’s case as one of the best examples of the ways in which a sense of personal entitlement can corrupt. I do my best to avoid “I deserve” kind of thinking and focus instead on gratitude. It is a daily struggle!]
“OMG Chris! Why did you pick a quote from Charles Krauthammer, who I loved and respected, where he opined in 2009 that George W. got it right with the war in Iraq? I voted for GW twice, but I'm afraid to acknowledge that his decision to start a war in Iraq will go down as the biggest mistake by any president in the past 100 years....maybe in the history of the country. What were your intentions with this one???” – John VonLehman, Cincinnati
[Ed. note: If you read that column, Mr. VonLehman, I think you’ll see Charles was talking more about the still-ongoing fight against militant Islamism. But, to be honest, my selection wasn’t about the policy, it was about the prose. I don’t know whether he coined “the sinews of war” but Lordy day, that’s a good turn of phrase.]
“I read the comment regarding recognition of the fact of Mr. Krauthammer’s passing should be included on your email newsletter. The simplest and most dignified manner of doing so would be to include the birth and death years next to or under his name. Happy to be of help.” – Tom Stark, Weston, W. Va.
[Ed. note: Maybe it’s because West Virginians have such discernment and good taste, but I came to exactly the same conclusion! You’ll see that reflected henceforth.]
“Hi there: I am a huge fan of Chris. I will be ordering [“Every Man a King”] but, I would enjoy meeting him or see him speak in person. I live in Orange County, CA. I have missed other book tour stops at the Reagan and Nixon libraries for both Dana Perino's and Bret Baier's books; I only hear about them after the fact .Simply, where and when will Chris’ book tour, assuming he is going to tour, be announced? I'd hate to miss another opportunity.” – Troy Worgull, Irvine, Calif.
[Ed. note: I promise I’ll be hitting the road and will get you dates as we are able! But for now, readers who pre-order can get signed copies by clicking here. We’ll keep you posted.]
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FOR SALE: 3BR, 2BA, RANCH HOME, T. REX INCL.
NWF Daily News: “A local [Florida] man is selling what could be one of the most unique lawn ornaments this side of the Choctawhatchee Bay. Jason Lamp, an Okaloosa Island resident, is trying to find the right buyer for his massive fiberglass dinosaur head, which clocks in at seven feet tall and more than 500 pounds. … Lamp said he purchased the Tyrannosaurus Rex noggin, named Rexy, from Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone about a year ago. … But now, a job opportunity with a radio station group in Tallahassee means Lamp is moving out of the area, and he said it’s been ‘a little difficult’ to post a listing for his house that includes a seven-foot-tall dinosaur head in the backyard. So, Lamp posted the head for sale on various Facebook groups and has gotten tons of reactions… ‘I never really thought it’d get this much buzz,’ he said. ‘But it’s taken on a life of its own.’”
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“Filibuster abolition is good for conservatives today. It will be good for liberals tomorrow when they have regained power. There’s no great principle at stake, though as a practical matter, in this era of widespread frustration with congressional gridlock, the new norm may be salutary.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post, February 2, 2017.
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.