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On the roster: So how’s that working out for you, Vlad? - Trump calls on Bibi to ‘pull back on settlements’ - Ryan tries to persuade senators on Trump’s border tax - Poll shows even divide on Trump performance - Looks like another cold (ginger) snap
SO HOW’S THAT WORKING OUT FOR YOU, VLAD?
What did Russia hope to gain by meddling in the American presidential election of 2016?
A weakened President Hillary Clinton? A beholden, friendly President Trump? Diminished confidence in the political system among the people of Russia’s longtime foe?
Whatever the goal was, it ain’t working out so hot right now.
Washington remains in an uproar today about the sacking of Trump’s Russophilic National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn. Depending on who you talk to, this is either the beginning of the end of the administration, a fresh start on Trump’s Russia troubles or simply evidence of chaotic incompetence in the new administration.
Time will tell.
Trump and his defenders are working hard to shift the story to the leaks of the damning documents that proved Flynn had not told the truth to Vice President Mike Pence and others about his contacts with Vladimir Putin’s government.
Meanwhile, Trump’s detractors are honing in on a NYT story that repeats what we already knew: Trump’s former Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort was up to his Borscht Belt in Russian entanglements – remember that’s probably why Trump canned him during the campaign. The story also says that others on Trump’s campaign and in his orbit were frequently in communication with the Russians during last year’s race.
The article allows that there is no evidence of collusion on how best to exploit goodies hacked by Kremlin-backed bandits from Clinton campaign emails, but there is a sharply raised eyebrow.
While that’s cooking off, Congressional Democrats are pulling out their Watergate playbook to try to inculpate Trump by suggesting he failed to act sooner on Flynn for some nefarious reason. Reports that Trump knew Flynn had misled at least Pence for three weeks before the vice president knew added fuel to that fire. “What did the president know and when did he know it?” would be a helpful hotkey for any Democratic congressional press aide.
At the same time, Republicans and Democrats alike are calling for more thorough investigations of Russian meddling and potential points of contact between Trump world and the Kremlin. That’s in addition to the ongoing FBI probe as well as, presumably, other intelligence community efforts.
Against this backdrop, we have Putin and his government pounding their chests over Flynn’s treatment and getting very aggressive in their posture towards the U.S. Understandably, Flynn was viewed by Russians as a conduit to getting the U.S. to slacken sanctions and take a more permissive approach to Russian efforts to expand further into Eastern Europe.
Trump, who had long and sometimes bewilderingly taken a benign view of Putin’s land grabs and other thuggish behavior now is unambiguous that the Crimean Peninsula was “taken.”
Considering all of that, how well is Putin & Co.’s strategy of interfering with American politics working out?
--They have lost their best advocate inside the Trump administration.
--Any new backchannel contacts between the Kremlin and the White House will be scrutinized to the degree that they are all but impossible.
--Republicans in the White House and on Capitol Hill are fretful that they may be drawn into such an intrigue and are on high alert for Russian mischief.
--Democrats see a Russian behind every shrub and tree and have developed a zealous opposition to Moscow not seen in their party since the 1950s.
--The president who provided hope of a new era of cooperation with Russia is now moving away from the Kremlin amid political pressures in Washington. Trump is obviously keen to not have his legacy determined by his relationship with Putin.
--Investigations into potential Russian interference with actual election procedures and ballots revealed no evidence of meddling. Except for a radical fringe, Americans overwhelming accept Trump as their duly elected president.
We have no way to know the path that the ongoing investigations into Flynn, leaks, Russia, Trump or anything else will turn out. It is simply too soon to say. But we can say that so far, Russia’s plan is not yielding great results for its perpetrators.
The ostentatious deployment of a spy ship off the U.S. coast and the close-quarters flyby from Russian jets on a U.S. warship can pretty plainly be seen as saber rattling in the face of a significant setback for the Kremlin.
Sometimes that’s how the kulich crumbles…
THE RULEBOOK: DIVIDE GOVERNMENT TO CONQUER TYRANNY
“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, selfappointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 47
TIME OUT: FEAR OF FOREVER
Atlantic: “Woody Allen once said, ‘Eternity is a very long time, especially toward the end!’ Eternity sounds great on the surface, but actually experiencing it may be an entirely different matter. For some people, the very notion of infinity sends chills up the spine. In fact, for many who suffer from ‘apeirophobia’—a term for the fear of eternity—the thought of an existence that goes on forever amounts to torture…Maybe human brains, as finite instruments with limited cognitive and computational capacities, are flat-out not hardwired to have a conception of something completely absent from sensory experience. Evolution has done just fine without organisms that contemplate infinity, after all. Doing so wouldn’t have likely offered any survival advantages to pre-modern humans.”
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your tips, comments or questions.
TRUMP CALLS ON BIBI TO ‘PULL BACK ON SETTLEMENTS’
Fox Business: “President Donald Trump on Wednesday urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to curb settlement activity but avoided any explicit endorsement of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a longstanding bedrock of U.S. Middle East policy…Speaking at a joint news conference, Trump vowed to work toward a peace deal between Israel and Palestinians but said it would require compromise on both sides and it would be up to the parties themselves ultimately to reach an agreement. ‘I'd like to see you pull back on settlements for a little bit,’ Trump told Netanyahu. The right-wing Israeli leader later insisted that Jewish settlements were ‘not the core of the conflict’ and made no commitment to reduce settlement building…But even as Trump promised to pursue peace between the two sides - who have had no substantive peace talks since 2014 - he offered no new prescriptions for unblocking the peace process or achieving a deal that has eluded so many of his predecessors.”
[Foreign policy nerd Gillian Turner argues Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, whom she dubs “the SLOTUS,” and his family ties to Netanyahu may be Trump’s key in helping Middle East relations.]
RYAN TRIES TO PERSUADE GOP SENATORS ON TRUMP’S BORDER TAX
The Hill: “Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) met with Republican senators Tuesday afternoon to quell growing opposition to a core element of the House GOP tax plan, a 20 percent across-the-board tax on imports, also known as border adjustment. Ryan beseeched the senators to ‘keep your powder dry’ while House tax writers hammer out the details of their plan and prepare to move it to a vote later this year, according to a GOP source familiar with the meeting. Senate Republicans say political momentum has begun to shift against the House’s border adjustment tax in recent days. Walking into the meeting with the Speaker, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said of the border tax proposal: It’s ‘going to be very difficult to get it through the Senate.’ ‘I think it’s tough,’ said Scott, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax issues. ‘The longer it takes to explain, the harder it is to implement.’”
POLL SHOWS EVEN DIVIDE ON TRUMP PERFORMANCE
Fox News: “When asked if the Trump administration is working on things that will help their family, 47 percent of voters say yes, while 48 percent say no. That’s almost identical to the split over President Trump’s job performance: 48 percent approve and 47 percent disapprove. Moreover, most voters feel strongly one way or the other, as 35 percent ‘strongly’ approve and 41 percent ‘strongly’ disapprove. Nearly all Republicans approve (87 percent), as do just over half of independents (52 percent). Among Democrats, 10 percent give him the thumbs up…The poll, released Tuesday, finds 50 percent feel confident in Trump’s judgment in a crisis, up from 43 percent in October 2016. Yet nearly half, 49 percent, lack confidence in his judgment. In addition, about half of voters describe Trump as a ‘strong leader’ (52-45 percent).”
[A new poll in Iowa shows 42 percent of voters approve of Trump’s job as president so far while 49 percent disapprove.]
AUDIBLE: ‘HELLO, MY NAME IS…’
“It’s not like these people wear badges that say, ‘I’m a Russian intelligence officer.’” – Former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort to the NYT on his reported relations with Russia.
Trump accuses intel community of leaks, says Russia connection nonsense - The Hill
Aaron Blake lays out the five times Trump’s team has denied contact with Russia - WaPo
Mattis on Flynn ouster: ‘Frankly, this has no impact’ - Free Beacon
Tillerson, Priebus clash over ambassadorships - WSJ
Ethics office recommends White House investigate Conway for remarks on Nordstrom - Fox News
Conway denies sending ‘love’ tweet to white nationalist - NYDN
Sessions poised to push religious liberty at Justice Dept. - AP
Ryan meets with Republican Senators to fight for Trump’s tax plan - The Hill
Jeffery Anderson looks at how different groups of Americans would fare under proposed ObamaCare alternatives - Weekly Standard
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Anyone remember that some ‘Anyone but Trump’ Republicans were actually suggesting that Gen. Flynn would be a great GOP candidate for president? Apparently his being a registered Democrat would be acceptable to the RNC and the voting delegates at the convention.” – Leona Johnston, Fountain Hills, Ariz.
[Ed. note: I confess that I do not remember that movement. But there was a lot of crazy talk going on in Cleveland. In the end, it was all pipe dreams and palaver.]
“Your reference to the Wayback Machine [in Tuesday’s Halftime Report] took me way back to my elementary years. Of all the characters on The Rocky and Bullwinkle show, Mr. Peabody was my favorite! He brought history to life for both Sherman and me. I received an A++ on a fifth grade essay once, because Mrs. Norsworthy thought it clever of me to cite the obviously brilliant be-speckled cartoon dog.” – SueMae Bittle, Stillwater, Okla.
[Ed. note: I loved, loved, loved Mr. Peabody! But that probably comes as no surprise to you given my bent for historical sidetracks. I think there is a lot to be said for teaching history to children as a story rather than a list of dates and names to be memorized. We engage best with people and their experiences not abstract data. And I believe knowing how we arrived at this moment is enormously helpful not just in making the right choices for today, but determining where we are headed next. Kids have it easy, now, though. Rather than just the Wayback Machine, they have tremendous resources for learning history. I recommend wholeheartedly “The Story of the World” series of histories for children from grades 1-5. I even found myself stealing them from my son to read.]
Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.
LOOKS LIKE ANOTHER COLD (GINGER) SNAP
WJAR: “One Massachusetts town has found a sweet solution to icy roads. Workers at the Dighton Maintenance Yard are mixing molasses into their road salt. ‘It’s less to clean up. It’s better for the storm water management. You don’t have to clean the sand out of the basins and road sweepings,’ explains Dighton Highway Superintendent Tom Ferry. The molasses sticks better to roadways, making the salt more effective. That means you don’t have to use as much. It also works in even the coldest of weather, staying on the surface for days.”
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“The reason that Flynn is gone is not because he was a target of political assassination. It’s because he lied about something material to the vice president of the United States…” – Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Sally Persons contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.