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On the roster: Sometimes it feels good to be a dupe – FBI missed a tip on Florida shooter – Immigration deal stuck in gridlock – The Mitt-ness, Senate edition – Runtime error

American dupes of the Kremlin during the Cold War were known to the KGB as “useful idiots.”

The Americans who unknowingly helped the Kremlin make the 2016 presidential campaign the fetid sewer that it was, may or may not have been useful, but they sure do look like idiots.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein today handed President Trump and his legal team one of their best moments so far in the investigation into Russian meddling. 

In the surprise announcement of charges against 13 Russians for using real-life methods amplified by social media to generally sow chaos in American politics and specifically harm the competitors of Sen. Bernie Sanders and Trump, Rosenstein used the magic word: “unwitting.”

Rosenstein was at pains to point out that no criminal wrongdoing was being charged against any American citizens. There is one, Richard Pinedo, who has reached his own deal with prosecutors for identity theft apparently related to the Russian scheme. But, the unmistakable thrust here is that the Russians, not the Trump campaign itself, are the bad guys. 

We would encourage you to read our colleagues Alex Pappas and Judson Berger to get a more detailed picture, but there are, apparently, Americans who got taken by Russians posing as citizens and helped the Muscovite malefactors do their thing. 

If you were one of those marching on Trump Tower after the election or attended certain campaign events over 2016, we hate to be the ones to tell you, but you got took. 

It must have been great fun for Vladimir Putin & Co. to watch American politics burn down like a house made of balsa wood. Using made-up American social media accounts, the Kremlin not only succeeded in helping Trump, but, probably more significantly deepening hatreds among Americans and doing discredit to an electoral system once considered among the finest in the world. 

Things are probably a lot less fun for Vlad the Emailer these days. His country’s rampant Olympic cheating kept it out of Pyeongchang, his client state of Syria is not unwinding the way he had wanted as Americans step up attacks and, now, he has been charged for his campaign rigging in official manner.

Now, it’s not like Moscow is going to extradite the people charged, especially the oligarch buddy of Putin’s who prosecutors say bankrolled the operation. But this does mean that the West is finally coming to an agreement about how villainous the Putin regime has been in undermining elections.

These charges, combined with the turpentine-strong comments from CIA Director Mike Pompeo and other top administration officials about Kremlin efforts aimed at the upcoming midterm elections make clear that we will not do as Trump himself once suggested and write the whole thing off as some kind of whodunit. It was not, in fact, some 400-pound person sitting in their basement or a 12-year-old, but a concerted, well-founded effort. 

The good news for Trump that anyone in his orbit who helped the Russians did so without intent or knowledge is unambiguously helpful for the president and his legal team. But it does come at a cost to the president’s ego. Affirming the work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, especially as he seems to be sticking closely to his original mandate so far, will help Trump battle back against claims that his campaign colluded with a hostile foreign power. 

But it also means admitting that the Russians were a factor. 

There has never been any allegation of vote rigging, and as Rosenstein pointed out, nothing to show that the interference was determinative in any way. But, it also was certainly aimed at helping Trump.

We will never know the real motives of any American voters beyond what they tell us in polls. But we also know that an effort this large had some effect. Did it make the difference in the Upper Midwest? We will never be able to say. But with margins that tight, plenty of folks will draw their own conclusions. 

That is the sweet and sour nature of today’s news for the president and his defenders. There’s no accusation of a crime, but ample evidence of foolishness and unambiguous pro-Trump tilt from the Kremlin.

One would assume that the legal benefits of these findings to Trump will outweigh the embarrassment, but only insofar as one can assume anything about politics at this moment.    

In this case, it’s good to be an idiot, it’s just hard for any of us to think of ourselves as having been useful to the wrong people.

“What, then, are the distinctive characters of the republican form? Were an answer to this question to be sought, not by recurring to principles, but in the application of the term by political writers, to the constitution of different States, no satisfactory one would ever be found.” – James MadisonFederalist No. 39 


Atlantic: “Why would weather follow an interstate? [Ann Finkbeiner] had an epiphany: maybe because I-95 follows the Atlantic Seaboard Fall Line. … [I-95] follows the Fall Line and the cities are dotted along the Fall Line. The cities and roads are where they are because of what the Fall Line is: a more or less invisible, small, underground cliff—an escarpment—that marks the old edge of the continent. On the Fall Line’s west side, the high side, are tough crystalline rocks; on the east side, the low side, are soft, easily moveable sediments. … Cities grew along the Fall Line, roads connected the cities. It’s all so logical. But why would weather follow the Fall Line? It doesn’t, of course—because weather is much more complicated—except when it does. … As an epiphany, it’s not much. Weather follows I-95 because I-95 follows a change in elevation which accompanies a change in temperature.”

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Trump job performance 
Average approval:
 39.4 percent 
Average disapproval: 55.8 percent 
Net Score: -16.4 points
Change from one week ago: down 1.2 points 
[Average includes: Fox News: 43% approve – 53% disapprove; Gallup: 40% approve – 57% disapprove; Marist College: 39% approve – 56% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 40% approve – 55% disapprove; IBD: 35% – 58%.]

Control of House
Republican average: 40.4 percent
Democratic average: 47 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 6.6 points 
Change from one week ago: no change in points 
[Average includes: Marist College: 49% Dems – 38% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 49% Dems – 40% GOP; IBD: 46% Dems – 41% GOP; Monmouth University: 47% Dems – 45% GOP; Fox News: 44% Dems – 38% GOP.]

Fox News: “Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday ordered an ‘immediate review’ after it emerged that the FBI had not acted on a recent tip that Florida school shooting suspect … wanted to ‘kill people’ and there was the ‘potential of him conducting a school shooting.’ In a statement, the bureau admitted to receiving a call on Jan. 5 from a person close to [the shooter] who contacted the FBI through its Public Access Line (PAL) tipline to express concerns about his erratic behavior and disturbing social media posts. … ‘Under established protocols, the information provided by the caller should have been assessed as a potential threat to life,’ the statement said. … The FBI concluded that the caller’s information was not forwarded to the Miami FBI field office, and that ‘no further investigation was conducted at the time.’ FBI Director Christopher Wray said the bureau would review what had happened.”

House may end restriction on studying mental health and shootings – USA Today: “House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said Thursday Congress should remove restrictions it has imposed that prevent the federal government from studying mental health issues that lead to gun violence. Goodlatte … said it was time to end a 22-year restriction that forbids the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from studying the links between mental health and gun violence. That restriction was written into law by Rep. Jay Dickey, an Arkansas Republican who died in 2017. Before his death, Dickey said he grew to regret the restriction he had authored. … On Thursday, Goodlatte agreed, saying it was time to allow the CDC to research the issue.”

David French: ‘New Gun Laws Won’t Stop Mass Shootings. People Can.’ – National Review: “The United States is facing a puzzling paradox. Even as gun crime has plunged precipitously from the terrible highs of the early 1990s, mass shootings have increased. Consider this: 15 of the 20 worst mass shootings in U.S. history have occurred since the Columbine school shooting in 1999. The five worst have all occurred since 2007, and three of those five were in 2016 and 2017. It’s horrifying, and governmental solutions are hard to find. … But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do. When policies fail, people can and should rise to the occasion. Looking at the deadliest mass shootings since Columbine, we see that the warning signs were there, time and again. People could have made a difference.”

Fox News: “Senators on Thursday blocked all four plans dealing with immigration as President Trump torpedoed one proposal as ‘a total catastrophe’ and his Department of Homeland Security lambasted it as the ‘end of immigration enforcement in America.’ During a series of afternoon procedural votes, no immigration amendments crossed the 60 vote threshold that would have cut off debate and paved the way for final votes. The effort to pass immigration legislation comes as Democrats insist on protecting young illegal immigrants brought to the country as children and Trump demands funding for a border wall. Ahead of the votes, the Trump administration focused on the bipartisan agreement drawn up by a ‘Gang of 22’ that would grant a 10-12 year path to the young illegal immigrants or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. The amendment failed by only getting 54 votes. Forty five senators voted against it.”

Dozens of plans left to rot – WashTimes: “Nearly 100 immigration plans were left to rot in the hopper when the Senate concluded a long-awaited immigration debate Thursday. What was heralded as a freewheeling debate and a weeklong floor fight was whittled down to about two hours of votes to kill a total of four measures. The senators wrapped up the effort with almost no debate. ‘I didn’t count it exactly, but I think we only had 13 minutes of debate. That’s not open debate, as far as I’m concerned,’ said Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican who introduced a half-dozen of the immigration amendments that never saw the light of day. ‘We were kind of limited. There was no debate,’ he said. ‘You don’t know that something couldn’t have gotten 60 votes if we had had an open debate.’”

Fox News: “Mitt Romney announced Friday he will run for U.S. Senate in Utah to succeed the retiring Orrin Hatch… Romney announced on Twitter: ‘I am running for United States Senate to serve the people of Utah and bring Utah’s values to Washington.’ Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, is considered a heavy favorite for the Senate seat. He has emerged as a prominent critic of President Trump and, if he wins, could be poised to cause headaches for the administration from the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue. … His Senate run hasn’t been welcomed by all. Utah Republican Party Chairman Rob Anderson told The Salt Lake Tribune earlier this week that Romney was ‘keeping out candidates that I think would be a better fit for Utah because, let’s face it, Mitt Romney doesn’t live here, his kids weren’t born here, he doesn’t shop here.’ The GOP official went on to call Romney a ‘carpetbagger.’”

Independent could shake up Missouri Senate race – Kansas City Star: “A Kansas City lawyer officially launched an independent bid for U.S. Senate on Thursday, entering a race that could decide which party controls the chamber next year. Independent Craig O’Dear will compete for votes with U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, the Democratic incumbent, and the eventual Republican nominee. McCaskill is seen as one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the country as she runs for re-election in a state President Donald Trump won by double digits, but the presence of an independent in the race could complicate the campaign for both parties. O’Dear, 60, said he thinks he can win if he captures 35 percent to 40 percent of the vote in a three-way race. ‘From what I hear both candidates’ campaigns are concerned I take votes from them,’ O’Dear said about McCaskill and GOP frontrunner Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley.”

Continetti: ‘The GOP Tax Cut Gamble’ – Free Beacon: “If white women and college graduates continue to be repelled by the president in an off-year election where he is not on the ballot, then the GOP majority is finished. Simple as that. But Democrats should not celebrate prematurely. Republicans have some arrows in their quivers, including the economy. … Republicans want to tie the strong economy to the tax cut they passed last December. This is the most powerful weapon they have in the coming election, not just because the policy appears to be succeeding, but also because it’s the only major achievement of the 115th Congress. … And the Democrats may be the House Republicans’ greatest advantage. Their leftward drift, torrid embrace of identity politics, and obsession with rebuking if not outright removing Trump may give swing voters pause. So might the Democratic leadership.” 

NBC News: “Steve Bannon, who served as President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, was interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller over multiple days this week, NBC News has learned from two sources familiar with the proceedings. Bannon spent a total of some 20 hours in conversations with the team led by Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia as well as other issues that have arisen around the probe. … After a more than four-week stalemate, Bannon also returned to Capitol Hill Thursday to resume his interview with the House Intelligence Committee, which was halted when he earlier refused to answer key questions in the Russia probe. He left [Thursday] after four hours, answering little more than the two dozen questions that the White House had negotiated with the House’s lead counsel. The committee had issued a subpoena in their initial Jan. 16 interview when Bannon would not address issues…”

Judges loses patience with both sides in slo-mo Manafort prosecution – WaPo: “A federal judge lashed out about ‘unacceptable’ delays in the fraud and money laundering case of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his longtime employee, Rick Gates. The judge criticized both sides Wednesday for failing to set a trial date in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s prosecution of the two co-defendants. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of Washington spoke before closing the courtroom for a morning-long hearing to discuss Gates’s request to have another week to respond his defense attorneys’ Feb. 1 request to withdraw from the case due to ‘irreconcilable differences’ with him. Those differences have not been described in public filings beyond a brief statement that they involve private, ‘highly sensitive matters’ that ‘would potentially be prejudicial to the Defendant as well as embarrassing.’”

It could be because Gates is reportedly close to plea deal with Mueller – Axios: “Rick Gates, the Paul Manafort associate and former Trump campaign adviser who was indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller last fall, ‘is finalizing a plea deal’ with Mueller, CNN reports. Gates spoke to the special counsel team during an interview in which he had to answer questions ‘about his own case and other potential criminal activity he witnessed,’ CNN reports. A White House official told CNN that ‘[t]here’d be no anxiety here’ if Gates cut a deal. Why it matters: Gates would be the third person indicted in Mueller’s investigation to strike a deal, and the move could turn up the heat on Manafort to cooperate.”

USA Today: “A former Playmate, who says she has been emboldened by the #MeToo movement and declining health, has confirmed to The New Yorker that she authored an eight-page, hand-written document about her alleged affair with Donald Trump that the magazine said was quietly buried by the National Enquirer after buying exclusive rights to it. The deal, which netted Karen McDougal $82,500, has prevented her from discussing the alleged relationship with Trump. McDougal, who was judged runner-up for ‘Playmate of the ’90s,’ allegedly met Trump in 2006 at the Playboy mansion after Trump had been married to Slovenian model Melania Knauss for less than two years. She spoke to writerRonan Farrow, who has written recently about sexual abuse in Hollywood, but was circumspect about details regarding Trump. She acknowledged, however, that she wrote the account of the alleged affair, which Farrow said he obtained from John Crawford, a friend of McDougal’s.”

Turley: Hush money could prove hazardous to Trump – The Hill: “I have been critical of the repeated claims of a “collusion” crime with Russians due to the weak legal and factual foundations for a charge. However, this allegation would be anchored in not just a clear criminal provision but two prior cases. For a White House known for self-inflicted wounds, the situation could not be more precarious as the White House issues categorical denials. There are real criminal charges possible in such claims and the trip wires are right under foot for the president.”

Senator lifts hold, John Demers confirmed to head DOJ national security division – The Hill

VA Secretary David Shulkin trying to survive, under ethical scrutiny about Europe trip – WaPo

This week on FNS, Chris will sit down with radio host Rush Limbaugh and Capt. Mark Kelly, husband of gun control activist, shooting victim and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, R-Ariz.,  Watch “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.” Check local listings for broadcast times in your area.

#mediabuzz – Host Howard Kurtz has the latest take on the week’s media coverage. Watch #mediabuzz Sundays at 11 a.m. ET.


“I think it’s safe to say this has been a disappointing week.” – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said regarding failed votes on immigration on Thursday.

“Chris and Brianna, as I hope you will be commenting on it, while the Republicans who are owned by the NRA claim that gun control will not stop mass killings, please see what Australia did some years ago after they got fed up with school killings in their country.” – Greg Welch, Seattle

[Ed. note: You raise a fair point, Mr. Welch – certainly as it relates to the Australians. In the wake of a 1995 mass murder, Australia did move to confiscate hundreds of thousands of rifles and shotguns. The country employed similar measures against handguns in 2003. The results have been impressive: in the years since 1996, Australia has had no mass shootings, compared to the 18 that took place in the same period before the ban. But that can’t happen here without an amendment to the Constitution, something which mainstream Democrats have thus far been unwilling to push for. And that’s understandable given the degree to which guns are part of American identity and culture, and, as you alluded to, political pressure groups. But I would caution you against doubting the sincerity of Republicans – or the Americans they represent – on the subject. The NRA has done extraordinarily well for itself over the years on this issue, but that is a function of the strength of feeling about gun rights by conservatives, not the cause of it. If you start your argument by saying your rival is corrupt, where do you go from there? One of the reasons things are in such disrepair is that we have come to so casually question one and other’s motives that there’s no way to move on to the solutions phase of the negotiation. And if the other guy says you’re a crook who’s out to kill people or hurt the country what’s the point of talking to him anyway? In order demand more of ourselves as citizens we first have to expect better from our rivals and give them the chance to prove us wrong.]

“Lost in all the hubbub about DACA is the President’s original humanitarian intention to try a legislative solution to mitigate the likely outcome if the state law suits were to proceed to the Supremes…That the SC might find President Obama’s executive order illegal and ALL the DACA folks would be illegal and subject to deportation. Given the current deadlock in the US Senate, why not allow the law suits to go forward and let the chips fall where they may.” – Steve Aue, Brock, Texas

[Ed. note: The “chips” you are referring to are hundreds of thousands of people, and if they “fall” it will mean the loss of jobs, families and their status in the United States. The reason so many Americans are disgusted by our politics today are because of instances like this one where majorities in both parties agree on the broad outlines of a deal but seem to prefer to see if they can use the moment to stick the other side with the blame for failing. What would be humanitarian in this case would be if the government could govern, which it most decidedly is not in this case. The preferred outcome for both parties and the overwhelming majority of Americans is that the so-called DREAMers can stay. I think letting those people lose their legal status while the two sides dicker would be unusually cruel, even by the standards of current American politics.]

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MarketWatch: “Silicon Valley is known for moving fast and breaking things, but Apple Inc. may want its employees to slow down in order to not break themselves or the company’s new $5 billion headquarters. According to documents and sources, Apple … has run into a problem at Apple Park: Because so much of the interior is made from glass — the walls and doors, for example — people are walking into the panes, sometimes painfully. The company famous for its innovative design experienced at least two incidents of men walking into glass and causing injuries serious enough to warrant calls for local emergency services in the early days of its new ‘spaceship’ campus, according to documents MarketWatch obtained via a public-records request. Both resulted in minor cuts but did not appear to require hospitalization, the records showed.”

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.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.