The Daily 202: Fox fallout shows why Trump’s lawyers don’t want Mueller to get an interview

— The National Enquirer kept a safe containing damaging documents on hush-money payments and other stories that it killed on Trump’s behalf. The AP’s Jeff Horwitz reports: “Several people familiar with the National Enquirer’s parent company … said the safe was a great source of power for [Pecker]. The Trump records were stored alongside similar documents pertaining to other celebrities’ catch-and-kill deals … By keeping celebrities’ embarrassing secrets, the company was able to ingratiate itself with them and ask for favors in return. But after [Karen McDougal’s catch-and-kill deal was revealed], those assets became a liability. … Fearful that the documents might be used against American Media, Pecker and [Howard] removed them from the safe in the weeks before Trump’s inauguration … It was unclear whether the documents were destroyed or simply were moved to a location known to fewer people.”

.. The Enquirer’s efforts to kill negative Trump stories extended way beyond the 2016 campaign: “Former Enquirer employees who spoke to the AP said that negative stories about Trump were dead on arrival dating back more than a decade when he starred on NBC’s reality show ‘The Apprentice.’ In 2010, at Cohen’s urging, the National Enquirer began promoting a potential Trump presidential candidacy, referring readers to a pro-Trump website Cohen helped create. With Cohen’s involvement, the publication began questioning [Obama’s] birthplace and American citizenship in print.”

.. — The Manhattan district attorney’s office is also weighing possible criminal charges against the Trump Organization and two of its senior officials. The New York Times’s William K. Rashbaum reports: “A state investigation would center on how the company accounted for its reimbursement to Mr. Cohen for the $130,000 he paid to [Stormy Daniels] … [Two] officials stressed that the office’s review of the matter is in its earliest stages and prosecutors have not yet made a decision on whether to proceed. State charges against the company or its executives could be significant because Mr. Trump has talked about pardoning some of his current or former aides who have faced federal charges. As president, he has no power to pardon people and corporate entities convicted of state crimes.”

.. “Trump’s lawyers counseled the president against the idea of pardoning anyone linked to the investigation … saying Trump should at least wait until [Mueller] has concluded his probe.

.. Asked about a pardon, one senior White House official said: ‘What does it accomplish? You pardon him, it doesn’t get rid of the Mueller probe, it causes you more headaches, he still has another trial, you have more Republicans coming after you.’”

.. “Trump’s consideration of pardons, while he praises associates who don’t cooperate with investigations and help those who praise him, also could have a chilling effect, law enforcement officials said,”

.. ‘The president has not a whit of respect for institutions, whether it’s the DOJ or the Fed or the FBI,’ said one former senior administration official. ‘If you are a threat to him, he is going to try to kill you.’

.. Two powerful members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who have been shielding Sessions gave air cover for Trump to fire him after Fox aired the interview. This is significant because a new AG who is not recused from the investigation could oversee Mueller’s work and rein in his probe.

.. — Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who recently golfed with Trump, said it’s “very likely” that the president will oust Sessions but urged him to wait until after the midterms to do so. “The president’s entitled to an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that’s qualified for the job, and I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice,” Graham said. “Clearly, Attorney General Sessions doesn’t have the confidence of the president.” (Graham sung a different tune last July. “If Jeff Sessions is fired,” he said then, “there will be holy hell to pay.”)

.. — Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) also shifted his position and announced he will now be able to find time to hold a confirmation hearing for a new attorney general this fall after the Supreme Court vacancy is filled. “Grassley said he was not advocating for a change at the Justice Department but simply responding to questions about timing,” Devlin Barrett, John Wagner and Seung Min Kim report. “Asked whether he still has confidence in Sessions, Grassley said: ‘Let’s put it this way, he’s a good friend.’

.. “Part of the disenchantment stems from a growing rift between Grassley and Sessions over Grassley’s legislation to change criminal justice policy. Sessions, whose views on law enforcement are shaped largely by 1980s-era mandatory-minimum sentences and harsh penalties for drug dealers, came out against the measure earlier this year, saying it ‘risks putting the very worst criminals back into our communities.’ Grassley has been willing to work with Democrats on legislation that would reduce prison sentences for some nonviolent drug offenders. He was furious that Sessions opposed his bill, one of his biggest legislative priorities… ‘It’s Grassley’s bill, and when the attorney general said he wouldn’t support it, Grassley said that was disloyal,’ said a person close to Sessions. ‘But … the attorney general isn’t going to be blackmailed.’”

Fresh Air Weekend: Trump And Fox News; The Science Behind Fish Oil Supplements

Journalist Sees ‘Almost No Daylight’ Between Fox News And White House Agendas: Vanity Fair‘s Gabriel Sherman says the president and Fox News host Sean Hannity “speak almost daily, after Hannity’s show, sometimes before, and sometimes for up to an hour a day.”

.. Bill Shine for 20 years was Roger Ailes’ his closest deputy and executive. And Bill Shine has been named in numerous lawsuits that he had direct knowledge of sexual harassment claims filed by Fox News women against Roger Ailes and other senior employees at the network. And these credible allegations are that he not only covered up these allegations, but in some cases enabled them.

And one of the most disturbing that comes to mind is a story that I reported in 2016 for New York magazine about the case of former Fox News Booker Laurie Luhn, who for years had a sexually and psychologically abusive relationship with Roger Ailes. And as Roger Ailes’ deputy, it was Bill Shine’s job to keep tabs on Laurie Luhn and prevent her from going public with these allegations that Ailes had abused her and blackmailed her into a sexual relationship. And I reported it. And it was – perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the story was that Bill Shine arranged for her to be committed to a psychiatric institution when she had a nervous breakdown because Roger Ailes was worried about her going public.

.. And Laurie Luhn alleged in our interviews that Bill Shine was also involved in monitoring her emails and her communications – again, very cult-like to prevent her from speaking to outsiders. So circling back to your question, it’s – to me, it’s mind boggling that someone with this amount of baggage who was too toxic for an institution like Fox News, which has sort of become a shorthand for a toxic company, would become one of the highest-ranking members of the federal government.

GROSS: Were there other employees of former employees of Fox News that alleged that Bill Shine monitored their emails?

SHERMAN: Well, I can’t speak for other employees. I don’t have other instances. I mean, I do know that it was company practice that all company emails were recorded, and Roger Ailes could request the legal department to look at them. So it’s highly likely that Bill Shine was looking at other emails. And I knew – I have direct reporting that indicates Bill Shine participated in Roger Ailes’ use of private investigators to track reporters, including myself, who are writing critically about Fox News.v

.. GROSS: The head of the group Judicial Watch is calling for prosecutors to investigate Bill Shine’s role in the sexual harassment cover-up at Fox News. What have you heard about that?

.. federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York opened an investigation into whether Roger Ailes and other Fox News executives used public company money – because Fox News is owned by 21st Century Fox. It’s a publicly-traded company. And prosecutors in the FBI wanted to know whether they used public company money to help pay off women into these private settlements and use private investigators and other dirty tricks to cover up this widespread culture of harassment.

.. it’s impossible to have a conversation about Bill Shine and Donald Trump without really exploring Sean Hannity’s role in becoming the de facto chief of staff of this White House and probably the most powerful political commentator in recent memory.

.. Sean Hannity was almost left for dead during the Obama years. His ratings were in decline. His show was moved from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., a less desirable hour.

.. Stormy Daniels, Summer Zervos – those suits are making their way through the courts.

..  I’ve been really struck by the parallels between the cultures of the two organizations. And in many ways, Bill Shine has gone from working for a megalomaniacal boss in Roger Ailes to going to working for the current president of the United States, Donald Trump. And they are very similar personalities.

..  I think Bill Shine has a lot to offer Donald Trump because of his experience helping Roger Ailes navigate a cascade of sexual harassment allegations, and not only allegations against Roger Ailes but other high-profile members at Fox News. So I think Bill Shine has a tool kit. He knows how these scandals have been weathered in the past. And it seems to reason that he can be part of Donald Trump’s war room when he has to deal with these in the future.

.. GROSS: At the same time, you can argue that if President Trump is accused of sexual harassment, as he has been, it’s not a good look to hire somebody who is accused of enabling a climate of sexual harassment.

SHERMAN: I think that’s true if you’re applying kind of the norms and logic that have governed politicians in the past. I think with Donald Trump, it’s an entirely different playbook. And I think a way of example of looking at that is looking at Donald Trump’s support for Judge Roy Moore

.. And the truth is that people around the president say that his only way to survive the sexual harassment allegations is to double down himself – to actually run towards the scandal, not away from it. And we’re actually seeing that playing out in recent days with his unabashed support for Congressman Jim Jordan who has been credibly accused of at least being aware of sexual abuse at Ohio State University and not doing anything to address it.

With Comey Interview, It’s All-Out War Against Trump

If there was any chance that President Trump and James B. Comey could avoid all-out war, it will end Sunday night.

That is when ABC News will broadcast an hourlong interview with Mr. Comey, the president’s fired F.B.I. director, as he seeks to publicize his searing tell-all memoir, “A Higher Loyalty.”

.. He calls Mr. Trump unethical and says he is a serial liar who could be vulnerable to blackmail by the Russian government. He compares the president to a mafia boss and says his tenure has been like a forest fire that is incinerating the country’s important norms and traditions.

“Donald Trump’s presidency threatens much of what is good in this nation,” Mr. Comey writes in the book.

The interview with Mr. Comey and the weekslong media blitz he plans for his book amount to a remarkable public assault on a sitting president by someone who served at the highest levels of power in the government.

.. Mr. Trump’s legal fate, as well as his political fortunes in Washington, may depend on whether he succeeds in undermining the credibility of Mr. Comey and the law enforcement institutions he views as arrayed against him.

.. Mr. Comey’s liberation is all the more combustible because it is aimed directly at a president who has said with pride on Twitter that “when someone attacks me, I always attack back…except 100x more.”

.. Mr. Trump called Mr. Comey a “slimeball” for the second time in three days, saying in a pair of early-morning tweets that he belongs in jail for what the president said were lies to Congress and leaks of classified information.

.. It is unclear where the epic battle of wills will lead, other than to a sustained escalation of insults between two men who have each admitted to having outsize egos.

.. It is unclear where the epic battle of wills will lead, other than to a sustained escalation of insults between two men who have each admitted to having outsize egos.

.. Mr. Comey says in the interview that Mr. Trump and his aides seemed interested only in what the former F.B.I. director called the “P.R. and spin” about the issue.

“The conversation, to my surprise, moved into a P.R. conversation about how the Trump team would position this and what they could say about this,” Mr. Comey said in a preview of the interview that aired on Sunday morning. “No one, to my recollection, asked: ‘So what’s coming next from the Russians? How might we stop it? What’s the future look like?’”

.. Mr. Comey said the president also raised the idea that the F.B.I. should investigate the claim as a way of proving that it never happened. Mr. Comey said he warned Mr. Trump that doing so would add to “the narrative” that the president was under investigation.

.. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the press secretary, unloaded on Mr. Comey, calling him a “self-admitted leaker” and a liar.

Why I left Fox News

Today’s Fox prime-time lineup preaches paranoia, attacking processes and institutions vital to our republic and challenging the rule of law.

.. I took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution.” In moral and ethical terms, that oath never expires. As Fox’s assault on our constitutional order intensified, spearheaded by its after-dinner demagogues, I had no choice but to leave.

.. I increasingly was blocked from speaking on the issues about which I could offer real expertise: Russian affairs and our intelligence community. I did not hide my views at Fox and, as word spread that I would not unswervingly support President Trump and, worse, that I believed an investigation into Russian interference was essential to our national security, I was excluded from segments that touched on Vladimir Putin’s possible influence on an American president, his campaign or his administration.

.. I was the one person on the Fox payroll who, trained in Russian studies and the Russian language, had been face to face with Russian intelligence officers in the Kremlin and in far-flung provinces. I have traveled widely in and written extensively about the region. Yet I could only rarely and briefly comment on the paramount security question of our time: whether Putin and his security services ensnared the man who would become our president.

.. Trump’s behavior patterns and evident weaknesses (financial entanglements, lack of self-control and sense of sexual entitlement) would have made him an ideal blackmail target — and the Russian security apparatus plays a long game.

.. Fox never tried to put words in my mouth, nor was I told explicitly that I was taboo on Trump-Putin matters. I simply was no longer called on for topics central to my expertise. I was relegated to Groundhog Day analysis of North Korea and the Middle East, or to Russia-related news that didn’t touch the administration. Listening to political hacks with no knowledge of things Russian tell the vast Fox audience that the special counsel’s investigation was a “witch hunt,” while I could not respond, became too much to bear. There is indeed a witch hunt, and it’s led by Fox against Robert Mueller.

.. I must stress that there are many honorable and talented professionals at the Fox channels, superb reporters, some gutsy hosts, and adept technicians and staff. But Trump idolaters and the merrily hypocritical prime-time hosts are destroying the network — no matter how profitable it may remain