Ed Rollins: Trump’s pick of Mulvaney as acting chief of staff is a wise choice

In the midst of a week that future historians may say has been President Trump’s most difficult, the president made a wise choice in selecting Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to be his acting chief of staff. Both the president and our nation will benefit by this appointment. Mulvaney comes prepared and is no apprentice. He … Continue reading “Ed Rollins: Trump’s pick of Mulvaney as acting chief of staff is a wise choice”

In the midst of a week that future historians may say has been President Trump’s most difficult, the president made a wise choice in selecting Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to be his acting chief of staff. Both the president and our nation will benefit by this appointment.

Mulvaney comes prepared and is no apprentice. He is a master craftsman who has learned the ropes as member of Congress and in handling one of the most complicated jobs in government.

The incoming acting chief of staff knows more about the policy and budget decisions of the Trump administration than anyone else. And Mulvaney’s experience serving in the House as a Republican representing South Carolina for six years gives him an understanding of politics and how Congress works.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who is eager to escape the madness of the White House and the Oval Office, will stay on until the end of this month.

When Mulvaney takes over he will create the least disruption in a place that needs stability and direction as it faces crisis after crisis ahead.

After sifting through a cadre of candidates to be his new chief of staff – some qualified and some eminently unqualified – the president chose the person who has the best chance to go the distance.

The “acting” title for the incoming chief of staff is irrelevant. Everyone serving in the hierarchy of a White House serves at the pleasure of the president.

The success or failure of Mulvaney depends on how he helps the president do his job.

Mulvaney has watched two able men – Kelly and Reince Priebus – fail at the chief of staff’s job over the last two years, not because they weren't skilled, but because of the chaos surrounding President Trump's management style.

Mulvaney knows going in what will work and what won't. He's not going to change this president and shouldn't try.

Equally important, Mulvaney understands the power to disrupt wielded by the dynamic duo of first daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, who both worked very hard to undo Kelly and Priebus before him.

While Ivanka Trump and Kushner are White House staff, they don't think or operate like White House staff and they won't be managed or controlled. Knowing that going in, Mulvaney needs to make allies of both and let them contribute and deal with the president as he and they desire.

Mulvaney knows going in what will work and what won’t. He’s not going to change this president and shouldn’t try. 

The other advantage Mulvaney brings to the table is that he is already in the White House. All he has to do is change seats at the Cabinet room and move into the chief of staff’s office. He knows what works. He knows the players. He knows the president’s style. He knows how the president functions. He knows what the president likes and dislikes.

All of this is important as President Trump moves into the most difficult time of his term in office. Fighting off the investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, dealing with the Democrats controlling the House with subpoena power starting in January, and gearing up for a re-election campaign won't be easy. The president will need all the skills of his chief of staff and everyone else in the White House.

Most citizens don't know the role of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that Mulvaney heads. It is the organization that oversees all elements of the executive branch of government for the president.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Mulvaney is not resigning as OMB director. Instead, she said Mulvaney’s deputy, Russell Vought, “will handle day to day operations and run OMB.”

The OMB is extraordinarily powerful, because it manages the money and the policy of agencies controlled by the president. It tells agencies what they can do or not do, and makes them coordinate with other agencies in the executive branch. It controls all spending, all regulation, all testimony to the Congress, and really runs things for the president.

As a result, the OMB director holds one of the most important Cabinet positions. Several former directors have moved up to be very effective White House chiefs of staff under both Republican and Democratic presidents, including Leon Panetta (for President Clinton), Jack Lew (for President Obama),  and Josh Bolten (for President George W. Bush).

None of the OMB directors who became White House chief of staff failed to do the job well. My sense is that Mick Mulvaney will not fail either. If President Trump lets him do the job and sees him as the key staff leader he needs, the turbulent times ahead won't go away, but a steady and will be on the wheel.

Ed Rollins joined Fox News Channel as a contributor in 2011. Throughout his career, Rollins has served in the administrations of and advised, four United States Presidents. He was the Assistant to the President in charge of the White House Office of Political Affairs and the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and deputy chief of staff during the Reagan administration.

Cohen lacks ‘specifics’ and credibility on Trump hush-money allegations: Mollie Hemingway

The president’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen's interview on Friday did little to support his claims that Trump directed him to make hush-money payments, The Federalist senior editor Mollie Hemingway said on the “Special Report” All-Star Panel.

During an interview with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos, Cohen said Trump directed him to make payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal in exchange for silence about alleged sexual encounters, despite being aware that it was wrong and for the purpose of protecting his campaign.

But Hemingway claimed there’s no apparent evidence to back up these claims and that Cohen’s credibility has been repeatedly called into question during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York’s criminal investigation.

“There are a lot of ways that you can make settlements and sign nondisclosure agreements that are in no way a campaign finance violation. It would require a pretty specific set of circumstances to convince anyone that it actually is a legitimate campaign finance violation, for some reason he wasn’t asked about that,” she said.


“I think if you have Michael Cohen there to answer any questions you have, you might ask for some specifics. It was all very nebulous,” Hemingway added.

National Security Analyst Moran Ortagus agreed that Cohen has done little to substantiate his claims, adding that his guilty pleas have not been “litigated” in court in regards to the campaign finance allegations.

“It’s important to remember that he’s going to jail for financial crimes really. For tax fraud, for bank fraud and if you look at what the South District said about his credibility it’s very different than what the Mueller team has said and alleged.”


But Washington Bureau Chief at USA Today Susan Page argued that even without specifics, Cohen’s claims are “troubling” for Trump as he lays out the three things needed to be true to qualify the then-candidate’s actions as a violation of campaign finance laws.

“What you heard in that interview, without specifics, are three key points that are very troubling for president Trump. One, Michael Cohen says he directed these payments. Number two, he knew they were illegal. Number three, it was for the purposes of affecting the campaign.”

Page said she believed investigators likely asked Cohen the specifics that many are still searching for but acknowledged  that he does face “credibility problems.”

Paulina Dedaj is a writer/ reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter @PaulinaDedaj.

Trump’s tough stand on China trade will benefit America and the world

For a full generation now, Americans have engaged in the annual pastime of bemoaning the number of gifts under the Christmas tree made in China, our greatest foreign trade adversary.

Did Santa relocate to Beijing and fail to let us know?

The overabundance of products we import from China – many using American technology – over the past several decades has led to factory closures that have wiped out the jobs of far too many hardworking Americans.

In fact, the liberal Economic Policy Institute estimates that Americans lost 3.4 million jobs between 2001 and 2015 due our trade deficit with China.

China’s aggressive rise should certainly be a matter of concern to every country seeking to preserve its sovereignty and ensure its economic survival.

Under President Trump, the United States has finally recognized the comprehensiveness of the challenge from China and is taking action on a number of fronts at the same time. The going is difficult, because China has such a head start – but at least we’re fighting now.

President Trump understands that China aspires to become a regional hegemon, and that it is accumulating vast wealth and power through illicit tactics: economic aggression, military coercion, and the corruption and subversion of the governing process in other countries.  

China’s carefully engineered export economy has fueled its ascent to prominence. For decades, Beijing has used protectionist economic policies and aggressive trade tactics to make its manufactured goods more competitive in foreign markets, growing China’s economy at the expense of its trade partners.

By strategically imposing tariffs and non-tariff barriers on foreign goods, for instance, China has been able to shield its domestic producers from the economic uncertainties of direct competition.

Similarly, Beijing forces foreign firms to start joint ventures with Chinese companies and requires technology transfers as a condition of doing business in China – all in violation of its commitments and obligations under the international trade regime.

The resulting economic growth has allowed Beijing to increase military spending by double digits or high single digits for over 20 years in a row. That in turn supports China’s aggressive foreign policy – such as its action to build and militarize islands in the South China Sea, in violation of international law.

For decades, American presidents made sincere – if naïve – efforts to bring China into the international trading community on an equal footing with other nations.

President’s Clinton’s policy was one of friendly “engagement” with China.

President George W.  Bush worked to admit China to the World Trade Organization, thinking that membership in that organization would force the Chinese regime to liberalize its economic and domestic policy. Unfortunately, the World Trade Organization hasn’t changed China; instead, China has subverted the World Trade Organization.

President Obama, to his credit, attempted to counter China’s regional aggression with his “Pivot to Asia” policy. But that initiative proved to be a failure. Obama’s response to China’s illicit economic tactics was fitful and ineffective.

President Trump, by contrast, has initiated a vigorous campaign to compete with China on a number of fronts, and it’s having an impact.

According to a recent study from a network of European Union researchers, China is bearing the brunt of the costs from President Trump’s 25 percent tariff on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods. U.S. companies and consumers are paying a little less than one-fifth of the total burden, while the Chinese economy absorbs the rest.

“Chinese firms pay approximately 75 percent of the tariff burden and the tariffs decrease Chinese exports of affected goods to the United States by around 37 percent,” the researchers explain. “This implies that the bilateral trade deficit between the US and China drops by 17 percent.”

That is language Beijing understands. China is finally being forced to confront an American president who is willing to use all the tools of national influence to impose costs for Chinese aggression.

This is one of President Trump’s greatest accomplishments. In just two years, he has fully engaged the United States in the national competition with America’s economically strongest adversary. He’s even quietly assembled bipartisan support for the effort.

It’s important that Americans not overreact to the challenges of dealing with China. That’s why it’s so unfortunate that Wall Street has an exaggerated view of the potential impact of the new tariff policy on the U.S. economy.

After all, we sell only $130 billion in goods to China annually. That’s about one-half of 1 percent of our $21 trillion economy – close to a rounding error.

Even adding in the $506 billion in goods we import from China, our current total two-way trade with that nation equals only about 2.5 percent of our gross domestic product.

This helps explain why our economy is experiencing very healthy growth while China’s is beginning to decline. Frankly, the investors and analysts on Wall Street need to wake up and smell the coffee.

The great threat to free trade comes from Beijing – not Washington. China is actively attempting to subvert the international economy.

President Trump needs the support of the business community, including the investment sector, in his efforts to stop the Chinese.

This competition could last for a long time, but Americans should be confident of success. In the economic domain, the United States is stronger than China.

We’re fortunate that President Trump has galvanized American efforts to protect our own economy and the interest of the whole world in a free and fair trading system.

As a result of our president’s trade policies, we can look forward to a lot fewer Chinese-made gifts under the tree in the years ahead, and a lot more gifts that are made in America by American workers.

Jim Talent represented Missouri in the U.S. House and Senate as a Republican. He is a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. The views he expresses here are his own.

Andy Puzder was chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants for more than 16 years, following a career as an attorney. He was nominated by President Trump to serve as U.S. labor secretary. In 2011, Puzder co-authored “Job Creation: How It Really Works and Why Government Doesn’t Understand It.” His latest book is “The Capitalist Comeback: The Trump Boom and the Left’s Plot to Stop It” (Center Street, April 24, 2018).

Newt Gingrich: Mueller probe has gone from a witch hunt to an inquisition of Trump and allies

As the media clamor to cover each nugget of information that comes out of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into allegations of so-called “collusion” between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia, it’s becoming clearer just how brutal the Mueller team’s tactics are.

In many ways, the investigation has moved from being a Washington witch hunt vaguely concerning Russia to being a political inquisition of President Trump and his allies. All pretense of truth and justice has been dropped.

Consider what Mueller and his team have done to Paul Manafort, who briefly served as chairman of the Trump presidential campaign.

After an early morning FBI raid in July 2017 that left Manafort and his wife watching armed agents ransack their home as the couple were in their pajamas, the charges that were ultimately brought against Manafort in October last year had nothing to do with Russia or the 2016 election.

The charges all involved financial crimes related to Manafort’s own business endeavors. But that didn’t matter to Mueller – or the media. Mueller still interrogated Manafort more than a dozen times.


Manafort eventually signed a plea deal with Mueller – after being kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. Now Mueller and his team are attempting to renege on Manafort’s plea agreement, saying Manafort didn’t fully cooperate in their so-called Russia investigation – although they won’t say how he was supposedly uncooperative.

Then, look at Mueller’s tactics against retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser.

After hours of interviews that apparently produced no smoking gun evidence that there was any collusion between President Trump’s campaign and Russia, Mueller charged Flynn with making false statements during the interviews – and he threatened to go after Flynn’s son to elicit a plea agreement.

What parent wouldn’t accept a baloney plea deal to save his child from an unfettered, politically motivated federal investigation?

Now President Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, has been sentenced to three years in prison for supposed campaign finance violations related to payments he made to women who claimed to have had affairs with President Trump well before 2016. The president has denied their claims.

However, former Federal Election Commission member Hans von Spakovsky has pointed out in op-eds for Fox News and for The Daily Signal that legal precedent and statutory language indicate the transactions were not illegal under the Federal Election Campaign Act.

Moreover, Cohen was sentenced two months of his three-year prison term for misleading congressional committees about a one-time nascent Trump Organization business proposal that never got off the ground.

Cohen is now showing one of his many faces and is doing and saying whatever Mueller wants in the hopes he can reduce his prison sentence.

Again, after months of interrogations, raids, threats, and more than 30 people and three companies indicted, there’s no evidence of any collusion by the Trump campaign with Russia to win the election. Yet, as I wrote in my New York Times best-selling book “Understanding Trump and Trump’s America,” Mueller and his team are determined to get whoever they can for whatever they can.

And these examples are only part of a larger pattern carried out by the Department of Justice. Consider the case against Maria Butina, a 30-year-old Russian national. She is accused of conspiracy and breaking Section 951 – or “espionage-lite” – for attempting to build relationships with Republicans to improve U.S.-Russia relations.

Since being locked up in July, Butina has been kept mostly in solitary confinement and has not been given any clear explanation as to why. She broke this week and signed a plea agreement.

The charges against Butina carry an estimated sentence of up to six months in jail, as reported by The Daily Beast citing Butina’s plea agreement.

While Butina was not prosecuted by Mueller’s team, as a part of her agreement she’s pledged to assist law enforcement “in any and all to matters as to which the Government deems this cooperation relevant.” Butina has clearly been targeted in Mueller’s inquisition.

Mueller should be forced to release all 70 hours of his interviews with Cohen, so the American people can see how this inquisition is operating.

Americans should be able to know whether and how often Mueller and his team threatened or blackmailed Cohen. We should be able to know how many different versions of the story Cohen told them – and how Mueller determined which stories were more useful than others.

Members of the Mueller team simply interrogated and intimidated Cohen until he broke and said what they wanted him to say – and that happened to take upwards of 70 hours. Make no mistake, this is not an investigation. It’s an inquisition.

These types of tactics are exactly what former Justice Department attorney Sidney Powell wrote about in her best-selling book “Licensed to Lie: Exposing Corruption in the Department of Justice.” Every American should read it to fully understand just how sick the system has become.

If we had any sense of equal justice, fired FBI Director James Comey, President Clinton and Hillary Clinton – and their efforts to influence the 2016 election – should be facing investigations of their own.

Mueller and his team feel empowered and emboldened to act on behalf of the establishment in Washington – and they are working to purge President Trump by any means necessary.

Newt Gingrich is a Fox News contributor. A Republican, he was speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. Follow him on Twitter @NewtGingrich. His latest book is “Trump’s America: The Truth About Our Nation’s Great Comeback.”

Mick Mulvaney to replace John Kelly as ‘acting’ chief of staff, Trump says

President Trump on Friday named White House budget director Mick Mulvaney as his new acting chief of staff, saying the former South Carolina Republican congressman will replace John Kelly as his top aide.

“I am pleased to announce that Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management & Budget, will be named Acting White House Chief of Staff, replacing General John Kelly, who has served our Country with distinction,” Trump tweeted. “Mick has done an outstanding job while in the Administration. I look forward to working with him in this new capacity as we continue to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

The president said Kelly, who recently announced plans to leave the White House, will stay through 2018.

“John will be staying until the end of the year,” Trump tweeted. “He is a GREAT PATRIOT and I want to personally thank him for his service!”

The president did not say why Mulvaney will serve in an “acting” capacity.

Mulvaney, who served in Congress before joining the Trump administration, also served as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau while simultaneously running the White House budget office.

In a tweet, Mulvaney said, "This is a tremendous honor. I look forward to working with the President and the entire team. It’s going to be a great 2019!"

A senior administration official cited Mulvaney's experience as a "former member of Congress" and said Trump picked him because he and the president “get along.” 
"He knows Congress. He knows Capitol Hill," the official said of Mulvaney.

The official said Russ Vought, Mulvaney’s current deputy at OMB, will take over for Mulvaney in the budget office while Mulvaney serves in the chief of staff office. The official said there is “no time table” for how long Mulvaney will serve in an “acting” capacity.

Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and a White House adviser, praised Mulvaney, while thanking Kelly for his service.

“Congratulations Director Mulvaney!!” Ivanka Trump tweeted. “You will undoubtedly continue to inspire and impress in this new role just as you have at OMB. Thank you General Kelly for almost 2 years of leadership in this Administration and for a lifetime of service to our great nation!”

Earlier Friday, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie withdrew from consideration to serve as chief of staff.

“It’s an honor to have the president consider me as he looks to choose a new White House chief of staff,” Christie said in a statement. “However, I’ve told the president that now is not the right time for me or my family to undertake this serious assignment. As a result, I have asked him to no longer keep me in any of his considerations for this post.”

Before announcing Mulvaney, Trump seemed to struggle to get several contenders to commit to the job: Vice President Pence's chief of staff, Nick Ayers, had been originally thought to be a top choice for the president, but he withdrew from consideration.


North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican ally of Trump on Capitol Hill, had expressed interest in the job, but the White House said the president wanted him to remain in Congress.

But in a tweet Friday night, Trump said, "For the record, there were MANY people who wanted to be the White House Chief of Staff. Mick M will do a GREAT job!"

In an interview with Fox News' Harris Faulkner on "Outnumbered Overtime" on Thursday, the president discussed his search for Kelly's replacement and said he wants “somebody that's strong but I want somebody that thinks like I do.”

Fox News’ Kristin Brown and Matt Leach contributed to this report.

Alex Pappas is a politics reporter at FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexPappas.

Trump impeachment calls ‘deliciously ironic’ from Dems who defended Clinton: Eli Lake

While some Democrats are cautiously weighing impeachment proceedings for President Trump on a wide range of accusations, alleged campaign-finance violations likely won’t be the driving force, Bloomberg opinion columnist Eli Lake said Thursday night on the "Special Report" All-Star Panel.

Trump has denied allegations he violated campaign-finance laws by directing his former attorney Michael Cohen to make hidden, third-party payments ahead of the 2016 presidential election to women who allegedly had trysts with Trump years ago.

Lake said such a push from Democrats likely would backfire considering the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton. “It’ll be deliciously ironic because, of course, many Democrats defended Bill Clinton when he was impeached for lying about sex – in a different matter, in a civil court case, but the echo here is just too much.”

Clinton was impeached in 1998 for perjury and obstruction of justice regarding his relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

The Bloomberg columnist also said if Democrats feel they have a case to impeach, it would be on the back of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged collusion with Russia:

“I don’t think this is going to be what you can impeach him for. For two years we’ve been talking about collusion with Russia. [The campaign-finance controversy] is not that and I think it’s going to be very difficult to make the political case beyond the hardcore partisans of the Democratic party.”


RealClearPolitics co-founder and publisher Tom Bevan agreed it was a “political matter” more than anything else and that impeachment based off alleged campaign-finance violations was not likely. “Unless you can get the votes to remove and convict in the Senate, which isn’t going to happen with Republicans controlling that chamber — unless there’s mass defections, this is just going to be an exercise in politics.”


However, Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano disagreed:

“If you engage in sophisticated, deceptive subterfuge in order to hide the payments as something that it's not, to make it look like it was payments to a vendor rather than payments to somebody who's going to say something negative that might impact the campaign, that turns it into criminal.”

The panel also discussed a recent report from The Wall Street Journal that revealed a criminal investigation into the Trump 2017 inaugural committee over possible misspent funds.


“It is not uncommon for people to make contributions expecting a photograph,” Napolitano said. “But, if there were decisions made by officials in the White House, by the president or anyone under him as a quid pro quo for some of these enormous contributions, that’s apparently what they’re looking at.”

The report points to a recorded conversation between Cohen and a member of the transition team that led to the spending suspicions.

Fox News’ Bret Baier contributed to this report.

Paulina Dedaj is a writer/ reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter @PaulinaDedaj.

Former FEC commissioners: Trump-Cohen ‘hush’ payments not necessarily a violation

Michael Cohen's guilty plea and subsequent sentencing for campaign-finance violations and other crimes revived speculation about President Trump's potential legal exposure – but some former Federal Election Commission members say neither of them necessarily committed a violation with hush-money payments to purported Trump paramours.

The salacious details of those payments, which have steadily come to light in the course of two investigations into Cohen and in turn compelled Trump to acknowledge his involvement, speak to somewhat of a grey area in campaign-finance law.

Top Democrats in recent days have suggested the violations amount to an “impeachable offense” and could even merit future prosecution. According to Cohen, Trump ordered him to make payments to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels going into the 2016 presidential campaign.


But Trump said in an interview with Fox News’ Harris Faulkner on “Outnumbered Overtime” that the Cohen payments were “not a campaign finance violation.” He has previously tweeted that they were a “simple private transaction.”

"What he did was all unrelated to me except for the two campaign finance charges that are not criminal and shouldn't have been on there," Trump said of Cohen and the campaign-finance charges. "They put that on to embarrass me."

Some former FEC commissioners agree. Hans von Spakovsky — who served on the FEC between 2006 and 2008 — told Fox News there would have been a lot of pressure for Cohen to plead guilty due to the more serious financial charges he was facing related to his business dealings.

But he argued the purpose and origin of the payments could be in dispute, and that's what determines whether a campaign-finance violation was committed.

“The blackmail threat by Daniels and McDougal to reveal their claims would exist whether or not Trump was running for office. He was a well-known celebrity, and celebrities face these claims all the time,” he said.

The crux of the debate comes down to whether the payments, allegedly amounting to contributions in excess of legal limits, were campaign-related and “for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal Office” as the Federal Election Campaign Act says.

Cohen told ABC News that Trump was specifically concerned their allegations “would affect the election.”

But Spakovsky argued that Trump’s high profile before the election makes that difficult to prove.


In an op-ed for FoxNews.com, Spakovsky pointed to the campaign-finance charges against former Sen. John Edwards, who had supporters pay his mistress to keep quiet with campaign funds during a Democratic presidential bid. The charges against Edwards eventually were dismissed.

"Convicting Donald Trump of a criminal campaign finance violation will be extremely difficult, if not impossible," he wrote. "Just as Edwards was found not guilty, the same is likely to happen to President Trump if he is charged while he is president or after he leaves the White House."


On the question of whether it would be impeachable, he noted that other violations — such as one involving former President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign — were only pursued as a civil matter:

"As for the claim the hush-money payments would be an impeachable offense, members of Congress would have to explain why prior cases in which campaigns like that of Barack Obama paid civil penalties to the Federal Election Commission for violations of federal campaign finance law were not grounds for impeachment."

Bradley Smith, a former FEC chairman from 2000-2005, said it was a “relatively easy case” to argue that Trump and Cohen did not commit a campaign-finance violation. He argued that prosecutors should have to prove the payment was only made in connection with his presidential run.

“Even if it was intended to have some influence on the campaign, that’s not the standard,” he told Fox News. “The standard is: ‘Does the obligation exist because you’re running for office?’”

In an article for National Review, Smith wrote that the law defines personal use, rather than campaign use, as spending “used to fulfill any commitment, obligation, or expense of a person that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s election campaign.”

"Mr. Trump’s alleged decade-old affairs occurred long before he became a candidate for president and were not caused by his run for president," he wrote. "Renting campaign office space, printing bumper stickers and yard signs, hiring campaign staff, paying for polling, and buying broadcast ads are all obligations that exist for the purpose of influencing an election. Paying hush money to silence allegations of decade-old affairs is not."

However, other FEC commissioners see it differently. Former FEC Chairman Trevor Potter said there was evidence to suggest the payment was about influencing the election at a crucial moment when the Trump campaign was at its rockiest.

“Had it not been for the campaign, the evidence strongly suggests that Daniels would never have been paid,” he argued in The Washington Post.

He also wrote that it makes no difference that Trump reimbursed Cohen.


“That would just make Cohen’s payment a loan to the Trump campaign. And federal law treats a loan to a campaign as a contribution, subject to contribution limits and disclosure requirements,” he wrote.

Further, Cohen’s adviser Lanny Davis told Fox News' "America's Newsroom" on Thursday that Cohen knew it was illegal at the time and the payments were about the election.

“He said to the prosecutors ‘yes, I knew it was about the election, that’s what we talked about,’” he said.

Davis said in a separate, written statement: "Michael Cohen, former attorney to Donald Trump, continues to tell the truth about Donald Trump’s misconduct over the years. … Mr. Trump’s repeated lies cannot contradict stubborn facts."

Adam Shaw is a reporter covering U.S. and European politics for Fox News.. He can be reached here.

Chris Christie, Trump meet to discuss chief of staff job, report says

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and President Trump had a face-to-face meeting in Washington on Thursday to discuss the possibility of Christie replacing John Kelly as White House chief of staff, a report said.

Trump called Christie a “top contender” for the role, a source told Axios.

“He’s tough; he’s an attorney; he’s politically savvy, and one of Trump’s early supporters," the source added, referring to Christie, 56, who is also a former federal prosecutor.

Christie endorsed Trump after dropping out of the 2016 presidential campaign and also oversaw the transition process before the president took office.


A longtime friend of the president’s, Christie’s name was floated earlier this week as several rumors surfaced as to who could potentially replace Kelly.

“I am in the process of interviewing some really great people for the position of White House Chief of Staff,” Trump wrote Sunday in a tweet. “Fake News has been saying with certainty it was Nick Ayers, a spectacular person who will always be with our [Make America Great Again] agenda. I will be making a decision soon!”

But their relationship has been complicated by the fact that Christie, while a U.S. attorney in New Jersey from 2002 to 2008, convinced real estate developer Charles Kushner to accept a plea deal on corruption charges in 2004. Kushner, now 64, is the father of the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

The younger Kushner, who is married to Trump's daughter Ivanka and is already a White House adviser, met with the president on Wednesday to talk about his own candidacy for the chief of staff job, the Huffington Post first reported.

Christie’s name has previously come up as a possible attorney general before the president said last week that he will nominate William Barr, who led the Justice Department under former President George H.W. Bush.

Christie served two terms as governor of New Jersey, from January 2010 to January 2018. He left the office because of the state's term-limit laws.

National Enquirer’s plea deal badly hurts tabloid – and potentially Trump

At first, executives at the National Enquirer's parent company didn't regard the mess surrounding its payment to a woman alleging an affair with President Trump as that big a deal.

Publicly, the company insisted that ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal was paid $150,000 — which included the rights to her life story —to appear on a couple of magazine covers and write a fitness column. It was not, they insisted, to buy and bury a story that could hurt Trump, a close pal of David Pecker, who runs the parent company American Media Inc.

But as the heat got turned up, I'm told, company executives went from contradicting themselves to remaining silent for a long period. As federal prosecutors in New York ramped up their investigation, these executives came to grips with the reality that they could be facing criminal penalties.

So they flipped. And they were rewarded on Wednesday with a deal that shielded Pecker, chief content officer Dylan Howard and AMI itself from prosecution.

But it did more than that, as some insiders see it. The deal essentially ensured that the Enquirer and its sister publications would survive, since an indictment of the company might have been a fatal blow.

In return, Pecker and his company agreed to cooperate with the U.S. attorney's investigation. And that cooperation, under the deal, is supposed to continue. But insiders believe the firm has little additional information to provide and say there is no mythical "safe" with dirty details on additional women.

The agreement was made public on the same day that Michael Cohen, who dealt with AMI on the McDougal mess, was sentenced to three years in prison, mainly for bank and tax fraud.

Prosecutors said in a statement that AMI has admitted buying McDougal's story to make sure she "did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate." What's more, contrary to its past denials, the company acknowledged it was trying to kill the story "to prevent it from influencing the election."

Cohen, according to prosecutors, planned to reimburse Pecker's company by cooking up a phony $125,000 fee to an outfit affiliated with AMI for "advisory" services. Pecker approved that arrangement, but later told Cohen to call it off and destroy the paperwork, the prosecutors said.

In an interview with Harris Faulkner yesterday, Trump said he didn't think his side made any payment to AMI. (That's true; see above.) The president went on to say that the payments to McDougal and Stormy Daniels are not campaign finance violations — or if they are a fine would be the usual punishment – and were put into Cohen's plea solely to "embarrass" him.

Under the previously secret deal — and this is new — AMI said it would train its staffers on election law and name a lawyer to review stories that involve paying for stories that might involve political candidates.

There has been a whole lot of analysis from the media and from Democrats that AMI's cooperation and Cohen's plea means the president, at least theoretically, could be charged with a crime. That very much remains to be seen, and politically, many people just see it as dissembling over sex.

But what about AMI's reputation? That's not a snide question, because the Enquirer has broken plenty of legitimate news over the years. That includes the case of John Edwards and his campaign mistress, which led to an unsuccessful prosecution against the former presidential candidate.

But the Enquirer has now been shown not only to be in the tank for Trump but to have actively tried to help get him elected by buying off women making accusations against him.

Doesn't even a supermarket tabloid have to do something to regain the trust of its readers?

Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of “MediaBuzz” (Sundays 11 a.m.). He also hosts the MediaBuzzmeter podcast and is the author of “Media Madness: Donald Trump, The Press and the War Over the Truth.” Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.

Turnover in Trump Cabinet, White House shows no sign of slowing amid new departures

President Trump has long promised to create jobs, and has consistently delivered – especially in his own White House and Cabinet, where rapid turnover is showing no signs of slowing down as 2018 comes to a close.

High-profile departures in the Trump administration – from former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Press Secretary Sean Spicer to fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (whom Trump recently characterized as "lazy as hell" and "dumb as a rock") — have attracted the most attention. They have contributed to what some analysts have called an unprecedented number of high-level Cabinet departures going back 100 years.

The most popular parlor game in Washington right now centers on who will replace outgoing Chief of Staff John Kelly.


"At some point, everybody leaves," Trump told  "60 Minutes" host Lesley Stahl in October. "Everybody. People leave. That's Washington."

But dozens of Executive Branch offices, both inside and outside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, have emptied and filled at historic rates, with and without fanfare. The exits have included unfriendly dismissals, voluntary moves to the private sector, and other resignations.

The headline-grabbing departures include two national security advisers — H.R. McMaster and Michael Flynn, who was booted for misleading the White House about conversations with the Russian ambassador and is now facing sentencing for lying to the FBI. John Bolton now runs the national security ship.

Before Kelly, former GOP chairman Reince Priebus also came and went at the helm of the White House operation. He has since dished on the drama inside the Oval Office in the book "The Gatekeepers."

"Take everything you've heard and multiply it by 50," Priebus said.

Within the Cabinet, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was the latest to be forced out, submitting his resignation the day after the midterms at the request of the president. Trump spent the last year publicly criticizing his DOJ leader for recusing himself in the Russia probe and opening the door to the special counsel investigation. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned over the summer amid numerous ethics scandals, replaced by Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin was pushed out amid his own ethics controversy. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley also is planning to leave, without controversy, and State Department official and former Fox News journalist Heather Nauert is Trump's pick to succeed her.

Within the White House, the National Security Council has been the scene of considerable turnover, and not just at the top.

Senior Director for Africa Robin Townley, for example, left the administration in early 2017 after the CIA refused to grant him an elite-level Sensitive Compartmented Information security clearance that he needed to serve on the National Security Council (NSC).

Ex-FBI assistant director: Comey a disgrace to the agency

Townley, a top deputy to Flynn, had long held a less selective top-secret security clearance related to his service as a Marine. Sources told Politico that Flynn and Townley viewed the rejection as a "hit job from inside the CIA on Flynn and the people close to him" because of Townley's critical views of the intelligence community.

Ezra Cohen-Watnick was reportedly forced out as a senior intelligence director at the NSC as well, for supposedly leaking information about so-called "unmasking" activities by Obama administration officials to California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. (“Unmasking” involves asking U.S. intelligence authorities to fill in the redacted names of U.S. citizens whose comments are caught up in intelligence agencies' foreign intelligence intercepts, which are routinely removed to protect their Fourth Amendment rights. Such revelations are supposed to be relatively rare, clearly justified and tightly controlled.)


Cohen-Watnick's attorney denied the allegations, saying that “he never showed the documents to Nunes," had never "met with Nunes" and had "nothing to do with Nunes.” Bloomberg reported that Trump personally directed the Department of Justice to hire Cohen-Watnick after the episode.

Several other relatively low-profile White House staffers who had key roles in major developments have also left their posts in the past two years. Keith Schiller, the president's longtime personal bodyguard who attracted scrutiny after being photographed accidentally exposing Defense Secretary James Mattis' phone number, has departed as director of Oval Office operations.

"At some point, everybody leaves.  Everybody. People leave. That’s Washington."

— President Trump

Schiller famously hand-delivered the notice of FBI Director James Comey's termination to FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. in May 2017 — but Comey was not there, and instead learned of his sudden firing from a television news report while in Los Angeles.

Also departed is White House Counsel Don McGahn, who oversaw not only the White House's response to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe, but also the contentious confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh amid a series of lurid and uncorroborated sexual misconduct allegations. McGahn, who left in October, has been replaced by Pat Cipollone.

In a rare interview, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner told Fox News' "Hannity" exclusively on Monday that Cipollone "is going to be fabulous."

White House counsel Don McGahn looks on as President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Marc Short, Trump's former legislative affairs director and a former high-level aide to Vice President Mike Pence, left the White House in July to consult and become a fellow at the University of Virginia's Miller Center School of Public Affairs. His appointment to the one-year fellowship prompted fierce, partisan backlash from students and faculty at UVA.


Short, who previously obtained his MBA from UVA, departed just as the confirmation battle over Kavanaugh was intensifying. His record as the White House's liaison to Capitol Hill staffers and politicians was largely seen as successful, even if some of the results he oversaw were mixed.

Although he helped ensure the passage of Trump's historic $1.5 trillion tax overhaul last year, Short was unable to push the president's longstanding effort to repeal ObamaCare over the finish line. That legislative measure — panned by Democrats and some Republicans for failing to offer a viable health care alternative — was defeated in a dramatic 11th-hour vote by the late Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain.

The White House tapped Shahira Knight, who had served on the White House's National Economic Council and played a major role in developing the tax legislation, to replace Short.

Melania Trump wanted deputy national security adviser fired

Other exits from the Trump orbit have been comparably ugly and unceremonious.

White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter was forced to resign earlier this year after two of his ex-wives came forward with domestic abuse allegations. Trump has reportedly expressed a desire to see Porter return to the White House at some point.

Former Deputy National Security adviser Mira Ricardel also lost her post last month after an unusual public spat with first lady Melania Trump. The Wall Street Journal reported in mid-November that Ricardel had clashed with the first lady's staff over seating arrangements on a plane during her October trip to Africa. The paper added that the first lady's office suspected Ricardel of leaking negative stories about the first lady and her staff.


Dr. Ronny Jackson, formerly Trump's personal physician and nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, is now neither after he was besieged by unproven and disputed allegations compiled by Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester’s office concerning his prescription-drug practices and use of alcohol. (Trump has bitterly feuded with Tester, the top Democrat on the Republican-controlled Senate Veteran Affairs Committee, ever since the episode.)

Trump tweets that Rex Tillerson is ‘dumb as a rock’

Perhaps the most storied and colorful departure was that of Anthony Scaramucci, who left as communications director after a mere 11 days on the job (or 10, depending how you count it). Trump confidant Hope Hicks assumed the job, then resigned early this year.

The flurry of departures from the White House has continued into 2018's final weeks. Pence Chief of Staff Nick Ayers announced Sunday he will leave the White House at the end of the year, leaving unclear who will replace Kelly, as Ayers was the favorite for that role.

White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway told Fox News on Tuesday that Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, might stay on briefly into the new year while the president finds a replacement.

For his part, Trump has clearly signaled that replacements for other roles are very likely coming up in the new year.

"Yeah, other people will go, sure," Trump told Stahl in the "60 Minutes" interview. "We have a great Cabinet. There are some people I'm not happy with. I have some people that I'm not thrilled with. And I have other people that I'm beyond thrilled with."

Gregg Re is an editor for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @gregg_re.