Steve Bannon to head Trump’s Russia war room of legal ‘A-Team,’ street fighters and surrogates – Fox News

Steve Bannon is not a lawyer, but the chief White House strategist is poised to become the senior partner in a heavyweight firm of bareknuckle barristers at the center of President Trump’s counter-offensive against Russia collusion claims.

Bannon, the former Breitbart executive whose no-holds-barred approach served Trump well in the homestretch of his presidential campaign, headed home from Trump’s foreign trip and is reportedly the quarterback of an emerging war room of high-powered lawyers, surrogates and researchers.

Their mission: Respond, rebut and refute bad press and legal issues emanating from the special counsel probe led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller into Russian influence on the 2016 election.

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Bannon relishes a good fight.

“Steve is super savvy dealing with the media and dealing with crises,” Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy told Axios.

While Bannon is poised to oversee the entire operation, the legal team being assembled is an eclectic roster of seasoned streetfighters and well-known litigators.

“A big legal team, even one with people with titanic reputations, can greatly benefit the person represented by that big team,” said former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy. “The Justice Department can throw endless resources at cases, so it makes a difference to be capable of matching them.”

Talks are still underway but Trump is reportedly leaning toward a well-rounded legal team as part of the overall strategy. Only the hiring of Trump’s long-time attorney Marc Kasowitz has been confirmed.

Others believed to be in the mix include a self-described 60s-era hippie close to Democrats, a conservative stalwart who has long known Mueller and former FBI Director James Comey, and two corporate “uberlitigators.”

Finalists are reportedly Theodore Olson, Reid Weingarten and Robert Giuffra. Olson would not confirm whether he is being considered for the Trump war room. “I’m not commenting one way or the other on this situation, at least for now,” he told Fox News. The others did not respond to requests for comment.

Olson and Weingarten have extensive high-level connections in Washington, albeit on opposite sides of the aisle. Giuffra, a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell in New York, is Volkswagen’s top attorney fending off lawsuits arising from the German automaker’s admission it cheated on diesel emissions tests in the U.S.

A room full of high-powered attorneys could bring risks along with reward, said John Quinn, the name partner in the Los Angeles firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. 

“I would be surprised that would be a choice getting serious consideration, to have a team consisting of attorneys who are all used to being leaders,” Quinn, who has known Kasowitz for decades, told Fox news. “I can’t imagine that would work out very well.”

Weingarten has called himself a “hard-core child of the 60s,” yet when the time came for retribution for the credit crisis, his close friendship with none other than President Obama’s former Attorney General Eric Holder, appeared to pay off. Holder’s DOJ announced it would not prosecute Goldman Sachs or disgraced former Goldman banker Jon Corzine, both represented by Weingarten, despite intense pressure from Obama’s left-wing base to pursue justice after the credit meltdown. 

About a decade before, the lawyer who once proclaimed his guiding principle was “to bring peace to this earth” represented executives from another era of financial scandal: WorldCom, Enron, Tyco, and Rite Aid. At the time, Weingarten reportedly said, “I feel like I’m in the French Revolution, defending the nobility against the howling mob. They want to guillotine these people without any evidence.”

Weingarten has employed a straightforward strategy for years with clients like Trump, say legal observers. He paints a picture of a misunderstood soul with basically good intentions who may have erred a bit but do not deserve draconian prosecution.

“These are all big-ego, extraordinarily successful people who find themselves dramatically at odds with Uncle Sam, because typically people don’t come to me unless the Justice Department wants to put them in prison for a long time and take all their money,” Weingarten said in 2015.

Olson is the attorney with perhaps the most dramatic tale to tell of Washington intrigue. Olson has much more than a passing acquaintance with both Mueller and Comey. The three were at the center of a crisis in March 2004 when Attorney General John Ashcroft was hospitalized, and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez wanted him to extend former President Bush’s warrantless surveillance program. Comey believed such an extension was illegal.

That precipitated one of the stranger moments in Washington history, when Comey jumped into a car with FBI agents and went on a high-speed pursuit to prevent Gonzalez from reaching Ashcroft before it was too late. Comey at the time was deputy attorney general.

They got to the hospital in a nick of time, to find Gonzalez and other White House officials just starting their meeting with Ashcroft at his hospital bed.

“I thought I just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man,” Comey later said in Congressional hearings.  It was a moment of incredible tension. Comey actually instructed his team of FBI agents to prevent the White House security detail from removing him from Ashcroft’s presence.

Comey’s first and second choices for support in the standoff: then FBI Director Robert Mueller and Ted Olson, who was Solicitor General.

“Mueller had been a great help to me that week,” Comey said.  After Ashcroft rejected the program, Comey jumped into a car with Olson and went straight to the White House to meet with the President.

The value of such close ties with the key players is questionable, say legal experts.

A longstanding professional relationship between Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Comey didn’t prevent Rosenstein from issuing a memo harshly critical of Comey’s handling of the Clinton emails. That memo was the rationale for Comey’s firing.

“Rosenstein probably hated writing the memo, but if you have to write the memo, you write the memo,” McCarthy said.

On the other hand, worries by Trump supporters that attorneys from the Washington establishment can’t be trusted to reliably represent the President are also probably unfounded, said McCarthy.

“I never worry about whether a guy of this caliber is going to do the right thing by his client,” McCarthy told Fox News, “the Washington bar is not a huge bar. These lawyers get along personally very well, and people at this level are pretty clinical about legal questions.”

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Gunmen kill at least 28 Coptic Christians in central Egypt – Washington Post

By Heba Farouk,

CAIRO — Militants in military-style uniforms opened fire on a bus carrying Coptic Christians in central Egypt on Friday, killing at least 28 people in the latest bloodshed targeting the country’s Christian minority, officials said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But the Islamic State has claimed links to previous attacks against Egypt’s Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population.

The attack also took place on the eve of Islam’s holy month of Ramadan, a time when some militant factions have stepped up attacks in the past.

The ambush — in the Minya region about 150 miles south of Cairo — underscored the increasing pressures on Egyptian forces as Islamist militants gain greater footholds around the country, undercutting Egypt’s vital tourism industry and forcing greater security for Coptic Christians and others targeted by militants.

The Minya governor, Maj. Gen. Essam el-Bedewey, said at least 28 people were killed and at least 25 were wounded when the attackers fired on the bus heading for the St. Samuel Monastery, one of several pilgrimage sites in an area that is home to a large portion of Egypt’s Christian population.

The Reuters news agency and other reports said children were among the dead.

[Palm Sunday bombings bring state of emergency]

A member of the region’s security department, Maj. Mohamed Abdel-Moneim, told reporters that about 10 men wearing military-style gear carried out the attack.

Last month, twin bomb blasts rocked churches in the Mediterranean port of Alexandria and the northern city of Tanta, leaving 44 dead and prompting Egypt’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, to declare a state of emergency.

After the latest attack, Sissi called an emergency meeting of security officials, state-run media reported.

In late April, Pope Francis visited Egypt as part of Vatican outreach to Egypt’s embattled Christians, whose community dates back to the early centuries of the faith. But the papal trip also brought denunciations from Islamist militants and warnings of further reprisals.

In December, a bomb hit the main cathedral in Cairo, killing 25 people as part of what is being described as a new strategy by the Islamic State to target Christians.

Christians have been generally supportive of Sissi’s military-backed government, but have become increasingly critical of the inability of the country’s security forces to protect their places of worship.

“The state is doing its best, but we need more efforts,” Minya’s Coptic Bishop Makarios told The Washington Post. “They [security forces] are always present and on guard after the attack takes place, and keep their security measures tightened for a short while after. . . . What we need is real effort exerted to ensure this is not repeated, not just solidarity and compassion.”

Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.

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Palm Sunday attacks kill 44 in Egypt

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Breaking down Trump’s ‘shove’ – Washington Post

Was it a “shove?” Or more of a “brush” or “jostle.” Or perhaps just a friendly slap on the arm, a casual guy-greeting.

In fact, “shove” was probably the most common word used to describe the fleeting, at best awkward interaction between Trump, the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth, and Dusko Markovic, the leader of Montenegro, a small Balkan nation of 600,000 attending its first summit as a NATO member after a nine-year accession process.

It occurred as NATO leaders strolled toward a group photo in Brussels.

According to the Merriam-Webster definition, “shove” is on target: “to push along” or to “push or put in a rough, careless, or hasty manner.”

Let’s break it down.

A slow-motion viewing of the video indicates no words spoken by Trump as he approaches the group from behind. No “Excuse me” or “Pardon me.”

Trump reaches out his right arm, grabs Markovic’s right shoulder and pushes him aside. Markovic looks surprised. Trump doesn’t acknowledge his existence as he moves past him. It’s as if Markovic isn’t there.

Markovic abruptly looks back at Trump but gets no eye contact from Trump in return.

Then he pats Trump on the back, or perhaps the arm, displaying a slight grin as Trump, at the front of the group, stands tall and adjusts his suit coat. Trump begins conversing with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite as Markovic looks on from behind.

[At NATO gathering, Trump brushes past Montenegro’s prime minister]

White House spokesman Sean Spicer later told reporters that spots for the “family photo” for which the leaders were preparing were predetermined, as is usually the case — implying that Trump was not trying to get a better position, The Washington Post reported, but rather that he was heading for the position reserved for him.

But of course, where Trump was headed was not the issue. It was the way he got there.

Markovic, afterward, responded to questions by shrugging it off.

“This was an inoffensive situation,” Markovic said. “I do not see it in any other way.”

He said he had the opportunity Thursday to thank Trump personally for his support of Montenegro’s entry into NATO and “of course the further development of our bilateral relations.”

“But, when journalists are differently commenting this scene,” the prime minister said. “I want to tell you that it is natural for the president of the United States to be in the first row.”

Montenegrin news websites were brimming with articles describing how this minor exchange captured the attention of many major U.S. and European news outlets.

Some Montenegrin news outlets included headlines quoting author J.K. Rowling, who tweeted the video, saying “You tiny, tiny, tiny little man” along with a retweeted video depicting Trump as a small man.

Montenegrin radio station Antena M included a photo of Trump above the story with the words “Days without being a national embarrassment: 0.” (That’s the numeral zero.)

“It seems Donald Trump did not want anyone overshadowing his presence at the summit,” said the Montenegro newspaper Vijesti.

Other Balkan websites ran headlines such as “America First” and “Where do you think you are going?”

As expected, the Trump shove captured the late-night shows.

“The President Show” on Comedy Central depicted an exaggerated scene, replacing the Montenegro prime minister with the secretary general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg.

“Excuse me, excuse me, get out of my way,” the show’s Trump says to the secretary general, pushing him aside as they walk into a press briefing. “America first. America first.”

Seth Meyers, host of “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” also riffed on the exchange, saying “Look at this guy. Wow.”

“You’re a world leader at a meeting of dignitaries and you act like they just called your number at KFC,” Meyers said.

“Me, that’s mine, the 12 piece,” Meyers said, mimicking someone pushing and shoving others out of the way.

Others on social media also viewed the “shove” as an attempt by Trump to revel in the spotlight and assert his “America first” mentality.

It did not go unmentioned that Trump brushed aside the leader of a country that last month defied Russia and pro-Russian opposition by ratifying its membership in NATO — a historic turn toward the West.

The Balkan country is joining the alliance as its 29th member; Thursday was its first summit. Only 18 years ago, NATO aircraft were bombing targets in Montenegro — then part of Serbia — in a campaign that forced troops out of Kosovo, as the Guardian’s Alec Luhn reported. The bombing remains a painful memory for many Montenegrins, and polls have shown the population evenly divided on NATO membership.

“Many hope NATO membership will end the tumultuous east-west struggle in Montenegrin politics,” Luhn wrote.

With that tense history in mind, some on social media did not take Trump’s gesture as the kindest welcome to the alliance’s new member.

“Trump shoved Prime Minister of Montenegro at NATO meeting to please Putin, once again,” said one Twitter user.

Ohhhh, he´s adorable. #Trump#NATO#Twatpic.twitter.com/bLuCusvbVe

— InsóniasEmCarvão (@insoniascarvao) May 25, 2017

Others presumed Trump was simply moving to his assigned spot, and that the uproar over the “shove” or “push” was just another media dig at Trump.

As Dan Calabrese wrote in the Canada Free Press: “Look, I understand there’s a frenzy out there now to alert on anything and everything Trump does and to characterize it as insane, out-of-control, evil and whatever else. But if you see this and think you see a ‘shove,’ I don’t know what to tell you.”

On the other hand, whatever it was, President Trump’s treatment of Montenegro’s prime minister was a sharp contrast to say, the little curtsy he performed for King Salman bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia.

The person Trump shoved out of the way was the PM of Montenegro. The country had recently defied Russia to join NATO.

— Gary Shteyngart (@Shteyngart) May 26, 2017

No silly. That’s just a ‘locker room’ shove. Nothing Trump does is offensive if you put ‘locker room’ in front of it. https://t.co/O92qRyvvnm

— FrugalistaBlog (@frugieblog) May 25, 2017

Trump would push Rosa Parks out of the way to get to the front of the bus. pic.twitter.com/NJnFirgN7U

— Trump’s Thoughts On: (@trumpthoughtson) May 26, 2017

I’m from Jersey. That isn’t what a shove remotely looks like.

— Joe Concha (@JoeConchaTV) May 25, 2017

Travis Andrews contributed to this report.

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Egypt attack: Gunfire on bus carrying Coptic Christians kills at least 26 – Fox News

A team of gunmen opened fire on a bus carrying Coptic Christians south of Cairo Friday, killing at least 26 people, including children, and wounding 25 other people, Egyptian officials confirmed.

As many as 10 attackers stormed the bus dressed in military uniforms and wearing masks, according to witnesses. The Christian victims were on their way to visit a monastery.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but Egypt’s Coptic Christians have become the preferred target of the Islamic State in the region. Egypt’s Copts, the Middle East’s largest Christian community, have repeatedly cried out for help from discrimination, as well as outright attacks, at the hands of the country’s majority Muslim population.

ISIS RIGGED EXPLOSIVES TO HOME WHERE 100 CIVILIANS DIED IN U.S.-LED AIRSTRIKE, MILITARY SAYS

Among the wave of recent attacks on Egypt’s Christians: twin suicide bombings in April and another attack in December on a Cairo church that left over 75 people dead and dozens more wounded. ISIS in Egypt claimed responsibility for them and vowed more attacks.

Many of Egypt’s Christians rallied behind the general-turned-president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, in 2013 when he ousted his Islamist predecessor Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood group. Attacks on Christian homes, businesses and churches have surged in the ensuing years, especially in the country’s south.

In February, members of an ISIS affiliate released a video saying that Egyptian Christians were their “favorite prey.” The video showed images of a suicide bomber who killed nearly 30 people inside a packed Cairo church in December.

COALITION AIRSTRIKES IN EASTERN SYRIAN TOWN KILL 35

“God gave orders to kill every infidel,” one of the militants carrying an AK-47 assault rifle said in the 20-minute video.

The latest deadly attack came on the eve of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. The bus was traveling on the road to the St. Samuel Monastery in the Minya governorate, about 140 miles south of Cairo, the health ministry said.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo issued a security message, stating that it was aware of a potential threat posted on a website by the Hassm Group, a known terrorist organization, suggesting some kind of unspecified action that evening.

Late last month Pope Francis visited Egypt in part to show his support for the Christians of this Muslim majority Arab nation who have been increasingly targeted by Islamic militants.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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The GOP inherits what Trump has wrought – Washington Post

By and ,

The darker forces that propelled President Trump’s rise are beginning to frame and define the rest of the Republican Party.

When GOP House candidate Greg Gianforte assaulted a reporter who had attempted to ask him a question Wednesday night in Montana, many saw not an isolated outburst by an individual, but the obvious, violent result of Trump’s charge that journalists are “the enemy of the people.” Nonetheless, Gianforte won Thursday’s special election to fill a safe Republican seat.

“Respectfully, I’d submit that the president has unearthed some demons,” Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) said. “I’ve talked to a number of people about it back home. They say, ‘Well, look, if the president can say whatever, why can’t I say whatever?’ He’s given them license.”

Trump — and specifically, his character and his conduct — now thoroughly dominate the national political conversation.

Traditional policy arguments over whether entitlement programs should be overhauled, or taxes cut, are regularly upstaged by a new burst of pyrotechnics.

The dynamic is shaping the contours of this year’s smattering of special congressional elections and contests for governor, as well as the jockeying ahead the 2018 midterm elections.

[An assault, a victory and then an apology]

“It’s an entirely different atmosphere,” Michael Steele, a former Republican National Committee chairman, said. “The president isn’t ideological and ideology is no longer the anchor. So when reporters put microphones in candidates’ faces, they’re asking about the president, tweets, character, your moral outlook and not about a particular policy.”

Few Republicans expect party leaders to do anything to lessen the toxicity.

Charlie Sykes, a conservative former talk-show host in Wisconsin and author of the forthcoming “How the Right Lost Its Mind,” said “every time something like Montana happens, Republicans adjust their standards and put an emphasis on team loyalty. They normalize and accept previously unacceptable behavior.”

Those who still navigate by the old maps are having trouble staying on course.

Karen Handel, a conventional Republican running in next month’s special House election in Georgia, has railed against Obamacare, and campaigned alongside House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), who called her “tested and true.” But she has been scorched endlessly on television for her support of the president. Her Democratic opponent has claimed “embarrasses our country” and “acts recklessly.”

Other GOP candidates, emboldened by Trump’s success at shattering norms, have ventured further to test the limits of what the electorate can stomach.

Corey Stewart, a former state chairman for Trump’s presidential campaign, has embraced Confederate symbols as his gubernatorial bid has flailed in Virginia, horrifying party leaders ahead of the June 13 primary and forcing the GOP front-runner to respond.

His primary opponent, former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie has seen his steady, well-funded campaign for governor all but drowned out recently by Stewart’s rage over the effort to remove Confederate statues from public spaces, which Stewart has said is proof that “ISIS has won.” Their primary clashes have been more over style and political correctness than any particular issue.

Gillespie still has the edge. “Corey has labeled himself as Trump’s Mini-Me, but the mojo ain’t there,” Shaun Kenney, the former executive director of Virginia’s Republican Party, said earlier this year. But it remains to be seen whether Stewart has damaged the GOP brand for the general election.

Other polished exemplars of the establishment have struggled to set themselves apart.

Handel, a fixture of state politics, has seen suburban voters in her district, which has been in Republican hands since 1979, grow so uneasy about Trump that her once unknown Democratic challenger, Jon Ossoff, has taken the lead in polls.

Ossoff has seized on Trump’s decision to fire James Comey as the FBI’s then-director investigated Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race.

But for some Republican contenders, Trump has been a model — nowhere more so than in deeply red Montana. Gianforte, a wealthy businessman, touted his full-throated support for the president and pledged to “drain the swamp” in his campaign against Rob Quist, a country music artist.

Gianforte’s election-eve outburst capped weeks of frothing frustration within the ranks in Montana and elsewhere about scrutiny of Trump and Republicans in the media, with the Trump-friendly candidate reacting physically and angrily to a question from Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs.

Ryan, who has labored to swing the spotlight away from GOP missteps and toward his agenda, criticized Gianforte’s actions and said “there is no time a physical altercation should occur.” But he did not rescind his endorsement and, along with other Republicans, plodded forward Thursday reluctant to delve into a character debate. “I’m going to let the people of Montana decide,” he said.

The Republican lurch away from running highly-disciplined, by-the-book campaigns on curbing spending and stoking economic growth is, in part, the evidence of how fully Trump has upended the party. Republicans haven’t abandoned the views and positions they have cultivated since Ronald Reagan’s presidency, but instead appear unable to focus on them.

Trump’s barrage of news-making and controversy drives the GOP even at its lowest levels, with his raucous populism and blustering behavior reshaping its identity. Candidates often are either adopting aspects of his persona or finding themselves having to fitfully explain why they back him despite them. Coupled with a national conservative media complex that sears the press as much as it does Democrats, they are navigating a highly-charged and volatile environment.

Fox News, the network beloved by Republicans, has also found itself dealing with the right’s disruptive fury and questions of conduct, even among its high-profile hosts. Sean Hannity has been criticized and lost advertisers for promoting a conspiratorial account of the slaying of a former Democratic National Committee staffer. Hannity has reacted by charging that “liberal fascists” were conspiring to cripple his career.

Some advocates for the press say that the culture Trump has created within his party is responsible and has had a cascading effect on the way 2017 campaigns have unfolded.

“Before the 2016 campaign, we could at least expect civility from candidates and their staffs,” Lucy A. Dalglish, the dean of Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, said. “Trump has declared open season on journalists, and politicians and members of his Cabinet have joined the hunt.”

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, added: “By casting the press as the enemy of the American people, Donald Trump has contributed to a climate of discourse consistent with assaulting a reporter for asking an inconvenient question.”

For Democrats, the GOP disarray presents perhaps the ripest opportunity for a blue political wave in over a decade, especially if the Republicans are alienating suburban professionals and independents.

In Georgia, for instance, Democrat Ossoff is running not as a vocal young progressive but a thoughtful, middle-of-the-road and careful Democrat. Republicans Gillespie and Handel are shying away from Trump-style theatrics.

Democrats, who are in the midst of their own political tug-of-war between progressives and centrists, have not yet been able to translate the Republican scandals and Trump tiffs into convincing wins.

Ossoff nearly captured the Georgia seat last month, but did not garner enough votes and the race went to a runoff.

Yet there have been flashes of opportunity: Democrats won two special state legislative elections this week in New York, with one of the pick-ups coming in a district that Trump won.

In early April, Republicans fended off a strong Democratic challenger in ruby-red Kansas in this year’s first special House election, following last-minute support from Trump and Vice President Pence. Republican Ron Estes won by 8 percentage points; two years earlier a Republican had won the seat by 31 percentage points.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey’s gubernatorial campaign, the two leading Republicans running ahead of a June 6 primary — Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli — are dealing with the cloud not only of Trump but of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), whose tumultuous leadership and bridge-closing scandal has left the state GOP fractured and been a burden on the Republican hopefuls.

Longtime watchers of Trump do not expect him to speak out against Gianforte or to urge his party against the politics of bellicosity.

They recalled that he fiercely defended his then campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, when he was accused last year of grabbing a female reporter’s arm. Trump himself once said of a protester at one of his campaign rallies: “I’d like to punch him in the face.”

In the Trump era, it is far from clear what is over the line — or even if a line exists any more.

“There is a total weirdness out there,” Sanford said. “People feel like, if the president of the United States can say anything to anybody at any time, then I guess I can too. And that is a very dangerous phenomenon.”

Mike DeBonis and Paul Schwartzman contributed to this report.

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