Wake Up To Politics - April 11, 2018
I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, April 11, 2018. 209 days until Election Day 2018. 937 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Breaking: Missile attack against Syria "will be coming," Trump warns
President Donald Trump warned Russia in a series of tweets this morning that the U.S. plans to launch a missile strike at Syria, days after Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's suspected use of chemical weapons against civilians.
"Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!'" the president said on Twitter. "You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!"
In a second tweet, he added: "Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War. There is no reason for this. Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race?"
The Russia investigation
--- President Trump "told advisers in no uncertain terms" in December that special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation "had to be shut down," the New York Times reports. Trump was angered by reports that Mueller had issued subpoenas seeking information about his business dealings with Deutsche Bank; upon learning that the reports were inaccurate, the president backed down. This is the second episode that has been reported of President Trump attempting to fire Mueller. The first was in June, when White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to quit after Trump repeatedly badgered him about firing the special counsel. "There have been others," NYT's Maggie Haberman tweets.
--- According to CNN, Trump and his aides have discussed firing Mueller for months. The network also reported that Trump is considering firing Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, as well as other options (including firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions) that would allow him to impose "greater limits" on the special counsel's probe. The Associated Press confirmed that Trump has "privately pondered" firing Rosenstein.
--- Trump "certainly believes he has the power" to fire Mueller, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Tuesday, one day after Trump declined to rule out the move. There is debate among legal scholars as to whether Trump could fire the special counsel himself, without removing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, but Sanders said that "we've been advised that the president certainly has the power to make that decision."
--- A bipartisan Senate bill to protect Mueller's job is set to be released today, according to Politico, with backing from Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Thom Tillis and Democratic Sens. Cory Booker and Chris Coons. The release comes after a number of Republican senators spent Tuesday warning President Trump against firing Mueller. "It would be suicide for the president," Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley said. Yet, most GOP lawmakers have so far resisted attempts to advance legislation protecting Mueller. "I haven't seen clear indication yet that we need to pass something to keep him from being removed, because I don't think that's going to happen," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday.
--- Trump on Tuesday canceled his planned trip to South America this weekend, announcing that Vice President Mike Pence would take his place at the Summit of the Americas in Peru. According to CNN, Trump "had been grumbling to aides that he had to go at all" and "is staying behind in Washington in part to decide his next steps on potential changes at the Justice Department."
--- According to ABC News, President Trump is "less inclined" to sit for an interview with special counsel Mueller's team after the FBI raid of his personal attorney Michael Cohen's home and office.
What we've learned about the raid...
--- Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein personally signed off on the FBI's decision to carry out the Cohen raid, the New York Times reports. Per NYT, the search warrant carried out by the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan sought records about payments to two women claiming they had affairs with Trump: former Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film actress Stormy Daniels.
--- Daniels is cooperating with the investigation, according to NBC News.
--- According to the Wall Street Journal, Geoffrey Berman, the Trump-appointed interim U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of New York, has recused himself from the Cohen investigation, which is being led by deputy U.S. attorney Robert Khuzami.
--- Despite Trump's complaints about the raid, Cohen told CNN that the FBI agents "were extremely professional, courteous and respectful."
What does this all add up to?
Numerous news outlets have painted Trump in stories over the past 48 hours as "angrier than he has ever been." That anger was on full display in his Cabinet Room tirade against Mueller, Sessions, and Rosenstein on Monday and has been evident in his recent tweets. Reportedly, it has been even more evident in private. According to Axios, Trump has reached his "breaking point" with Mueller.
The president spent much of Tuesday "brooding and fearful and near what two people close to the West Wing described as a 'meltdown,'" the New York Times reports. White House officials told the Times that they are "deeply anxious" that Trump might fire Mueller, especially now that he is without a string of departed aides who often reined in his frustrations in the past. According to the report, he has "angrily told his advisers" that he wants to get rid of Sessions, Rosenstein, and FBI Director Mueller. "Some aides believed the president was seriously considering firing [Rosenstein], to a degree he has not in the past," the Times said.
Trump met with Alan Dershowitz, a professor emeritus at Harvard Law School who often appears on Fox News, on Tuesday and hosted him for dinner. Dershowitz told Slate that he didn't give the president legal advice — but if he had, it would be: "don't fire, don't pardon, don't tweet, and don't testify."
It took mere hours for the president to break with those suggestions. Trump has already tweeted multiple times about the Russia probe this morning, referring to a New York Times report on his ties to a Ukranian businessman as "phony" and insisting that there has been "No Collusion or Obstruction," but adding the caveat: "other than I fight back."
The burning question: Will he break another one of Dershowitz's recommendations? Is all of this the run-up to firing one or more of the quartet of Justice Department officials who the president has been venting about — Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, FBI Director Christopher Wray, or special counsel Robert Mueller?
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Zuckerberg testimony: "Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg endured an hours-long grilling by dozens of U.S. senators Tuesday during which he repeatedly apologized and promised privacy reforms but also pointedly defended his company against the threat of new legislation."
"Zuckerberg invoked Facebook’s unlikely journey — from a tiny start-up he co-founded in his Harvard dorm room 14 years ago to a social media behemoth — in explaining Facebook’s frequent privacy missteps and its failure to spot and defeat Russia’s aggressive campaign to manipulate American voters in 2016 and beyond."
"Senators repeatedly challenged Zuckerberg’s explanations in the wide-ranging hearing, a rare joint session before two Senate panels — the Commerce and Judiciary committees — with 42 senators questioning the Facebook executive." (Washington Post) The Facebook CEO is back on the Hill today, testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee at 10am.
White House turnover: "President Donald Trump’s homeland security adviser was abruptly forced out of his job Tuesday after months of internal frustration with his leadership and as the new national security adviser moved to establish power in the White House, according to people familiar with the matter."
"The departure of Tom Bossert, who has advised Mr. Trump on cybersecurity and counterterrorism since the beginning of his administration, marked the latest exit from the Trump administration as the president reshapes his leadership team."
"The surprise move was instigated by John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and ex-Fox News commentator who officially started this week as Mr. Trump’s new national security adviser, the people said." (Wall Street Journal)
Ryan retirement rumors: "House Speaker Paul Ryan has told confidants that he will announce soon that he won't run for reelection in November, according to sources with knowledge of the conversations." (Axios)
Pruitt fallout: "EPA removed a career staffer Tuesday who approved an internal report that undermined Administrator Scott Pruitt's claims that he needed around-the-clock bodyguards and other expensive security protection, according to two former agency employees familiar with the situation." (Politico)
"The Environmental Protection Agency has been examining posts on Twitter and other social media about Scott Pruitt, the agency’s administrator, to justify his extraordinary and costly security measures, which have included first-class travel and full-time protection even on personal trips to Disneyland, the Rose Bowl and college basketball games, according to interviews and agency and congressional documents." (New York Times)
Trump: At 11am, President Trump signs the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act into law. At 12:30pm, he has lunch with Vice President Mike Pence. At 6:30pm, he has dinner with the Vice President and Republican congressional leaders.
A "pool spray," when reporters have an opportunity to shout questions at the president, will take place at the bill signing. The White House has yet to schedule a press briefing with press secretary Sarah Sanders for today.
Senate: The Senate convenes at 10:30am today. At 12:20pm, the chamber will hold two roll call votes: a confirmation vote on John F. Ring to be a member of the National Labor Relations Board, and a cloture vote on Patrick Pizzella to be Deputy Secretary of Labor.
House: The House meets at 10am today. The chamber is set to consider the Stress Test Improvement Act and the Financial Stability Oversight Council Improvement Act.
*All times Eastern