I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, April 3, 2018. 217 days until Election Day 2018. 945 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inboxes at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt remains under scrutiny over his $50-a-night rental of a Washington apartment from the wife of an energy lobbyist, which was first reported by ABC News. What we learned about Pruitt on Monday:
- The White House is conducting a review of Pruitt's housing situation, according to the Wall Street Journal.
- White House chief of staff John Kelly has considered the firing of Pruitt "in the coming months as part of a wave of ousters of top officials causing headaches for the president," according to Politico. Kelly is waiting for an EPA inspector general's report on Pruitt's expensive travel. Per CNN, senior White House aides are "exasperated" with Pruitt.
- While Pruitt was renting a condominium linked to energy lobbyists Vicki and Steven Hart, the EPA approved their client's project, the New York Times reports.
- The lobbyist-owned townhouse was a "GOP fundraising hub," with at least three lawmakers holding fundraisers there during the time Pruitt rented accommodations there, according to the Daily Beast.
- Pruitt is also under scrutiny for his costly travel practices. According to a new report from the Washington Post, Pruitt's aides "last year considered leasing a private jet on a month-to-month basis to accommodate his travel needs."
Meanwhile... Pruitt announced Monday that the EPA is moving to ease fuel efficiency and emission standards for vehicles manufactured between 2022 and 2025. The standards, which were put in place just before Trump took office, would have required auto makers to produce fleets that averaged over 50 miles per gallon by 2025.
In tweets this morning, President Donald Trump has boasted about his 50% approval rating in a new poll being "higher than Cheatin' Obama," targeted "ratings challenged CNN," and attacked "the 'fakers' at CNN, NBC, ABC & CBS." The latter tweet also mentioned Sinclair Broadcasting, adding to a Monday tweet from the president defending Sinclair amid criticism of the company's forcing local news anchors to recite identical speeches blasting "biased and false news."
He also tweeted once again about the "caravan" of Central Americans traveling through Mexico to the U.S. border, seeking to gain asylum in the United States. This morning, Trump threatened NAFTA and "foreign aid to Honduras and the countries that allow this to happen" if the immigrants (who are mostly from Honduras) are not stopped before they reach the U.S.
Trump's tweets have shown a renewed focus on immigration lately; this coincides with a White House conference call with reporters on Monday, when senior officials said that the Trump Administration is gearing up for another legislative push on immigration.
President Trump proposed a White House meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin in a controversial phone call last month, the Kremlin said Monday. The call had previously sparked controversy due to the revelation that Trump congratulated Putin on his re-election despite being reportedly instructed not to by his aides. Putin won a race widely seen as being not free or fair; Trump on Monday also congratulated Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sissi on his re-election, despite similar criticism of that race.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded to the Kremlin'srevalation, saying: "As the president himself confirmed on March 20, hours after his last call with President Putin, the two had discussed a bilateral meeting in the 'not-too-distant future' at a number of potential venues, including the White House."
"We have nothing further to add at this time," she said.
The Trump Administration wants to limit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's independence in regulating the consumer finance industry, rolling back Obama-era oversight. According to the Wall Street Journal, acting CFPB director Mick Mulvaney on Monday asked Congress "to pursue sweeping changes" to the agency's "regulations, leadership and budget," which would require major CFPB rules to be approved by Congress and require the CFPB director to report directly to the president instead of being independent.
Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) announced on Monday that she wouldn't seek re-election. Esty's announcement comes after a Washington Post report last month that it took her three months to dismiss her chief of staff after learning that he had threatened to kill a former colleague that he'd dated.
“I have determined that it is in the best interest of my constituents and my family to end my time in Congress at the end of this year and not seek re-election,” she said on Facebook. “Too many women have been harmed by harassment in the workplace. In the terrible situation in my office, I could have and should have done better.”
Top Connecticut Democrats had called on Esty to resign. Republicans view her district as a potential pick-up opportunity; Hillary Clinton won the district with 50% of the vote in 2016.
The Russia investigation
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein specifically empowered special counsel Robert Mueller to investigate allegations that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was "colluding with Russian government officials" during the 2016 election, according to a Monday night court filing. The filing revealed parts of a classified August 2017 memo from Rosenstein which details the scope of Mueller's inquiry, which goes well beyond his original mandate to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The memo also authorizes Mueller to probe allegations relating to Manafort's lobbying work in Ukraine; some Republicans have claimed that Mueller is superseding his authority by charging Manafort for his financial dealings, although this memo makes clear that he is not.
Mueller's probe is clearly expansive: on Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the special counsel is investigating a private consulting firm's work for the United Arab Emirates; George Nader, a top UAE adviser, is under investigation for his ties to Trump Administration officials. WSJ also reported that Mueller's team is investigating Trump adviser Roger Stone's claim that he met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Mueller's team has obtained an August 2016 email to former Trump adviser Sam Nunberg in which Stone claimed to have dined with Assange the night before. Stone now says the email was a joke and that he never dined with Assange.
Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan, who pleaded guilty in February to lying to special counsel Robert Meuller's team about his contacts with Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, will become the first person sentenced in the Mueller probe today. Van der Zwaan is scheduled to be sentenced in Washington at10am; according to CNN, he likely faces up to six months in prison.
In a Monday court filing, Mueller's office defended a plea agreement it made with van der Zwaan that temporarily waives his right to file Freedom of Information Act requests, saying that van der Zwaan "is in an unusual position of having information related to the office's investigation that is not widely known -- including information that he knows first-hand due to his role in the conduct the Office is investigating." Last week, Mueller's prosecutors revealed that van der Zwaan knew about Gates' contacts during the 2016 campaign with a person tied to the Russian intelligence service.
A pair of Belarusian sex instructors stuck in a Thai detention center claim to have evidence demonstrating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. And, according to the New York Times, the FBI is not dismissing their offer of evidence in exchange for a guarantee of their safety.
Meanwhile... Developments in Trump's other legal troubles on Monday:
- A former Trump campaign employee is suing to nullify a non-disclosure agreement.
- President Trump joined his personal attorney Michael Cohen in asking a federal judge to order the case against them brought by porn star Stormy Daniels be heard by a private arbitrator instead of a jury.
- Trump's lawyers are seeking to appeal a New York state judge's refusal to dismiss a lawsuit by former "Apprentice" contestant Summer Zervos, who claims that Trump groped and kisser her.
- The publisher of the National Enquirer is asking a California court to dismiss a lawsuit brought by former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who is also vying to be released from a non-disclosure agreement, after selling her allegations of an affair with Trump to the Enquirer, which never published them. She says the Enquirer's decision to bury the story amounted to an illegal contribution to the Trump campaign.
President Donald Trump welcomes three Baltic heads of state — Presidents Kersti Kaljulaid of Estonia, Raimonds Vejonis of Latvia, and Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania — to the White House today. The United States-Baltic Summit marks the 100th anniversary of the three nations' independence; it will focus "on how best to strengthen our security, business, trade, energy, and cultural partnerships," according to the White House.
Trump will meet with three heads of state, participate in a working lunch with them, and hold a 1:35pm joint press conference with them. According to a Wake Up To Politics analysis, this will be Trump's 25th press conference since becoming president.
Both chambers of Congress are on recess today.
The Supreme Court is not scheduled to meet today.
*All times Eastern