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Wake Up To Politics - April 4, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, April 4, 2019. 305 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 579 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Reports: Mueller's investigators say findings are more troubling for Trump than Barr indicated

Some members of special counsel Robert Mueller's team have told associates that Attorney General William Barr "failed to adequately portray the findings of their inquiry and that they were more troubling for President Trump than Barr indicated," the New York Times reported on Wednesday. The Washington Post later confirmed the story, adding that some of Mueller's investigators are "frustrated" with the limited amount of information Barr has provided.  

After Mueller ended his investigation into Russian election interference and possible obstruction of justice by President Trump on March 22, Barr sent a four-page letter to Congress two days later summarizing the special counsel's findings. Partially quoting Mueller's report only three times, the attorney general told lawmakers that the special counsel had found no conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia and that he had reached no conclusion on obstruction of justice.

While making clear that Mueller's report did not exonerate Trump on the latter issue, Barr then went further and concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to prove that Trump had obstructed justice.

According to Barr's letter, the full report "sets out evidence on both sides" of the obstruction question, although he did not detail any of the evidence. According to the Times, some members of Mueller's team believe that Barr "should have included more of their material" in his March 24 letter; per the Post, Mueller's investigators wrote summaries for each section of their report themselves and were "particularly disappointed" that Barr did not make those public immediately, as they had assumed would happen.

"Some members of Mr. Mueller’s team are concerned that, because Mr. Barr created the first narrative of the special counsel’s findings, Americans’ views will have hardened before the investigation’s conclusions become public," the Times reported. One source told the Post that the evidence they collected on obstruction "was much more acute than Barr suggested."

These new reports on the frustration inside Mueller's as-yet tight-lipped team of prosecutors are only expected to add to the growing controversy over how much of the special counsel's report Barr will release to Congress and to the public.

Speaking of...

The Latest: Congressional investigations

--- The House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines on Wednesday to authorize subpoenas to obtain special counsel Mueller's full report, as well as any underlying evidence in the investigation. Attorney General Barr has told lawmakers that he plans to release a redacted version of Mueller's 400-page report by mid-April, with secret grand jury testimony, classified material, and information about continuing investigations removed. But House Democrats have made clear that their demand is for the full report, without redactions, a fight with the Justice Department that is widely expected to play out in the courts.

The panel's vote allows chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) to subpoena the report at any time in the future at his discretion.

The Judiciary Committee also voted Wednesday to subpoena documents and testimony related to the Mueller investigation from five former top Trump aides: former White House counsel Don McGann, former, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, former White House communications director Hope Hicks, former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, and former deputy White House counsel Ann Donaldson.

--- Also on Wednesday, House Ways and Means Committee chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) invoked an obscure provision from a 1924 law to formally request six years of President Trump's personal and business tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), likely setting up another protracted battle between House Democrats and the Trump administration. The law that Neal invoked gives the chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee the power to request tax information on any American from the IRS.

Neal gave the agency until April 10 to respond. President Trump told reporters on Wednesday that he "would not be inclined" to cooperate because he is under audit, a claim he has made since the 2016 presidential campaign, when he declined to release his tax returns in a break with precedent.

--- House Oversight Committee chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) told reporters on Wednesday that Mazars USA, tax and accounting firm that provided financial statements for Trump, has told his committee that they wil hand over 10 years of the president's financial records if the panel subpoenas them. "They have told us that they will provide the information pretty much when they have a subpoena," Cummings said. "And we'll get them a subpoena."

--- Finally, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that the House Intelligence Committee is seeking an interview with and documents from Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to First Lady Melania Trump and a top organizer on the president's inaugural committee.

Biden vows in video to be "more mindful" of women's "personal space"

After days of women coming forward to say his physical contact with them made them uncomfortable, former Vice President Joe Biden addressed the allegations against him in a video posted to Twitter on Wednesday.

"I've always tried to make a human connection [with men and women]... It's the way I've always been, it's the way I try to show I care about them and listening," Biden said. However, he acknowledged that "social norms have begun to change" and promised to "be more mindful and respectful of people's personal space," while adding that he would "always believe governing — and, quite frankly, life, for that matter — is about connecting with people."

The accusations about his physical contact with women have come as Biden is expected to launch a third presidential campaign in the coming weeks. Nevada Democratic politician Lucy Flores set off the firestorm with an essay in New York Magazine last week, describing Biden kissing her head and smelling her hair at a 2014 campaign event.

The Hartford Courant then reported on a similar claim on Monday, the New York Times reported on allegations from two more women on Tuesday, and the Washington Post reported on Wednesday that three additional women had come forward to describe encounters with the ex-VP that made them uncomfortable.

In his video, Biden stopped short of apologizing for the behavior that the women described.

Senate GOP invoke "nuclear option" to speed Trump nominations

Via Politico:

"Senate Republicans used the 'nuclear option' Wednesday to unilaterally reduce debate time on most presidential nominees, the latest in a series of changes to the fabric of the Senate to dilute the power of the minority."

"The move by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) immediately paves the way to expedite confirmations of President Donald Trump’s judicial and executive branch picks and comes amid deep GOP frustration with Democrats’ delays. Future presidents will benefit, too, though McConnell and Trump stand to gain inordinately as they seek to fill 130 District Court vacancies during the 18 months before the 2020 elections."

"The nuclear option — a change of the Senate rules by a simple majority — gained its name because it was seen as an explosive maneuver that would leave political fallout for some time to come. But it’s now been deployed three times in just six years amid continuous partisan warfare over nominations."

..."[Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY)] asserted that he was 'so sorry that my Republican colleagues have gone along with Sen. McConnell’s debasement of the Senate.' The New York Democrat called the change 'disgraceful' and said it was a “sad day in the Senate’s history.'"

..."'He started this whole thing,' McConnell said, pointing at Schumer. 'This is not a sad day. This is a glad day.'"

"Republicans first sought to cut debate time on executive nominees, with the Senate voting 51-48 to overrule existing precedent. It then did the same to judicial nominees a couple hours later with another 51-48 vote."

"Two GOP senators, Mike Lee of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine, voted with Democrats to preserve the current rules."

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White House schedule

--- At 11:30 a.m., President Trump participates in a meeting of the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council. At 12:15 p.m., he receives his daily intelligence briefing. At 4:30 p.m., he meets with China's top trade negotiator, Vice Premier Liu He. According to Bloomberg, the meeting is likely a sign that the Trump administration's trade talks with China have entered their final stages.

--- At 11:10 a.m., Vice President Mike Pence delivers remarks at the University of Notre Dame's "Insight & Outlook on National and Global Affairs" symposium in Washington, D.C. Pence will then travel to Indianapolis, Indiana, where he will tour Lamb Farms, Inc., a family farm, at 4 p.m., and "discuss the positive impacts of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) on the business and agricultural community."

Congress schedule

--- The Senate convenes at 11 a.m. The chamber will hold confirmation votes today Roy Kalman Altman's nomination to be a U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Florida and Mark Anthony Calabria's nomination to be Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). Altman is a Florida attorney and former federal prosecutor; Calabria currently serves as chief economist to Vice President Pence.

--- The House convenes at 9 a.m. The chamber will hold a final vote on H.R. 1585, the "Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act," which would renew the expired 1994 law that funds investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women. The House will also hold a postponed vote on H.R. 829, which would name a New York post office for the late Army Specialist Thomas J. Wilwerth.

Supreme Court schedule

--- The justices have no oral arguments or conferences scheduled for today.

*All times Eastern