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Wake Up To Politics - August 16, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, August 16, 2018. 82 days until Election Day 2018. 810 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Trump revokes former CIA Director John Brennan's security clearance

President Donald Trump sent a message to some of his harshest critics on Wednesday, revoking the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan and threatening to do the same to other ex-national security officials who have spoken out against his administration.

In a statement read by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump said that Brennan had "recently leveraged his status as a former high-ranking official with access to highly sensitive information to make a series of unfounded and outrageous accusations - wild outbursts on the internet and television - about this Administration."  Trump also referred to Brenan's "increasingly frenzied commentary."

Former officials traditionally maintain their access to classified information to allow them to consult with their successors after leaving office; Trump said in his statement that "any benefits that senior officials might glean from consultations with Mr. Brennan are now outweighed by the risks posed by his erratic conduct and behavior." He continued: "that conduct and behavior has tested and far exceeded the limits of any professional courtesy that may have been due to him."

Brennan, a 25-year veteran of the CIA, served as director of the agency from 2013 to 2017; he also served as U.S. Homeland Security Advisor during President Barack Obama's first term and as Acting Director of the National Counterterrorism Center under President George W. Bush.

Since leaving the CIA when Trump took office, Brennan has become a contributor to NBC News and MSNBC; he also frequently takes to Twitter to publish blistering critiques of President Trump.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Brennan said that the revocation of his security clearance "is part of a broader effort by Mr. Trump to suppress freedom of speech & punish critics." However, he said: "My principles are worth far more than clearances. I will not relent."

Brennan also responded in an interview on MSNBC, in which he said Trump's move was meant to "intimidate and suppress any criticism of him or his administration," adding that he's "seen this type of behavior and actions on the part of foreign tyrants and despots and autocrats...[but] never thought I would see it here in the United States." He also published a New York Times op-ed this morning on the allegations of collusions between the Trump campaign and Russia, calling the president's denial "hogwash."

Trump also said on Wednesday that he was reviewing the clearance status of a list of former officials, all of whom have been critical of his administration: James Clapper, former director of national intelligence; James Comey, former FBI director; Michael Hayden, former NSA director; Sally Yates, former acting attorney general; Susan Rice, former national security adviser; Andrew McCabe, former deputy FBI director; Peter Strzok, former FBI agent; Lisa Page, former FBI lawyer; and Bruce Ohr, a Justice Department official.

--- Trump on reasoning, timing: In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Trump undercut his own administration's narrative on the reasoning behind the revocation, directly tying the action to the Russia investigation. "I call it the rigged witch hunt, [it] is a sham," Trump said. "And these people led it! So I think it's something that had to be done." (The Washington Post dubbed this a "Lester Holt moment," harkening back to Trump's May 2017 interview with NBC's Lester Holt, when he admitted that "the Russia thing" was on his mind when he fired former FBI Director James Comey.)

Trump also said in the interview that he had been prepared to revoke Brennan's security clearance last week, but held off because it was too "hectic," raising questions as to how long the White House has been prepared to take this action. A version of Trump's statement handed out to reporters included the date July 26, three days after Sarah Sanders first teased the revocation of security clearances, leading some to speculate that the White House had waited to make the announcement now to distract from other news stories, such as former Trump aide Omarosa Manigault Newman's new tell-all book.

--- Congressional responses: A number of Republican senators criticized Trump's move in interviews with Politico... Susan Collins (ME) called it "unwise," Bob Corker (TN) said it felt like a "banana republic kind of thing," Orrin Hatch (UT) said Brennan's commentary was "not a reason" to cut off his clearance. Democrats were even more critical, with Intelligence Committee ranking member Mark Warner (VA) referring to a "Nixonian enemies list."

Other lawmakers were more in favor of the revocation. Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), for one, told CNN that he didn't "see why [Brennan] would need a security clearance," adding that the former CIA director has "given the national intelligence community a bad name" and labeling Brennan a "butthead."

The Rundown

Midterms state of play: Three new polls released this week show Democrats leading in the generic congressional ballot ahead of November elections. A Politico/Morning Consult poll found Democrats leading Republicans, 42% to 38%; a CNN poll found Democrats leading 52% to 41%; and a Quinnipiac poll found Democrats leading 51% to 42%.

In addition, the Cook Political Report announced five House ratings changes on Wednesday, moving three seats (CA-45, NJ-03, and NC-09) from "Lean Republican" to "Toss Up," another (PA-10) from "Likely Republican to Lean Republican," and one (FL-26) from "Toss Up" to Lean Republican. Per Cook's House editor Dave Wasserman, the forecasting site now rates 37 Republican-held seats as "Toss Up," "Lean Democratic," or "Likely Democratic," up from 20 in January.

--- Bannon's back: Ousted White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is jumping into the midterms, seeking to frame the upcoming elections "as an up-or-down vote on the president's impeachment," per Politico. He has launched a new outside group, Citizens for the American Republic, and soon plans to release a documentary, "Trump@War," aiming to tell "a positive story about the president's 2016 campaign and time in office" and motivate his base supporters.

Manafort trial, Day 13: Both the prosecution and the defense in the tax and bank fraud trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort offered closing arguments on Wednesday. Today, Judge T.S. Ellis will offer instructions to the jury, and then release them for deliberations.

Newspapers unite: More than 300 newspapers published a coordinated series of editorials today defending the free press and countering President Trump's "fake news" attacks. Here's the New York Times' offering, "A Free Press Needs You," which also shows excerpts from some of the other editorials from across the country.

--- Meanwhile, Trump escalated his attacks on the media this morning, tweeting: "THE FAKE NEWS MEDIA IS THE OPPOSITION PARTY. It is very bad for our Great Country....BUT WE ARE WINNING!"

Recommended read: "She works for Trump. He can't stand him. This is life with Kellyanne and George Conway." (Washington Post)

White House schedule

POTUS: At 11:30am, President Trump hosts a Cabinet meeting. At 12:45pm, he has lunch with Vice President Mike Pence. At 3:45pm, Trump meets with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

VP: Vice President Pence will join the Cabinet meeting today, and sit in on the president's meeting with Secretary Nielsen, in addition to his lunch with the president. Also, at 3pm, Pence meets with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

Congress schedule

Senate: The Senate meets at 9:30am today. At 12pm, the chamber will hold roll call votes on the nominations of A. Marvin Quattlebaum, Jr., and Julius Ness Richardson, who have both been nominated to serve as U.S. Circuit Judges for the Fourth Circuit. The Senate will vote to confirm Quattlebaum, whose nomination was advanced in a 61-28 vote on Wednesday, and then hold a cloture vote on Richardson's nomination.

If confirmed, Quattlebaum will be the 25th Trump-appointed appellate judge to receive Senate approval, a record-breaking reshaping of the federal judiciary.

House: The House is on recess.

Supreme Court schedule

The Supreme Court is on its summer recess.

*All times Eastern

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