6 min read

Wake Up To Politics - August 20, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Monday, August 20, 2018. 78 days until Election Day 2018. 806 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

All the president's lawyers: McGahn, Giuliani, Cohen causes headaches for Trump

President Donald Trump's legal headaches continue to pile up, and his own attorneys — past and present — are even adding to them.

In a Saturday bombshell, the New York Times reported that White House counsel Don McGahn has "cooperated extensively" with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, sharing firsthand, "detailed accounts about the episodes at the heart of the inquiry into whether President Trump obstructed justice, including some that investigators would not have learned otherwise."

According to The Times, McGahn has sat down with investigators for at least three interviews totaling 30 hours, describing Trump's "comments and actions" during the firing of FBI director James Comey, as well as his later attempts to change the leadership of the Russia probe by urging Attorney General Jeff Sessions to claim oversight of it and ordering McGahn to fire Mueller.

McGahn's cooperation was a result of the Trump team's early legal strategy to "cooperate fully" with the Mueller probe; advised by former lawyers John Dowd and Ty Cobb, President Trump did not invoke executive privilege to block his aides from speaking to the special counsel, or in the case of McGahn, attorney-client privilege.

The Times also reported that McGahn felt that cooperation was "the only choice he had to protect himself," suspicious that Trump was planning to let him take the fall for the decisions under investigation. "Worried that Mr. Trump would ultimately blame him in the inquiry," the Times reported, "Mr. McGahn told people he was determined to avoid the fate of the White House counsel for President Richard M. Nixon, John W. Dean, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice in the Watergate scandal."

President Trump tweeted multiple times over the weekend in response to the report, which he called a "Fake Story in the New York Times." Trump insisted that McGahn cooperated with Mueller at his direction. "I have nothing to hide," the president said, "and have demanded transparency so that this Rigged and Disgusting Witch Hunt can come to a close." Trump also referred to the investigation as "McCarthyism at its worst," while boasting that McGahn "and all other requested members of the Whtie House Staff" fully cooperated.

In a follow-up story on Sunday, the New York Times reported that Trump's lawyers "do not know just how much [McGahn] told the special counsel's investigators during months of interviews." Per NYT, "Mr. Trump's lawyers never asked for a complete description of what Mr. McGahn had said" to the special counsel's office; Trump's legal team realized the lapse only after the Times' original report this weekend.

A key misunderstanding that led to Trump's slow realization that McGahn's interviews could hurt him: "Mr. McGahn, who as White House counsel is not the president's personal lawyer, has repeatedly made clear to the president that his role is a protector of the presidency, not of Mr. Trump personally."

According to the second Times report, the first article "set off a scramble on Saturday among Mr. Trump's lawyers and advisers" and "reignited a debate about whether Mr. Trump had been given bad advice" by Dowd and Cobb.

On Sunday, Trump's lead outside lawyer handling the Russia probe, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, acknowledged that he did not have the full picture of what McGahn revealed. Giuliani said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that McGahn was a "strong witness for the president," but admitted that his knowledge came only from Dowd, his predecessor leading Trump's outside legal team who championed the initial strategy of cooperation.

Giuliani's "Meet the Press" appearance went viral over the weekend due to an exchange with host Chuck Todd over whether President Trump would sit for an interview with Mueller. Giuliani said that Trump could be "trapped into perjury" by offering a statement at odds with someone else interviewed by Mueller, such as ousted FBI chief James Comey.

Anything Trump or Comey tell Meuller would be "somebody's version of the truth," Giuliani said, "not the truth."

But "truth is truth," Todd protested.

"No, it isn't truth. Truth isn't truth," Giuliani retorted.

--- Cohen probe: Add another lawyer to the mix... the New York Times also reported on Sunday about President Trump's former personal lawyer and longtime fixer, Michael Cohen. According to the Times, federal authorities are investigating Cohen for potential bank and tax fraud, while also examining whether he violated campaign finance laws by arranging "financial deals to secure the silence of women who said they had affairs with Mr. Trump." According to the Times, "the inquiry has entered the final stage and prosecutors are considering filing charges by the end of August."

--- "Shades of 1974": NYT's Peter Baker pointed to the McGahn reports, as well as Trump's threats to leading critics and spat with former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, tweeting: "The week started with an enemies list, then came secret White House tapes and it finishes with a White House counsel spilling to a special prosecutor." According to the Times, both Trump and McGahn are mindful of a former White House counsel, Watergate-era John Dean, but for different reasons: McGahn fears being thrown under the bus like Dean, while Trump is "obsessed with the role that [Dean] played as an informant" later in the Watergate scandal. In a Sunday tweet, Trump insisted that McGahn is not a "John Dean type 'RAT.'"

And to tie it all together... Michael Cohen's attorney Lanny Davis says Cohen "has been reaching out regularly over the past few months," to Dean, per Politico, adding to speculation that Cohen might become a potential witness in the investigations against Trump.

Do you like Wake Up To Politics? Share it with your colleagues, friends, and family! Please forward this newsletter to them and tell them to sign up at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!

The Latest: security clearances

Former CIA director John Brennan called President Trump's revocation of his security clearance an "egregious abuse of power and authority" on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, adding that he is considering legal action to try and stop Trump from being able to pull the clearances of other former national security officials who are now critical of the president.

Trump has threatened to revoke the clearances of a list of other former officials, all of whom are now critics, as well as Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, who has come under scrutiny for his contacts with Trump dossier author Christopher Steele and his wife's work for Fusion GPS, the firm that hired Steele.

"I suspect I'll be taking it away very quickly," Trump said of Ohr's security clearance. According to the Washington Post, the White House has drafted documents revoking more security clearances, and his communication aides "have discussed the optimum times to release them as a distraction during unfavorable news cycles."

Meanwhile, Trump continues to receive criticism in the national security community for his move against Brennan: three letters have now been released from former officials of both parties slamming the president. 13 officials, including seven CIA Directors or Directors of Central Intelligence and a former director of national intelligence, signed the first. 60 70 former CIA officials signed the second.

This morning, a third letter signed by 177 former national security officials was released; the bipartisan signatories include former officials from the State Department, Defense Department, Justice Department, CIA, NSC, DIA, NCTC, and other agencies. More than 10 former U.S. Ambassadors were on the list, plus more than 20 former U.S. Attorneys.

Manafort trial, Day 15

The 12-person jury in the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort returns for third day of deliberations today. Manafort is charged with 18 counts of bank and tax fraud; it is unknown when a verdict will come.

White House schedule

POTUS: At 12:45pm, President Trump has lunch with Vice President Mike Pence. At 3pm, he participates in the "Salute to the Heroes of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection," an event celebrating the employees of ICE and CBP, as the agencies have come under fire in recent months.

FLOTUS: First Lady Melania Trump will attend the Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention (FPBP)'s sixth Summit on Cyberbullying Prevention in Rockville, Maryland today. According to the White House, the First Lady "will deliver brief remarks addressing the positive and negative effects of social media on youth - a key issue of her Be Best campaign"; she "will also attend a panel discussion with representatives from multiple social media platforms."

--- Related: "Melania Trump, a Mysterious First Lady, Weathers a Chaotic White House" (New York Times)

Congress schedule

Senate: The Senate convenes at 3pm today. Following Leader remarks, the chamber will resume consideration of H.R.6157, the $857 billion "minibus" spending package that appropriates funds for the Departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.

At5:30pm, the Senate will vote on two amendments to the package: one sponsored by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to provide funding for the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act, which requires the CDC to maintain a registry to track the incidence of cancer among firefighters; and one sponsored by Sens. Deb Fischer (R-NE) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) to appropriate an additional $10 million for POW/MIA identification.

--- Related: "How the Senate Got Its Groove Back With the Power of the Purse" (New York Times)

House: The House is on recess.

--- Many House Republicans have decamped to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where House Speaker Paul Ryan's annual donor retreat is taking place. Per Politico Playbook, White House advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump will headline the retreat tonight; other speakers include Ryan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Supreme Court schedule

The Supreme Court is on its summer recess.

*All times Eastern

Do you like Wake Up To Politics? Share it with your friends! Tell them to sign up for the newsletter at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe.