I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Tuesday, August 29, 2017. 434 days until Election Day 2018. 1,163 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at email@example.com. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!
The President's Schedule: Trump to Texas
President Donald Trump visits Texas today, as the state continues to face epic rainfall in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. The Category 4 storm, the strongest to strike the United States in 13 years, is now a tropical storm, pounding Houston (the fourth-largest U.S. city) and the surrounding area with rain. According to the Associated Press, two more feet of rain is expected; some places have seen 30+ inches already. Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) declared on Monday that Harvey is "one of the largest disasters America has ever faced"; according to the Los Angeles Times, at least nine have already been found dead in the storm's wake.
“We will come out stronger and believe me, we will be bigger, better, stronger than ever before,” Trump said at a Monday press conference. Harvey is the first major natural disaster of his Presidency, and Trump has been criticized for his response, spending the weekend at Camp David and tweeting 20 times about the hurricane, according to CNN. The White House released a number of photos Sunday of the President, wearing the "USA" hat sold by his campaign, leading a conference call on the federal response to Harvey.
A close Trump adviser told Politico: "He enjoys playing the role even if he's never handled anything like this. He knows what a president is supposed to look like during something like this." AP reports that Trump pushed for an early visit to Texas; he also said on Monday that a return visit on Saturday, when he would also visit Louisiana (which has also been impacted by the flooding), is possible.
President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump depart the White House at 8:30am EDT for Corpus Christi International Airport, where they will arrive at11:25am CDT. At 9:30am EDT, the President is scheduled to speak over the phone with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore aboard Air Force One.
At 12pm CDT, President and First Lady Trump will receive a briefing on Hurricane Harvey relief efforts with local leadership and relief organizations at a Corpus Christi fire station. At 1:30pm, they will depart Corpus Christi for Austin Bergstrom International Airport, where they will touch down at 2:25pm.
At 3pm, the President and First Lady will participate in a tour of the Texas Department of Public Safety Emergency Operations Center in Austin, receiving a briefing on Hurricane Harvey from state leadership at 3:15pm in the facility.
At 4:20pm CDT, the Trumps will depart Austin, returning to the White House at 8:30pm EDT.
--- Disaster aid added to full Congress agenda Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator Brock Long said Monday that he expects over 450,000 people to seek disaster assistance from the agency post-Harvey. At his press conference, Trump promised "very rapid action from Congress" in passing recovery funding. "I think you'll be up and running very, very quickly," he said of Texas, adding that the state is "going to be in fantastic shape."
The need to pass an emergency disaster relief bill adds to the long list of issues the House and Senate must face when they return one week from today, despite being scheduled to meet for just 12 days in September. Disaster aid will likely be combined with the spending bill Congress needs to pass by September 30 to avert a government shutdown. Old wounds have already been re-opened in early discussions of a relief package, with Rep. Pete King (R-NY) tweeted that he would vote for Harvey aid despite Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and John Cornyn (R-TX) and 23 House Republicans from Texas voting against Hurricane Sandy aid for New York and New Jersey in 2012. "[One] bad turn doesn't deserve another," King tweeted.
Just In: Trump responds to North Korea missile launch
North Korea escalated tensions in the region on Tuesday morning, launching a ballistic missile over Japan for the first time since 2009. The move, aimed at a U.S. ally, is seen as an attempted provocation of President Donald Trump, who has responded in a just-released statement. "The world has received North Korea’s latest message loud and clear: this regime has signaled its contempt for its neighbors, for all members of the United Nations, and for minimum standards of acceptable international behavior," the President said. "All options are on the table."
Trump spoke with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan over the phone for 40 minutes to address the launch, which Abe publicly denounced as "an unprecedented, grave, and serious threat that seriously damages peace and security in the region." On the call, Trump offered his support to Japan, and the two leaders "committed to increasing pressure on North Korea, and doing their utmost to convince the international community to do the same," according to the White House.
--- Did "fire and fury" work? CNN's Will Ripley tweets: "North Korea missile launch over Japan suggests it may have 'backed down a little' on threat to Guam to avoid US response - Japan Foreign Min[ister]
Drip, Drip, Drip
The Washington Post reported Sunday night that the Trump Organization was "pursuing a plan to develop a massive Trump Tower in Moscow" in late 2015 and early 2016, during the Trump presidential campaign. According to the Post, Russian-born developer Felix Sater urged Trump to visit Moscow, saying he could get Russian president Vladimir Putin to say "great things" about the candidate.
New details emerged on the real estate deal Monday, with the New York Times reporting on an email from Sater to Michael Cohen, Trump's personal attorney and business associate, in which the former boasted that Trump's Russia connections could be advantageous to his presidential bid. "Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it," an email from Sater to Cohen read. "I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process." The Times also reported that the deal was set to be financed by VTB Bank, a Russian bank under U.S. sanctions for involvement in the Crimea invasion.
The new report also highlighted Trump's involvement in the project: he signed a non-binding "letter of intent" in 2015, and spoke with Cohen about it three times, according to the attorney. These revelations call into question a January 2017 tweet from Trump: "Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA - NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!"
According to the Times, the Trump Organization has produced emails on the deal to the House Intelligence Committee on Monday, showing that congressional investigations will likely look into the President's financial dealings. In a New York Times interview last month, Trump said Special Counsel Robert Mueller would commit a "violation" if he begins to probe his finances.
The Washington Post additionally reported on Monday that Cohen emailed an aide to Vladimir Putin about the project, requesting "assistance" in reviving the Trump Tower-Moscow project, which he described as having "stalled." The Post also added that the letter of intent was signed by Trump in October 2015, four months after his presidential campaign announcement. The email from Cohen to the Kremlin came in mid-January 2016, just before the Iowa caucuses.
"Cohen’s email marks the most direct outreach documented by a top Trump aide to a similarly senior member of Putin’s government," according to the Post.
--- The Trump Organization to the Times: "To be clear, the Trump Organization has never had any real estate holdings or interests in Russia."
--- Cohen to the Times: "[Sater] has sometimes used colorful language and has been prone to 'salesmanship.' I ultimately determined that the proposal was not feasible and never agreed to make a trip to Russia."
--- Ivanka Trump to the Times, responding to a Sater email that said he arranged for her to sit at Putin's desk in the Kremlin: "I have never met President Vladimir Putin," although she said it is possible she sat in his chair during a 2006 tour of the Kremlin
--- Cohen to the Post, said that he received no response from the Kremlin, adding that the Moscow project was "simply one of many development opportunities that the Trump Organization considered and ultimately rejected.”
--- White House special counsel Ty Cobb to the Post: “The mere fact that there was no apparent response suggests this is a non-collusion story."
--- Sater to the Post: "Michael Cohen was the only member of the Trump Organization who I communicated with on this project."
"And actually, in the middle of a hurricane, even though it was a Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally. You know the hurricane was just starting, and I put it out that I had pardoned, as we say, Sheriff Joe." - President Trump at a press conference Monday, saying he wanted his pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio to coincide with coverage of Hurricane Harvey, because he was trying to elevate (not hide) it.