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Wake Up To Politics - December 5, 2017

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, December 5, 2017. 338 days until Election Day 2018. 1,066 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!

Trump, RNC Formalize Support for Moore

National Republicans are renewing their support for Alabama Senate nominee Roy Moore in next week's special election, despite accusations that he sexually assaulted or inappropriately advanced on at least nine women when they were teenagers. President Trump explicitly tweeting in support of Moore early Monday; later, the White House confirmed that he had endorsed the embattled candidate. "The President had a positive call with Judge Roy Moore during which they discussed the state of the Alabama Senate race and the President endorsed Judge Moore's campaign," principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah said in a statement.

After Trump's endorsement, the Republican National Committee (RNC) announced plans to jump back into the Alabama race. "The RNC notified the RNC members from Alabama on Monday afternoon that the national party would resume financial support to back the state party in its efforts to elect Moore to the U.S. Senate," Breitbart reported on Monday, news later confirmed by other outlets. "The RNC is the political arm of the president and we support the President," a senior RNC official told CNN.

The renewed support for Moore coincided on Monday with the Washington Post's publication of new evidence from Debbie Wesson Gibson, one of Moore's accusers, that they did know each other (despite the candidate's denial): a graduation card signed by the future state supreme court Chief Justice. Moore initially said that he remembered Gibson, but has since stated that he does "not know any of these women," a claim seemingly contradicted by the card.

The RNC has previously exited the race, withdrawing from a joint fundraising agreement with Moore's campaign last month in light of the allegations. The national party's move comes as other top Republicans have softened their stances, as more time passes from the publication of the allegations and the special election (which is pivotal to control of the Senate) ticks closer. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has previously said Moore should drop out of the race, seemed to hedge in an interview on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday. "I'm going to let the people of Alama make the call," he said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the longest-serving Senate Republican, defended Trump's endorsement of Moore while traveling wtih the President on Monday. “I don’t think he had any choice but to do that,” Hatch said. “You know he needs every Republican he can get so he can put his agenda through. So that’s the only Republican you can possibly get down there.” Hatch had previously joined calls for Moore to end his campaign, even seeming to endorse a write-in candidate on Twitter.

The Russia Investigation

Deutsche Bank: Special Counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank, a German financial services company that has loaned the Trump Organization about $300 million, "on accounts held by U.S. President Donald Trump and his family," Reuters reported this morning. The President has previously set a "red line" in Mueller's probe, raising the possibility of firing the former FBI director if he began probing the Trump family's finances.

Manafort bail deal: Muller's investigators filed documents Monday requesting a judge revisit a bail agreement struck between the Special Counsel and lawyers for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort last week. In the filing, the prosecutors said that while out on bail last week, Manafort ghost-wrote an op-ed with a longtime associate defending his Ukranian lobbying work, adding that the associate is "a longtime Russian colleague of Manafort's, who is currently based in Russia and assessed to have ties to a Russian intelligence service."

"Even if the ghostwritten op-ed were entirely accurate, fair, and balanced, it would be a violation of this Court's November 8 Order [that Manafort could not make statements to the media or public on the case] if it had been published," the prosecutors wrote. "The editorial clearly was undertaken to influence the public's opinion of defendant Manafort, or else there would be no reason to seek its publication (much less for Manafort and his long-time associate to ghostwrite it in another's name)."

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to charges of money laundering and lobbying violations for his work in Ukraine. According to CNN, "the bail agreement the lawyers appeared to have reached would have freed him from house arrest and GPS monitoring while asking him to post more than $11 million in real estate as collateral."

McFarland testimony: K.T. McFarland, who served on the Trump transition team before joining the White House as deputy national security advisor (she has since left the post and is now awaiting confirmation as Ambassador to Singapore), faces renewed questions over her knowledge of former national security advisor Michael Flynn's conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

In the Friday court filing announcing Flynn's guilty plea, Mueller's prosecutors described a "senior" transition official who had discussions with Flynn about what to say to Kislyak about Obama Administration sanctions. Many news outlets alter identified the official as McFarland; the New York Times reported on Saturday that McFarland emailed a number of top officials in the Trump inner circle to strategize on how Flynn would discuss sanctions in his conversations with Kislyak.

The Times reported Monday that Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is now calling her written testimony submitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for her ambassadorship confirmation into question. In questions sent to McFarland, Booker asked: "Did you ever discuss any of General Flynn’s contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak directly with General Flynn?" McFarland responded: "I am not aware of any of the issues or events as described above." The New Jersey senator now says he is concerned McFarland may have given "false testimony," an issue which could obstruct her path to confirmation.

Dismissed agent: Peter Strzok, the former FBI official dismissed from Mueller's probe this week for exchanging anti-Trump texts, "changed a key phrase in former FBI Director James Comey's description of how former secretary of state Hillary Clinton handled classified information," CNN reported Monday. According to the report, Strzok changed the language in Comey's earlier draft from "grossly negligent" to "extremely careless," a change that has wide-ranging legal implications and has been questioned by Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

According to CNN, Strzok was also the official who formally opened the investigation into Russia's interference into the 2016 election; he also oversaw interviews with Michael Flynn in that probe and of top Clinton aides Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin in the Clinton email investigation, per the Daily Caller.

Conyers to Announce Retirement

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), who is facing sexual harassment allegations from multiple former employees, is set to make an announcement on his political future by calling into a Detroit-area radio show at 10:15am today. According to the New York Times, Conyers will announce plans not to seek re-election in 2018. The congressman's great-nephew, 29-year-old state Sen. Ian Conyers, told the Times that he plans to run for the seat instead.

"I'm absolutely going to file for his seat. The work of our congressional district, where I come out of, has to continue," the younger Conyers said. "We have got to have someone who has depth and experience but also historical understanding of what it takes to fight this type of evil in Washington."

In opting to retire at the end of his current term, Rep. Conyers is ignoring calls from leadership of both parties to resign. He has already surrendered his position as Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee due to the allegations. Attorney Lisa Bloom announced last night that another accuser had come forward, tweeting an affidavit from former Conyers staffer Elisa Grubbs accusing the longtime congressman of inappropriate touching.

Conyers has served in Congress since 1965, longer than any other sitting member.

The Rundown

Trump campaign book: A new book by Corey Lewandowski, President Trump's first campaign manager, and former Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie is set to be published today. "Let Trump Be Trump," a nod to Lewandowski's mantra when he led the campaign, promises "the ultimate behind-the-scenes account" of Trump's "rise to the Presidency."

The book "paints a portrait of a campaign with an untested candidate and staff rocketing from crisis to crisis, in which Lewandowski and a cast of mostly neophyte political aides learn on the fly and ultimately accept Trump’s propensity to go angrily off message," according to the Washington Post, which obtained an early copy. According to the Post, Trump's angry takedowns of campaign aides (including Paul Manafort) figure heavily in the book, as does fast-food from a variety of restaurants, especially Trump's frequent McDonald's dinner order of "two Big Macs, two Fillet-O-Fish, and a chocolate malted."

--- More on Manafort's rise and fall in the campaign in this excerpt from the book published in Politico Magazine: "I've Got a Crook Running My Campaign".

Travel ban: The Trump Administration scored a key legal victory on Monday as the Supreme Court allowed the President's travel ban to be enforced while legal challenges go through the courts. The travel ban is currently in its third incarnation, barring entrance to the U.S. for citizens from eight nations: Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad, Noth Korea, and Venezuela. Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the Supreme Court order "a substantial victory for the safety and security of the American people."

#UTSEN: President Trump is urging Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) to run for re-election in 2018, reportedly to block 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney from waging a campaign for the seat. Multiple outlets have reported on Trump's behind-the-scenes maneuvering to pressure Hatch to run again; former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is reportedly doing the same, both to ensure Romney cannot run for the Senate and stand in the way of Trump's agenda.

"We hope you will continue to serve your state and your country in the Senate for a very long time to come," Trump said to Hatch while in Utah on Monday.

--- For proof that Romney would be a thorn in Trump's side... see his reaction to Trump's endorsement of Roy Moore (versus Hatch's reaction above): "Roy Moore in the US Senate would be a stain on the GOP and on the nation. Leigh Corfman and other victims are courageous heroes. No vote, no majority is worth losing our honor, our integrity."

Tax reform: The House voted on Monday to form a conference committee with the Senate to reconcile the chambers' two tax reform proposals. Members of the House Freedom Caucus threatened to withhold their vote on the motion to protest the GOP's plans to push a two-week continuing resolution to keep the federal government open until December 22. After being promised that the date for the spending bill may be extended to December 30, the conservatives relented.

House Republicans are set to decide today on a date for the continuing resolution, which must pass both houses of Congress by midnight Friday to avoid a government shutdown.

Pence: Trending this morning... "God's Plan for Mike Pence" via The Atlantic

SCOTUS to Hear Oral Arguments in "Wedding Cake Case"

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments at 10am today in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a lawsuit brought by Colorado bakery owner Jack Phillips, who was ordered by the state's Civil Rights Commission to bake cakes for same-sex weddings. The commission received a complaint about Phillips after a complaint from a gay couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, that he refused service to, citing his religious opposition to same-sex marriage.

A Colorado court upheld the commission's ruling, and Phillips has appealed to the Supreme Court. Phillips argues that requiring him to bake the cake violates his First Amendment right to freedom of expression. Notably, despite his objections being rooted in religion, Phillips is not arguing his case based solely on religious freedom, but on a broader interpretation of freedom of expression, saying that he is "an artist using cake as his canvas" and the government shouldn't be able to force him to make a specific piece of art. The Trump Administration filed a brief supporting Masterpiece Bakery.

The state commission is defending Colorado's "public accommodation" law, a non-discrimination provision enforced in many states and by the federal government to require that businesses serve all members of the public. Craig and Mullins say Phillips violated this law, which specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. "If a retail bakery will offer a white, three-tiered cake to one customer, it has no constitutional right to refuse to sell the same cake to the next customer because he happens to be African-American, Jewish, or gay," the commission's brief argues.

A decision in the case is likely to come in June; "The Nine"have been sympathetic to same-sex marriage in the past, with Justice Anthony Kennedy frequently serving as the key fifth vote to join the four liberal justices in support.

The President's Schedule

At 12:30pm, President Trump has lunch with a small group of GOP senators at the White House.

At 1:45pm, he leads a discussion with American business owners and their families.

At 6:30pm, President and First Lady Trump host the Congressional Ball, an annual holiday event hosted at the White House for lawmakers.

Also today... White House press secretary Sarah Sanders is scheduled to brief the press at 2pm.

Today in Congress

The House meets at 10am today. The chamber is expected to vote on seven pieces of legislation:

  • the Secret Service Recruitment and Retention Act of 2017,
  • the Stopping Abusive Female Exploitation (SAFE) Act of 2017,
  • the Enhancing Veteran Care Act,
  • the Venezuela Humanitarian Assistance and Defense of Democratic Governance Act of 2017,
  • the Taylor Force Act,
  • and two resolutions, one condemning "ethnic cleansing" of the Rohingya people in Burma and the other condemning the "political, economic, social, and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela."

The Senate also convenes at 10aam today. The body will continue debate over the nomination of Kirstjen Nielsen to be Secretary of Homeland Security. Nielsen, a former official in the second Bush Administration, served as White House chief of staff John Kelly's top aide when he led DHS at the outset of the Trump Administration before joining him at the White House to serve as Deputy Chief of Staff. Her nomination was advanced by the Senate in a 59-33 vote, gaining support from ten Democrats and Sen. Angus King (I-ME), who caucuses with the Democrats. A final confirmation vote is expected this week.

The Senate will end their day's session at 12:30pm, returning at 2:15pm to take the official Senate photograph of the 115th Congress.

All times Eastern