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Wake Up To Politics - February 20, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Friday, February 16, 2018. 259 days until Election Day 2018. 987 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!

About last weekend...

From The Washington Post... "Trump lashes out over Russia probe in angry and error-laden tweetstorm":
"President Trump lashed out with fresh anger about the intensifying Russia probe over the weekend, accusing Democrats of enabling a foreign adversary to interfere in the 2016 election and attacking the FBI as well as his own national security adviser.

"In a defiant and error-laden tweetstorm that was remarkable even by his own combative standards, Trump stewed aloud about the latest indictments brought by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III against Russians for their elaborate campaign to denigrate the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, and push voters toward Trump.

"The president seized on Mueller’s evidence of the expansive scope of the Russian influence efforts to claim that the indictments exonerated him and proved there was 'no collusion.' But the special counsel’s investigation of possible complicity between Russia and the Trump campaign is continuing, as is the examination of whether Trump has sought to obstruct justice.

"In a string of 10 Twitter messages — which began after 11 p.m. Saturday and ended around noon Sunday, and which included profanity and misspellings — Trump opened a window into his state of mind, even as Trump’s representatives at a global security conference in Germany advised jittery allies to generally ignore the president’s tweets.

"Trump’s latest attacks built on remarks last week in which he misrepresented the evidence revealed by Mueller. He tweeted falsely, 'I never said Russia did not meddle in the election.' He blamed President Barack Obama’s administration for doing 'nothing' to stop the intrusion. Trump rebuked national security adviser H.R. McMaster for publicly saying the evidence of Russian interference was 'incontrovertible.'

"And he held the FBI responsible for last week’s devastating shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school that left 17 dead. Trump tweeted that the bureau was committing so many resources to the Russia probe that it missed “all of the many signals” about the shooter.

"One topic Trump avoided in his missives was punishment of Russia. The president did not spell out how his administration might seek to retaliate against the Russians or how it may try to protect the U.S. electoral system from continued attacks, which the nation’s intelligence chiefs warned last week should be expected."

Trump's state of mind: According to the New York Times, President Trump had initially been convinced by aides that Mueller's Friday indictments were a positive sign, since they didn't affect him or any of his associates. But over a Presidents' Day weekend at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, Trump's "mood began to darken" as he spent "long hours" watching the commentary on TV, avoiding the golf course out of respect to the victims in nearby Parkland. As he watched more of the discussion on cable news — which portrayed the indictment as "nothing for him to celebrate" — he felt the need to send more tweets spreading his own narrative.

According to the Associated Press, the President "fumed to associates at Mar-a-Lago that the media 'won’t let [the Russia probe] go' and will do everything to delegitimize his presidency," making the complaint to members who stopped by his table Saturday as he dined with Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and talk show host Geraldo Rivera.

And there's more... President Trump is back in Washington, but his furious tweeting has continued this morning. As of this publication, the President has tweeted seven times today, about "Fox and Friends," the Russia probe, the 2018 midterms, CPAC, and Pennsylvania redistricting.

Russia probe: What's next

Special counsel Robert Mueller took a huge step in his wide-ranging investigation last Friday, charging 13 Russian nationals and three companies with illegally entering the United States and interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The 37-page indictment details an expansive plot to meddle in the race, exposing Russia's use of social media "to sow discord in the U.S. political system," "supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump...and disparaging Hillary Clinton."

What's next in the Russia probe? Every step taken by Mueller seems to take Washington by surprise, but here are some clues as to what could be coming:

  • More Manafort charges: In a separate court filing on Friday night, Mueller's office responded to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's request to change his bail proposal by revealing "additional criminal that we have learned since the Court's initial bail determination." Mueller, who has already charged Manafort with conspiracy against the U.S. and other charges, said he had additional evidence of "a series of bank frauds and bank fraud conspiracies" conducted by Manafort, raising the possibility of new charges coming against the ex-Trump aide. Manafort previously pleaded not guilty to the nine counts he was indicted for.
  • According to BuzzFeed, federal officials "officials have identified more than $40 million in 'suspicious' financial transactions to and from" companies controlled by Manafort, "a much larger sum than was cited in his October indictment on money laundering charges."
  • Gates plea deal: More bad news for Manafort... Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates "will plead guilty to fraud-related charges within days — and has made clear to prosecutors that he would testify against" Manafort, his longtime partner, according to the Los Angeles Times. Gates pleaded not guilty when indicted along with Manafort in October.
  • Kushner focus: According to CNN, Mueller's interest in Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner "has expanded beyond his contacts with Russia and now includes his efforts to secure financing for his company from foreign investors during the presidential transition." The report says that Mueller is now exploring his discussions with non-Russian foreign investors, including in China.
  • Collusion probe: While President Trump seized on Friday's indictments as proof that there was "no collusion" between Russians and his campaign, the Special Counsel has yet to make that conclusion. According to Bloomberg, Mueller and his team are still investigating possible collusion.
  • Pardons?: Conservatives are urging the President to put an end to the Russia probe by pardoning Manafort, Gates, his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, Politico reports.

Trump signals support for gun control bill

The White House jumped into the gun control debate on Monday, signaling that the President is open to background checks legislation amid a nationwide discussion sparked by the Parkland, Florida high school shooting last week.

"The President is supportive of efforts to improve the Federal background check system," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement, adding that Trump spoke to Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) over the phone about the bipartisan bill he introduced with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). Their legislation would require federal and state authorities to report criminal history records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). A similar measure passed the House in December, but the Cornyn-Murphy bill has been stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee for months.

"It's clear the President is interested in getting something done," Cornyn said after the phone call. According to the Washington Post, President Trump was "closely monitoring" television appearances by teenage survivors of the shooting over the weekend and "surveyed Mar-a-Lago Club members about whether he ought to" support new gun control legislation.

The Parkland students appeared on a number of the Sunday shows to announce a March 24 march on gun control. "This isn't about the GOP, this isn't about the Democrats," one of them said on ABC's 'This Week.' "This is about the adults. We feel neglected, and at this point, you're either with us or against us.

A number of Republicans called for gun control laws in response to the Parkland shooting. Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) urged President Trump and the congressional GOP to take action and pass "common sense" reforms on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday.

Reality check: Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) said on MSNBC that he is "not optimistic" that Congress will make any changes to the nation's gun laws. "I believe Congress has really largely lost the ability to engage in bipartisan, incremental changes on controversial issues," he said.

Polling: 58% of Americans say that stricter gun control laws could have prevented the Parkland shooting, according to a Washington Post/ABC poll released this morning. 77% said Congress is not doing enough to stop mass shootings and 62% said the same of President Trump... but there isn't much consensus about what should be done, the poll found.

Inside the West Wing: "For the weary White House, Florida shooting offered a ‘reprieve’ from scandals" (Washington Post)

2018 Central: The Rundown

Pennsylvania map: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court unveiled a new map for the state's congressional districts on Monday. If it stands, experts believe Democrats' chances at picking up more seats are greatly improved. NYT's The Upshot, which said "perhaps no event will do more to reshape the fight for control of the House" than the Pennsylvania map," has more details on the changes...

--- Cook Political Report's Dave Wasserman tweets: "The most accurate way to think about partisan impact of new PA map isn't 'Dems gain x seats from it.' It's that the new map replaced 6 existing Dem pickup opportunities w/ 6 *much stronger* opportunities: (#PA01, #PA05, #PA06, #PA07, #PA10, #PA17)."

#UTSEN: President Trump endorsed 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's Senate campaign in Utah on Monday, declaring that Romney "will make a great Senator and worthy successor" to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). Romney and Trump have long had a difficult relationship; during the 2016 presidential race, Romney denounced Trump as a "phony" and a "fraud." Trump responded at the time by calling Romney "one of the dumbest and worst candidates in the history of Republican politics."

Romney tweeted in 2016 that he regretted accepting Trump's endorsement in the 2012 campaign: "If Trump had said 4 years ago the things he says today about the KKK, Muslims, Mexicans, disabled, I would NOT have accepted his endorsement," he tweeted. On Monday, Romney seemed to change his tune: "Thank youMr. President for the support," he tweeted.

#FL17: Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) announced plans to retire on Monday rather than seek a sixth term; he will be the 42nd House Republican to retire or seek another office this year. "After what will be 10 years in the United States Congress representing the good people of Florida’s Heartland, it’s time to ‘hang ‘em up’ as my old football coach used to say," Rooney said in a statement.

Rooney's seat is a safe Republican district, won by President Trump by 27% in 2016.

Tax reform polling: Republicans' hopes for the midterms are rising as support for the GOP tax bill grows. According to a New York Times/SurveyMonkey poll, 51% of Americans now approve of the tax law, compared to 46% in January and 37% in December.

Today at the White House

At 11:15am, President Trump receives his daily intelligence briefing.

At 12:30pm, he has lunch with Vice President Mike Pence and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

At 2:45pm, he meets with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

Finally, at 3:30pm, the President hosts the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor awards ceremony. The medal is awarded annually to public safety officers "who have exhibited exceptional courage, regardless of personal safety, in the attempt to save or protect human life," according to the Justice Department.

Also today: at 2pm, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders will hold her first press briefing since last Tuesday... Vice President Mike Pence travels to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where he will tour the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and participate in a commercial spaceflight federal reception.

Today in Congress

Both houses of Congress are on recess.