Wake Up To Politics - February 20, 2019
I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, February 20, 2019. 348 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 622 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
--- Recommend read: The New York Times published a sweeping report Tuesday on President Donald Trump's "two-year war on the investigations encircling him," collecting in one place many of the attempts by the president and members of his inner circle to "beat back" various investigations into them, which have exposed Trump to accusations of obstruction of justice.
One of the new details from the piece: According to the report, President Trump asked then-Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker late last year if Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, could be put back in charge of the SDNY investigation into hush money paid on Trump's behalf during the 2016 campaign. (Berman, a Trump appointee, had recused himself from the probe). House Democrats are now eyeing Whitaker for potential perjury, due to his testimony earlier this month that the White House had never "asked for...any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel's investigation or any other investigation."
Trump's response when asked by reports if he had asked Whitaker about putting Berman back in charge of the hush money investigation: "No, not at all, I don't know who gave you that. That's more fake news."
--- Top Trump administration officials, including then-national security adviser Michael Flynn, pushed a plan to sell nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia for months after the inauguration according to a new report from House Democrats. Per the report, White House lawyers and National Security Council officials objected to the plan due to concerns that it violated anti-nuclear proliferation laws and that it constituted a conflict of interest for Flynn, who had advised the firm pitching the plan.
--- "House and Senate Democrats say they have obtained evidence that a senior official at the Department of Education tried to oust the department’s independent watchdog after she pushed back on an attempt to interfere in an active investigation of Secretary Betsy DeVos." (NBC News)
--- The latest from former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, whose memoir "The Threat" was released on Tuesday: "Fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said on Tuesday that no members of the 'Gang of Eight' congressional leaders objected when he informed them in May 2017 that the FBI had opened a counterintelligence investigation into President Donald Trump over his ties to Russia." (Politico)
Related: "FBI had backup plan to save Russia probe evidence" (Associated Press)
The Trump Administration
--- Deputy Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Rosen will be President Trump's nominee to succeed Rod Rosenstein as Deputy Attorney General, the White House announced on Tuesday night. Rosen has served as the No. 2 at the Transportation Department since May 2017, and previously served in the agency and in the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush. He is also a former lawyer at Kirkland & Ellis, the same firm that Attorney General William Barr and many other Trump administration officials have worked at. Rosenstein, whose departure date has not yet been announced, appointed special counsel Robert Mueller and oversaw the Mueller investigation until Attorney General Jeff Sessions' resignation late last year.
--- President Trump "has grown increasingly disenchanted with Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, who has served as the nation’s top intelligence official for nearly two years, leading some administration officials to worry he will soon be dismissed," the Washington Post reports. The latest rumblings about Coats' future come after the director contradicted the president on a number of issues, including Iran, North Korea, and ISIS, in testimony before Congress. According to the Post, Trump is still "enraged" about the testimony.
--- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) raised more than $4 million in the 12 hours after announcing his 2020 presidential campaign, according to the Associated Press. For context, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) raised $1.5 million in the first 24 hours of her campaign, while Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) raised $1 million in her first 48 hours. Other candidates have not released comparable figures.
--- Sanders also received an endorsement from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). While the declaration of support from a home-state colleague would seem unextraordinary, it is notable since Leahy backed Hillary Clinton over Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primaries. In fact, only one U.S. senator (Oregon's Jeff Merkley) endorsed Sanders' 2016 bid, meaning the Vermont Independent already equaled that number on Day 1 of his 2020 campaign. So far, no 2020 candidate has been endorsed by a sitting member of Congress not from their home state.
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White House schedule
--- At 12:30 p.m., President Trump has lunch with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. At 1:45 p.m., he participates in the arrival of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the Republic of Austria. At 1:50 p.m., Trump meets with Chancellor Kurz. At 2:10 p.m., the president participates in an expanded bilateral meeting with the chancellor. At 2:50 p.m, he participates in the departure of the chancellor.
According to the White House, Trump and Kurz will discuss their "bilateral relationship" and "new avenues for transatlantic cooperation," such as "both global conflicts and those in the European neighborhood," "economic prosperity," and "energy security."
--- Vice President Mike Pence will join the president for the meetings with Chancellor Kurz.
--- Neither house of Congress is in session today.
Supreme Court schedule
--- The Supreme Court hears oral arguments today in Mission Product Holdings, Inc. v. Tempnology, LLC.
--- From the court on Tuesday: "Justice Clarence Thomas Calls for Reconsideration of Landmark Libel Ruling" (New York Times)
*All times Eastern