I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, February 21, 2019. 347 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 621 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at email@example.com.
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Reports: Mueller investigation coming to an end
Special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation is reportedly nearing completion; according to multiple news outlets, the Justice Department is preparing for Mueller to submit his final investigative report in the coming days.
According to CNN, newly-confirmed Attorney General Bill Barr is preparing to announce the completion of Mueller's probe "as early as next week"; the network also said he is planning to submit "a summary of Mueller's confidential report" to Congress soon after.
"On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday last week, special counsel's office employees carried boxes and pushed a cart full of files out of their office -- an unusual move that could foreshadow a hand-off of legal work," per CNN. Mueller has referred a number of matters that full outside of his scope of inquiry to other U.S. Attorney's offices, leading to federal investigations into President Donald Trump's former personal attorney, family company, and inaugural committee. These probes, and possibly others, will continue even if Mueller closes shop.
The Washington Post also reported that DOJ officials are preparing for Mueller to deliver his report to Barr in the "coming days." According to the Post, "the special counsel’s office, which used to have 17 lawyers, is down to 12 now, and some of those attorneys have recently been in touch with their old bosses about returning to work."
The Post also reported that "there is palpable concern among the president’s inner circle that the report might contain information about Trump and his team that is politically damaging, but not criminal conduct."
According to the special counsel regulations under which he was appointed, Mueller is required to submit a confidential report to the attorney general detailing his decisions to prosecute some people and not others. The attorney general then decides how much of that report will be shared with Congress and with the public.
Asked Wednesday about the Mueller report's release, President Trump responded: "That'll be totally up to the new attorney general. He's a tremendous man, a tremendous person, who totally respects this country and respects the Justice Department, so that'll be totally up to him."
At his confirmation hearing last month, Barr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that "it is very important that the public and Congress be informed of the results of the special counsel's work," pledging to "provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law." When pressed by lawmakers, Barr did not commit to sharing the entire report, as opposed to just a summary, with Congress, although he said it was his "goal and intent" to make Mueller's conclusions public.
So far, Mueller's investigation has led to 37 people and entities being charged in 199 total criminal counts, securing seven guilty pleas, four prison sentences, and one conviction at trial.
- Michael Cohen, the president's former personal attorney and "fixer," will testify before the House Oversight Committee in a public hearing on February 27, the panel announced Wednesday. The scope of the hearing will include "the president's debts and payments relating to efforts to influence the 2016 election," "the president's compliance with campaign finance laws," "the president's compliance with tax laws," "the accuracy of the president's public statements," and other matters. Cohen, who has been sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to charges filed by Mueller and by federal prosecutors, is now scheduled to report to prison on May 6, after a federal judge agreed to grant him an extension on Wednesday.
- Longtime Trump political adviser Roger Stone, who was indicted by Mueller last month, is set to appear for a court hearing today to address his recent Instagram post, a picture of Judge Amy Berman Jackson (who has jurisdiction over his case) with crosshairs in the corner. Jackson decided last week that Stone would not be prohibited from discussing his legal case with the media, but could reverse course and issue a gag order at today's hearing, or even jail Stone for attempting to intimidate a judge. Stone's lawyers formally issued a "notice of apology" with the court earlier this week; the Instagram post was promptly deleted.
- The Senate Intelligence Committee is attempting to question Moscow-based American businessman David Geovanis, who has ties to President Trump, "after witnesses told [the panel's investigators] he could shed light on the president's commercial and personal activities in Russia dating back to the 1990s," CNN reports.
Race to the White House: New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker's presidential campaign announced endorsements this morning from 52 New Jersey Democratic elected officials, including his home-state governor and the 12 other Democratic members of the state's congressional delegation...
--- The total fundraising haul for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 24 hours after he announced his second presidential bid: $5.9 million from more than 225,000 donors, an amount far outpacing what his rivals have disclosed raising after their own announcements.
Race for the Senate: Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) announced on Wednesday his plans to challenge Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) in 2020, jumping into what promises to be one of the cycle's most hotly-contested races. Jones, who won a special election in the deep-red state in 2017 (against a controversial opponent accused of child molestation), is seen as the most vulnerable Democrat in the Senate. "I want a U.S. senator who will fight for you and me," Byrne said in his announcement.
Inside Congress: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Wednesday endorsed a joint resolution to terminate President Trump's national emergency declaration, and urged her colleagues to support the effort as well. Under the National Emergencies Act, if the House passes a resolution disapproving of the president's emergency declaration, it will be required to receive a vote on the Senate floor. According to the Washington Post, at least 21 Republican senators have either announced opposition to Trump's use of executive power or expressed concerns. (Even if the Senate passes the resolution, which is set to be introduced on the House floor Friday, the president can still veto it.)
The latest from North Carolina's 9th congressional district, the last unresolved race of the 2018 midterms: "The son of Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris testified before the North Carolina State Board of Elections on Wednesday, saying that he warned his father about the illegal tactics of a political operative that Harris hired and casting doubt on Harris' insistence that he had no knowledge of fraudulent election activity in last year's election." (NBC News)
The future of campaigns: "Your phone and TV are tracking you, and political campaigns are listening in" (Los Angeles Times)
Back to history class: A majority of Americans in 49 U.S. states would fail a test based on questions from the U.S. citizenship test, according to a survey conducted by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. Among the findings: only 15% of American adults knew the year the U.S. Constitution was written, while only 28% could correctly identify three of the original 13 states. A quarter of Americans -- 25% -- did not know that freedom of speech was guaranteed under the First Amendment.
Speaking of the First Amendment... "Trump Attacks The Times, in a Week of Unease for the American Press" (New York Times)
White House schedule
POTUS: At 11:30 a.m., President Trump receives his intelligence briefing. At 12:15 p.m., he has lunch with Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. At 6:15 p.m., he participates in a reception for National African American History Month.
VP: Vice President Mike Pence travels to Columbia, South Carolina today. At 12:10 p.m., Pence participates in a tour of an Opportunity Zone, an initiative enacted by the 2017 GOP tax law that provides tax incentives to developers who make long-term investments in economically-distressed areas. At 12:45 p.m., Pence delivers remarks.
The vice president will then return to Washington, D.C.; he will join the president for the African American History Month reception this evening.
Neither house of Congress is in session today.
Supreme Court schedule
The Supreme Court is not meeting today.
*All times Eastern