7 min read

Wake Up To Politics - February 23, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Friday, February 23, 2018. 256 days until Election Day 2018. 984 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!

Russia probe

New charges against Manafort, Gates: "Paul Manafort was using fraudulently obtained loans and tax-cheating tricks to prop up his personal finances as he became chairman of the Trump campaign in 2016, according to a new 32-count indictment filed against him and his business partner Thursday."

"The indictment ratchets up pressure on Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, who were already preparing for a trial in the District that could come later this year on fraud and money-laundering charges."

"The additional charges had been expected in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s prosecution of Manafort and Gates. Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 and was campaign chairman from June to August of that year. Gates also served as a top officialon Trump’s campaign."

..."The new indictment offers a more detailed portrait of what prosecutors say was a multiyear scheme by Manafort and Gates to use their income from working for a Ukrainian political party to buy properties, evade taxes and support a lavish lifestyle even after their business connections in Kiev evaporated." (Washington Post)

Gates' new lawyer: "Former Trump campaign aide Richard Gates has formally brought veteran Washington attorney Thomas Green into his case, according to an order of appearance filed late Thursday, a signal of potential movement in the special counsel case against him."

..."A former D.C. federal prosecutor himself, Green has represented a long succession of high profile political clients in well-known political scandals, such as Iran Contra and the Keating Five. Most recently he led the legal defense of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who was sentenced in 2016 to 15 months for payoffs made to cover up sex abuse allegations." (ABC News)

--- Why it matters: Per CNN, "Green had held out from joining Gates' trial team because a trial would be a grueling, months-long and expensive ordeal for both lawyer and client, with the risk of a sentence of more than 10 years in prison, according to sources familiar with the matter." According to the network, Green formally joining Gates' team is "a strong indication that Gates is on the precipice of reaching a plea deal with prosecutors."

Gun control

Trump's mixed signals: "Arming teachers. 'Hardening' schools. Strengthening background checks. Raising the age for gun purchases. Banning bump stocks. Reopening mental institutions. Even revisiting the rating system for video games and movies."

"That was the dizzying array of suggestions President Donald Trump threw out in just one meeting Thursday for how to deal with gun violence in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla."

"But it wasn’t clear how he planned to transform any of his ideas into reality. Trump told the gathering of law enforcement officials in the White House’s Roosevelt Room that he’d reached out to lawmakers in recent days who signaled a willingness to consider background checks – it wasn’t immediately clear who – and asserted that the minimum age for long gun purchases should be raised to 21, a move long opposed by the National Rifle Association. “And the NRA will back it,” the president said – even though the organization said the opposite just this week."

"The comments came a day after Trump surprised aides during a listening session with school shooting survivors by advancing the idea of rolling back gun-free zone restrictions at schools to allow teachers and staff to carry concealed weapons as a deterrent, a proposal long promoted by the NRA."

"Yet as with health care and immigration, Trump has appeared to search for a clear agenda, offering sometimes contradictory prescriptions." (Politico)

Teachers respond: "President Donald Trump has proposed a solution to end classroom massacres once and for all: Arm some of America's teachers with concealed weapons, and train them to 'immediately fire back if a savage sicko came to a school with bad intentions,' he said Thursday."

"But gun violence experts, educators, and school safety advocates immediately panned the idea."

"'It's a crazy proposal,' said Dr. David Hemenway, a professor of health policy at Harvard School of Public Health and an expert on the public health impact of gun violence. Chuckling, he added, 'So what should we do about reducing airline hijacking? Give all the passengers guns as they walk on?'"

"Avery Gardiner, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, called it a 'colossally stupid idea.'"

In the Senate: "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is loath to allow any debate that splits his caucus, and it’s hard to find one more divisive than guns. Already, proposals backed by [Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)] and the president are running into headwinds in the slow-moving Senate."

"Rubio’s attempts to quickly pass an NRA-backed bill to improve the background-checks system may be blocked by fellow Republicans next week. A more controversial measure suggested by Trump and Rubio — raising the minimum age to buy some rifles from 18 to 21 — is already running into internal GOP opposition and resistance from influential pro-gun groups."

..."Rubio said on Wednesday evening that 'if you are 18 years of age you should not be able to buy a rifle.' He was joined on Thursday by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who said 'nobody under 21 should have an AR-15,' according to the Wichita Eagle. Likewise, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is 'inclined to support legislation that would raise the minimum purchase age for rifles like the AR-15 from 18 ,' an aide said." (Politico)

Big picture: "Another Shooting, Another Gun Debate. Will the Outcome Be the Same?" (New York Times)

"'We're going to take action': Inside Trump's shifting stance on gun rights" (Washington Post)

Latest from Parkland: "Stoneman Douglas cop resigns; sheriff says he should have 'killed the killer'" (Sun-Sentinel)

Greitens indicted

"Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who was swept into office in 2016 with a vow to clean up a corrupt state government, was indicted and booked Thursday on a felony invasion of privacy charge for allegedly taking and transmitting a non-consensual photo of his partly nude lover shortly before that campaign started."

..."St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner's office announced the grand jury indictment Thursday afternoon. A Post-Dispatch reporter saw Greitens being led down a hallway by several St. Louis city deputies on the first floor of the Carnahan Courthouse in downtown St. Louis at about 3:45 p.m. Officials later confirmed Greitens had been taken into custody and then booked at the St. Louis Justice Center."

"Greitens, a Republican, declared his innocence in a written statement, and alleged the indictment is a 'misguided political decision' by a 'reckless liberal prosecutor.' Gardner is a Democrat. Greitens' legal team immediately filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, on grounds that any activity Greitens engaged in was 'consensual.' Judge Rex M. Burlison allowed Greitens' release on a personal recognizance bond that permits him to travel freely throughout the United States..."

"A joint statement by top legislative Republicans, including Speaker of the House Todd Richardson, said they will appoint a group of legislators to investigate the charges." (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

--- On the ground: Just hours after the indictment against her husband was handed down, Missouri First Lady Sheena Greitens spoke at Washington University in St. Louis on North Korean refugees. I went to the event, hoping to catch a glimpse of the First Lady... but media were asked to leave the premises.

Inside the Trump Administration

Kushner security clearance: "Jared Kushner has been unable to obtain a full security clearance in part because of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, is unlikely to obtain the full clearance as long as the special counsel's probe is ongoing, one of the sources said." (CNN)

--- Kushner vs. Kelly: Today is the deadline set by White House chief of staff John Kelly last week when employees with interim security clearances whose background investigations have been pending since June (like Kushner) are supposed to lose their access to classified information. The White House has not said how many officials will be affected: "I can’t get into the specifics regarding individual security clearances or numbers," principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah said Thursday. The New York Times reported earlier this week on an internal struggle between Kushner and Kelly, as the former resisted losing his access to the President's Daily Brief and other top-secret intelligence.

Transgender military ban: "Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is expected to propose to President Trump that transgender members of the U.S. military be allowed to continue serving despite the president’s call last summer for a ban on all transgender service members, according to two U.S. officials with knowledge of the issue." (Washington Post)

Jerusalem embassy: "The Trump administration is considering an offer from Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson to pay for at least part of a new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, four U.S. officials told The Associated Press."

"Lawyers at the State Department are looking into the legality of accepting private donations to cover some or all of the embassy costs, the administration officials said. The discussions are occurring as the new embassy clears its final bureaucratic hurdles. On Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ended weeks of delay by signing off on a security plan for moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city, according to the officials, who weren’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly and demanded anonymity." (Associated Press)


"Kasich's team gears up for possible 2020 bid" (Politico)

"U.S. official focused on election security will be replaced" (Reuters)

"Bernie Sanders' son wants to run for Congress. Not everyone is on board." (Vice News)

"Comedian Michelle Wolf will host this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner" (USA TODAY)

"Gov. Rauner drinks chocolate milk to demonstrate his commitment to diversity" (Chicago Tribune)

The President's Schedule

At 10:05am, President Donald Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the largest annual gathering of conservatives in the U.S. According to Reuters, the President is expected to announce new sanctions against North Korea in his CPAC speech.

At 12:35pm, he participates in a meeting with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia. According to the White House, Trump and Turnbull "will discuss a range of shared bilateral, regional, and global priorities, including fighting terrorism, promoting economic growth, and expanding security and defense cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region." At 12:50pm, Trump has a working lunch with Prime Minister Turnbull. At 2pm, the President holds a joint press conference with Prime Minister Turnbull.

At3pm, President Trump meets with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.