I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, January 4, 2018. 306 days until Election Day 2018. 1,034 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!
Trump vs. Bannon: Explosive book exposes rift between president and former strategist
Four and a half months ago, Steve Bannon sat just down the hall from the Oval Office, serving as Chief Strategist to the President, one of Donald Trump's most influential and prominent advisers. On Wednesday, Trump said in a statement that Bannon had "lost his mind." What happened?
Trump's denunciation of his deposed strategist came hours after the publication in The Guardian of a preview of journalist Michael Wolff's forthcoming book on the first year of the Trump presidency, "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump Presidency." Bannon is quoted in the book criticizing the President's children, calling the June 2016 meeting Donald Trump Jr. held at Trump Tower with a group of Russians "treasonous" and "unpatriotic" and referring to Ivanka Trump as "dumb as bricks." Elaborating on the Trump Tower meeting, Bannon is quoted as saying that Trump Jr. "should have called the FBI immediately" and expressing doubt that the son didn't bring the Russians upstairs to meet his father.
"They're going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV," Bannon told Wolff, adding that the Russia investigation "is all about money laundering." Bannon calls the investigators' path to Trump "as plain as a hair on your face," going "right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr., and Jared Kushner."
An excerpt from "Fire and Fury" was published in New York Magazine on Wednesday, another look at the explosive revelations in the book, painting Trump as unprepared to take the Presidency and describing the contempt with which Trump viewed much of his senior staff (as well as how they viewed him).
--- Read more: "10 wild claims about Trump's White House from the upcoming book 'Fire and Fury'" (CNBC)
But none of the quotes apparently stung Trump as much as those from Bannon, who he pilloried in a scorching statement released by the White House, minimizing Bannon's role in Trump's campaign and Administration and accusing him of being "only in it for himself":
"Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Steve was a staffer who worked for me after I had already won the nomination by defeating seventeen candidates, often described as the most talented field ever assembled in the Republican party.
Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look. Steve had very little to do with our historic victory, which was delivered by the forgotten men and women of this country. Yet Steve had everything to do with the loss of a Senate seat in Alabama held for more than thirty years by Republicans. Steve doesn’t represent my base—he’s only in it for himself.
Steve pretends to be at war with the media, which he calls the opposition party, yet he spent his time at the White House leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was. It is the only thing he does well. Steve was rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue, whom he helped write phony books.
We have many great Republican members of Congress and candidates who are very supportive of the Make America Great Again agenda. Like me, they love the United States of America and are helping to finally take our country back and build it up, rather than simply seeking to burn it all down."
According to the Washington Post, Trump "spent much of the day raging about the book to top aides," while they scrambled to find a copy. The Daily Beast reported that Trump "personally dictated key parts of the statement" bashing Bannon, sensitive to reports that his ex-strategist had held expansive influence over his agenda and played the role of the intellectual force behind "Trumpism." In a report on Trump's "bitter shift" in the last two days, CNN added that Trump felt Bannon "crossed a clear line by going after the President's family."
On Wednesday night, lawyers representing Trump and the Trump campaign sent a cease-and-desist letter to Bannon, demanding that he stop making inflammatory comments about President Trump and his family. "On behalf of our clients, legal notice was issued today to Stephen K. Bannon, that his actions of communicating with author Michael Wolff regarding an upcoming book give rise to numerous legal claims including defamation by libel and slander, and breach of his written confidentiality and non-disparagement agreement with our clients," Trump attorney Charles Harder said in a statement. "Legal action is imminent."
The firestorm over "Fire and Fury" only increases the anticipation ahead of its planned publication on Tuesday, January 9. The book vaulted to the #1 slot on Amazon on Wednesday as excerpts began to be released. According to the publisher, Wolff conducted more than 200 interviews for the book, speaking to the President and much of his senior staff. Trump reportedly blessed the author's project, encouraging aides to speak to him and give him access. In a statement on Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders described the book as "trashy tabloid fiction," while a spokeswoman for First Lady Melania Trump said it "is clearly going to be sold in the bargain fiction section." According to Axios, Wolff taped many of his interviews for the book and spent hours in the West Wing.
At the press briefing, Sanders said Wolff only had "roughly just over a dozen interactions" with White House officials, adding that "I think close to 95 percent were all done so at the request of Mr. Bannon." As Sanders pointed out, many individuals have claimed to be misquoted by Wolff — at least one, however, has yet to comment on the content of the book: Steve Bannon.
--- With some details in the book already proven false, questions on Wolff's credibility linger... Read more: "Michael Wolff tells a juicy tale in his new Trump book. But should we believe it?" (Washington Post)
Trump disbands voter fraud commission
President Trump suddenly ended his controversial commission investigating voter fraud on Wednesday, the White House announced. "Despite substantial evidence of voter fraud, many states have refused to provide the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity with basic information relevant to its inquiry," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. "Rather than engage in endless legal battles at taxpayer expense, today President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order to dissolve the Commission, and he has asked the Department of Homeland Security to review its initial findings and determine next courses of action."
The commission, which was chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and vice-chaired by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, was created in May to probe Trump's unsubstantiated claim that he lost the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election due to illegal votes cast by three to five million people. In June, Kobach penned a letter to every state election official requesting personal voter information, which most states ignored. In a tweet this morning, Trump repeated his claim while criticizing the states for refusing to comply, which the White House said was the reasoning behind shutting down the panel.
"Many mostly Democrat States refused to hand over data from the 2016 Election to the Commission On Voter Fraud," the President tweeted. "They fought hard that the Commission not see their records or methods because they know that many people are voting illegally. System is rigged, must go to Voter I.D."
While the commission is now dissolved, Kobach told the Associated Press that the investigation would continue under the Department of Homeland Security, where it would no longer be a bipartisan exercise. “The Democrats, both on and off the commission, made very clear that they were not interested in determining the scope and extent of voter fraud and, indeed, they were trying to stop the commission in its tracks,” Kobach said. “The Democrats lost their opportunity, lost their seat at the table, by stonewalling.”
Manafort sues special counsel Mueller
Lawyers for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort filed a lawsuit against special counsel Robert Mueller in federal court on Wednesday, seeking to paint Mueller's charges against him for his foreign business dealings as overreaching. Manafort's attorneys argue that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein granted too much leeway to Mueller when appointing him in May; Rosenstein's order gave Mueller the authority to investigate "links and/or coordination" between the Trump campaign and Russia, as well as "any matters that arose or may directly arise from" the probe.
The lawsuit claims that Rosenstein's order "in effect purports to grant Mr. Mueller carte blanche to investigate and pursue criminal charges in connection with anything he stumbles across while investigating, no matter how remote from the specific matter" of Russian ties. Manafort's attorneys argue that the order goes beyond the Justice Department's special counsel regulations and that Mueller's charges against Manafort "must be set aside" as "none of the charges relate to Mr. Manafort's activities during his brief stint in 2016 as campaign manager for the Trump presidential campaign." The lawyers write that Mueller's probe "diverged from its focus on alleged collusion" early in the process, and that his investigation of Manafort's foreign lobbying is "completely unmoored" from his jurisdiction.
The filing concludes by asking the court to issue a set of orders setting aside Rosenstein's order appointing Mueller and declaring it "invalid, arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with law," while also declaring that Mueller "lacks authority to investigate business dealings not arising from the original jurisdiction."
"The lawsuit is frivolous but the defendant is entitled to file whatever he wants," a Justice Department spokeswoman told reporters in response.
Manafort and his partner Rick Gates were indicted on October on 12 counts including "conspiracy against the United States" and "conspiracy to launder money," as well as failure to register as a foreign agent and to file other documents, and for making "false statements." Both Manafort and Gates surrendered to the FBI, but pleaded not guilty and have since been under house arrest.
The President's Schedule
For the third day in a row, President Donald Trump has no public events on his schedule, instead spending the day in closed-door meetings:
At 11:30am, the President meets with Republican senators today on immigration. Trump will likely strategize with the lawmakers ahead of the January 19 funding deadline; Democrats are demanding passage of legislation to protect "Dreamers," undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as minors, in exchange for their votes to keep the government open. President Trump insists that such protections must be passed alongside border security measures, such as funding for his proposed border wall. According to Axios, Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), James Lankford (R-OK), and Thom Tillis (R-NC) will be in attendance.
At 1:30pm, Trump will present the National Security Medal, an honor awarded to individuals who make contributions to national security and intelligence. Trump will present the award to Richard Ledgett Jr., who worked at the National Security Agency (NSA) from 1988 to 2017, spending the last three years of his tenure as Deputy Director.
At 2:15pm, Trump meets with another group of Republican senators about the party's 2018 legislative agenda. The meeting is a continuation of the party's internal debate over which issues to prioritize in 2018; Trump is set to huddle with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on that topic at Camp David this weekend. McConnell has publicly shot down Ryan's plan to focus on welfare and entitlement reform in the new year.
Finally, at 3:30pm, the President meets with Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders holds her daily briefing at 1:30pm.
Today in Congress
The Senate meets at 11am today. Following Leader remarks, the chamber will resume consideration of the nomination of Walter David Counts III to be a U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Texas. Counts, a U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Western District of Texas, was first nominated for the district court judgeship by former President Barack Obama in March 2016. Counts is likely to be the next in the flurry of federal judges confirmed by the Senate in recent months.
However, the Senate has canceled today's votes in light of the winter weather "bomb cyclone" threatening the East Coast, after 12 senators missed the confirmation vote on Wednesday (many due to inclement weather).
The House is not in session today; the chamber will be returning to legislative business next week.
In Wednesday's newsletter, I misstated the location of the 2018 Winter Olympics. The games will be held in PyeongChang, South Korea.