Wake Up To Politics - January 5, 2018
I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Friday, January 5, 2018. 305 days until Election Day 2018. 1,033 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at email@example.com. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!
Despite Trump threat, "Fire and Fury" to be published today
With juicy excerpts from journalist Michael Wolff's forthcoming West Wing tell-all, "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House," dominating attention in Washington, President Donald Trump's personal lawyers attempted Thursday to stop its publication. Trump's attorney Charles Harder penned a letter to Wolff and publisher Henry Holt and Co., demanding that they "immediately cease and desist from any further publication, release or dissemination of the book" and that they "issue a full and complete retraction and apology."
The publisher responded: "We see 'Fire and Fury' as an extraordinary contribution to our national discourse, and are proceeding with the publication of the book." And not only is publication proceeding, but the release date was pushed up four days: instead of going on sale Tuesday, as planned, "Fire and Fury" will now hit shelves at 9am today. "You can buy it (and read it) tomorrow," Wolff tweeted Thursday. "Thank you, Mr. President."
Still, Trump continued his assault on the book, claiming in a nighttime tweet that he "authorized Zero access" for Wolff and "never spoke to him for book," adding that "Fire and Fury" is "full of lies, misrepresentations and sources that don't exist." Trump also debuted a nickname for his former chief strategist Steve Bannon in the tweet, referring to his ex-aide as "Sloppy Steve!" The new moniker came a day after Trump released a statement bashing Bannon, who Trump claimed had "lost his mind," in response to comments Bannon reportedly made to Wolff about the President and his family.
Bannon continued to see fallout for his comments on Thursday, experiencing another high-profile split, this time with his billionaire backer Rebekah Mercer, who was a top Trump campaign donor as well as a leading investor in Breitbart News and Bannon's other projects. "I support President Trump and the platform upon which he was elected," Mercer said in a rare statement, first reported by the Washington Post. "My family and I have not communicated with Steve Bannon in many months and have provided no financial support to his political agenda, nor do we support his recent actions and statements."
According to the Wall Street Journal, Rebekah Mercer, her father Robert Mercer, as well as other Breitbart News Network board members are "debating whether to oust" Bannon as the outlet's executive chairman, in light of his feud with the President. The Journal also reported that the younger Mercer spoke to the White House on Thursday before distancing herself from Bannon. When asked at her daily press briefing whether Breitbart should "part ways" with Bannon after his comments, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders responded: "I certainly think that it's something they should look at and consider."
Bannon's rift with his "biggest financial patron" (the Mercers) and his "biggest political patron" (the President), as the Washington Post's Ashley Parker put it, could signal an end to his influence on the national stage. The former White House strategist had large plans for 2018, endorsing a slate of anti-establishment candidates for Congress in a campaign threatening Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But, with Bannon's role in the Trump orbit shrinking, his backing seems like a less valuable commodity: many candidates he has supported have now distanced themselves from him, including Senate candidates Kelli Ward (AZ) and Patrick Morrisey (WV), as well as Michael Grimm, a House candidate from New York.
NYT report details Mueller obstruction probe
A New York Times report on Thursday offered new revelations uncovered by special counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation of potential obstruction of justice committed by President Trump. The Times reported that Trump ordered White House counsel Don McGahn in March to stop Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself in the Justice Department's Russia probe, and that the President was furious when that attempt proved unsuccessful. According to the Times, Trump said "he needed his attorney general to protect him," pointing to past attorneys general he viewed as more loyal to the presidents who appointed him, such as Robert Kennedy under his brother John F. Kennedy and Eric Holder under Barack Obama.
"Where's my Roy Cohn?" Trump reportedly asked, referring to his late former personal lawyer, whose ruthless style gained prominence while serving as chief counsel to then-Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
The Times report also revealed that Mueller has "substantiated claims" made by former FBI director James Comey about his interactions with the President, including by using former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus' handwritten notes. In addition, the special counsel has found additional details related to Comey's firing: that Trump's original letter announcing the dismissal included a reference to the Russia investigation (which the White House has denied), that Sessions asked a congressional staffer to leak negative information about Comey to the media, and that a White House lawyer misled Trump about his ability to fire the FBI director in an attempt to stop him from going through with the move.
The report that Trump sent McGahn to stop Sessions from recusing himself has been confirmed by the Associated Press and the Washington Post.
--- RELATED: Two leaders of the House Freedom Caucus, chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) and former chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH), wrote an op-ed in the Washington Examiner on Thursday, calling on Sessions to resign due to his handling of the Justice Department's Russia investigation. "It's time for Jeff Sessions to go," the two congressmen wrote. Frustrations with Sessions are clearly on the rise among Trump and congressional Republicans, but an unlikely group is now urging him to stay in office: congressional Democrats. According to CNN, Democrats are coming to Sessions' defense, saying that he needs to stay in office to protect the Mueller investigation.
The Latest: Trump Administration actions
Marijuana policy: Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a set of Obama Administration policies on Thursday that had stopped the federal government from interfering with states that had passed laws legalizing marijuana. The drug remains illegal under federal law, but 29 states have legalized the substance for recreational or medical use. In a statement, Session said that the new policy marked a "return to the rule of law," adding that "prosecutors should fellow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions" when deciding whether to charge individuals found to possess marijuana in states where it has been legalized.
The immediate effects of Sessions' move were unclear. According to the New York Times, "Justice Department officials would not say whether they intended to carry out a crackdown and begin prosecuting commercial growers, distributors and shopkeepers, or were instead merely trying to sow doubt and slow growth in the semilegal industry."
The new policy was criticized by many congressional Democrats, and some Republicans as well. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), a member of the GOP leadership team, tweeted that Sessions' action "directly contradicts what Attorney General Sessions told me prior to his confirmation." Insisting that the issue "must be left to the states," Gardner added that he is "prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding [Justice Department] nominees" to force Sessions to reverse the move.
Drilling expansion: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced plans Thursday to roll back an Obama Administration ban on offshore drilling off the coasts of Florida and California, opening the door to oil and gas drilling on nearly all U.S. offshore waters. While the Obama Administration placed 94 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf (which includes the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts, as well as the Gulf of Mexico), according to Reuters, the new plan would make over 90 percent of the area available for leasing to drillers. He pointed to 47 proposed leasing areas, which he said could increase federal revenue by $15 billion. The move was praised by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but criticized by environmentalists and a bipartisan group of governors, including Rick Scott (R-FL), Chris Christie (R-NJ), and Larry Hogan (R-MD).
Pakistan aid: The State Department announced on Thursday that the U.S. government is suspending almost all security assistance to Pakistan. The moves come after President Trump labeled the nation a "safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan" in a tweet on Monday, saying that Pakistan has given the U.S. "nothing but lies & deceit" in exchange for billions of dollars in aid in recent years. The Administration did not clarify how much aid would be affected, although a spokesperson clarified that no civilian programs would be touched.
The President's Schedule
At 11am, President Trump receives his daily intelligence briefing. At 2pm, he departs the White House for Camp David, where he will participate in a Congressional Republican Leadership Retreat at 2:45pm. According to Politico, the summit will be attended by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-TX), and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), as well as multiple White House aides, including personnel director Johnny DeStefano (who reportedly has a growing portfolio), legislative affairs director Marc Short, and political director Bill Stepien.
Politico's report said that McConnell and McCarthy will lead separate presentations to brief the President on the upcoming midterm elections; Trump will be huddling with the GOP leaders at Camp David through the weekend to discuss their 2018 legislative agenda.
Today in Congress
Neither house of Congress is in session today.