I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Tuesday, June 13, 2017. 511 days until Election Day 2018. 1,239 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!
Hearing Preview: Sessions to Face Russia Grilling Attorney General Jeff Sessions will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee in an open hearing on the Russia probe at 2:30pm today, in the same room that ousted FBI chief James Comey offered his blockbuster testimony last week.
Sessions will be grilled by members of both parties on the extent of his recusal from the investigation, his contacts with Russian officials, and his involvement in the Comey firing, among other topics. According to Politico, Sessions "is unlikely to talk about any direct conversations with the president." As Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and NSA director Mike Rogers did at a hearing last week (to the frustration of many senators), he is expected to simply decline to answer such questions in order to keep such conversations confidential.
However, Sessions, unlike Coats or Rogers, may invoke executive privilege, the presidential power to protect information; ABC has reported that the is expected to do so. Regardless, the Attorney General will be pressed on conversations he may have had with the President regarding the Comey firing and the Oval Office meeting where Trump asked Sessions to leave and then allegedly asked Comey to end his investigation into former nationals security advisor Michael Flynn. Comey also testified last week that he asked Sessions not to let him alone with Trump again after that meeting, which the Attorney General will likely be questioned on.
Sessions will also face questions on his two known meetings with Russian diplomats, as well as a potential third meeting reportedly disclosed by Comey at a closed hearing. Sessions has already acknowledged holding two meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, although he initially told Congress he had never met with him. The New York Times has reported that Sessions will deny meeting with Kislyak for a third time last year; unconfirmed reports have centered around the Mayflower Hotel, allegedly the location of an undisclosed meeting between Sessions, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Kislyak.
The hearing will be closely watched to see what Sessions will disclose about his involvement in the Russia investigation and what he will refuse to answer. According to CNN's Brian Stelter, the hearing will air live on Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, CBS, NBC, and ABC.
Also today: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will testify before the two Appropriations subcommittees with oversight of the DOJ budget. He goes before the Senate subcommittee at 10am and before the House counterpart at 2pm. The hearings are ostensibly on the Justice Department budget, but Rosenstein's status as a key player in the Russia investigation ensure that he will also face questions on the subject.
Trump Friend Says President May Fire Special Counsel Less than a month after former FBI director Robert Mueller was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to lead the Russia investigation as Special Counsel, voices in President Trump's circle are already calling for Mueller's firing.
"I think he's considering perhaps terminating the special counsel," Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy, a longtimefriend and confidant of Trump's, said on PBS' "NewsHour" on Monday. "I think he's weighing that option." According to CNBC's Kayla Tausche, Ruddy was at the West Wing just hours before his PBS appearance; White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on Monday that "Mr. Ruddy never spoke to the President regarding this issue. With respect to this subject, only the President or his attorneys are authorized to comment." Notably, he did not issue a denial, nor did principal deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who merely added: "Chris speaks for himself."
In the same PBS appearance, Ruddy said that he thinks Trump ordering Mueller to be fired would be "a very significant mistake." However, other Trump allies and surrogates jumped on the comment and began criticizing Mueller, some urging the President do end his investigation.
- Conservative commentator and early Trump backer Ann Coulter: "Sessions never should've recused himself. Now that we know TRUMP IS NOT UNDER INVESTIGATION, Sessions should take it back & fire Mueller."
- Fox News host Sean Hannity, an informal adviser: "James Comey’s relationship with the special counsel Robert Mueller is a massive conflict of interest. It’s why it is time to shut down this political witch hunt that is really aimed at stopping the president, delegitimizing him, and hopefully––in the minds of some––making sure he gets thrown out of office.”
- Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a frequent surrogate and confidant: "Republicans are delusional if they think the special counsel is going to be fair. Look who he is hiring. Check fec reports. Time to rethink.”
Attorney Jay Sekulow, a member of President Trump's legal team, also did not rule out the possibility of the President interfering in the Mueller probe, when asked on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday. "If there was a basis upon which there was a question that raised the kind of issues that are serious, as in the situation with James Comey, the President has authority to take action," Sekulow said. "Whether he would do it is ultimately a decision the President makes."
CNN's Jim Acosta confirmed on Monday that Trump has considered firing Mueller but "is being advised by many people" not to do so. According to Politico's Josh Dawsey, the President "has sounded out associates about his concerns over Mueller –– and no one knows what he might do...He is often governed by self-preservation. He hates losing control of situations. He often lashes out when he feels someone could damage him. Plus, surrogates have begun telling him what trouble Mueller could pose."
Trump firing Mueller would be an explosive event, a replay of the Comey firing but likely worse for the President. However, Trump himself cannot remove the Special Counsel: according to U.S. law, "The Special Counsel may be disciplined or removed from office only by the personal action of the Attorney General." Since Sessions has recused himself from Russia-related matters, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (who tapped Mueller) would be charged with firing Mueller if ordered by Trump.
This possibility evokes immediate comparisons to the "Saturday Night Massacre," the October 1973 resignations of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his deputy William Ruckelshaus over refusing President Richard Nixon's order to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox. The No. 3 at the Justice Department, Solicitor General and future Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, ultimately heeded Nixon's order and removed Cox.
Meanwhile, Mueller quietly continues his investigation; he has reportedly added five lawyers to the probe, including former Watergate prosecutor James Quarles and top Justice Department criminal lawyer Andrew Weissmann. Republicans have criticized Mueller for leading a politicized investigation, biased against Trump and made up of lawyers close to Comey and Democrats. According to a CNN report on Monday, the five lawyers known to be hired by Mueller have recorded a combined $56,000 in political donations over the last three decades, almost exclusively to Democrats, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
The President's Schedule President Trump focuses on health care and then travels to Wisconsin to continue "Workforce Development Week."
At 10:30am, the President receives his daily intelligence briefing in the Oval Office. At 11am, he meets with National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster.
At 12pm, Trump has lunch with members of Congress in the Roosevelt Room. According to Politico, the meeting will focus on health care an include Republican Sens. Rob Portman (OH), John Thune (SD), Pat Toomey (PA), Mike Lee (UT), Ted Cruz (TX), Lamar Alexander (TN), John Barrasso (WY), Cory Gardner (CO), Tom Cotton (AR), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Susan Collins (ME), Joni Ernst (IA) and Orrin Hatch (UT).
Senate Republicans continue to negotiate an Obamacare replacement bill behind closed doors. Axios reports that a draft will be completed soon and then sent to the Congressional Budget Office to be scored; the GOP is hoping to vote on the bill by July 4. There are currently no plans to publicly release the legislation, which has not even been seen by many GOP lawmakers.
At 1:45pm, President Trump departs the White House for Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he arrives at 2:55pm. At 3pm, Trump meets with "Obamacare victims" aboard Air Force One. At 3:10pm, he will make a statement on health care at the Milwaukee airport. At 3:55pm, the President tours Waukesha County Technical College. At 4:15pm, he will lead a roundtable discussion on workforce development. At 6:15pm, Trump addresses a fundraiser for Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) at a Milwaukee hotel.
At 7pm, the President departs Milwaukee. At 10pm, he arrives at the White House.
Today in the Senate The upper chamber meets at 10am. Following Leader remarks, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) will speak about his resolution disapproving of President Trump's Saudia Arabia arms deal; the time until 12:30pm will be equally divided between senators who support and oppose the legislation. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced on Monday tht he will support the resolution.
The chamber will recess from12:30pm until 2:15pm for weekly caucus meetings.
At2:15pm, the Senate will debate the Paul resolution for 10 more minutes before holding a procedural vote on it.
Today in the House The lower chamber will meet at 10am, with votes on two pieces of legislation scheduled: the Verify First Act and the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act. President Trump tweeted about the latter bill last week: Senate passed the VA Accountability Act. The House should get this bill to my desk ASAP! We can’t tolerate substandard care for our vets."
The Rundown Some other stories to know today...
- "Second U.S. Appeals Court Blocks Trump's Revised Travel Ban": "A second federal appeals court blocked President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban even as he presses the Supreme Court to reinstate it...Trump’s order runs afoul of a federal law that prohibits nationality-based discrimination and requires the president to follow a specific process when setting the annual cap on the admission of refugees, according to the ruling by a panel of three judges appointed by former President Bill Clinton. (Bloomberg)
- "Gianforte pleads guilty to assault in incident with reporter": "Greg Gianforte, the Montana congressman-elect who was accused of "body slamming" a reporter, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault Monday morning. Judge Rick West sentenced Gianforte to a 180-day deferred sentence, 40 hours of community service, 20 hours of anger management and a $300 fine along with a $85 court fee." (CNN)
- "Supreme Court Bars Favoring Mothers Over Fathers in Citizenship Case": "Unwed mothers and fathers may not be treated differently in determining whether their children may claim American citizenship, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday...In a second decision on Monday, Henson v. Santander Consumer USA, No. 16-349, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch issued his first opinion. Writing for a unanimous court, he said it was for Congress rather than the court to address a possible gap in a federal debt collection law." (NYT)
- "Secret Service Has No Audio or Transcripts of Any Tapes Made in Trump White House": "The U.S. Secret Service has no audio copies or transcripts of any tapes recorded within President Donald Trump’s White House, the agency said on Monday. The agency’s response to a freedom of information request submitted by The Wall Street Journal doesn’t exclude the possibility that recordings could have been created by another entity. The Secret Service handled recording systems within the White House for past presidents, including Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy." (WSJ)
- "'D.C., Maryland Officials Hit President Trump With Lawsuit": "President Trump was hit with a lawsuit Monday accusing him of 'flagrantly' thumbing his nose at the constitutional prohibition against accepting payments and benefits from foreign governments since he took office. Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and his D.C. counterpart, Karl Racine, also vowed to wrest from Trump financial and tax records that he has thus far refused to reveal so they can find out whether he is cashing in on the presidency." (NBC)