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Wake Up To Politics - March 13, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, March 13, 2018. 238 days until Election Day 2018. 966 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 inboxes at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!

Happening today: PA-18 special election

Voters in Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district head to the polls today to vote in a hotly-contested special election that will be watched around the country for signs of the nation's mood and opinion of President Trump heading into the November midterms.

Trump won the deep-red district by 20 percentage points in 2016, but recent surveys show Democratic former prosecutor Connor Lamb with a slight edge over Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone. A Monmouth University poll released Monday found Lamb leading Saccone in three different models of the race: 51% to 45%, if voting patterns imitate recent special elections; 49% to 47%, using a lower turnout model; and 51% to 44%, using a higher presidential-level turnout.

Saccone led in all three models when Monmouth conducted the same poll last month. President Trump and other national Republicans have reportedly become frustrated with Saccone, and are now bracing for a potential defeat today. Trump held a rally with the GOP candidate on Saturday night, telling his audience to "go out on Tuesday and vote like crazy," adding: "We need Republicans in office." In addition to the presidential visit, Republicans have spent over $10 million on the race, hoping to avoid an embarrassing loss.

A Lamb victory, or even a razor-thin Saccone victory, would serve as a danger sign for Republicans across the country,showing vulnerability even in districts where Trump won by double digits. With a historically unpopular president leading the party, Republicans have had troubles at the ballot box in recent months, losing a Senate seat in Alabama last year. "The world is watching," the president declared on Saturday.

The winner of the special election fills the vacancy caused by the resignation of former Republican Rep. Tim Murphy, after revelations that he encouraged his mistress to receive an abortion. The victor will have to run again in November, but in a very different district: under a new congressional map drawn by the state Supreme Court, part of the 18th district will be incorporated into the new 14th district while the other section will become part of the 17th.

Polls close at 8pm Eastern Time. Read Wake Up To Politics tomorrow for the full results...

House Republicans conclude Russia probe

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee said Monday that their investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election had come to a close, announcing that they had found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and disputing the intelligence community's assessment that Russia's efforts were intended to boost the Trump campaign.

"The bottom line: The Russians did commit active measures against our election in '16, and we think they will do that in the future," Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), who has overseen the Intelligence Committee probe, told reporters. "We disagree with the narrative that they were trying to help Trump."

This conclusion runs counter to that of U.S. intelligence officials, who declared in a January 2017 report that Russian president Vladimir Putin personally "ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election" and that his efforts displayed "a clear preference for President-elect Trump."

Conaway announced Monday that the Intelligence Committee had finished conducting interviews in its Russia probe, and the panel's majority had prepared a 150-page draft report, which will be reviewed by Democratic members today.

In a conference call with reporters, the Texas Republican said that the Intelligence Committee interviewed 70+ witnesses, saw over 300,000 pages of documents, and sent investigators to seven countries. "We found no evidence of collusion [between Russia and the Trump campaign]," he said. "We found perhaps some bad judgment, inappropriate meetings. But only [novelists] Tom Clancy or Vince Flynn or someone else like that could take this series of inadvertent contacts with each other, or meetings, whatever, and weave that into some sort of a fictional page-turner spy thriller."


--- Schiff's response: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, released a scathing statement slamming Republicans for ending the Russia investigation before more witnesses had been called. Schiff called the move "another tragic milestone for this Congress" and "yet another capitulation to the executive branch," adding: "By ending its oversight role in the only authorized investigation in the House, the Majority has placed the interests of protecting the President over protecting the country, and history will judge its actions harshly."

--- ODNI's response: "The Intelligence Community stands by its January 2017 assessment, 'Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,'" a spokesperson for the office of the Director of National Intelligence said. "We will review the [House Intelligence Committee] report findings."

--- Summary: The draft report has yet to be made public, but the committee majority did release a one-page summary of its findings Monday. According to the summary, the panel concurs "with the Intelligence Community Assesment's judgments, except with respect to Putin's supposed preference for candidate Trump."

Russia investigation: The Latest


Stone: As the House Intelligence Committee's Russia probe comes to a close, special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation continues to accelerate. The Washington Post reported this morning that Mueller is investigating conversations longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone had with associates in which he claimed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told him "that his organization had obtained emails that would torment senior Democrats such as [then-Clinton campaign chairman] John Podesta," months before the DNC and Podesta email hacks were publicly known. Stone denies having received any advance notice about the hacked emails from Assange.

Kushner: NBC News reported Monday that Qatari officials have "gathered evidence of what they claim is illicit influence by the United Arab Emirates on Jared Kushner and other Trump associates, including details of secret meetings," but decided not to hand the information over to Mueller "for fear of harming relations with the Trump administration." In recent weeks, UAE adviser George Nader's connections with Trump associates have been under scrutiny; Nader attended a secret January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles with a Putin ally and an informal adviser to the Trump transition team.

Rosenstein: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein defended Mueller in an interview with USA TODAY on Monday. "The special counsel is not an unguided missile," he said. "I don't believe there is any justification at this point for terminating the special counsel."

The Rundown

NEC Director: CNBC commentator Larry Kudlow has emerged as the new top contender to succeed National Economic Council director Gary Cohn in the post as President Trump's top economic adviser, numerous news outlets reported Monday. According to Politico, Trump has spoken with Kudlow twice in recent days; while the president was upset by Kudlow's criticism of his steel and aluminum tariffs, Trump has reportedly been impressed with the analyst's performances on cable news.

Trump has reportedly "sent mixed signals in recent days about whom he wanted for the [NEC] job, leaving those around him struggling to keep up." White House director of strategic initiatives Chris Liddell, who Trump had reportedly been telling aides was the frontrunner, now seems to be out of the running for the post. The haphazard selection process could end with an announcement in the next 24 hours, or go on as the president continues to change his mind about his preference, Politico added.

Tillerson, WH divided on UK poisoning: British Prime Minister Theresa May said Monday that Russia was "highly likely" responsible for the poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain earlier this month. But White House press secretary Sarah Sanders declined to echo that assessment in her press briefing later that day, while declaring the Trump administration's "fullest condemnation" of the attempted assassination.

Sanders refused to assign blame for the poisoning to Russia; upon being pressed further, she responded: "Right now, we are standing with our U.K. ally. I think they’re still working through even some of the details of that, and we’re going to continue to work with the U.K. and we certainly stand with them throughout this process."

But on Monday night, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson broke with the White House message, telling reporters that the attack "clearly came from Russia" and promising that it "will trigger a response."

DeVos: "White House officials were alarmed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' struggle to answer basic questions about the nation's schools and failure to defend the administration's newly proposed school safety measures during a tour of television interviews Sunday and Monday," CNN reports.

DeVos stumbled in a "60 Minutes" interview with CBS' Lesley Stahl on Sunday night; she had difficulty answering questions about schools in her home state of Michigan and said that she had not "intentionally visited schools that are underperforming."

Stormy Daniels: A lawyer for adult film actress Stormy Daniels sent a letter to President Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen on Monday, offering to return the $130,000 payment Daniels received from Cohen in exchange for an end to the "hush agreement" that prevents her from discussing her alleged affair with the future president.

--- Former Trump campaign adviser Sam Nunberg, who testified before Mueller's grand jury last Friday, tells MSNBC's Ari Melber that the special counsel is investigating payments made by Cohen to women alleging affairs with Trump. "It's pretty obvious that they're looking into this," Nunberg said.


Trump: President Trump travels to San Diego, California today, where he will tour prototypes of his proposed border wall and deliver remarks to members of the military at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. Later tonight, Trump will participate in a roundtable with Republican National Committee (RNC) supporters at a private residence in Santa Monica, California.

This is Trump's first visit to California as president; he ventures into a state that has become a bastion of the "resistance" against him, sparking legal combat between the federal government Trump leads and the state government led by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown. Just last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sued the state of California over three "sanctuary jurisdiction" laws.

Senate: The upper chamber resumes consideration of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, which rolls back banking regulations implemented by the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010. Both parties will also hold their weekly caucus meetings today.

House: The lower chamber considers seven pieces of legislation, including the Right to Try Act, which allows terminally ill patients to request access to experimental treatments not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

*All times Eastern