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Wake Up To Politics - March 26, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Monday, March 26, 2018. 225  days until Election Day 2018. 953 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!

Breaking: Trump expels Russian diplomats

President Trump ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats from the U.S. today, senior administration officials announced in a conference call with reporters that was just completed. 48 Russian embassy staffers and 12 intelligence officials from Russia's mission to the United Nations have been expelled. Trump also closed the Russian consulate in Seattle, Washington.

These actions come in response to Russia's alleged poisoning of an ex-spy in London earlier this month.

Trump's legal team depleted, new lawyers no longer planning to join

Last week, President Trump's attorneys announced that two new lawyers — Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing, a married couple — would be joining his outside legal team focused on special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

But on Sunday, Trump's personal lawyer Jay Sekulow announced that diGenova and Toensing would not be joining the president's defense team after all. "The president is disappointed that conflicts prevent Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing from joining the president's special counsel legal team," Sekulow said in a statement. "However, those conflicts do not prevent them from assisting the president in other legal matters. The president looks forward to working with them."

Officially, diGenova and Toensing won't be joining the legal team due to a conflict of interest: Toensing also represents Mark Corallo, the former spokesman for Trump's legal team, who has reportedly told Mueller's investigators that he was concerned Trump aide Hope Hicks sought to obstruct justice.

However, according to the New York Times, Trump decided not to hire the couple after finding that he lacked "personal chemistry" with them in a meeting last week. According to the Washington Post, Trump did not know diGenova and only hired him because he enjoyed the attorney's Fox News appearances, but was "less impressed" with him after their meeting. The Post reports that Trump did not meet with diGenova and Toensing until after announcing their hiring, and did not "closely research diGenova or even consult with top aides, including Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and White House counsel Donald McGahn, before agreeing to hire him."

After the departure of John Dowd, who had been leading the legal team, last week, Trump's legal team now consists of Sekulow, who is the chief counsel for the conservative American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ), and Ty Cobb, who coordinates Trump's response to the Mueller probe from inside the White House. The downsizing of the president's representation comes as his lawyers are negotiating a high-stakes interview between Trump and Robert Mueller.

Despite the recent departures, Trump denied that his legal team was having troubles in a pair of tweets on Sunday morning "Many lawyers and top law firms want to represent me in the Russia case...don’t believe the Fake News narrative that it is hard to find a lawyer who wants to take this on," he said. Trump insisted that he is "very happy" with his "existing team,' adding that new lawyers haven't been added because "some are conflicted."

--- Trump investigations: New reporting related to the investigations into Trump and his orbit:

"Mueller probe witness secretly backed UAE agenda in Congress" (Associated Press)

"Former Cambridge Analytica workers say firm sent foreigners to advise U.S. campaigns" (Washington Post)
"Fund-Raiser Held Out Access to Trump as a Prize for Prospective Clients" (New York Times)

--- More personnel changes coming: President Trump has replaced his chief economic adviser, secretary of state, national security adviser, and others in recent weeks... and more changes to his administration could be coming this week. Newsmax chief executive Chirstopher Ruddy, a close friend and confidante of the president's, said Sunday on ABC News' "This Week" that he spoke to Trump the day before and that Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin is "likely to depart the Cabinet very soon."

According to Ruddy, Trump told him that "he's expecting to make one or two major changes to his government very soon," although he also said that chief of staff John Kelly and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson (who have both been rumored to anger the president recently) are safe. Ruddy added that Trump is "perplexed" by reports painting his White House as chaotic, saying that Trump thinks his team is operating "like a smooth machine."

According to the Associated Press, Shulkin is likely to be pushed out in the days ahead; the report named candidates being vetted to replace him, including "Fox and Friends" weekend co-host Pete Hegseth, the former CEO of the conservative Concerned Veterans for America; former House Veterans and Affairs Committee chairman Jeff Miller; National Security Council chief of staff Keith Kellogg; former VA undersecretary of health Michael Kussman; former Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove; and Leo Mackay Jr., a former VA deputy secretary now sering as senior vice president at Lockheed Martin Corp.

Stormy Daniels speaks

The first extended television news interview with adult film actress Stormy Daniels since news emerged of her alleged affair with Donald Trump aired on "60 Minutes" on Sunday, with Daniels detailing her claims in a sit-down with Anderson Cooper.

--- What Daniels said: In the interview, Daniels described meeting Trump at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe in July 2006, just months after Melania Trump gave birth to their son Barron. She claimed that Trump invited her to his hotel suite; later that night, she alleges to have spanked him with a magazine and says that they had consensual, unprotected sex. Daniels says that they spoke over the phone a number of additional times, and met again in Los Angeles a year later, but watched "Shark Week" and did not have sex again.

In May 2011, Daniels agreed to sell her story to a gossip magazine for $15,000, but the story never ran after Trump's attorney Michael Cohen threatened to sue. For the first time, she revealed that a few months later, a man approached her and her infant daughter in Las Vegas. "Leave Trump alone. Forget the story," he told her, Daniels said, adding that he looked at her daughter and continued before disappearing: "That's a beautiful little girl. It'd be a shame if something happened to her mom."

Daniels publicly denied having the affair when it was reported by a gossip website a few months later. In 2016, after Trump won the GOP presidential nomination, Daniels was again approached withdifferentoffersaboutrevealingtheaffair, but agreed to sign a non-disclosure agreement, receiving $130,000 from a company set up by Cohen in exchange for her silence about the affair.

The affair and the "hush agreement" were reported by the Wall Street Journal in January 2018. Daniels says she was not the source of the story, which she again denied. She and her lawyer Michael Avenatti have said she is coming forward now because the non-disclosure agreement was invalid since Trump himself never signed it, only Michael Cohen.

Daniels declined to answer if she has text messages or other evidence of communication with Trump; Avenatti has hinted that he will release such evidence if the president's spokespeople deny the alleged affair, which they have done in the past.

--- Legal trouble: Much of the "60 Minutes" piece focused on the campaign finance aspect of the story: complaints have been filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) urging the body to probe whether Cohen's payment to Daniels was an in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign which should have been reported. The segment also drew parallels to 2008 presidential candidate John Edwards, who was indicted for using illegal campaign contributions to hide an affair.

The question: will special counsel Robert Mueller begin probing the Daniels allegations as part of his investigation?

--- Team Trump's response: Cohen's lawyer Brent Blakely sent a letter to Avenatti on Sunday, demanding that he and Daniels "ceast and desist from making any further false and defamatory statements about" Cohen and "immediately retract and apologize to Mr. Cohen through the national media for your defamatory statements on 60 Minutes, and make clear that you have no facts or evidence whatsoever to support your allegations that my client had anything whatsoever to do with this alleged thug [who Daniels claims to have been threatened by in 2011]."

First Lady Melania Trump's communications director Stephanie Grisham mentioned the "speculation & salacious gossip" in a tweet on Sunday, but the White House has not yet formally responded to the allegations. Melania Trump is currently at Mar-a-Lago for a pre-scheduled spring break trip with her son, staying behind after the president left Florida and returned to D.C. on Sunday.

According to CBS News, Trump and Cohen met for dinner on Saturday night, before the Daniels interview aired.

Weekend Review: Students lead gun control marches across U.S.

Hundreds of thousands of protestors descended on Washington, D.C. on Saturday to join the "March for Our Lives," a gun control rally led by the student survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last month. More than 800 sister marches were held across the country.

I covered the St. Louis march, which was attended by 10,000-15,000 people, according to organizers. After the march, a number of speakers whose lives had been touched by gun violence addressed the attendees, including a teacher who survived the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2013 and Democratic state Rep. Bruce Franks Jr.

The student organizers of the march also spoke, urging lawmakers to "turn thoughts and prayers into actions and solutions." I interviewed two lawmakers who joined the march, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO), and asked them if they believed the large enthusiasm behind the marches would translate into the passage of gun control legislation.

McCaskill: "Obviously, there's legislation that's needed. The question is, is the NRA gonna put their thumb on most of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to block it. That's the question."

Clay: "I don't know if it will emerge from today, but what I do expect is for voters to be mobilized and to change over the House in November... I feel confident that because of this movement that we will change the majority in the House of Representatives, and then we can push for common-sense firearm legislation."


White House: At 11:30am, President Trump receives his intelligence briefing. At 12:30pm, he has lunch with Vice President Mike Pence. Trump and Pence both have no other events on their public schedules.

--- For President Trump, having no public events can often mean a lot of watching TV and tweeting about what he is watching. "So much Fake News. Never been more voluminous or more inaccurate. But through it all, our country is doing great" he tweeted this morning. Reminder: Trump has never directly mentioned Stormy Daniels in a tweet.

-- Other interesting Twitter activity... The president followed @CNN this morning. According to the bot @TrumpsAlert, which tracks his likes and follows, Trump has not followed any new accounts since @PressSec and @Reince in September 2017. He now follows 46 accounts.

According to the White House, Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah will brief the press today, although the exact time of the briefing has not been announced. Shah is subbing for Sarah Sanders on a day when many of the questions are likely to focus on the allegations by Stormy Daniels.

Congress: Both chambers of Congress will meet in pro forma sessions today, with no business conducted. The Senate gavels in at 11:30am, and the House at 4pm. Both chambers are on recess for two weeks.

*All times Eastern