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Wake Up To Politics - March 6, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, March 6, 2019. 334 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 608 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

White House rejects request for documents on security clearances

The White House has rebuffed House Democrats' request for documents related to the Trump administration's security clearance decisions.

In a Tuesday letter to House Oversight Committee chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD), White House counsel Pat Cipollone called the requests "unprecedented and extraordinarily intrusive," arguing that "because Congress derives its oversight authority from its legislative powers, my office must ensure that any request from the Committee serves a legitimate legislative purpose." The decision to grant a White House adviser security clearance, however, is a "discretionary function that belongs exclusively to the Executive Branch," Cipollone wrote.

In a statement, Cummings rejected that assertion: “The White House’s argument defies the constitutional separation of powers, decades of precedent before this committee, and just plain common-sense," he said. "The White House security clearance system is broken, and it needs both congressional oversight and legislative reform." Cummings said last week that his latest request for the documents would be the committee's "final" attempt to secure voluntary compliance from the White House, suggesting that a subpoena could be in the offing.

The standoff over security clearance comes after the New York Times reported last week that President Trump ordered his chief of staff to grant his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, a top-secret security clearance last year, overruling the concerns of intelligence officials and the White House counsel. CNN reported Tuesday that the president also pressured his staff to grant a security clearance to his daughter, Ivanka Trump, who serves as a White House adviser as well.

Ivanka Trump told ABC News last month that "the president had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband's clearance, zero."

The White House's refusal to hand over the documents comes despite President Trump's promise on Monday to comply with congressional document requests. "I cooperate all the time with everybody," he told reporters at the time, responding to the House Judiciary Committee's request for documents from 81 of his associates and advisers. But Trump changed his tune on Tuesday, calling the requests from House Democrats "a disgrace" and falsely claiming that former President Barack Obama "didn't give one letter" to congressional investigators during his tenure.

Other investigation news...

  • House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff announced Tuesday that he had hired Daniel Goldman to oversee the panel's investigation into potential ties between President Trump and Russia. Goldman previously led investigations into Russian organized crime as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Criminal Divison of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York from 2007 to 2017.
  • New York state regulated have issued a subpoena to the Trump Organization's longtime insurance broker, the New York Times reported, "the first step in an investigation of insurance policies and claims involving President Trump’s family business." Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen testified before the House Oversight Committee last week that the president regularly provided inflated assets to insurance companies.
  • Congressional investigators are probing pardon talks involving Michael Cohen last year. Per the Washington Post, Cohen claims that "a pardon was dangled to him by Trump's representatives," while the Wall Street Journal reports that Cohen's attorney was the one who raised the possibility of a pardon to attorneys for the president.
  • "In the Middle of His Official Business, Trump Took the Time to Send Checks to Michael Cohen" (New York Times)
  • "House Democrats plan to formally demand President Donald Trump’s tax returns in about two weeks," Politico reports.

The Trump Administration

--- Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced plans to suddenly resign on Tuesday, surprising industry insiders and officials at the agency. As FDA chief, Gottlieb became known for his aggressive efforts to regulate the tobacco and e-cigarette industries, seeking to lower nicotine levels and ban menthol in cigarettes and pushing to reduce teenage vaping by restricting the sale of flavored e-cigarettes.

--- President Donald Trump plans to nominate Jessie Liu, a longtime federal prosecutor and the current U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, as Associate Attorney General, the White House said Tuesday. If confirmed, Liu would become the No. 3 official at the Justice Department, filling a position that has been vacant since Rachel Brand resigned in February 2018.

--- President Trump wrote a letter to lawmakers in which he said that he agrees "100%" with keeping a military presence in Syria, NBC News reports, despite announcing the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country in December.

--- Also from NBC: "North Korea rebuilding long-range rocket site, photos show"

Inside Congress

--- House Democrats have postponed voting on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism in response to comments by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN). The resolution was originally expected to receive a vote today, but Politico reports that the measure will now likely be pushed to Thursday, as "an array of progressive groups" have called for Democrats to stand by Omar. The draft resolution that was previously released, which is now likely to be changed, did not name Omar, but it did specifically condemn the "dual loyalty" stereotype of American Jews that she was accused of propagating after comments on Israel last week.

--- Top lawmakers from both parties are pressuring the Trump administration to formally implicate Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as they continue to mull measures to punish Saudi Arabia. Senate Republicans left a classified briefing on the topic Monday frustrated by the lack of new information. "This is a work in progress, and we will not let it go," Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jim Risch (R-ID) said in a statement.

--- "Payments to corporation owned by Ocasio-Cortez aide come under scrutiny" (Washington Post)

2020 Central

--- Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Tuesday that he will not seek the White House in 2020, after publicly mulling a bid in the Democratic primaries. "I believe I would defeat Donald Trump in a general election," he wrote in an opinion piece on Bloomberg News, the eponymous news site he founded. "But I am clear-eyed about the difficulty of winning the Democratic nomination in such a crowded field." Bloomberg said he could "best serve the country" not as president, but as a private citizen, unveiling plans to launch a new climate campaign called Beyond Carbon.

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White House schedule

--- At 2 p.m., President Trump meets with Danny Burch, an American oil worker who was returned to the U.S. last week after being held hostage in Yemen for 18 months, and his family.

At 2:45 p.m. the president meets with Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL).

At 4 p.m., the president participates in a meeting of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, the creation of which was announced last month by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and White House adviser Ivanka Trump.

--- At 12:15 p.m., Vice President Mike Pence addresses the Latino Coalition Legislative Summit.

Congress schedule

--- The Senate meets at 10 a.m. today. At 4 p.m., the chamber will vote to confirm the nomination of Chad A. Readler to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Sixth Circuit, and to advance the nomination of Eric E. Murphy to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Sixth Circuit. Readler currently serves as the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Divison; Murphy serves as Solicitor General of Ohio.

--- The House meets at 10 a.m. The chamber will begin consideration of H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2019, the House Democrats' sweeping political reform bill. The legislation would introduce voluntary public financing for campaigns, make Election Day a federal holiday, create a national automatic voter registration system, require presidential candidates to release their tax returns, create non-partisan commissions to draw electoral districts (aiming to end partisan gerrymandering), and require super PACs to disclose their donors, among other provisions.

The House will open debate on the measure today, and begin voting on the 72 amendments that have been offered. A final vote on H.R. 1 is slated to take place Friday.

Also today: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen will testify before the House Homeland Security Committee at 10 a.m. about "The Way Forward on Border Security." (Related, via the New York Times: "Border at 'Breaking Point' as More than 76,000 Migrants Cross in a Month")

Supreme Court schedule

--- The Supreme Court is not holding any oral arguments or conferences this week.

*All times Eastern