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Wake Up To Politics - March 7, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, March 7, 2018. 244 days until Election Day 2018. 972 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!

Gary Cohn resigns as top White House economic adviser

National Economic Council director Gary Cohn announced plans to resign on Tuesday, joining a long list of top officials to depart the Trump administration in recent weeks. Cohn, the Democratic former president of Goldman Sachs, steps down amid a rift with the president on trade, days after launching a last-ditch effort to dissuade Trump from imposing his announced tariffs on foreign imports of steel and aluminum.

Cohn served as a moderating influence for the president, acting as a key conduit between the administration and financial executives on Wall Street. He coordinated the president's economic agenda, including the passage of his prized tax reform plan. Since the early days of the Trump White House, the aide has been seen as a leader of the West Wing's "globalist" faction, seeking to counter the president's "nationalist" advisers. His resignation comes after losing a key battle to the "nationalist" wing, with National Trade Council director Peter Navarro prevailing on the president to impose the tariffs over Cohn's loud objections.

According to Bloomberg, Trump demanded Cohn's support for his tariffs plan in an Oval Office meeting on Tuesday; the NEC director, a leading free-trade advocate, refused. Hours later, the White House announced Cohn's resignation. "Trade was the last straw," a source told CNN. The network also reported that Cohn was attempting to schedule a White House meeting with representatives from industries that are expected to be hurt by the tariffs, which is no longer being planned. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and other GOP congressional leaders are also opposed to the tariffs, but their attempts to convince the president to backtrack have also been unsuccessful.

Cohn, who will formally leave his post in "a few weeks," is the latest in a series of recent high-profile officials to announce their resignations from the White House, following communications director Hope Hicks and staff secretary Rob Porter. Just hours before Cohn's plans were first reported by the New York Times, President Trump pushed back on rumors that there are few people seeking positions in his White House.

"Many, many people want every single job. ...And believe me, everybody wants to work in the White House. They all want a piece of that Oval Office; they want a piece of the West Wing," he said at a joint press conference Tuesday with the Prime Minister of Sweden. Earlier in the day, Trump tweeted that "there is no Chaos [in the White House], only great Energy!"

Yet, Cohn's departure has reportedly sparked fears among White House officials.“The number of bad ideas that have come through this White House that were thankfully killed dead — there are too many to count,” a White House official told Politico. “With Gary gone, I just think, from a policy perspective, it means disaster.” According to the Associated Press, Trump aides are worried about "an even larger exodus, raising concerns in Washington of a coming 'brain drain' around the president that will only make it more difficult to advance his already languishing policy agenda." He had previously flirted with resigning after Trump's comments on the Charlottesville protests last year.

Cohn's exit is also expected to have an impact on Wall Street: Dow futures pointed to a drop of 330 points at the open today, while the Nasdaq and S&P 500 futures also indicated losses.

--- Cohn's statement: "It has been an honor to serve my country and enact pro-growth economic policies to benefit the American people, in particular the passage of historic tax reform. I am grateful to the President for giving me this opportunity and wish him and the Administration great success in the future.”

--- Trump's statement: “Gary has been my chief economic advisor and did a superb job in driving our agenda, helping to deliver historic tax cuts and reforms and unleashing the American economy once again. He is a rare talent, and I thank him for his dedicated service to the American people.”

--- Possible replacements: According to the Wall Street Journal, candidates to succeed Cohn include former fast-food executive Andrew Puzder, who previously withdrew his nomination to be Labor Secretary amid spousal abuse allegations; CNBC commentator and former Trump campaign adviser Larry Kudlow; Council of Economic Advisers chairman Kevin Hassett; and Navarro.

President Trump tweeted on Tuesday: "Will be making a decision soon on the appointment of new Chief Economic Advisor. Many people wanting the job - will choose wisely!"

--- Who's next: Speculations abounds about who the next White House departure will be, from chief of staff John Kelly to senior advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Adding to the rumor mill: CNN reports that President Trump met with former UN Ambassador John Bolton, widely seen as a potential candidate to succeed national security adviser H.R. McMaster, in the Oval Office on Tuesday.

The Russia investigation

UAE adviser cooperating with Mueller: George Nader, an adviser to the United Arab Emirates with ties to Trump associates, is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller and testified before a grand jury last week, the New York Times reported. According to the report, Mueller is investigating "the influence of foreign money on Mr. Trump's political activities and his asked witnesses about the possibility that [Nader] funneled money from the Emirates to the president's political efforts," which would be illegal.

Nader has reportedly been questioned about meetings in the White House he held with Trump aides Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon. His participation in a January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles is also under scrutiny: Mueller's team has been examining the meeting, which brought together Blackwater founder and informal Trump adviser Erik Prince, Russian investor Kimil Dmitriev, and Nader of the UAE. Participants of the meeting believed Prince was speaking on behalf of the Trump transition team, while Dmitriev was representing Russian president Vladimir Putin. Investigators have been "puzzled" by the meeting for months.

Trump comments: At a joint press conference on Tuesday, President Trump continued to downplay the intelligence community's conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. "Well, the Russians had no impact on our votes whatsoever," he said. "But, certainly, there was meddling and probably there was meddling from other countries and maybe other individuals." Trump said that the U.S. would "counteract" potential Russian attempts to meddle in the 2018 and 2020 elections. His plan? "It's called paper," Trump said, urging states to revert to "old-fashioned" paper ballots.

The Trump administration has been criticized for its hesitation to punish Russia for its actions, with NSA director Mike Rogers testifying last month that the president has not granted him the authority to counter Russian hacking. The New York Times also reported over the weekend that the State Department has spent $0 of the $120 million it was allotted to fight Russian meddling. However, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said Tuesday that the White House has been "actively engaged" in efforts to counter Russia, revealing that new sanctions aimed at Russian entities could come as early as next week.

Nunberg changes tune: After going on a media tour Monday to announce that he would defy special counsel Mueller and ignore a subpoena to supply documents and appear before a grand jury, former Trump aide Sam Nunberg changed his tune on Tuesday. Nunberg told Fox Business News that he is now cooperating with Mueller's team and will appear before the grand jury on Friday.

GOP calls for second special counsel: House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and House Oversight Committee chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) sent Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy Rod Rosenstein a letter on Tuesday, urging the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the FBI's surveillance of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. Republicans have alleged that the FBI abused its authority in obtaining a warrant to surveil Page, claiming that the bureau based its warrant on the unverified dossier compiled by British ex-spy Christoper Steele without revealing its partisan funding.

Mueller probing Cohen: Special counsel Mueller "has requested documents and interviewed witnesses about incidents involving Michael Cohen," the longtime personal lawyer for President Trump, the Washington Post reported.

The Trump administration

DOJ: Attorney General Jeff Sessions is expected to announce a Justice Department lawsuit against the state of California today, challenging three "sanctuary" laws limiting cooperation between state businesses and agencies and federal immigration authorities. The DOJ says that the laws violate the Constitution, obstructing enforcement of immigration law and harming public safety. The lawsuit escalates the ongoing battle on multiple policy fronts between California and the Trump administration.

White House: The U.S. Office of Special Counsel announced on Tuesday that it sent an investigative report to President Trump finding that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act in two television interviews. The Hatch Act prohibits officials from participating in political activity in their government capacities; in interviews on CNN and Fox News, Conway was determined to be illegally advocating for Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore and against his opponent Doug Jones. In a statement, deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley said that Conway "did not advocate for or against the election of any particular candidate," but "simply expressed the president's obvious position that he have people in the House and Senate who support his agenda."

EPA: Problems continue for Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt... Lawmakers asked Pruitt on Tuesday "to provide details about how a business associate of the head of his security detail got a security contract with the agency," the Washington Post reported. The day before, the Post reported on two senior EPA officials who "got approval from the agency’s ethics office to continue to collect outside income while working for the Trump administration."

Interior Department: The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced in a memorandum that it will now consider permits for importing elephant trophies from Africa on a "case-by-case basis," The Hill reported. The move comes despite President Trump's comments in a January interview with British television anchor Piers Morgan, when he said Obama-era restrictions on big game trophy imports would be upheld. The FWS had previously announced plans to remove the restrictions in November.

HUD: "There are more complexities here than in brain surgery," Secretary Ben Carson says of leading the Department of Housing and Urban Development in an interview with the New York Times.

Daniels vs. Trump

Porn star Stormy Daniels filed a lawsuit against President Trump in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday, "alleging that he never signed the nondisclosure agreement that his lawyer had arranged with her," according to NBC News. Daniels says that the "hush agreement," which involved a $130,000 payment in exchange for her silence about an "intimate" relationship with Trump, is invalid because Trump himself never signed it.


Trump: President Trump receives his daily intelligence briefing at 11 am. He addresses the Latino Coalition Legislative Summit at 12 pm. At 6:55 pm, Trump is scheduled to attend dinner at an unidentified private residence.

Pence: Vice President Mike Pence continues his week of crisscrossing the country, headlining an America First Policies event and a campaign stop for Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) in Lexington, Kentucky, according to CNN.

Kushner: White House senior adviser Jared Kushner travels to Mexico today to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto, weeks after Peña Nieto canceled a White House visit after a phone call with President Trump turned into a contentious discussion of the proposed border wall.

Senate: The upper chamber continues consideration of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, which rolls back banking rules implemented under the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010. The legislation was advanced in a bipartisan 67-32 vote on Tuesday, with 17 members of the Democratic caucus joining all present Republicans.

Also today: the Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a 9:30 am hearing on "security clearance reform."

House: The House is scheduled to consider the Blocking Regulatory Interference from Closing Kilns Act, which would delay implementation of an Obama-era regulation on air pollution from brick kilns.


I misstated the home state of Democratic Sen. Mark Warner in last Friday's newsletter. He is from Virginia.

*All times Eastern