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Wake Up To Politics - May 10, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, May 10, 2018. 181 days until Election Day 2018. 909 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Trump greets Americans released by North Korea

Breaking overnight: Three Americans freed from North Korean labor camps — Kim Hak-song, Kim Dong-chul, and Kim Sang-duk — arrived at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C. early this morning. President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Second Lady Karen Pence were on hand to greet the freed prisoners, in addition to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was also returning from Pyongyang, North Korea, after participating in the final negotiations towards securing their release.

"It is like a dream. We are very, very happy," Kim Dong-chul told reporters through a translator.

On the tarmac, President Trump also spoke to reporters, offering praise to the leader of North Korea. "We want to thank Kim Jong Un, who really was excellent to these three incredible people."

The prisoners' release was a key sticking point holding up negotiations over the planned summit between Trump and Kim. Now, "we're starting off on a new footing," Trump said, adding that "I really think we have a very good chance of doing something very meaningful."

The president said that the location for his historic summit with Kim had been set, but declined to divulge it (according to CNN, administration officials have been instructed to move forward with plans for the summit to take place in Singapore). "Hopefully everything is going to work out at the highest level," Trump said.

Quote of the day: "I think you probably broke the all-time, in history, television rating for three o'clock in the morning — that I would say."

McCain calls for Senate to reject Haspel

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) urged his colleagues to reject Gina Haspel's nomination to be CIA Director in a statement on Wednesday. "I believe Gina Haspel is a patriot who loves our country and has devoted her professional life to its service and defense," he said. "However, Ms. Haspel’s role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying. I believe the Senate should exercise its duty of advice and consent and reject this nomination."

McCain is currently being treated for brain cancer at his ranch in Arizona; he is not likely to be present for Haspel's confirmation vote. The Arizonan is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, as well as a past torture victim as a former prisoner of war in Vietnam. Haspel is expected to be confirmed with bipartisan support: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced plans to vote for her on Wednesday.

McCain's statement came hours after Haspel's testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee at her confirmation hearing. Although she stopped short of criticizing the CIA's post-9/11 interrogation program (which she helped lead), Haspel did promise not to restart it. "I would not allow CIA to undertake activity that I thought was immoral, even if it was technically legal," she said. "I would absolutely not permit it."

The Rundown

--- Read up: More on Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen and his post-election contracts with AT&T, Novartis, and other companies seeking access to the president. (The companies paid Cohen through Essential Consultants, which he formed in October 2016 to pay $130,000 in hush money to adult film-actress Stormy Daniels).

  • "How Michael Cohen, Denied Job in White House, Was Seen as Its Gatekeeper" (New York Times)
  • "‘I’m crushing it’: How Michael Cohen, touting his access to President Trump, convinced companies to pay millions" (Washington Post)
  • "How Michael Cohen cashed in" (Politico)
  • "Inside Michael Cohen's aggressive pitch promising access to Trump" (CNN)

The latest: Special counsel Robert Mueller has been probing payments to Essential Consultants since late 2017, per BuzzFeed.

--- A group of moderate House Republicans filed a discharge petition on Wednesday, seeking to force a vote on legislation that would protect "Dreamers" who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children. If the petition is signed by a majority of House members, a "queen of the hill" process would be launched: a number of immigration measures would be debated and voted on, and whichever receives the most votes passes. 17 GOP lawmakers have signed on; all 193 House Democrats are expected to join them, leaving the lawmakers just eight signatures away from the needed 218.

--- House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) and House Oversight Committee chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) are meeting with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein at the Justice Department today. Nunes is demanding access to sensitive documents relating to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, and threatening to hold DOJ officials in contempt of Congress if he doesn't receive them. Per Politico, today's meeting comes after an intervention by White House chief of staff John Kelly. According to the Washington Post, President Trump backed the DOJ's decision to withhold the documents after being told that turning them over could risk the life of a secret intelligence source. "What are they afraid of?" Trump asked in a tweet last week, questioning why the DOJ wouldn't turn over the documents and threatening to "use the powers granted to the Presidency and get involved."

--- President Trump tweeted about revoking the press credentials of reporters whose coverage of him is "negative (Fake)" on Wednesday. According to CNN, he has also mused about doing so privately. Asked about the tweet, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders replied that "we're very committed to a free press."

White House Correspondents' Association president Margaret Talev's response: "Some may excuse the president's inflammatory rhetoric about the media, but just because the president does not like news coverage does not make it fake. A free press must be able to report on the good, the bad, the momentous and the mundane, without fear or favor. And a president preventing a free and independent press from covering the workings of our republic would be an unconscionable assault on the First Amendment."

--- Interesting: West Virginia became the first state to hold an election partially using a mobile voting app in its Tuesday primaries.

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The President's schedule

At 11am, President Trump meets with Defense Secretary James Mattis.

At 2pm, President Trump meets with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), and House Agriculture Committee chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX).

--- Note: Since the recusal of chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA), Conaway has also led the House Intelligence Committee's Russia investigation.

At 7pm, President Trump holds a campaign rally at North Side Middle School in Elkhart, Indiana.

Senate schedule

The Senate meets at 10am today to continue considering President Trump's judicial nominees. The Senate will hold a confirmation vote on one federal appellate court nominee, Michael Brennan (Seventh Circuit), followed by cloture votes advancing two others, Joel Carson III (Tenth Circuit) and John Nalbandian (Sixth Circuit).

--- Related: "How Trump is reshaping the courts," via Axios. Brennan will be the 17th Trump appeals court nominee to be approved by the Senate.

House schedule

The House meets at 9am today. The chamber will vote on the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act, which will advance the federal approval process to build a permanent nuclear waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain, which has long been opposed by Nevada lawmakers.

*All times Eastern