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Wake Up To Politics - May 15, 2017




I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Monday, May 15, 2017. 540 days until Election Day 2018. 1,268 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 inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!

Who's Interviewing to be FBI Director? A number of candidates under consideration to become FBI Director were paraded in and out of the Justice Department on Saturday, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein conducted interviews for the post after orchestrating the ouster of former Director James Comey.

Here's the list of top candidates, according to CNN, Politico, the Associated Press, and others:


  • Mike Rogers, former U.S. Congressman from Michigan from 2001 to 2015. Chaired the House Intelligence Committee for two terms. Started his working life as a Special Agent in the FBI's Chicago office from 1989 to 1994. Now a national security commentator on CNN.
  • John Cornyn, U.S. Senator from Texas since 2002. Senate Majority Whip, the chamber's No. 2 Republican, since 2015. Formerly Texas Attorney General and a justice on the Texas Supreme Court.

Former Executive Branch Officials

  • Fran Townsend, former Deputy National Security Advisor and later U.S. Homeland Security Advisor under President George W. Bush. Served in a series of Justice Department posts under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Prosecutorial experience from stints as Assistant District Attorney in Brooklyn and in the office of then-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Rudy Giuliani. Also a CNN contributor.
  • Alice Fisher, former Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal division under President George W. Bush. Now an attorney in Washington, D.C.

FBI Insiders

  • Adam Lee, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Richmond office since 2014. Has served in the FBI since 1996.: began his career as a Special Agent in San Diego, later worked in senior roles at the bureau's Cyber Division, Intelligence Division, and Public Corruption and Civil Rights Division.
  • Andrew McCabe, Deputy Director of the FBI since February 2016. Has also worked at the bureau since 1996, first in the New York Field Office and later in the Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force, Counterclaim Division, National Security Branch, and High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group. Currently FBI Acting Director, since Comey's firing.

The Judges

  • Michael Gracia, Associate Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, since February 2016. Served in the second Bush Administration as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Enforcement.
  • Henry Hudson, a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia since being appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002. Previously served as a prosecutor in Virginia, where he earned the nickname "Hang 'Em High Henry," and as Director of the U.S. Marshals Service under President George H.W. Bush.

All of these candidates received interviews at the Justice Department on Saturday, with television cameras watching each of them enter and exit the building. The top candidates will meet with President Trump in the days ahead; he told reporters on Saturday that an announcement is "possible" before he leaves Friday on his first foreign trip. "We can make a fast decision," he said, calling the candidates "outstanding people," "very well known," and "highest level."

Rogers received a boost on Saturday when he received the endorsement o the FBI Agents Association. Cornyn's stock dropped after Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday that while "under normal circumstances, the Texan "would be a superb choice," "these are not normal circumstances." Graham encouraged Trump to "pick somebody that comes from within the ranks, or has such a reputation that has no political background at all."

No matter who is eventually chosen by Trump, the nominee can expect a fight before being confirmed by the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on CNN'S "State of the Union" that Democrats would block any FBI Director nominee until an independent prosecutor is named to lead the Russia investigation, a plan endorsed by Senate Intelligence Committee vice chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) and others.

Dark Horse: Buzz continues about the possibility of Trump tapping Judge Merrick Garland, former President Barack Obama's failed Supreme Court nominee, to lead the FBI. Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin hatch (R-UT) have both said they broached the idea, which Republicans and Democrats have endorsed, with the White House. Josh Holmes, former Chief of Staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on "Fox News Sunday" that McConnell told him the appointment would be a "fantastic idea." If Garland is tapped, his seat on the D.C. Circuit (the "second highest court in the land") would open up for Trump to fill.

Tweet, Tweet President Donald Trump's Twitter feed was mostly quiet over the weekend, after a storm of tweets on Friday (sent just as Wake Up To Politics was being sent out) dominated the weekend. Here are the most important ones:

  • "James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"

The tweet immediately sparked comparisons to the Watergate scandal, when President Richard Nixon was ultimately forced to resign after the emergence of his secret White House tapes confirmed how much the White House knew about the DNC break-in. It remains unclear if Trump was serious (he has been known to contest interpretations of words he puts in quotation marks on Twitter); at his Friday press briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer merely said, "the President has nothing further to add on that."

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have signaled that any tapes would be subpoenaed, with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Mike Lee (R-UT) joining top Democrats to call on the White House to either turn over such tapes or confirm that none exist.

  • "As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!... Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future 'press briefings' and hand out written responses or the sake of accuracy???"

After a week of inaccuracies and changing stories from White House spokespeople on the Comey firing, President Trump again threatened to cancel White House press briefings in a Saturday interview with Fox News' Jeanine Pirro. "We shouldn't have them," Trump said, raising the possibility of holding presidential press conferences every two weeks instead.

Hawaii vs. Trump The Seattle-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will hold a hearing on President Trump's revised travel ban at 12:30pm today. The federal government is vying to overturn Hawaii-based U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson's March decision to block the executive order from going into effect. Watson, an Obama appointee, ruled in favor of the state of Hawaii, which argued that the 90-day ban on travel from six Muslim-majority nations would violate the First Amendment.

In an April interview with radio host Mark Levin, Attorney General Jeff Sessions referred to Watson as "a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific" and said his order "stops the President of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power."

The 9th Circuit previously blocked Trump's original executive order on immigration in February, leading the President to attack the court on Twitter. All three judges who will hear the case today (the panel is randomly selected) were appointed by President Bill Clinton. In a rare allowance from the court, C-SPAN will air today's arguments live and share the feed with other networks.

Daily Data A NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday found pluralities of Americans disapprove of President Donald Trump's job performance, his decision to fire FBI director James Comey, and the Republican health care bill he championed.

  • President's job performance: 39% approve, 54% disapprove, 7% had no opinion
  • Republican health care bill: 23% said "good idea," 48% said "bad idea," 28% had no opinion
  • Comey firing: 29% approve, 38% disapprove, 32% had no opinion
  • Why Trump fired Comey: 46% said "to slow down the FBI investigation" of Russia, 38% said "due to legitimate concerns about the way Comey handled and released information" related to the Clinton email investigation
  • Russia investigation confidence: 40% have "some" or "a great deal" of confidence in Congress' ability fairly investigate Russian involvement in the 2016 election, 65% have "some" or "a great deal" of confidence in the FBI's ability to do so
  • Russia investigation preference: 15% "would rather see" an investigation of Russia's involvement led by Congress, 78% "would rather see" an investigation led by an independent commission or a special prosecutor

The President's Schedule At 11am, President Trump will head down Pennsylvania Avenue to address the National Peace Officers Memorial Service. The ceremony, which has been held at the U.S. Capitol since 1982 to honor police officers killed in the line of duty, falls on National Peace Officers Memorial Day and during Police Week, by presidential proclamation. According to West Wing Reports' Paul Brandus, the flag atop the White House has been flying at half-staff since Sunday to mark Police Week.

At 1:35pm, the President will meet with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Zayid Al Nuhayyan of the United Arab Emirates in the Oval Office. At 1:50pm, the President and the Crown Prince will share a working luncheon in the Cabinet Room.

THE RUMOR MILL Also today: White House press secretary Sean Spicer briefs the press at 1:30pm. Spicer's return to the podium comes amid rumors that his days at the White House are numbered. Trump is reportedly mulling a shake-up of his entire press team: according to the AP, multiple Fox News producers are being considered for posts, while the New York Times reports that Fox anchor Kimberly Giulfoyle is seen as a potential press secretary. These outlets (and many others) are all reporting rumors of an even larger shake-up of the White House staff; Axios hinted on Sunday of a "huge reboot" that could remove Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Steve Bannon, White House counsel Don McGahn, and Spicer.

  • One confirmed appointment: Trump is set to pick an Ambassador Gingrich (but not the one you might think). Per CNN, the President hopes to announce Callista Gingrich (wife of Trump surrogate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich) as Ambassador to the Vatican before his audience with Pope Francis on May 24.

Today in Congress The Senate will meet at 3pm. The chamber will spend two and a half hours debating the nomination of Jeffery Rosen to be Deputy Secretary of Transportation. At 5:30pm, a cloture vote will be held on the nomination. The Senate will then move to consideration of the nomination of Rachel Brand to be Associate Attorney General.

Rosen and Brand both served in the George W. Bush Administration: the former as General Counsel of both the Transportation Department and the Office of Management and Budget; the latter as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy. According to a Washington Post database, 29 Trump Administration nominee have received confirmation, with just five agencies having any appointees in place other than their heads.

Meanwhile, the House will meet at 9am for a pro forma session (meaning the chamber will quickly gavel in and out, with no votes scheduled). The chamber will return tomorrow from an 11-day recess.