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Wake Up To Politics - May 16, 2017




I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Tuesday, May 16, 2017. 539 days until Election Day 2018. 1,267 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!

Reports: Trump Shared Classified Information with Russian Diplomats President Donald Trump "revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week," the Washington Post said in a bombshell report on Monday, later confirmed by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, CNN, and BuzzFeed.

According to the Post, the code-word information was "a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State" which had been given to the U.S. by an ally "through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government." The ally had reportedly not given the U.S. permission to share the intelligence, and the Post said Trump's action "jeopardized" the information and "endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State ."

Trump's disclosure is not illegal: the President has ultimate authority when it comes to declassifying intelligence. However, it does raise eyebrows, as Trump has already spent his entire young presidency battling questions over his relationship with Russia, a longtime adversary accused of meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. The meeting where Trump reportedly divulged the classified information was itself a matter of controversy in the Trump-Russia storyline: no American press had been invited to cover the President's sit-down with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Photos of the interaction only emerged after the fact, when Russian state media posted images of the trio laughing online. Kislyak is a leading figure in the multiple investigations into ties between the Trump orbit and Russia: former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and White House senior advisor Jared Kushner have all covered up meetings they had with the diplomat.

Trump's reasons for sharing the information has also come under question, with the Post indicating that the President was boastful as he referred to the classified intelligence. "I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” the President said to Lavrov, according to an official who spoke with the Post.

The Trump Administration immediately began pushing back on the story, sending statements from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy Dina Powell to reporters. Only Powell, the most junior of the trio, directly called the story "false." The other two gave almost identical denials, with Tillerson saying "they did not discuss sources, methods or military operations" and McMaster adding that "[no] intelligence sources or methods [were] discussed and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly."

However, the Post's story specifically said Trump "did not reveal the specific intelligence-gathering method," but "described how the Islamic State was pursuing elements of a specific plot and how much harm such an attack could cause under varying circumstances" and "revealed the city in the Islamic State’s territory where the U.S. intelligence partner detected the threat " which could help Russia identify the U.S. ally involved. The Post did not go further into detail on the intelligence given, "at the urging of officials who warned that revealing them would jeopardize important intelligence capabilities."

McMaster then delivered a one-minute statement to reporters in an impromptu appearance in the White House driveway, declaring, "The story that came out tonight, as reported, is false." Again, he said that "at no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed," denying an accusation that was not made.

In a series of two tweets this morning, President Trump seemed to change the White House strategy, justifying the disclosure instead of denying it. "AsPresident I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining...to terrorism and airline flight safety." he tweeted. "Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism."

As occurred after the firing of FBI director James Comey last week, Trump's words ran counter to those of his aides, another gut-punch to their weakening credibility at a time when they need it most. The President himself tweeted last Friday that "it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy," clouding the denials by Administration officials on Monday.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle responded to the Post story, with Democrats clamoring for an investigation of the disclosure. "The President owes the intelligence community, the American people, and Congress a full explanation, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement. A statement by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) was similar, saying Ryan "hopes for a full explanation of the facts from the administration."

Democrats and Republicans expressed concerns over the allegations. "I would be concerned anytime we're discussing sensitive subjects with the Russians," Senate Republican Conference chairman John Thune (R-SD) said. "President Trump's recklessness with sensitive information is deeply disturbing and clearly problematic," Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack Reed (D-RI) added.

"The White House has got to do something soon to bring itself under control and in order. It's got to happen," Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-TN), a Trump ally who the President considered tapping as his running mate or Secretary of State, told reporters on Capitol Hill. "Obviously, they are in a downward spiral right now and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that’s happening."

Why does this story matter, if Trump hasn't broken the law? If the story's true...

  1. It would be a crime for any other government official to share the information without permission.
  2. It adds to suspicions of ties between Trump and Russia, and of the meeting with Kislyak and Lavrov, which sparked controversy at the time since only Russian state media were allowed to cover it.
  3. It could have consequences for future U.S. intelligence gathering, as allies may be less likely to share intel with America if they can't trust it won't be revealed without permission.
  4. It deals another blow to the White House's credibility, as the Trump Administration spent Monday evening denying the story.
  5. It raises further questions on the potential existence of recordings of President Trump's Oval Office conversations, which he hinted at in a tweet last week and the White House will not confirm or deny.
  6. It opens the President to charges of hypocrisy, after much of his 2016 campaign was focused on attacking Hillary Clinton for her "carelessness" with classified information in using a private email server.
  7. It guarantees more news cycles focused on the Russia storyline, at a time when Trump badly needs to flip the script before leaving for his first foreign trip on Friday. This will impact not only the Administration but GOP lawmakers as well, who were less defensive of Trump on Monday as they have been in the past. This comes at a time when many Republicans are reportedly worried about the impact of Trump's chaotic presidency on their 2018 chances, and Democrats are increasingly confident of their recruiting opportunities.

Clinton Launches PAC Hillary Clinton formally joined "the resistance" on Monday, announcing the launch of "Onward Together," a 501(c)(4) outside group to fund organizations challenging President Donald Trump. Clinton tweeted that she is founding the group with former Gov. Howard Dean (D-VT) to "encourage people to get involved, organize, and even run for office." She added, "This year hasn't been what I envisioned, but I know what I'm still fighting for: a kinder, big-hearted, inclusive America. Onward!"

Brooks Announces Senate Run Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) jumped into Alabama's Senate special election on Monday, setting up a primary fight with Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), who was appointed to the seat in February to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, state Rep. Ed Henry, businessman Dom Gentile, and Christian Coalition of Alabama president Randy Brinson. As noted by Morning Consult, Strange and Brooks previously ran against each other in a 2006 primary for Lieutenant Governor (won by the former). The primary election is on August 15; the election is set for December 12.

Supreme Court Rejects Appeal of Voter ID Law The Supreme Court on Monday decided not to hear an appeal of a lower court's decision to strike down a North Carolina voter ID law. The 4th Circuit's ruling last summer called the law discriminatory and said that it targeted African-Americans "with almost surgical precision." While civil rights groups welcomed the Supreme Court's decision, Chief Justice John Roberts cautioned that it should not be interpreted as the justices taking a side, citing "uncertainty" in the situation instead of opposition to voter ID requirements.

Gowdy Passes on FBI Director Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), a leading candidate to succeed ousted FBI director James Comey, said Monday that he had removed himself from consideration. "Our country and the women and men of the FI deserve a Director with not only impeccable credentials but also who can unite the country as we strive for justice and truth," Gowdy said in a statement. "I am confident that person will emerge." However, Gowdy said, he told Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Saturday that "I would not be the right person."

The President's Schedule At 9:30am, President Donald Trump will speak with King Abdullah II of Jordan over the phone.

At 12:35pm, the President will meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey in the Oval Office. At 1pm, Trump and Erdogan will give joint statements in the Roosevelt Room. At 1:15pm, they will attend a working luncheon in the Cabinet Room. According to a White House statement, "the two leaders will discuss how to further strengthen our bilateral relationship and deepen our cooperation to confront terrorism in all its forms."

Trump has been criticzed for praising and extending White House invitations to a number of foreign strongmen, including Erdogan, who received a congratulatory call from Trump last month after winning a referendum vote expanding his presidential powers.

At 2:30pm, Trump will meet with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney in the Oval Office.

Also today: at 1:30pm, White House press secretary Sean Spicer will hold the daily press briefing, joined by National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster.

Today in the Senate The upper chamber will convene at 10am today; following Leader remarks, the Senate will resume debate on the nomination of Jeffery Rosen to be Deputy Secretary of Transportation. Rosen served in the Bush Administration as chief lawyer of both the Transportation Department and later the Office of Management and Budget.

His nomination was advanced on Monday in a 52-42 vote, with six Democrats voting in favor: Joe Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Tim Kaine (VA), Joe Manchin (WV), Gary Peters (MI), and Mark Warner (VA). All but Peters and Warner are up for re-election in 2018.

The Senate will debate on Rosen until 12:30pm. From 12:30pm to 2:15pm, the chamber will recess for weekly caucus meetings. After returning, a confirmation vote on Rosen is possible.

Today in the House The lower chamber will meet at 12pm. The House will mark Police Week today with votes on four law enforcement bills:

  • the Rapid DNA Act, directing the FBI to produce standards for the use of DNA analysis
  • the Honoring Hometown Heroes Act, allowing the U.S. flag to be flown at half-staff in honor of first responders in any state
  • the American Law Enforcement Heroes Act, incentivizing states and cities for hiring veterans for law enforcement positions
  • the Strengthening State and Local Cyber Crime Fighting Act, establishing a National Computer Forensics Institute to train law enforcement officials on cyber crime

2020 Central Democrats will kick off the 2020 primary today at the Center for American Progress' 2017 Ideas Conference. The roster for the day-long event features three keynote speakers: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). The gathered Democratic activists will also hear from a number of other potential 2020 contenders, including: Sens. Jeff Merkley (OR), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Chris Murphy (CT), and Kamala Harris (CA), Govs. Steve Bullock (MT) and Terry McAuliffe (VA), and former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, among others.

According to Politico, the Center for American Progress is "modeling the event roughly on the Conservative Political Action Conference, the American Conservative Union’s annual gathering that’s become a prime stop for Republican leaders."