I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Wednesday, May 17, 2017. 538 days until Election Day 2018. 1,266 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!
Reports: Trump Asked Comey to End Flynn Investigation, per FBI Director's Memo Another day, another bombshell. The ground in Washington shifted again on Tuesday as another huge story in the tangled Trump-Russia web dropped, this time a New York Times report detailing a memo then-FBI director James Comey wrote after a meeting with President Trump in which he claims that he was asked to end an investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
According to the Times, Comey's memo was written just after an Oval Office meeting with President Trump in February. "I hope you can let this go," the President apparently said to Comey, referring to the FBI's probe of Flynn's contacts with Russian diplomats before taking office.
The White House denied Comey's recounting in an anonymous statement provided to reporters. "While the President has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the President has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation invovling General Flynn," the statement said. The official added: "This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the President and Mr. Comey." The White House also cited acting FBI director Andrew McCabe's testimony last week that the Trump Administration had not interfered with the bureau's investigations.
The report immediatey sparked Democratic accusations of "obstruction of justice," with lawmakers claiming the report provides proof of presidential attempts to infleunce the ongoing investigations of ties between Russia and the Trump orbit. "At best, Trump has committed a grave abuse of executive power. At worst, he has obstructed justice," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) tweeted on Tuesday. "We must #ProtectOurDemocracy."
Speaking on the Senate floor on Tuesday night, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) added: "In a week full of revelation after revelation. On a day when we thought things could not get any worse they have...Concerns about our national security, the rule of law, the independence of our nation's highest law enforcement agencies are mounting." He continued: "The country is being tested in unprecedented ways. I say to all of my colleagues in the Senate history is watching."
Some Democrats have even trended from discussing "obstruction of justice" to "impeachment": according to a CNN count, 18 lawmakers have floated the latter prospect. Sen. Angus King (I-ME), who caucuses with the Democrats, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday "with sadness and reluctance" that an impeachment process could be near.
But the more notable reactions of the latest report came from Republican lawmakers, many of whom have spent the young Trump Administration defending the President amid reports of chaos. House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) jumped into the mix on Tuesday, demanding Comey's memos in a letter to acting FBI director Andrew McCabe.
Citing the New York Times' reporting that "Comey created similar memos — including some that are classified — about every phone call and meeting he had with the president," Chaffetz asked that "all memoranda, notes, summaries, and recordings refering or relating to any commuications between Comey and the President" be provided to his Committee by May 24.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) declined to defend the President as well, with spokesperson AshLee Strong telling reporters: "We need to have all the facts, and it is appropriate for the House Oversight Committee to request this memo."
Republicans are also moving to ensure Comey testifies before Congress in the coming weeks. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Tuesday told reporters that he has asked Comey to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committe; the ousted director will also likely be grilled by the Senate and House Intelligence Committees eventually.
Leading House conservatives also stopped defending Trump on Tuesday. According to Politico, House Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC), a Trump ally who was instrumental in the passage of the American Health Care Act earlier this month, told reporters: "It is important to get to the bottom of it. We've got one standard, and we need to make sure that applies to everybody." Republican Study Committee chairman Mark Walker (R-NC) added, "“If this is legitimately something that there was some kind of influence or pressure from Comey doing his work, I’m going to be very disappointed."
Reports from a number of news outlets have also described Trump's agenda in Congress as grinding to a halt, and have indicated conversations among GOP lawmakers are now reaching territory of impeachment, or at least support for an independent investigation. "I hope that many of my Republican colleagues start saying publicly what they are sharing with me privately, which is that they are concerned and they want to find the truth," Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) told CBS.
While many in the GOP are staying quiet, others have not held back. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)'s description of the Trump Administration's scandals on Tuesday night? They have reached a "Watergate size and scale," he declared.
UPDATE: Trump Shares Classified Information with Russians, Day Two Russian president Vladimir Putin said on Moscow this morning that he is "ready to provide" to Congress a transcript of President Trump's conroversial meeting with Russian diplomats, in which he reportedly shared classified information about ISIS.
National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster defended the disclosure on Tuesday as being "wholly appropriate," following a Wall Street Journal report that the information Trump shared with the Russian diplomats had been gathered by Israel and "was considered so sensitive that the U.S. hadn't shared it with its clossest allies in the so-called Five Eyes group, which includes the U.K. and Canda."
This breach in the U.S.-Israel relationship comes as the President prepares to travel to the country later this week, a trip that is seeing diplomatic flaps before it begins, with McMaster declining to confirm on Tuesday that the Western Wall is a part of Israel. While Israel's defense minister described the "security relationship between Israel and our greatest ally the United States" as "deep" and "significant" in a tweet, an Israeli official told BuzzFeed that Trump's sharing of the classified information was their "worst fears confirmed." According to ABC News, the disclosure endangered an Israeli spy inside ISIS.
--- A New York Times report on Tuesday described a White House where "tempers flare and confusions swirl" in light of the many revelations. According to the Times, Trump "has become sour and dark," and has described many of his advisers as "incompetent," including son-in-law Jared Kushner. Rumors of a potential shake-up continue ahead of Trump's first foreign trip (he leaves Friday for Saudia Rabia, Israel, and the Vatican); according to the Times, press secretary Sean Spicer would likely be the first to go.
Cornyn Removes Himself from Consideration for FBI Director Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) withdrew himself for consideration to take over the FBI on Tuesday, a day after Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) did the same. "Now more than ever the country needs a well-credentialed, independent FBI Director," Cornyn's statement said. "I’ve informed the Administration that I’m committed to helping them find such an individual, and that the best way I can serve is continuing to fight for a conservative agenda in the U.S. Senate."
The withdrawls from the two lawmakers signals a shift in the likliehood that a politician will be appointed to succeed ousted director James Comey. Review the full list of the other potential picks from Monday's newsletter.
The President's Schedule President Trump has one public event on his schedule today: he is set to deliver the commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in Groton, Connecticut at 11:05am.
Today in the Senate The Senate convenes today at 9:30am. The chamber will hold two hours of debate on the nomination of Rachel Brand to be Associate Attorney General. At 12pm, the Senate will hold a cloture vote on Brand, followed by more debate. Brand served in the second Bush Administration as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy, and was appointed by former President Obama to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. A practicing attorney, Brand also clerked for Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy.
Today in the House The House meets at 10am today. The chamber is set to vote on fifteen bills:
- the Bankruptcy Judgeship Act, which will increase the number of U.S. bankruptcy judges
- the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act, which will increase transparency of the program providing benefits to families of police officers killed in the line of duty
- the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act, which recognizes six Indian tribes
- the Managing Government Technology Act, which will modernize federal IT systems
- the Federal Agency Mail Management Act, which orders a review of best practices in managing mail for federal agencies
- the Federal Register Printing Savings Act, which would require members of Congress to pay for printed copies of the Federal Register
- the Federal Intern Protection Act, which protects interns at federal agencies from harassment
- the Improving Fusion Centers’ Access to Information Act, which would modify "fusion centers," which streamline communication between agencies at different levels of government
- the Border Enforcement Security Task Force Reauthorization Act, which reauthorizes a border security task force
- the Removing Outdated Restrictions to Allow for Job Growth Act, which would allow a tract of public land in Maine to be sold to a private business
- a bill renaming an Agricultural Research Center in Fargo, North Dakota for former North Dakota governor and Bush-era Agriculture Secretary Edward T. Schafer
- the Combating European Anti-Semitism Act, which orders a report on anti-Semitism in Europe
- a resolution on corruption in central America
- the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, which authorizes additional sanctions against Syria
- the Honoring Hometown Heroes Act, which allows states to fly the American flag at half-staff to honor police officers killed in the line of duty