6 min read

Wake Up To Politics - May 17, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, May 17, 2018. 173 days until Election Day 2018. 901 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

The investigations

There were a lot of developments Wednesday in the various investigations into President Trump and his associates. To recap (in no particular order)...

---- The Senate Intelligence Committee concluded in a bipartisan report that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton. The report sided with the intelligence community's 2017 assessment, but broke with the House Intelligence Committee's Republican majority, who disputed in a report last month that the Russians were aiming to help Trump.

--- The Senate Judiciary Committee released more than 2,500 of pages of testimony and documents related to the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between top Trump campaign officials (Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort) and Russians. Trump Jr. told the panel that he had been expecting the Russians to provide "potential information about an opponent" in the meeting, which was set up after he received an email promising dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of "Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."

"I believe you have some information for us," Trump Jr. said at the outset of the meeting, one of the attendees testified. While the meeting ended up focusing on the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law imposing sanctions on Russia, the documents shed some light on the Trump campaign's willingness to accept Russian help and their hopes for the June 2016 meeting.

--- In a new financial disclosure form, President Trump formally acknowledged reimbursing his longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, for an October 2016 $130,000 payment to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels. A footnote in the form reported a reimbursement of between $100,001 and $250,000 for expenses incurred by Cohen in 2016. Trump had previously told reporters he was unaware of the payment or how Cohen got the money, although his attorney Rudy Giuliani revealed earlier this month that Trump had reimbursed Cohen.

In a letter to the Justice Department, the Office of Government Ethics said that the reimbursement should have been included in the president's previous financial disclosure form, alerting Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein in case it is "relevant to any inquiry you may be pursuing."

--- The Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) detailing payments Michael Cohen received from AT&T, pharmaceutical company Novartis, and a firm tied to a Russian oligarch were leaked by a law enforcement official who became considered after other reports went missing, the official told the New Yorker. The official said that two reports documenting even larger transactions flowing into Cohen's accounts suddenly disappeared from the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN) database, a rare occurrence, driving him to leak the third report.

--- During the presidential transition in late 2016, Michael Cohen solicited a payment of at least $1 million from the government of Qatar, "in exchange for access to and advice about the then-incoming administration," the Washington Post reported. Qatar declined the offer, which came "on the margins" of a December 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Qatar's foreign minister and future Trump Administration officials including Michael Flynn and Steve Bannon.

--- Special counsel Robert Mueller has issued two subpoenas to Jason Sullivan, a social media consultant who worked for longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone, Reuters reported. Mueller is reportedly investigating Stone's ties to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, questioning whether Stone had any advance knowledge of the Clinton emails published by WikiLeaks.

--- A year later: Today is the one-year anniversary of Robert Mueller's appointment as special counsel in the Russia investigation, and the probe shows no sign of slowing down — as Wednesday's developments show. The investigation's attackers also appear to be ramping up. President Trump marked the anniversary in a tweet this morning: "Congratulations America, we are now into the second year of the greatest Witch Hunt in American History." (Trump's FBI director, Christopher Wray, told a Senate panel on Wednesday that he does not believe the investigation is a "witch hunt".)

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, a group of Trump's conservatives allies in the House wrote him a letter calling on him to order Attorney General Jeff Sessions to turn over documents related to the Mueller probe, a sign that the dispute between the DOJ and House Republicans, which Trump has threatened to "get involved" in, will continue.

In addition, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani continued his string of media interviews, telling CNN and other outlets that Mueller's investigators have informed the president's legal team that they have concluded that they cannot indict a sitting president. Giuliani also urged the special counsel to wrap up his probe in a Fox News interview. "Mueller should now bring this to a close," the former New York mayor said. "It's been a year. He's gotten 1.4 million documents, he's interviewed 28 witnesses...It's about time to say enough."

Statistics that Giuliani forgot... In the past year, Mueller has also brought 75 criminal charges against 19 people — including President Trump's former national security adviser, former campaign chairman, and two other former campaign aides —  and three companies, racking up five guilty pleas and one sentence, according to CNN.

--- Recommended read: The New York Times reports on the "secret origins" of the FBI's Trump-Russia investigation, long known by only a small circle of officials by its code name: "Crossfire Hurricane."

Elsewhere in Trumpworld...

Also on Wednesday...

--- Ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke about a "crisis of ethics and integrity" in the U.S. during a commencement address at the Virginia Military Institute, seeming to rebuke President Trump. "If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom," Tillerson said.

--- The Senate passed a resolution that would repeal changes to net neutrality rules recently adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The measure was supported by all 49 Democrats and Republican Sens. Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and John Kennedy (LA). The measure is unlikely to advance in the House or receive support from President Trump.

--- Two more House Republicans, John Katko (NY) and David Trott (MI), signed on to a discharge petition that would force a series of House votes on immigration bills, including ones providing protections to "Dreamers." 20 Republicans have joined the petition; if five more sign on, and all House Democrats later join them, the petition will have the 218 signatures needed to force the immigration votes. The GOP signatories are bucking their leadership, who have been aggressively pressuring members not to join the effort.

Do you like Wake Up To Politics? Share it with your friends! Tell them to sign up for the newsletter at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe.

The President's schedule

At 12:15pm, President Trump has lunch with Defense Secretary James Mattis.

At 1:45pm, he meets with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). According to the White House, "the two leaders will discuss the upcoming NATO Summit in July and review progress on United States priorities for NATO, such as the need for fair burden-sharing and NATO’s role in the international fight against terrorism."

At 2pm, Trump and Stoltenberg participate in an expanded bilateral meeting.

At 2:45pm, Trump partcipates in Stoltenberg's departure.

--- White House press secretary Sarah Sanders will hold a press briefing at 1pm. The official White House schedule does not include a Trump/Stoltenberg joint press conference, although one was announced last week and the NATO Secretary-General's schedule indicates that there will be one. It is unclear which schedule is correct.

--- Also today: Trump Administration officials will attend talks with China's top trade negotiator Liu He. According to the Washington Post and other news outlets, the negotiations come as tensions remain between White House trade adviser Peter Navarro and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who reportedly got into a profane shouting match during a trip to Beijing earlier this month.

Senate schedule

The Senate meets at 9:30am today. At around 11:15am, the chamber will vote on a proposal by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) that would "severely curtail federal spending," according to Politico, and balance the federal budget within five years. The measure is unlikely to receive the 50 votes needed to advance.

The Senate is also likely to vote on final confirmation of Gina Haspel to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) this afternoon. Haspel's nomination was advanced by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday in a 10-5 vote, with ranking member Mark Warner (D-VA) and another Democrat joining the panel's Republicans in supporting her.

She is expected to be confirmed with bipartisan support: at least five Senate Democrats have already announced plans to vote in her favor. However, three Republicans (John McCain, Rand Paul, and Jeff Flake) have announced plans to vote "no," registering concerns about Haspel's role in the CIA's post-9/11 interrogation program. If confirmed, Haspel will be the first female director of the CIA.

House schedule

The House meets at 11am today. The chamber will continue consideration of the Agriculture and Nutrition Act, the five-year farm bill.

Also today: at 5pm, the Department of Homeland Security will lead an all-member briefing for the House on election security ahead of the midterm elections. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, and FBI Director Christopher Wray will participate in the briefing.

*All times Eastern