I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Friday, May 18, 2018. 172 days until Election Day 2018. 900 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's former son-in-law, Jeffrey Yohai, "pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges in a sealed proceeding in California in January and is cooperating with federal investigators," the Wall Street Journal reported. According to the report, Yohai pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in the Central District of California "relating to real-estate loans on properties in New York and California" (both states that Yohai invested with Manafort on real estate deals) and to charges "in connection with misrepresenting his income and assets to obtain an American Express 'Black Card' with no credit limit, and then running up charges he couldn’t repay."
According to Reuters, which was first to report about Yohai's guilty plea, his plea agreement with the Justice Department requires him to cooperate with other criminal probes. And according to the Wall Street Journal, Yohai has met with investigators for special counsel Robert Mueller, who has brought dozens of charges against Manafort, as well as prosecutors from the New York attorney general's office. Per NBC News, Mueller and his team "have been focusing for the past six months on Yohai," investigating his role as Manafort's partner in four California property deals and another in Brooklyn, New York.
--- President Trump's conservative allies in the House are continuing to wage "an increasingly aggressive campaign to undercut the Russia investigation by exposing the role of a top-secret FBI source," according to the Washington Post. House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) is requesting Justice Department documents relating to the Mueller probe that the FBI says "would put lives in danger and imperil other operations" by "publicly identifying the confidential source," according to The Post. Trump has joined their effort, tweeting on Thursday and again this morning about the New York Times report that at least one government informant met several times with former Trump campaign advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos. The president called the revelation "bigger than Watergate!"
--- On Thursday, Mueller handed over one of the documents Nunes has requested — the classified August 2017 memo in which Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein outlined the parameters of the special counsel's authority, known as the "scope memo" — to a federal judge in Virginia, who is hearing arguments from Manafort that Mueller's charges against him exceed the special counsel's mandate.
--- President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani told PBS NewsHour on Thursday that the likelihood of the president sitting down for an interview with Mueller "looks more hopeful than it did a day or so ago." In an interview with CNN this morning, Giuliani said that Mueller has agreed to limit the scope of a potential interview with Trump, from five topics to two. The former New York City mayor also told Politico on Thursday that Trump's legal team has begun planning a series of sessions over the summer, "to be held during off-hours at the White House and perhaps over rounds of golf at Trump’s private courses," to prepare Trump for a possible interview with Mueller.
--- Andrii Artemenko, a Ukranian politician who communicated withTrumppresonal attorney Michael Cohen "about a controversial plan to resolve Ukraine’s conflict with Kremlin-backed rebels," has been called to testify today before a grand jury in the Mueller probe, Politico reported.
--- Interesting graphic: Compare the first year of the Mueller probe to past investigations, via FiveThirtyEight.
Gina Haspel was confirmed as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) by the Senate on Thursday. Haspel's confirmation process was expected to be tough due to questions about her role in the CIA's post-9/11 interrogation program, which involved using torture tactics on terrorist suspects, but she received bipartisan support in the end. Haspel was approved in a 54-45 vote, with opposition from two Republicans — Jeff Flake (AZ) and Rand Paul (KY) — and support from six Democrats — Joe Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Manchin (WV), Bill Nelson (FL), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), and Intelligence Committee ranking member Mark Warner (VA).
Haspel, who has served in the CIA for more than 30 years, now becomes the agency's first-ever female director.
The Trump Administration is set to announce a new rule today that would bar clinics "that provide abortions or refer patients to place that do" from receiving federal family planning funds, according to the New York Times. The policy (often known as the "domestic gag rule") was originally instituted by President Ronald Reagan in 1988, but later rescinded by President Bill Clinton in 1994. According to The Times, the rule "is a top priority of social conservatives" and "takes direct aim at Planned Parenthood."
Trump aides are "anticipating potential personnel changes to come" as soon as today as the White House continues to try to stanch the near-constant leaks that they have been plagued by since the outset of the Trump Administration, Politico reports. This latest push comes after a comment by communications aide Kelly Sadler about John McCain's terminal cancer was leaked to the press. While Sadler's job appears to be safe, "Trump is demanding that whoever let the story go be fired," according to the Associated Press, and "the mood has grown increasingly tense" in the West Wing as senior officials warn of a potential shake-up coming.
Other steps have been taken aiming to reduce the number of leaks: per CNN, the White House is "considering shrinking its communications team"; according to the New York Times, the communications office's big daily meeting "has been scrapped in favor of something smaller."
--- Interesting line from the Times' story on the leaky White House culture (and the president's paranoia about it): "In one case, a crackdown came after a junior aide was found to be taping meetings with Mr. Trump and playing them to impress friends, according to several people familiar with the episode."
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The President's schedule
At 11:30am, President Trump delivers remarks at the Prison Reform Summit.
At 2pm, President Trump meets with United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.
The Senate is not in session today.
The House meets at 9am today. The chamber will vote today on the Agriculture and Nutrition Act, the five-year, $867 billion farm bill. The legislation's future is "up in the air," according to the Wall Street Journal, as members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus have pushed for a vote on a hard-line immigration measure in exchange for their support of the farm bill.
The conservative immigration push comes as the House GOP has been further divided by a discharge petition by moderate members to force a series of votes on immigration measures. The petition now has 20 Republican signatories; if all House Democrats and five more Republicans sign on, it will have the 218 lawmakers needed to go into effect.
In Wednesday's newsletter, I misstated the home state of Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. He is from Florida.
*All times Eastern