I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Monday, May 21, 2018. 169 days until Election Day 2018. 897 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at email@example.com.
Trump demands DOJ probe into whether FBI "infiltrated or surveilled" his campaign
President Donald Trump demanded on Sunday that the Justice Department investigate whether the FBI "infiltrated or surveilled" his campaign "for Political Purposes" in 2016.
"I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes," he tweeted, "and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!"
The president's "demand" came in his eighth tweet of the day, after a series of missives insisting that the "Witch Hunt" led by special counsel Robert Mueller had found "no Collussion (sp) with Russia, No Obstruction" and should focus instead on "corruption in the Hillary Clinton Campaign." In multiple tweets last week, Trump tested out a new attack on the Russia investigation, claiming that "there was...at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes" into his campaign, which he called the "all time biggest political scandal."
The New York Times and Washington Post both reported on Friday that the FBI sent a longtime informant, a retired American professor living in London, to seek out three Trump campaign officials who were on the FBI's radar for their links to Russia: foreign policy advisers George Papadopoulos and Carter Page and national co-chairman Sam Clovis. However, there is no evidence that the FBI spied on Trump aides or embedded an agent within the campaign, as the president claims, or that there were political motivations behind sending the informant.
Before Trump could "officially" demand that the Justice Department investigate his claims today, the DOJ announced late Sunday that the department's Inspector General had been asked to "expand the ongoing review of the FISA application process to include determining whether there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation of persons suspected of involvement with Rusian agents who interfered in the 2016 presidential election."
In a statement, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — who oversees the Russia investigation and has been a frequent subject of Trump's ire — said: "If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action."
The FBI informant has become an increasing focus of President Trump and his allies, with House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) and other GOP lawmakers demanding documents related to the confidential source and President Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani telling the Wall Street Journal that the president would need more details on the informant before agreeing to an interview with Mueller.
According to the Post, senior FBI and national intelligence officials have warned the White House that the information being requested by Nunes "risked the source’s safety and that of his sources, and could damage U.S. relationships with its intelligence partners."
According to the report, "The stakes are so high that the FBI has been working over the past two weeks to mitigate the potential damage if the source’s identity were revealed... The bureau took steps to protect other live investigations that he has worked on and sought to lessen any danger to associates if his identity became known."
While President Trump has used Twitter to needle Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions since the outset of his administration, frequently complaining about their oversight of probes related to the 2016 campaign, Trump's Sunday tweet seemed to take that rhetoric a step further: breaching traditional presidential independence from the Justice Department to insist that the agency investigate how the previous administration treated his campaign.
It remains to be seen whether the department's move to set up a probe along the lines of Trump's demand, but to kick it over to the inspector general, will be enough to mollify the president.
Other Russia investigation developments...
--- Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating another meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and foreign individuals, the New York Times reported Saturday. The August 2016 meeting was attended by George Nader, an emissary for the princes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates; Joel Zamel, an Israeli social media specialist who drew up a proposal to boost the Trump campaign; and Erik Prince, a private security contractor and Trump donor. The report also details Nader's frequent meetings with Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and future national security adviser Michael Flynn. According to the Times, the meetings "are the first indication that countries other than Russia may have offered assistance to the Trump campaign in the months before the presidential election."
--- President Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani told the New York Times on Sunday that special counsel Mueller aims to finish his investigation into whether the president obstructed justice in the Russia inquiry by September 1, to ensure that he doesn't improperly influence the midterm elections. However, Giuliani changed his story slightly in interviews with other news outlets, telling the Associated Press that Mueller's team indicated that the entire probe may end by September, but that timeline would be contingent on President Trump sitting for an interview with the special counsel in July.
--- Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he is "prepared" to be indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller. Stone insisted that Mueller had found "no evidence whatsoever of Russian collusion," but said the special counsel "may seek to conjure up some extraneous crime pertaining to my business" in "an effort to silence me." Mueller is reportedly probing Stone's ties to WikiLeaks.
"Art of the Deal"
Two reports on the Trump Administration's negotiations with China and North Korea:
--- "Treasury, USTR Send Mixed Messages Over Tariffs on Chinese Imports" (Wall Street Journal): "The Treasury secretary and the administration’s top trade official took markedly different positions over whether the U.S. will move forward with tariffs on Chinese imports, punctuating several days of negotiations between the world’s two biggest economies with a question mark."
"Several hours after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Fox News on Sunday that the U.S. was 'putting the trade war on hold' and wouldn’t assess tariffs on Beijing while the two sides talked, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer put out a statement saying that tariffs remained an important tool to 'protect our technology.'"
"Mr. Lighthizer didn’t say the U.S. would resort to tariffs any time soon, and Mr. Mnuchin didn’t rule out tariffs, and a U.S. trade official played down the disparity, but trade experts said the differences in tone and substance stood out. People familiar with the administration’s internal deliberations said Mr. Lighthizer was signaling that he wouldn’t accept a watered-down version of U.S. goals or tactics in the trade dispute with China."
More on Mnuchin's statement that the U.S. would hold off from imposing tariffs on China, "putting the trade war on hold," while the countries participate in trade negotiations via Politico...
--- "Trump Grappling With Risks of Proceeding With North Korea Meeting" (New York Times): "President Trump, increasingly concerned that his summit meeting in Singapore next month with North Korea’s leader could turn into a political embarrassment, has begun pressing his aides and allies about whether he should take the risk of proceeding with a historic meeting that he had leapt into accepting, according to administration and foreign officials."
"Mr. Trump was both surprised and angered by a statement issued on Wednesday by the North’s chief nuclear negotiator, who declared that the country would never trade away its nuclear weapons capability in exchange for economic aid, administration officials said. The statement, while a highly familiar tactic by the North, represented a jarring shift in tone after weeks of conciliatory gestures."
"On Thursday and Friday, Mr. Trump peppered aides with questions about the wisdom of proceeding, and on Saturday night he called President Moon Jae-in of South Korea to ask why the North’s public statement seemed to contradict the private assurances that Mr. Moon had conveyed after he met Kim Jong-un, the 35-year-old dictator of the North, at the Demilitarized Zone in late April."
..."Mr. Trump’s aides have grown concerned that the president — who has said that 'everyone thinks' he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts — has signaled that he wants the summit meeting too much... Moreover, Mr. Trump’s decision this month to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal raises the stakes for the North Korea negotiation... The aides are also concerned about what kind of grasp Mr. Trump has on the details of the North Korea program..."
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At 10:35am, President Trump participates in the swearing-in ceremony of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Gina Haspel, who was confirmed by the Senate in a 54-45 vote last week. Haspel is the agency's first female leader. The swearing-in will take place at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
At 1:30pm, President Trump participates in the Oval Office signing ceremony for S.J. Res. 57, which strikes down an Obama-era rule aimed at preventing discrimination by auto lenders. The resolution passed the House, 234-175, and Senate, 51-47.
At 2:10pm, President Trump hosts NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. and his team on the South Lawn.
At 6:30pm, President Trump has dinner with a group of governors to discuss "border security and safe communities."
Vice President's schedule
At 10:35am, Vice President Mike Pence participates in the swearing-in ceremony of CIA Director Gina Haspel.
At 6:35pm, Vice President Mike Pence speaks at an event raising money for Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), at the Trump International Hotel in D.C.
The Senate meets at 3pm today. At 5:30pm, the chamebr will hold a cloture vote on the nomination of Dana Baiocco to be a Commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Baiocco is a partner at D.C. law firm Jones Day.
The House meets at 12pm today. The chamber is scheduled to vote on 14 bills related to veterans issues, including legislation to help veterans who are survivors of military sexual trauma and legislation aiming to prevent veterans opioid abuse.
*All times Eastern