I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, May 22, 2018. 168 days until Election Day 2018. 896 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at email@example.com.
GOP lawmakers will be allowed to review documents on Russia probe after White House meeting
Amid a high-stakes showdown with the Justice Department, President Trump met with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats in the Oval Office on Monday.
According to the White House, the meeting produced an agreement in the documents dispute between Republican lawmakers and the FBI, in which President Trump has frequently taken the side of his GOP congressional allies instead of his own DOJ appointees. White House chief of staff John Kelly will "immediately set up a meeting" with FBI, DOJ, and DNI officials and congressional leaders "to review highly classified and other information they have requested," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement following the meeting on Monday.
It is unclear how much information will be shared with the lawmakers, but a meeting like the one Kelly is set to convene represents a concession for the Justice Department. For months, intelligence and law enforcement officials have resisted demands from House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) and other Trump allies seeking highly classified documents relating to the Russia investigation.
Among other documents, Nunes has requested the "scope memo" outlining special counsel Robert Mueller's authority, as well as information related to the secret FBI informant who sought out multiple Trump aides during the 2016 campaign. Nunes has threatened to hold Rosenstein in contempt of Congress or attempt to impeach him due to the deputy AG's refusal to comply with a subpoena to hand over the documents.
The meeting on Monday was another sign of President Trump's attempts to exert pressure over the Russia investigation, despite the fact that he is a target of the probe. Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani told USA TODAY that Trump called the meeting in his official capacity as president, not as a subject of the investigation, but the area is murky. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement that the White House's plan to arrange a meeting between the DOJ and lawmakers is "highly irregular and inappropriate," adding that "the president and his staff should not be involved in the viewing or dissemination of sensitive investigatory information involving any open investigation, let alone one about his own activities and campaign."
The Monday meeting came after President Trump's Sunday tweet demanding that the Justice Department "look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes - and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!" Hours after the tweet on Sunday, the DOJ announced that the department's inspector general would investigate such allegations. However, on Monday, Sarah Sanders claimed the inspector general probe was the result of the meeting between Trump and Rosenstein, even though it had been announced the day before.
Some lawmakers criticized Trump's attempt to influence the DOJ probe into his campaign. "Determining who or what is investigated by the DOJ is not the President's call," Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) tweeted on Monday. "Deputy AG Rosenstein's referral to the Inspector General is the right move. The White House should in no way hinder or impact the ongoing work of Special Counsel Mueller."
--- President Trump's demand that the Justice Department investigate whether the FBI "infiltrated or surveilled" his campaign comes after reporting on the FBI informant who met with Trump associates — although there is no evidence that he spied on the Trump campaign or attempted to infiltrate it, or that there were political motivations behind his activities. After initially declining to name the informant, the Washington Post reported on Monday that it was Stefan Halper, a former professor at the University of Cambridge in England. Axios reported on Monday that Halper was later recommended for an ambassadorship in the Trump Administration by White House trade adviser Peeter Navarro.
Inside the White House
--- A White House cellphone used by President Trump "isn't equipped with sophisticated security features designed to shield his communications," Politico reports, "a departure from the practice of his predecessors that potentially exposes him to hacking or surveillance."
Trump uses two iPhones — one to make calls, the other to use Twitter and a handful of news sites. "While aides have urged the president to swap out the Twitter phone on a monthly basis, Trump has resisted their entreaties, telling them it was 'too inconvenient,'" according to the report. As a result, "the president has gone as long as five months without having the phone checked by security experts."
--- Many of the messages on President Trump's Twitter feed are written by staffers attempting to imitate him, according to the Boston Globe, and these aides "intentionally employ suspect grammar and staccato syntax in order to mimic the president’s style."
According to the report, some staffers include grammatical errors in presidential tweets they draft because they "relish the scoldings Trump gets from elites shocked by the Trumpian language they strive to imitate, believing that debates over presidential typos fortify the belief within his base that he has the common touch."
--- Retiring Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-TN), who has had a tumultuous relationship with President Trump, turned down an offer to become the next U.S. Ambassador to Australia, The Tennessean reports. According to the Australian Financial Review, retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) was also under consideration for the post, although a spokesperson told Roll Call that the Utahn does not plan to become an ambassador, instead "look[ing] forward to a well-deserved retirement filled with early bird specials at all you can eat buffets and long walks through Costco."
--- Recommended read: The relationship between President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) "has improved considerably from a low point last summer," according to the Washington Post. McConnell told The Post that he and Trump speak on the phone "multiple times a week, and sometimes at unusual hours." Best quote in the piece, via Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN): "The president is a surprise every minute. Mitch is a surprise about once every century."
Primary Day: Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Texas
"The 2018 midterms move on Tuesday to four Southern states where Democrats are seeking to redefine the region’s shifting politics and prepare for the battle for control of the House of Representatives this fall."
"Primaries in Arkansas,Georgiaand Kentucky — along with runoffs in Texas for races in which no candidate received a majority of votes in the March primary — include a handful of congressional districts critical to Democrats’ chances to win back the chamber."
"Two battleground districts in particular — in Lexington, Kentucky, and outside Houston — feature examples of the continuing battle between establishment Democrats and insurgent candidates, who are proudly spurning party bigwigs in their efforts to win primaries."
"Meanwhile, in Georgia, Democrats are poised to nominate an African-American woman for governor five months after winning a special Senate election in neighboring Alabama — a victory the party credits, in large part, to black women, who voted resoundingly for now-Sen. Doug Jones. Former state Rep. Stacey Abrams would be the first African-American woman to serve as a governor, and the first elected African-American governor in the deep South of any gender."
"Polls close statewide at 7 p.m. Eastern time in Georgia and Kentucky, 8:30 p.m. in Arkansas and 9 p.m. in Texas. But look out for some results in Kentucky and Texas an hour earlier, when polls close in parts of the states that are in the Eastern time zone."
More races to watch in the Politico piece...
--- Top Republicans are considering a plan to push retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) out of his post over the summer, attempting to clear the way for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to step into the speaker's chair, The Weekly Standard reported on Sunday. On Monday, TWS also reported that White House budget director Mick Mulvaney "strongly endorsed the idea" over the weekend. Also: per Politico, Ryan is "facing growing doubts" about whether he can hold on to the speakership through Election Day.
Where are they now
--- Barack and Michelle Obama announced a multiyear production deal with Netflix on Monday; the former president and first lady has created "Higher Ground Productions," a company to produce "scripted series, unscripted series, docu-series, documentaries and features" focused on issues and themes that dominated the Obama presidency, according to a Netflix release.
--- Bill and Hillary Clinton "have veered in sharply different directions" ahead of the 2018 midterms, according to the New York Times. The latter is set to return to the campaign trail this week, endorsing Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) in his primary battle with actress Cynthia Nixon, while the former is remaining on the bench.
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At 11am, President Trump receives his intelligence briefing.
At 12:05pm, President Trump meets with President Moon Jae-In of South Korea for the third time. At 12:35pm, President Trump participates in a working lunch with President Moon.
The two presidents are expected to discuss President Trump's planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which is on the schedule for June 12 in Singapore, but according to CNN, "administration aides have grown increasingly skeptical...[that it] will come to fruition," as Pyongyang's rhetoric has become harsher in recent days.
At 2:30pm, President Trump meets with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
At 7:30pm, President Trump delivers remarks at the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List's 11th annual Campaign for Life Gala at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.
--- Also notable today: There is no White House press briefing scheduled, for the fifth weekday out of the past seven.
The Senate meets at 10am. The chamber is scheduled to hold two roll call votes at 12pm: on confirmation of Jones Day partner Dana Baiocco to be a Commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission; and on advancing the $51 billion House-passed VA MISSION Act, which includes $5.2 billion in funding for the Veterans Choice Program, which funds private care for veterans.
At 2:15pm, the Senate will recess for weekly conference meetings.
The House meets at 10am today. The chamber is set to consider five pieces of legislation:
- The FIRST STEP Act, a bipartisan prison reform bill authorizing $50 billion annually for five years to fund education and vocational training programs to prisoners.
- The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, a Senate-passed bill which would roll back some of the regulations for smaller banks included in the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010.
- The Right to Try Act, a Senate-passed bill allowing terminally ill patients to try experimental drugs before they receive full approval from the FDA.
- The Childhood Cancer Survivorship, Treatment, Access, and Research Act, a Senate-passed bill which aims to enhance the quality of life for childhood cancer survivors.
- A resolution authorizing the use of the Capitol grounds for the Greater Washington Soap Box Derby.
The chamber will also open its first of three days of floor debate on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, beginning to work through the 560+ amendments to the annual defense policy bill that have been filed.
*All times Eastern