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Wake Up To Politics - May 23, 2017




I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Tuesday, May 23, 2017. 532 days until Election Day 2018. 1,260 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!

BULLETIN: Manchester Explosion A suicide bomber attacked a concert in Manchester, England on Monday night, killing 22 people and injuring 59 others. British Prime Minister Theresa May said the explosion is "being treated by the police as an appalling terrorist attack." Speaking after a meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, President Donald Trump said that the U.S. stands in "absolute solidarity" with the U.K. after a "horrible morning of death" perpetrated by "evil losers." ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack on Tuesday morning.

Russia Investigation: The Latest After President Trump received praise for the opening days of his foreign tour, the spotlight once again turned to the Russia investigation on Monday. Here's the latest:

Michael Flynn Invokes Fifth Amendment Amid New Allegations In a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday, lawyers for former national security advisor Michael Flynn announced that he was refusing to comply with the panel's subpoena requesting a list of his communications with Russain officials during the 2016 campaign.

Flynn's lawyer cited the Fifth Amendment in his letter, stating that "he has more than a reasonable apprehension that any testimony he provides could be used against him"; the letter also referred to an "escalating public frenzy" against Flynn that discouraged him from cooperating. While Flynn is guaranteed the right not to comply with the committee's request, the Senate can vote to hold the retired general in contempt of Congress. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) told reporters that the Senate would not vote to do so, saying "the Fifth Amendment provides you an absolute right against self-incrimination."

However, the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee signaled plans to continue pursuing Flynn's documents in a joint statement. "While we recognize General Flynn's constitutional right to invoke the Fifth Amendment, we are disappointed he has chosen to disregard the Committee's subpoena request for documents relevant and necessary to our investigation," chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and vice chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) said. "We will vigorously pursue General Flynn's testimony and his production of any and all pertinent materials pursuant to the Committee's authority. In interviews, Burr floated holding Flynn in contempt of Congress, calling it "one of the avenues that we could pursue."

Just hours after Flynn's refusal, House Oversight Committee ranking member Elijah Cumming (D-MD) made a new allegation against him: that Flynn "lied to" about payments from Russia to security-clearance investigators. According to Cummings,  previously undisclosed documents in the panel's possession show Flynn told investigators that his 2015 trip to Moscow to speak at a gala was paid for by "U.S. companies," but Russian state media company RT "directly" footed the bill. Cummings made the claim in a letter to Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), urging him to subpoena documents related to the matter.

Meanwhile, as Flynn declined to comply with the Senate Intelligence Committee request, two former Trump advisers central to the Russia investigation did submit documents to the panel on Monday. According to reports, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and longtime Trump political adviser Roger Stone both answered questions and sent documents to the committee.

--- BLAST TO THE PAST Then-candidate Donald Trump at a campaign rally in September 2016: "The mob takes the Fifth. If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?"

Reports: Trump Asked Spy Chiefs to Refute Comey on Existence of Russia Probe The Washington Post reported on Monday that after then-FBI director James Comey's testimony that his agency was investigating the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, President Donald Trump asked two top intelligence officials to deny the existence of any collusion in the 2016 election.

According to The Post, Trump personally appealed to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency director Michael Rogers in March. Both officials, normally politically-detached, found the requests "inappropriate" and did not comply. An official told the newspaper that the President aimed to "muddy the waters" and push back against the FI probe.

The report also said that "senior White House officials sounded out top intelligence officials about the possibility of intervening directly with Comey to encourage the FBI to drop its probe of Michael Flynn." One official said the White House asked questions along the lines of, "Can we ask him to shut down the investigation? Are you able to assist in this matter?”

“The White House does not confirm or deny unsubstantiated claims based on illegal leaks from anonymous individuals,” an administration official responded. “The president will continue to focus on his agenda that he was elected to pursue by the American people.” Both NBC and CNN later confirmed the Post's report.

Comey to Consult Mueller Before Testifying House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said Monday that he spoke to FBI director James Comey, who told him "he wants to speak with Special Counsel prior to public testimony." Chaffetz had invited him to testify at a Wednesday hearing on the FBI, which has now been canceled.

Comey has already agreed to publicly testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, although a date has not been set. According to Chaffetz, the ousted FBI chief plans to consult with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Comey's predecessor at the FBI who was appointed by the Justice Department to lead its Russia probe. Comey and Mueller have a longstanding relationship, dating back to their alliance in a famed standoff with the Bush White House on the U.S. torture program.

CNN reported on Monday that Mueller has already visited FBI headquarters to meet with agents leading the bureau's investigations and to be briefed on memos kept by Comey on his interactions with President Donald Trump. Previous media reports have described memos by Comey in which he details his discomfort as Trump asked him to end the investigation into Michael Flynn.

Trump Budget Request The Trump Administration will present its $4.1 trillion budget request to Congress later today, a proposal for deep cuts to anti-poverty programs and sharp increases in military spending. Trump's budget, titled "A New Foundation for American Greatness," would boost military spending by $54 billion, a 10% increase, in the next fiscal year, while adding $2.6 billion in border security funds and allocating $1.6 billion to construct the President's proposed border wall.

Nearly every other area in the budget sees cuts: Trump is requesting a $57 billion decrease in 2018 domestic spending. This would include shrinking the food stamps program by nearly 30%, cutting $192 billion over the next 10 years; an $800 billion cut from Medicaid over a decade; a $72 billion decrease in disability benefits; the elimination of some student loans programs; a prohibition on tax credits going to undocumented immigrants, which will save $40 billion. The State Department and the EPA are also among the agencies expected to have their budgets slashed the harshest.

The requests in the document range from conservative (such as a ban on federal funding going to Planned Parenthood) to liberal (including a paid leave plan championed by Ivanka Trump, which would receive $19 billion over 10 years). Medicare and Social Security are left untouched, as promised on the campaign trail by President Trump.

According to the White House, with roughly equal cuts as increases, the Trump proposal will balance the federal budget over a decade. The budget request is unlikely to see much success in Congress, with Democrats criticizing its effect on welfare programs and Republicans denouncing the Medicaid cuts, farm program cuts, and other changes.

Palace Intrigue: Russia edition Two media reports from Monday on moves inside the White House to respond to the Russia probe:

Politico: "Trump eyeing Lewandowski, Bossie as crisis managers" "The White House is looking to wall off the scandals threatening to overtake the president’s agenda by building a separate crisis management operation. President Donald Trump personally reached out to two of his former campaign aides – his first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and his deputy campaign manager, David Bossie – to sound them out about working with the administration as crisis managers, according to two people familiar with the situation..."

"...The response tracks with the steps taken by previous presidential administrations when confronted with independent inquiries like the one now being conducted by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who was appointed by the Justice Department last week to investigate the Kremlin’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 campaign, including contacts between Trump campaign aides and Russian officials..."

"... A White House spokesman said there were no immediate plans to hire Lewandowski and Bossie inside the White House, and it is unclear that the rapid response operation would be housed in the West Wing. It is likely, one person familiar with the operation said, that the work would be done outside of the White House."

Washington Post: "Trump close to choosing outside counsel for Russia investigation" "President Trump is moving rapidly toward assembling outside counsel to help him navigate the investigations into his campaign and Russian interference in last year’s election, and in recent days he and his advisers have privately courted several prominent attorneys to join the effort..."

"... That search process, in which Trump has been personally involved, is expected to yield a formal legal unit in the coming days, made up of lawyers from several firms who would work together to guide Trump as he responds both to the ongoing federal probe and the congressional investigations, the people said..."

"... The attorneys who have spoken to the White House and who are seen as the finalists are Marc E. Kasowitz; Robert J. Giuffra Jr.; Reid H. Weingarten; and Theodore B. Olson, the people said."

The President's Schedule This morning, President Trump will meet with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority at his Bethlehem palace to "discuss ways to advance peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, as well as efforts to unlock the potential of the Palestinian economy." Trump and Abbas will then deliver joint remarks.

In the afternoon, the President and First Lady will participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at Israel's Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem. President Trump will deliver remarks.

Later in the afternoon, the President will speak at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, before the Trumps depart Israel from Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv for Leonardo da Vinci International Airport in Rome, Italy.

--- OOPS When the White House initially sent the daily schedule to reporters on Monday night, it said Trump was set to meet with "President Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine." An updated schedule was later sent out to read "President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority."

Today in Congress The Senate has one roll call scheduled today: a cloture vote on the nomination of John Sullivan to be Deputy Secretary of State. Sullivan served in the Justice Department during the George H. W. Bush Administration and as Defense Department general counsel and Deputy Commerce Secretary under President George W. Bush. He has been nominated by President Trump for both Deputy Secretary positions at the State Department, which are traditionally held by different people.

Meanwhile, the lower chamber is set to vote today on twelve pieces of legislation, all relating to child safety or veterans, including a military ban on "the wrongful broadcast or distribution of intimate visual images," after a nude photo scandal rocked the Marine Corps.

Also today: both Dan Coats and Michael Rogers, who were reportedly on the receiving end of requests from President Trump to deny collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, testify on Capitol Hill today. Coats will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on "worldwide threats," while Rogers will testify on the U.S. Cyber Command budget before the House Armed Services Committee. In addition, the House Intelligence Committee will hold a public hearing today to hear testimony from former CIA director John Brennan on Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 election.