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Wake Up To Politics - May 23, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, May 23, 2018. 167 days until Election Day 2018. 895 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Without evidence, Trump insists intelligence agencies spied on his campaign

Days after demanding that the Justice Department investigate whether his 2016 campaign was infiltrated or surveilled, President Trump seems to have already arrived at a conclusion. In tweets on Tuesday and this morning, Trump has continued to insist — without evidence — that the intelligence agencies under the Obama Administration embedded a spy within his campaign.

"If the person placed very early into my campaign wasn't a SPY put there by the previous Administration for political purposes, how come such a seemingly massive amount of money was paid for services rendered - many times higher than normal," the president tweeted Tuesday night. He continued: "Follow the money! The spy was there early in the campaign and yet never reported Collusion with Russia, because there was no Collusion. He was only there to spy for political reasons and to help Crooked Hillary win - just like they did to Bernie Sanders, who got duped!"

The president is likely referring to Stefan Halper, who reportedly sought out three Trump aides who were being investigated for ties to Russia as an informant for the FBI. According to the Washington Post, Halper has been paid more than $1 million since 2012 by the Defense Department's Office of Net Assessment, for conducting research and preparing reports, which is presumably the "massive amount of money" Trump is referring to. There has been no sign that Halper spied on the campaign, or that his contacts with Trump officials on behalf of the FBI were politically motivated.

According to The Post, Halper contacted Trump campaign foreign policy advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, as well as national co-chairman Sam Clovis, "in the summer and fall of 2016 for brief talks and meetings that largely centered on foreign policy."

In a series of tweets this morning, Trump attacked his favorite target, the supposed "deep state" he accuses of spying on him. "Look how things have turned around on the Criminal Deep State," the president tweeted. "They go after Phony Collusion with Russia, a made up Scam, and end up getting caught in a major SPY scandal the likes of which this country may never have seen before! What goes around, comes around!"

Minutes later, President Trump even branded the controversy: "SPYGATE could be one of the biggest political scandals in history!" he tweeted.

--- Also: FBI Director Chirstopher Wray, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and Acting Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Ed O’Callaghan will meet with House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) and House Oversight Committee chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) on Thursday to share documents relating to the Russia probe requested by the GOP lawmakers.

Nunes and Gowdy are demanding access to highly classified information related to Halper's work as an FBI informant, as well as other documents revealing key details about the Russia investigation. The White House announced the date of the meeting on Tuesday, after it was brokered by President Trump in an Oval Office meeting with Justice Department officials on Monday.

No congressional Democrats have been invited to the meeting, sparking protests from Nunes' Intelligence Committee counterpart, ranking member Adam Schiff (D-CA), and others.

The Rundown

House GOP: Will House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) be able to hold on to his leadership position through November? Ryan announced last month that he plans to retire from Congress at the end of his current term, but there is rising speculation that Republican lawmakers will attempt to push him out sooner. The rumors of a House GOP coup come as the conference faces an open rupture on immigration, with Ryan in the middle of the moderate and conservative flanks.

Twenty moderate Republicans have signed a discharge petition to force a series of votes on immigration bills, including legislation to protect "Dreamers"; with unanimous Democratic support and a few more Republicans, the petition is expected to reach the 218 signatures it needs to go into effect in the coming days. Meanwhile, conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus are threatening a full-on rebellion if a bill protecting "Dreamers" passes, with Ryan's jeapordized job hanging in the balance.

North Korea: Speaking to reporters on Tuesday before his meeting with South Korean president Moon Jae-in, President Trump seemed less confident that his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, would take place as planned. "There's a very substantial change that it won't work out, and that's OK," he said. "That doesn't mean it won't work over a period of time. But it may not work out for June 12." Trump added that "there are certain conditions we want to happen" and if the U.S. doesn't get them, "we won't have the meeting."

However, those conditions appear flexible as well: Trump backed away from his previous demand that North Korea completely denuclearize, seeming open to the nation ending its nuclear program in phases. "It would certainly be better if it were all in one," he said. "Does it have to be? I don't think I want to totally commit myself."

The investigations: Evgeny Friedman, the longtime business partner of Michael Cohen, President Trump's personal lawyer, pleaded guilty to one count of criminal tax fraud on Tuesday, agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors in state or federal investigations as part of his plea deal. Friedman, the so-called "Taxi King" of New York City, and Cohen were partners in the taxi business. According to the New York Times, which was first to report the news, Friedman's cooperation with the government "could be used as leverage to pressure Mr. Cohen to work with the special counsel examining Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election."

Quote of the day: "Your vote in 2018 is every bit as important as your vote in 2016," President Trump said Tuesday night at a pro-life gala, before changing his mind: "I'm not sure I believe that, but you know. I don't know who the hell wrote that line. I'm not sure. But it's still important."

Primary results: Texas, Georgia, Kentucky, Arkansas

Via the Washington Post:

"Fresh faces with compelling life stories prevailed in Democratic primaries across several southern states Tuesday, beating candidates with deeper political pedigrees and more governing experience in several key races."

"The results marked an ongoing embrace by Democratic voters of non-politicians, women, veterans and nonwhite candidates to lead the party’s effort to take back control of the House and governors’ mansions this fall."

"Voters in Kentucky nominated Amy McGrath, the first Marine woman to fly an F-18 fighter jet, for a key House seat in Lexington over the candidate favored by party leaders, a two-term mayor who ran on a promise to bring “adult supervision” to Washington."

"In Texas, Democrats nominated two lesbian candidate with military or law enforcement backgrounds, one Latina and the other Filipina, for key races. And Georgia voters gave former State House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams a shot to become the first black, female governor in the country."

..."In GOP primaries Tuesday in Texas and Georgia, candidates who promised to support the president and crack down on illegal immigration triumphed."

"In Georgia, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp advanced to a runoff, after a campaign in which Cagle talked about banning 'sanctuary cities' and Kemp talked about personally rounding up 'criminal illegals.'"

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President's schedule

President Trump travels to New York today. At 2pm, he participates in a roundtable on immigration at Morrelly Homeland Security Center in Bethpage, New York. The president is expected to speak about the MS-13 gang during the Long Island event, after referring to the group as "animals" in remarks last week.

Later tonight, Trump will attend two fundraising events in New York CIty, a 5:30pm "roundtable with supports" and a 6pm "dinner with supporters." The president will then return to the White House.

Senate schedule

The Senate meets at 11am today. The chamber is scheduled to hold a series of roll call votes at 3:15pm:

  • Confirmation of Brian Montgomery to be an Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development;
  • Advancing and then passage of the VA MISSION Act, which authorizes $5.2 billion in funding for the VA Choice Program, which funds private care for veterans.
  • Advancing the nominations of Jelena McWilliams to be the Chairperson and a Member of the Board of Directors of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

House schedule

The House meets at 10am today. The chamber will continue consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, the annual defense policy bill.

*All times Eastern