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Wake Up To Politics - May 3, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, May 3, 2018. 187 days until Election Day 2018. 915 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Programming note: I will be interviewed on NPR's "1A" today at 11am Eastern Time. Tune in!

Trump's legal troubles enter new phase

Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who joined President Trump's personal legal team representing him in the Russia investigation last month, appeared on Fox News' "Hannity" for an entire hour on Wednesday, and dropped a huge bombshell: Giuliani revealed that Trump reimbursed his longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, for a $130,000 hush agreement with adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, despite the president's previous claims that he was unaware of the payment.

Giuliani maintained that the $130,000 did not come from the campaign, dismissing allegations that the payment was a campaign finance violation (although questions remain as to whether it amounted to an unreported in-kind contribution). "The funneled through a law firm, and the president repaid it," the former mayor said, adding that Trump "didn't know about the specifics of it" but "did know about the general arrangement."

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One in early April, President Trump was asked if he knew about the $130,000 payment to Daniels, which was made by Cohen in October 2016 in exchange for her silence about an alleged affair with Trump. "No," the president replied, telling reporters, "you'll have to ask Michael Cohen," when pressed for details on the non-disclosure agreement. The agreement was made public earlier this year, after Daniels filed a lawsuit alleging that it was invalid because Trump had never signed it himself.

Later on Wednesday, in an interview with the Washington Post, Giuliani said that Trump may not have known the purpose of the $130,000 he was paying back to Cohen. "I don't know if he distinguished it from other things Cohen might have done for him during the campaign...for which he had to be reimbursed. He trusted Michael and Michael trusted him."

Giuliani also told the New York Times that the reimbursement was part of a series of monthly payments of $35,000 that Trump began paying Cohen "some time after the campaign" ended "out of his personal family account." Giuliani said that Trump paid Cohen $460,000 or $470,000 through these payments, to reimburse him for a number of expenses incurred during the campaign.

In a trio of tweets this morning, President Trump said that Cohen "received a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign," from which he entered into a non-disclosure agreement with "Ms. Clifford (Daniels)." Trump added that NDAs are "very common among celebrities and people of wealth," and said that the agreement with Daniels "was used to stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her about an affair."

Meanwhile, in the Russia investigation...

President Trump's Russia probe legal team underwent another shake-up on Wednesday, signaling a more combative response to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer coordinating the administration's response to Mueller, announced plans to retire on Wednesday; to replace him, President Trump hired Emmet T. Flood, a Washington lawyer is known for his aggressive defenses of many high-profile clients. Flood represented Bill Clinton during his impeachment proceedings, handled congressional investigations as Deputy White House Counsel to George W. Bush, and represented Vice President Dick Cheney in a suit brought by former CIA operative Valerie Plame.

"Emmet Flood will be joining the White House Staff to represent the President and the administration against the Russia witch hunt," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. "Ty Cobb, a friend of the President, who has done a terrific job, will be retiring at the end of the month."

Cobb was reportedly a proponent of cooperating with the special counsel, overseeing the voluntary handing over of thousands of documents to Mueller instead of invoking executive privilege. The addition of Flood will likely bring a more hostile response to the investigation: "This signals a new phase...The gloves may be coming off," a senior Trump adviser told the Washington Post.

According to CNN, Cobb's departure comes after weeks of clashing with Trump. "Ty was uncomfortable with the Mueller tweets," a source told the network, and refused to be "part of a mud-slinging campaign," telling Trump that he "can't go down that path."

Flood joins Trump's legal team as his lawyers continue negotiations with Mueller over a potential presidential interview; while Cobb reportedly urged Trump to sit down with the special counsel, the president's new lawyers are less likely to do so. Giuliani, the head of Trump's personal legal team, told Fox News on Wednesday that an interview between Trump and Mueller would have to be only two hours, the special counsel would have to give the president his questions in advance, and he could not stray from "relevant topics." Later that night, on "Hannity," Giuliani called for the Mueller probe to be shut down "in the interest of justice" and said that "right now, the odds are [Trump] wouldn't be interviewed."

In an email to Wake Up To Politics, Cobb declined to say if his exit would impact the likelihood of Trump sitting down with Mueller, saying that the "negotiations are in the hands of the President’s personal counsel."

--- Flashback: "The Failing New York Times purposely wrote a false story stating that I am unhappy with my legal team on the Russia case and am going to add another lawyer to help out," President Trump tweeted in March. "Wrong. I am VERY happy with my lawyers, John Dowd, Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow." (Less than two months later, both Dowd and Cobb are gone.) Flood is the eleventh individual Trump has named to his Russia probe legal team in the last year; Cobb is the sixth to have resigned.


--- The president is siding with House Republicans over his own Justice Department in a documents dispute: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has refused congressional requests to turn over his memo outlining the scope of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, triggering calls for his impeachment among some conservative lawmakers. "A Rigged System - They don't want to turn over Documents to Congress. What are they afraid of?" Trump asked in a tweet Wednesday, adding: "At some point I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to the Presidency and get involved!"

--- Interesting insights from former Trump campaign communications adviser Michael Caputo, who was interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday and by special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators on Wednesday, via CNN: "It's clear they are still really focused on Russia collusion," Caputo said of Mueller's team. "They know more about the Trump campaign than anyone who ever worked there." Caputo, who reportedly told the congressional investigators "God damn you to Hell" because of the legal fees their probe had cost him, differentiated Mueller's probe from Congress': "The Senate and the House are net fishing. The special counsel is spearfishing. They know what they are aiming at and are deadly accurate."

The Rundown

--- A group of House Republicans has formally nominated President Trump for a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to "apply maximum pressure on North Korea to end its illicit weapons program and bring peace to the region."

---- A delegation of top Trump Administration officials arrive in China today to begin negotiations on trade practices.

--- Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that worked for the Trump campaign, announced Wednesday that it is shutting down after allegations of misusing Facebook data.

--- President Trump has come to believe that White House chief of staff John Kelly is "hiding things from him," while Kelly "complains aloud about" the president, the New York Times reported.

--- Kim Kardashian West and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner have spoken over the phone about a presidential pardon for Alice Marie Johnson, a 62-year-old serving a life sentence for a nonviolent drug offense, according to Mic.

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The President's schedule

President Trump has just one public event on his schedule today: at 11am, he will attend an event in the Rose Garden marking the National Day of Prayer, which is today. According to the Religion News Service, at the event, President Trump will sign an executive order creating the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative, a new office "that aims to give faith groups a stronger voice within the federal government and serve as a watchdog for government overreach on religious liberty issues."

In addition, according to Politico, Trump will meet privately after the event with Pastor Darrell Scott, a top ally of the president's. Scott confirmed the meeting to Wake Up To Politics, saying that he planned to discuss "urban revitalization" and "the race summit," his proposal to bring African-American athletes and artists to a series of meetings at the White House.

Also today: White House press secretary Sarah Sanders will hold a press briefing at 2pm. Expect a lot of questions on the Stormy Daniels payment... ("What did the president know and when did he know it?")

Today in Congress

Today in Congress

Both houses of Congress are on recess.

*All times Eastern