I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Friday, May 5, 2018. 186 days until Election Day 2018. 914 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Giuliani fallout: White House blindsided by reimbursement revelation
When Rudy Giuliani, the president's newly-minted lead personal attorney, revealed on Fox News' "Hannity" on Wednesday that President Trump reimbursed his longtime "fixer" Michael Cohen for the $130,000 paid to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels as part of a non-disclosure agreement, he didn't just shock the political world: he also blindsided the White House. Giuliani told the Washington Post that he and Trump agreed a few days ago that the former New York City mayor would reveal the details of the reimbursement; but, The Post reports, Giuliani did not discuss his plans with the White House counsel, the White House chief of staff, or the new White House lawyer handling the Russia probe. He was flying solo.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters at her press briefing Thursday that Giuliani's interview was when she learned, along with the public, about the reimbursement. "The first awareness I had was during the interview last night," Sanders said. In March, Sanders insisted that "there was no knowledge of any payments from the president"; Trump himself also denied knowledge when asked by reporters aboard Air Force One last month, replying "no" when asked if he knew about the $130,000 payment.
Asked about her earlier comments seeming to contradict Giuliani's revelation, Sanders responded: "We give the very best information that we have at the time."
It remains unclear when the president learned of the payment to Stormy Daniels, or if he even knew what he was reimbursing Cohen for. Questions also remain relating to potential campaign finance violations: while Trump and Giuliani claim the payments did not violate election law because no campaign money was used, some experts say the $130,000 payment (which came in late October 2016) could be considered an in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign, meaning it should have been reported to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
According to The Post, White House aides "expressed a mixture of exasperation and horror" as they scrambled to manage the fallout of Giuliani's interview. The only person inside the building who didn't seem to be surprised? The president, who confirmed the revelation on Twitter on Thursday morning. "Rudy and Trump are talking by phone, and others aren't in the loop," a senior White House official told The Post.
Giuliani didn't seem to mind the fact that White House officials were caught off-guard, telling CNN: "They were. There was no way they wouldn't be. The president is my client. I don't talk to them."
According to the Associated Press, Giuliani's new turn as "the aggressive face of President Donald Trump's forceful new legal team" represents a new phase of the president's response to the Russia probe. Trump and Giuliani have "had several private conversations in recent days in which Giuliani fanned Trump’s anger with Mueller’s probe," according to AP; in addition, the ex-mayor has warned the president against sitting down for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller.
In one of his many recent media appearances, Giuliani told ABC News on Thursday that there is a "50/50" chance that Mueller subpoenas Trump to testify.
According to Politico, the change in legal strategy mirrors the aggressive shift in media strategy. "The public strategy has now subsumed the legal strategy," a source told the outlet. "The public stance is fight, fight, fight. So the legal strategy is now fight, fight, fight."
--- Reminder: The White House has not had a communications director since Hope Hicks' departure in March... President Trump is increasingly playing the role himself, formulating legal strategy with Giuliani and then chiming in on Twitter without consulting his press team.
--- House Chaplain Patrick Conroy rescinded his resignation on Thursday, just weeks after announcing plans to step down. In the aftermath of his mid-April resignation, a backlash ensued among Democratic and Republican lawmakers (particularly Catholic members) over accusations that Conroy was pushed out by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). Conroy then took back his resignation, essentially daring Ryan to fire him; the speaker said Thursday that he "decided that [Conroy] will remain in his position as chaplain of the House."
--- NBC News reported Thursday that there was a wiretap on the phones of President Trump's longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen. The network later had to correct the report: federal investigators have monitored Cohen's phone lines, keeping a log of calls (known as a pen register), although they cannot listen in to them.
--- Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA) identified himself on Thursday as the defendant in a lawsuit alleging that an unidentified "elected politician" sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl in 2007. "My client is sickened and distraught by these horrific allegations, which are 100% categorically untrue," Cardenas' attorney said.
--- President Trump has ordered the Pentagon to "prepare options for drawing down American troops in South Korea," ahead of his planned meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the New York Times reports.
--- Inside the White House: Emmet Flood, the new lawyer coordinating the White House's response to the Russia investigation, is also the "leading candidate" to replace Whtie House counsel Don McGahn, the Associated Press reports... Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski is "back at the center of Donald Trump's universe," per BuzzFeed News...
--- Latest Pruitt reports: "Pruitt's Coziness With Lobbyists Includes Secretly Buying a House With One" (New York Times)... "Influential outsiders have played a key role in Scott Pruitt’s foreign travel" (Washington Post)...
--- Home state: The Missouri legislature will meet for a special session to consider disciplinary action against Gov. Eric Greitens (R-MO) on May 18, lawmakers said Thursday. Greitens faces three felony charges in two separate cases: one relating to allegations that he took a nude photo of his mistress to blackmail her; the other relating to accusations that he used his veterans charity's donor list for his gubernatorial campaign. More than three-fourths of lawmakers in each chamber of the Missouri legislature signed a petition to initiate a special session; Greitens is likely to become the first Show-Me State governor in history to be impeached.
--- Watch: West Virginia Republican Senate candidate Don Blankenship referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)'s "China family" in a new ad.
--- Listen: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) reads from his forthcoming memoir, "The Restless Wave."
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The President's schedule
President Donald Trump travels to Dallas, Texas today, where he will address the National Rifle Association (NRA) Leadership Forum at 1:45pm. Trump's speech to the NRA comes less than the three months after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida; in the aftermath of that shooting, Trump held a meeting with members of Congress in which he floated a number of gun control proposals ("take the guns first, go through due process second") and seemed to criticize the "great power" the NRA held over lawmakers. However, just days later, he met with NRA officials at the White House, leading Trump to reaffirm his support for the Second Amendment and temper his support for gun control measures.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said earlier this week that safety proposals remain a focus of the Trump Administration. "Safety is a big priority, security is a big priority for the administration, but we also support the Second Amendment and strongly support it and don't see there to be a problem with speaking at the National Rifle Association's meeting," she said.
Today in Congress
Both houses of Congress are on recess.
*All times Eastern