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Wake Up To Politics - May 7, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Monday, May 7, 2018. 184 days until Election Day 2018. 912 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

CIA Director nominee Haspel sought to withdraw

Gina Haspel, President Trump's nominee to lead the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), "sought to withdraw her nomination" late last week, the Washington Post reported on Sunday. According to the report, Haspel told the White House on Friday that she was considering stepping aside in order to avoid her confirmation hearing, scheduled for Wednesday, when she is expected to face tough questions on her role in the CIA's controversial post-9/11 interrogation program, which could deal "potential damage to the CIA’s reputation and her own."

Senior White House aides, including legislative affairs director Marc Short and press secretary Sarah Sanders, rushed to CIA headquarters to meet with Haspel and successfully push to change her mind, according to The Post.

The extent of Haspel's role in the interrogation program, which included a number of tactics described by many as torture, is unclear. In late 2002, she briefly oversaw a secret CIA prison in Thailand, where one al-Qaeda suspect was waterboarded. In late 2005, Haspel also played a role in the destruction of videotapes documenting the interrogation of that suspect, which led to an investigation by a special prosecutor.

Haspel, a 30+ year veteran of the CIA, would be the first woman to lead the agency.

--- Key line in the Post story: "Amid the questioning in the West Wing on Friday afternoon, Haspel told White House aides she did not want her nomination to harm the CIA. She also feared unfair attacks on her own reputation, saying that she didn’t want to be 'the next Ronny Jackson,' one official said. Jackson, Trump’s White House doctor, withdrew his nomination to become Veterans Affairs secretary following questions regarding alleged misconduct earlier in his career."

--- Haspel's day: Per Politico Playbook, Haspel will meet with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM), all members of the Intelligence Committee, today.

--- Trump tweet: "My highly respected nominee for CIA Director, Gina Haspel, has come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists," President Trump tweeted this morning. "Think of that, in these very dangerous times, we have the most qualified person, a woman, who Democrats want OUT because she is too tough on terror. Win Gina!" Note: Haspel's nomination is largely at risk due to opposition from Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican.

The investigations

Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, the new lead attorney on President Trump's personal legal team, continued his recent string of television appearances on Sunday, appearing on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopolous." Highlights:

  • On whether Trump's longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen made payments to other women on Trump's behalf, similar to the hush agreement with Stormy Daniels: "I have no knowledge of that but I would think, if it was necessary, yes."
  • On whether Trump will sit down with special counsel Robert Mueller: "Every lawyer in America thinks he would be a fool to testify. I've got a client who wants to testify. And, Jay [Sekulow, another member of the president's personal legal team] and I said to ourselves, my goodness, you know, I hope we get a chance to tell him the risk that he's taking. So he may testify. And we may actually work things out with Bob Mueller, because working with him directly is good."
  • On whether the president would comply with a subpoena from the special counsel: "Well, we don't have to. He's the president of the United States. We can assert the same privilege as other presidents have."
  • On whether he is confident that the president wouldn't invoke the Fifth Amendment in testimony before the special counsel: "How can I ever be confident of that?"

ICYMI: The New York Times reported on Friday evening that President Trump knew about the $130,000 payment from Michael Cohen to adult film actress Stormy Daniels "several months before he denied any knowledge of it to reporters aboard Air Force One in April."

Coming soon: House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) told Fox News on Sunday that he plans to begin pushing "this week" to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt of Congress for declining to hand over documents relating to the Russia investigation. The Justice Department has refused to comply with an Intelligence Committee subpoena for classified materials as part of the panel's probe into allegations that the DOJ abused its Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) powers in surveilling former Trump campaign aide Carter Page at the outset of the Russia probe.

Russia probe developments: Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg was questioned by agents working for Mueller at a New York-area airport this year, according to the New York Times... California real estate investor Tom Barrack, one of President Trump's closest friends and confidants, was interviewed by Mueller's investigators earlier this year, per the Associated Press.

Trump tweets: Statements from the president this morning... "The Russia Witch Hunt is rapidly losing credibility. House Intelligence Committee found No Collusion, Coordination or anything else with Russia. So now the Probe says OK, what else is there? How about Obstruction for a made up, phony crime.There is no O[bstruction], it’s called Fighting Back"

... "The 13 Angry Democrats in charge of the Russian Witch Hunt are starting to find out that there is a Court System in place that actually protects people from injustice...and just wait ‘till the Courts get to see your unrevealed Conflicts of Interest!" Trump is likely referencing the showdown between the special counsel's team and federal judge T.S. Ellis III on Friday, when Ellis questioned whether Mueller had overstepped his authority in pursuing fraud charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The Rundown

--- President Trump this morning urged West Virginians to vote against controversial Republican Senate candidate Don Blankenship, tweeting that Blankenship "can't win the General Election in your State" and urging voters to "Remember Alabama," a reference to the failure of GOP nominee Roy Moore in the Senate special election in the state last year. Blankenship is a convicted coal baron who has run a fierce campaign attacking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his Chinese-American relatives; many Republicans fear a redux of Moore's loss if Blanekship wins the Republican primary on Tuesday. According to Politico, private polling reviewed by Republicans show Blankenship "surging" in recent days.

--- People close to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) have told the White House that the ailing lawmaker does not want President Donald Trump to attend his funeral and would like Vice President Mike Pence to come instead, NBC News reported. Former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, both onetime opponents of McCain's, are expected to be the eulogists at the service. Read: "At His Ranch, John McCain Shares Memories and Regrets With Friends" (New York Times)

--- "Aides to Donald Trump, the US president, hired an Israeli private intelligence agency to orchestrate a 'dirty ops' campaign against key individuals from the Obama administration who helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal," including Obama's former deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes and Joe Biden's former national security adviser Colin Kahl," The Guardian reported on Saturday. New: Per Ronan Farrow of the New Yorker, the Israeli operatives who collected information on former Obama administration officials are the same ones who were hired by Harvey Weinstein's attorneys to halt the publication of sexual misconduct allegations against Weinstein.

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Today at the White House

POTUS: At 11am, President Trump receives his intelligence briefing in the Oval Office. The president has no other events on his public schedule.

--- Inside the room: "The late morning daily briefings, lively, ping pong-style shouting matches where Trump plays attendees off each other, bouncing from topic to topic, have become a regular feature in the Oval Office despite early fears that Trump would reject the professional, fact-based reports from the intelligence community," according to a new CNN report on the president's daily intelligence briefing. "Trump likes the particularly exciting details of intelligence, two sources familiar with the matter told CNN, but his interests are wide-ranging, and he asks a lot of tough questions."

VP: At 1:25pm, Vice President Mike Pence addresses a meeting of the Organization of American States, which is made up of the 35 independent states in the Americas.

At 3:30pm, Pence meets with the United Kingdom's Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Boris Johnson.

FLOTUS: At 3pm, First Lady Melania Trump will deliver remarks in the Rose Garden to formally launch her platform of initiatives, which will seek to raise "awareness on a variety of issues that affect children," her spokeswoman told CNN.

--- Inside the residence: On the eve of her platform launch, the Washington Post reported on the first lady's "complicated White House life," as her profile grows and her public appearances increase. According to The Post, the Trumps lead largely separate lives: sleeping in different bedrooms, and often apart during their free time or at meals.

Briefing: At 2pm, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders holds the daily press briefing.

Today in Congress

Senate: The Senate meets at 3pm today. The chamber will hold a cloture vote on the nomination of Kurt Engelhardt to be a U.S. Circuit Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Engelhardt is one of six appeals court judges set to be considered by the upper chamber this week. Fifteen of President Trump's circuit court nominees have already been confirmed, constituting a rapid transformation of the federal judiciary.

House: The House meets at 12pm today. The chamber is set to consider seven pieces of legislation: the Veterans Cemetery Benefit Correction Act, "to provide outer burial receptacles for remains buried in National Parks"; the Servicemember Family Burial Act, "to provide for headstones and markers for, and interment in national cemeteries of, deceased spouses and dependent children of members of the Armed Forces serving on active duty"; and five bills renaming U.S. Postal Service facilities.

Also today: Rep.-elect Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) will be sworn into office, after winning the special election to succeed former Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) last month.

*All times Eastern