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Wake Up To Politics - May 9, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, May 9, 2018. 182 days until Election Day 2018. 910 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com. Then-FBI Director James Comey was dismissed by President Trump one year ago today.

Breaking: Three American detainees have been released by North Korea, President Trump announced on Twitter this morning. Two of them, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim, have been held since 2017; a third, Kim Dong-chul, was detained in 2015.

"I am pleased to inform you that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the air and on his way back from North Korea with the 3 wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting," the president tweeted. "They seem to be in good health. Also, good meeting with Kim Jong Un. Date & Place set." Trump also announced that he will be on hand to greet Pompeo and the newly-released Korean-Americans when they land at Andrews Air Force Base at 2am.

Election results

Four states held primary elections on Tuesday: Ohio, North Carolina, Indiana, and West Virginia. Here are the key results:

  • WV-SEN: Ex-convict coal baron Don Blankenship was defeated for the Republican nomination, a relief for many national Republicans who worried that he would hurt their chances of winning the seat in the fall. State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R-WV) won the GOP nod, triumphing over Blankenship and Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV). He will face Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) in the general election.
  • IN-SEN: Wealthy businessman Mike Braun won Indiana's Republican Senate primary, defeating Reps. Luke Messer (R-IN) and Todd Rokita (R-IN). He will face Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) in November.
  • OH-SEN: Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH) easily clinched the GOP nomination to challenge Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
  • OH-GOV: Former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) chief Richard Cordray won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Ohio, defeating former Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) in a contest of progressive credentials. State Attorney General Mike DeWine (R-OH) won the GOP nod.
  • NC-9: Former pastor Mark Harris defeated Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) for the Republican nomination, making Pittenger the first incumbent of the 2018 cycle to lose to a primary challenger.
  • OH-12: State Sen. Troy Balderson (R-OH) won the Republican nomination in the special primary election to succeed former Rep. Pat Tiberi, who resigned in January. Balderson, who was endorsed by Tiberi, defeated Melanie Leneghan, who was supported by House Freedom Caucus co-founder Jim Jordan (R-OH). Balderson will face Democrat Danny O'Connor in the August 7 special election.
  • IN-6: Greg Pence, Vice President Mike Pence's older brother, won the Republican nomination to retake his brother's old House seat in Indiana.

Takeaways: Tuesday's primaries were proof of President Trump's stature within the Republican Party, as candidates across the board were rewarded for hugging the president tight. In Ohio, Trump's favored Senate candidate, Jim Renacci won the GOP primary. In Indiana, Mike Braun succeeded by branding himself as a wealthy political outsider in the mold of Trump. In West Virginia, a presidential tweet urging voters to reject Don Blankenship is likely to have hurt the former coal executive's chances and boosted eventual nominee Patrick Morrissey, who claimed in the final days that he had Trump's support, although the president's opposition to Blankenship was not accompanied by an endorsement of either of his opponents.

The results were also a reminder of Congress' unpopularity, with Rep. Evan Jenkins losing his West Virginia Senate bid and Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita both losing Indiana's Senate primary. In addition, Rep. Robert Pittenger's defeat marked the first House incumbent of 2018 to lose to a primary challenger; again, support for the president was a key litmus test in that race, as pastor Mark Harris ran promising to be a better ally for President Trump's agenda.

With the exception of businessman Mike Braun's Indiana triumph, Tuesday was also a largely successful night for the Republican establishment, mostly because the GOP leadership succeeded in staving off a Blankenship nomination. "Thanks for playing, @DonBlankenship," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's campaign account tweeted Tuesday, celebrating the defeat of a candidate who had waged racially-charged attacks against McConnell's family.

Trump withdraws from Iran nuclear deal

President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday that the United States was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, undoing the agreement negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama's administration and ignoring fierce lobbying from European allies.

"This was a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made," Trump said. "It didn't bring calm, it didn't bring peace, and it never will." The president's criticism of the agreement dates back to the 2016 campaign trail, when he promised to rip up the deal and negotiate a better one. The Iran deal now joins the list of international pacts — from the Trans-Pacific Partnership to the Paris climate deal — that President Trump has withdrawn from, a continuation of his "America First" platform.

The Iran deal, which was inked in 2015, consisted of the U.S. easing economic sanctions on Tehran in exchange for Iran limiting its nuclear program. Trump on Tuesday said he would be ending that relief: "We will be instituting the highest level of economic sanction," he declared.

Leaders of three of the other nations that signed the deal — France, Germany, and Britain —  said in a joint statement that they remained committed to preserving the agreement. Iran said it will conduct negotiations with other countries to see if the deal can continue; if those talks fail, Iran's president promised that his nation would begin enriching "more [uranium] than before...in the next weeks."

Many GOP leaders cheered Trump's move, while others criticized his decision to withdraw from the agreement despite the lack of proof that Iran had violated it. Former President Obama issued a rare statement on the topic, calling the move "misguided" and saying it left the U.S. "with a losing choice between a nuclear-armed Iran or another war in the Middle East."

In his remarks on Tuesday, Trump also mentioned the high-stakes nuclear negotiations in North Korea, announcing that newly-confirmed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was flying to Pyongyang for another meeting with Kim Jong Un, to continue preparations for the planned Trump-Kim summit and to negotiate the release of three American detainees in North Korea.

"Today's action sends a critical message," Trump said. "The United States no longer makes empty threats. When I make promises, I keep them."

Trump investigations converge

President Trump's legal troubles seemed to converge on Tuesday, as Stormy Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti made a revelation about longtime Trump attorney Michael Cohen's ties to a Russian oligarch, later confirmed by the New York Times.

Via the NYT: "A shell company that Michael D. Cohen used to pay hush money to a pornographic film actress received payments totaling more than $1 million from an American company linked to a Russian oligarch and several corporations with business before the Trump administration, according to documents and interviews."

"Financial records reviewed by The New York Times show that Mr. Cohen, President Trump’s personal lawyer and longtime fixer, used the shell company, Essential Consultants L.L.C., for an array of business activities that went far beyond what was publicly known."

..."Among the previously unreported transactions were payments last year of about $500,000 from Columbus Nova, an investment firm in New York whose biggest client is a company controlled by Viktor Vekselberg, the Russian oligarch. A lawyer for Columbus Nova, in a statement on Tuesday, described the money as a consulting fee that had nothing to do with Mr. Vekselberg."

"Other transactions described in the financial records include hundreds of thousands of dollars Mr. Cohen received from Fortune 500 companies with business before the Trump administration [including AT&T], as well as smaller amounts he paid for luxury expenses like a Mercedes-Benz and private club dues."

--- According to CNN, special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators have interviewed Vekselberg about the payments from Columbus Nova to Essential Consultants L.L.C.

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The President's schedule

At 11:30am, President Trump holds a Cabinet meeting.

At 3:10pm, President Trump participates in a Celebration of Military Mothers and Spouses event.

At 7pm, President Trump has dinner with a group of lawmakers.

Senate schedule

The Senate meets at 10am today to continue consideration of President Trump's appeals court nominees. At 12pm, the chamber will hold a confirmation vote on 5th circuit nominee Kurt Engelhardt and a cloture vote advancing 7th circuit nominee Michael Brennan. If confirmed, Engelhardt will become President Trump's 16th appeals court judge approved by the Senate, a rapid transformation of the federal judiciary.

The vote advancing Brennan's nomination is also notable, as it occurs despite opposition from one of his home-state senators, Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). Baldwin has not returned her "blue slip" for Brennan's nomination; traditionally, if either of a nominee's home-state senators withholds their "blue slip" for a nominee, their nomination doesn't advance to the floor. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) broke with tradition in giving Brennan a committee hearing and vote, marking an end to the "blue slip" courtesy.

Also today: CIA Director nominee Gina Haspel will face questions from members of the Senate Intelligence Committee at her confirmation hearing. Haspel, who reportedly considered withdrawing her nomination late last week, is expected to face tough questions on her role in the CIA's post-9/11 interrogation program, which involved waterboarding suspects and use of other torture tactics.

According to excerpts of her prepared testimony already released, Haspel will offer the committee her "personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership CIA will not restart such a detention and interrogation program."

House schedule

The House meets at 10am today. The chamber will consider two bills: the Standard Merger and Acquisition Reviews Through Equal Rules Act and the Citizens' Right to Know Act.

*All times Eastern