I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Friday, November 16, 2018. 718 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Anxiety" sets in at White House as Mueller speculation grows
According to Politico, "a deep anxiety has started to set in [at the White House] that [special counsel Robert] Mueller is about to pounce after his self-imposed quiet period, and that any number of Trump's allies and family members may soon be staring down the barrel of an indictment." That anxiety was on full display Thursday morning, as President Trump renewed his attacks on the special counsel's team in a series of tweets. "The inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess. They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts," he said, adding later: "A TOTAL WITCH HUNT LIKE NO OTHER IN AMERICAN HISTORY!" Until Thursday, Trump had launched relatively few attacks at Mueller in recent weeks, while the special counsel maintained a low profile ahead of the midterm elections.
--- Donald Trump Jr. has reportedly told friends in recent weeks that he believes he could be facing charges from Mueller. Longtime Trump aide Roger Stone has also publicly said he is "prepared" for an indictment; Jerome Corsi, one of Stone's many associates to be interviewed by Mueller, said earlier this week that he "anticipate[s] being indicted."
--- Speculation increased on Thursday that something big could be coming soon from Mueller's office when the special counsel's prosecutors and attorneys for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort submitted a joint motion requesting a 10-day extension to file a status report on Manafort's cooperation with the investigation. "It suggests to me that there will be a public event between now and November 26th that would permit Mueller to comment in more detail about Manafort’s cooperation, such as an indictment of someone that Manafort is cooperating against," former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst Renato Mariotti said of the joint motion on Twitter.
--- Mueller's grand jury is known to meet on Fridays.
--- Meanwhile, Mueller's prosecutors confirmed in a Wednesday filing that former Trump campaign deputy chairman Rick Gates "continues to cooperate with respect to several ongoing investigations," delaying his sentencing. And the president's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, was spotted by ABC News arriving in Washington, D.C. earlier this week with one of his criminal defense lawyers in tow. Special counsel Mueller also scored a victory in court on Thursday as a Trump-appointed federal judge upheld his indictment of a Russian troll farm accused of interfering in the 2016 presidential election.
--- The flurry of behind-the-scenes activity from the special counsel comes as President Trump has spent three days in private meetings with his personal lawyers drafting answers to written questions submitted by Mueller, according to the New York Times. Trump's lead attorney Rudy Giuliani told the Washington Post that Trump's answers could be submitted as early as today. "There are some that create more issues for us legally than others," Giuliani said of the questions, describing some of them as "possible traps." The questions focus only on the period before the 2016 election and do not touch on possible obstruction of justice.
--- And, of course, the recent dismissal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions continues to hang over the investigation. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) met with Sessions' replacement, Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, on Thursday and said that Whitaker told him he has no plans to interfere in the Mueller probe. "He's just going to follow regular order," Graham said. "He has no concerns right now." Whitaker was highly critical of the Mueller investigation before being appointed to the Justice Department; in fact, in an interview with the Daily Caller on Wednesday, President Trump brought up the Russia probe unprompted when asked about Whitaker. "It's an illegal investigation," the president insisted, even though the question had been about Whitaker, a moment some compared to Trump's famous interview with NBC's Lester Holt last year, in which the president brought up the Russia investigation after being asked about the firing of FBI Director James Comey.
Also on the Russia/indictment front... Prosecutors inadvertently revealed in a recent court filing that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had been charged under seal. According to the Washington Post, the disclosure was "true, but unintentional." The discovery came as the Wall Street Journal reported that the Justice Department was preparing to prosecute Assange and was "increasingly optimistic" that it would be able to get him into a U.S. courtroom. Assange has been living in the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012. WikiLeaks is known for publishing classified government documents; special counsel Robert Mueller is currently investigating the organization's release of Democratic campaign emails during the 2016 presidential election. Mueller's team has alleged that the emails were hacked by Russian operatives and transferred to WikiLeaks.
Florida concluded its machine recount of the state's hotly-contested Senate and gubernatorial races on Thursday. The governor's race appeared completed, with former Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis leading Democratic Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillium by over 33,000 votes, a margin of 0.41%. While DeSantis has declared victory, Gillum has refused to concede and said he would continue to push for all ballots to be counted. Meanwhile, the final tally for the Senate race was within the margin for a hand recount (Republican Gov. Rick Scott led Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson by 12,000 votes, or 0.15%); election officials face a Sunday deadline to manually count all of the Senate ballots.
--- Two more House seats flipped in Democrats' favor on Thursday: Maine's 2nd district, where Democrat Jared Golden was declared the winner over Republican Rep. Bruce Polquin; and California's 45th district, where Democrat Katie Porter defeated Republican Rep. Mimi Walters. Those results meant the new House would include no Republicans from all of New England or Orange County, California, traditionally a GOP stronghold. With six House races yet to be called, Democrats now control 231 seats to Republicans' 198, after flipping 36 GOP-held seats.
--- The other uncalled gubernatorial race, in Georgia, could come to a close today. Election officials are set to certify results in the contest at 5pm; Republican Brian Kemp leads Democrat Stacey Abrams, 50.3% to 48.8%.
White House schedule
POTUS: At 11:30am, President Trump participates in the signing ceremony for a piece of legislation creating the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), a new division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that would be charged with "leading cybersecurity and critical infrastructure security programs, operations, and associated policy; coordinating with non-federal and federal entities; and carrying out DHS's responsibilities concerning chemical facility antiterrorism standards."
At1pm, he presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor to seven individuals:
- Philanthropist and GOP megadonor Miriam Adelson
- Retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
- NFL player-turned-former Minnesota Supreme Court justice Alan Page
- "King of Rock and Roll" Elvis Presley (posthumous)
- Baseball legend Babe Ruth (posthumous)
- Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia (posthumous)
- Former NFL quarterback Roger Staubach
Finally, at 3:15pm, the president meets with Small Business Administration chief Linda McMahon.
--- Weekend preview: President Trump will travel to California on Saturday "to meet with individuals impacted by the wildfires," the White House has announced. Officials announced on Thursday night that 63 people had died in the Camp Fire in northern California, making it the deadliest wildfire in state history, while 631 people remain missing. In a tweet last week, Trump blamed the wildfires on "gross mismanagement of the forests."
Senate: The Senate is on recess until Monday, November 26.
House: The House convenes at 9am. The chamber is scheduled to vote on the Manage our Wolves Act, removing the gray wolf from the federal endangered species list, and the Strengthening Coastal Communities Act, which would update the government's maps of the John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System.
Supreme Court: The justices meet for their weekly Friday conference today.
CNN vs. Trump: The judge in CNN's lawsuit against the Trump administration over the revocation correspondent Jim Acosta's White House access is set to issue a ruling at 10am today. The judge will rule on CNN's temporary injunction aiming to immediately restore Acosta's credentials, which were taken away last week after a contentious presidential press conference.
*All times Eastern
Two corrections from Thursday's newsletter...
- I wrote that House Minority Nancy Pelosi "could only afford to lose 14 Democrats to remain above 218 votes, a majority (assuming no Republican votes against her and every member votes)" in her bid for Speaker. That should have said "assuming no Republican votes for her."
- I misstated the home state of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. He is a Democrat from New York.
Apologies for those errors, and thanks to the readers who pointed them out!