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Wake Up To Politics - October 1, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Monday, October 1, 2018. 36 days until Election Day 2018. 764 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

FBI launches probe into Kavanaugh allegations

After a dramatic turn of events on Friday, the FBI has begun investigating sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
The FBI investigation, which Democrats have been demanding for weeks, was ordered by President Donald Trump on Friday after Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) voted to advance Kavanaugh's nomination in committee on the condition that a one-week probe into the allegations would be conducted. "I’ve ordered the FBI to conduct a supplemental investigation to update Judge Kavanaugh’s file," Trump said in a statement. "As the Senate has requested, this update must be limited in scope and completed in less than one week." The investigation will be focused on Dr. Christine Ford's allegation that Kavanaugh attempted to rape her while they were both in high school and Christina Ramirez's claim that he exposed himself to her at a party while they were freshmen at Yale.

However, the probe has already provoked controversy, as some have raised questions over those limits in scope, which are being set by the White House. According to the New York Times, Senate Republicans and White House counsel Don McGahn worked to develop a list of four witnesses that the FBI could interview as part of its investigation: Ramirez and three of the individuals Ford has said were at the party at which Kavanaugh allegedly assaulted her (Mark Judge, Leyland Keyser, and P.J. Smyth).

Julie Swetnick, who has made a series of explosive allegations about Kavanaugh and Judge's high school years through her lawyer Michael Avenatti, will not be interviewed, although the FBI plans to question Judge about her claims. Judge figures prominently in allegations made by Swentick and Ford, who says that Judge was in the room as Kavanaugh assaulted her.

The initial list of approved witnesses also did not include other high school and college classmates of Kavanaugh's who would have been able to offer firsthand accounts of the nominee's drinking habits, many of whom have said it is unlikely that he as being truthful when he said he never blacked out from consuming alcohol or experienced lapses in memory.

"I liked beer. I still like beer," Kavanaugh testified at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday. "But I did not drink beer to the point of blacking out."

Chad Ludington, a North Carolina college professor who attended Yale with Kavanaugh, plans to offer a statement to the FBI at its Raleigh office today. "I can unequivocally say that in denying the possibility that he blacked out from drinking, and in downplaying the degree and frequency of his drinking, Brett has not told the truth," Ludington will say.

Democrats have denounced the limits on the investigation, which Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) described Sunday as a "farce." Judiciary Committee ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) penned a letter to McGahn and FBI Director Christopher Wray on Sunday requesting a copy of the directive sent by the White House laying out the scope of the probe. In a tweet on Saturday, President Trump denied that the FBI's investigation would be limited. "Actually, I want them to interview whoever they deem appropriate, at their discretion," he claimed. However, according to NBC News, which was first to report on the limitations, the FBI has received "no new instructions from the White House about how to proceed" since the president's tweet, meaning that the bureau is still limited by the initial limits outlining which witnesses can be interviewed.

Democrats have called for a broader inquiry into potentially misleading claims Kavanaugh has made before the Judiciary Committee, especially as more classmates have come forward to accuse the nominee of lying about his drinking.

Asked on CBS's "60 Minutes" on Sunday if Kavanaugh's nomination would be over if he was found to have lied to the committee, Sen. Flake — whose actions on Friday ensured that an FBI investigation would take place at all — nodded: "Oh yes," he responded.

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The Rundown

Trade: "Canada agreed late Sunday to join the trade deal that the United States and Mexico reached last month, meeting negotiators’ self-imposed midnight deadline designed to allow the current Mexican president to sign the accord on his final day in office and giving President Trump a big win on trade."

"The new treaty, preserving the three-country format of the original North American Free Trade Agreement favored by business groups and congressional Republicans, is expected to be signed by Trump and his Canadian and Mexican counterparts in 60 days, with Congress likely to act on it next year." (Washington Post)

--- The new deal will be called the "United States Mexico Canada Agreement," or USMCA.

Immigration: "In shelters from Kansas to New York, hundreds of migrant children have been roused in the middle of the night in recent weeks and loaded onto buses with backpacks and snacks for a cross-country journey to their new home: a barren tent city on a sprawling patch of desert in West Texas." (New York Times)

2020 Central: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said Saturday that she plans to take a "hard look at running for president" after the upcoming midterm elections, her first acknowledgment of presidential ambitions.

--- Former Vice President Joe Biden's 2020 prospects are being reconsidered as his handling of the 1992 Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings are back under the microscope.

--- Retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who has been named as a potential GOP challenger to President Trump in 2020, travels to the first-in-the-nation primary state today. He is set to speak at Saint Anselm College's Institute of Politics in Manchester, New Hampshire on "A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle."

White House schedule

POTUS: At 11am, President Trump will deliver remarks about the United States Mexico Canada Agreement in the Rose Garden.  

At 11:30am, President Trump receives his intelligence briefing. At 12:30pm, he has lunch with Vice President Mike Pence. At 3pm, he presents the Medal of Honor to former Army Staff Sgt. Ronald J. Shurer II, for "conspicuous gallantry" for actions he took in Afghanistan in 2008.

Trump will then travel to Johnson City, Tennessee, where he will participate in a roundtable with supporters at 6:40pm and host a "Make America Great Again" rally at 7:20pm. Trump, who held a rally in West Virginia on Saturday, is embarking on a pre-midterms blitz of rallies, which will take him to Mississippi on Tuesday, Minnesota on Thursday, and Kansas next Saturday.

VP: Vice President Mike Pence will have lunch with Trump today and attend the Medal of Honor ceremony. In addition, at 4pm, he meets with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

FLOTUS: First Lady Melania Trump departs on her first major solo international trip today, a weeklong sojourn to Ghana, Malawi, Kenya, and Egypt. The African trip will be focused on the First Lady's "Be Best" initiative for children's well-being, and she is scheduled to visit schools and hospitals along the way.

Congress schedule

Senate: At 5:30pm, the Senate holds a cloture vote on the House-passed bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for five years, which also includes $1.68 billion in Hurricane Florence relief.

House: The House is not in session, after adjourning on Friday until after the midterm elections.

Supreme Court schedule

The Supreme Court returns for a new term today, in the shadow of Kavanaugh's confirmation process. The eight sitting justices will kick off the term by hearing oral arguments in two cases: Weyerhaeuser Company v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a challenge to the federal government's designation of a "critical habitat" for the dusky gopher frog under the Endangered Species Act, and Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido, which will decide whether the Age Discrimination in Employment Act covers state and local employers with less than 20 employees.

*All times Eastern