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Wake Up To Politics - October 2, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, October 2, 2018. 35 days until Election Day 2018. 763 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

White House expands scope of Kavanaugh investigation

After being criticized for setting limits on who the FBI could interview in its investigation of sexual misconduct allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the White House has authorized the bureau to expand its probe.

According to the New York Times, which reported over the weekend that White House counsel Don McGahn had given agents a list of four individuals who could be interviewed as part of the probe, the FBI can now interview "anyone it deems necessary," as long as the investigation is completed by Friday.

Per NBC News, the move came after Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Susan Collins (R-ME), two of the key swing votes on the Kavanaugh nomination, consulted with McGahn to ensure that the investigation would be thorough. "It does not good to have an investigation that gives us more cover," Flake said in Boston on Monday. "We actually need to find out what we can find out."

"The FBI should interview anybody that they want within reason, but you have to say within reason," President Trump told reporters Monday, calling for a "comprehensive" investigation. Trump also said that "it wouldn't bother" him if the FBI interviewed Kavanaugh's third accuser, Julie Swetnick, who is represented by celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti and was originally left off the list of approved witnesses.

According to the Times, the FBI has already interviewed the four witnesses on its original list, and began reaching out to others on Monday. The list of four consisted of Mark Judge, Kavanaugh's high school friend who Dr. Christine Ford says was in the room as he sexually assaulted her; two others whom Ford identified as having attended the party that night, Patrick J. Smyth and Leyland Keyser; and Deborah Ramirez, a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh's who accused him of exposing himself to her at a college party. All three of Ford's would-be witnesses have said they do not have any recollection of the gathering she has described.

As of Monday, attorneys for Judge, Smyth, and Keyser had confirmed that they had been interviewed. In addition, CNN reported that the FBI spoke with Ramirez on Sunday, and she supplied the bureau with an "extensive" list of more than twelve potential witnesses, including people who were in the room at the night of the alleged incident, people with whom Ramirez discussed the incident at the time, and people who had heard about it.

Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to McGahn and FBI Director Christopher Wray on Monday with a list of two dozen witnesses they urged the bureau to interview. The list included a number of former classmates of Kavanaugh's who have spoken publicly about his high school and college drinking habits, some of whom have said the nominee misled the Judiciary Committee in his testimony. Dr. Ford and her husband were also on the Democrats' list, as was Christopher Garrett, the other individual who Ford has said was at the party.

Under his nickname ("Squi"), Garrett also appears in a much-examined entry of Kavanaugh's calendar from July 1, 1982, which shows Kavanaugh, Garrett, Judge, and Smyth at a gathering together where there was alcohol, which seems similar to the gathering Ford has described. Ford and Garrett dated for part of the summer of 1982.

According to the New Yorker, there are also a number of potential witnesses who have sought to be interviewed by the FBI, but have had difficulty reaching the bureau, including Ford; Elizabeth Rasor, a former girlfriend of Judge's; a Yale classmate who says he is "one hundred percent certain" that he heard about the alleged incident with Ramirez at the time; and Charles Ludington, a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh's who has said that Kavanaugh often became "belligerent and aggressive" when drunk.

"I can unequivocally say that in denying the possibility that he ever blacked out from drinking, and in downplaying the degree and frequency of his drinking, Brett has not told the truth," Ludington said in a statement issued on Sunday. Ludington also detailed one occasion when he witnessed Kavanaugh "respond to a semi-hostile remark" by another man "by throwing his beer in the man's face and starting a fight that ended with one of our mutual friends in jail." Police reports corroborate Ludington's account of that incident, according to the New York Times.

But the FBI is investigating allegations of sexual misconduct, not examining Kavanaugh's "youthful drinking" or whether statements he "made about his alcohol consumption" at the Judiciary Committee hearing were "accurate or misleading," the Washington Post reported. However, the topic will inevitably come up in the FBI's interviews, since drinking is related to the allegations made by all three of his accusers. At the hearing last week, Kavanaugh was blunt about enjoying alcohol in high school ("I like beer"), but his claim that he "never blacked out" due to drinking alcohol has come under scrutiny, as some former classmates have come forward to say have said he likely mischaracterized the truth.

According to NBC News, another Yale classmate, Kerry Berchem, has reached out to the FBI with messages that suggest Kavanaugh was discussing Ramirez's allegation with former classmates in advance of its publication in the New Yorker, despite testifying last week that he heard about the claim for the first time when it was published. Berchem has also had difficulty getting in touch with the bureau.

Despite the mounting claims by former classmates and others that Kavanaugh was less than honest before the Judiciary Committee, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) showed no signs of wavering on the nomination Monday. "The time for delay and endless obstruction has come to a close," he said, comparing Democratic attacks on Kavanaugh to McCarthyism.

"Mr. President, we'll be voting this week," McConnell declared on the Senate floor.

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Election Central

A roundup of new Senate polls released on Monday:

  • New Jersey: Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), whose corruption trial ended in a hung jury last year, and Republican Bob Hugin are in a dead heat, a Stockton University poll found. The poll found that Menendez leads Hugin by two points, 45% to 43%, in the deep-blue Garden State.
  • Missouri: Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats, leads Republican challenger Josh Hawley, 47% to 44%, according to a CNN poll.
  • Nevada: Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) trails his Democratic challenger, Jacky Rosen, 43% to 47%, a CNN poll found.
  • North Dakota: Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer leads Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp by double digits, per a NBC Valley News poll. According to the survey, Cramer has the support of 51% of likely voters in the state to Heitkamp's 41%.

The fundamentals: "The signs of a 'blue wave' are adding up," Axios reports, detailing the fundraising, turnout, polling, and advertising trends that point in the Democrats' favor.

The Latest: Trump investigations

Stormy Daniels: "President Trump personally directed an effort in February to stop Stormy Daniels from publicly describing an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump, people familiar with the events say."

"In a phone call, Mr. Trump instructed his then-lawyer Michael Cohen to seek a restraining order against the former adult-film actress, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, through a confidential arbitration proceeding, one of the people said. Messrs. Trump and Cohen had learned shortly before that Ms. Clifford was considering giving a media interview about her alleged relationship with Mr. Trump, despite having signed an October 2016 nondisclosure agreement."

..."Direct involvement of the president and his son in the effort to silence Ms. Clifford hasn’t previously been reported. The accounts of that effort recently provided to The Wall Street Journal suggest that the president’s ties to his company continued into this year and contradict public statements made at the time by the Trump Organization, the White House and Mr. Cohen." (Wall Street Journal)

Manafort: "Paul Manafort met Monday with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office as part of his cooperation agreement in the special counsel’s investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 presidential election." (Politico)

White House schedule

POTUS: President Donald Trump travels to Pennsylvania and Mississippi today. At 2:30pm, he delivers remarks at the National Electrical Contractors Association Convention in Philadelphia. At 6:50pm, he participates in a roundtable with supporters in Southaven, Mississippi. At 7:40pm, he hosts a Make America Great Again rally in Southaven, his third campaign rally in four days.

VP: Vice President Mike Pence speaks at an event for Montana Senate candidate Matt Rosendale at 3:10pm in Bozeman, Montana. At 7pm in Spokane, Washington, he speaks at an event for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a member of the House GOP leadership who is seen as potentially vulnerable.

FLOTUS: First Lady Melania Trump is in Ghana today, as part of her weeklong African sojourn, her first major solo international trip. The First Lady is scheduled to visit the Greater Accra Regional Hospital, where she will see newborn babies; she will also have tea with First Lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo of Ghana at the presidential palace, Jubilee House.

Congress schedule

Senate: The Senate will resume consideration of H.R. 302, the five-year Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill, which also includes $1.68 billion in relief for Hurricane Florence. The measure was advanced in a 90-7 vote on Monday. The chamber will recess from 12:30pm to 2:15pm to allow for weekly conference meetings.

House: The House is on recess through the midterm elections.

Supreme Court schedule

The justices will hear oral arguments in two cases today: Gundy v. U.S. and Madison v. Alabama.

*All times Eastern