I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, September 18, 2018. 49 days until Election Day 2018. 777 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leading today's newsletter: My dispatch from the Gateway Eagle Council, a gathering of Trump supporters over the weekend, where I covered a number of sessions and interviewed many participants and attendees...
Wake Up To Politics Special Report
Pro-Trump conservatives prepare for battle
ST. LOUIS, Mo. — The Trump wing of the Republican Party is rearing for a fight.
More than 600 conservative activists from across the country gathered in St. Louis over the weekend for the 47th annual Gateway Eagle Council, a meeting sponsored by Phyllis Schlafly Eagles, an organization founded by the late conservative icon, and Gateway Pundit, a far-right website known for trafficking in conspiracy theories.
The list of speakers was a veritable "whos-who" of some of President Trump's most vocal defenders, including: Iowa congressman Steve King, former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, Trump 2016 campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis, evangelical leader Ralph Reed, economist Stephen Moore, Turning Point USA's Charlie Kirk, and right-wing provocateurs such as James O'Keefe, Mike Cernovich, and Jack Posobiec. And to top it off: Trump's former national security adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was receiving the Major General John K. (Jack) Singlaub Award for Service to America.
Flynn pleaded guilty in December 2017 to making false statements to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential transition, and he's been cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller — and mostly staying out of the public eye — ever since. On Monday, Mueller and an attorney for Flynn jointly told the U.S. District Court that, after many delays, the former Trump aide "is now ready to be scheduled for sentencing," signaling Flynn's cooperation with the special counsel is coming to an end. Both sides proposed a court hearing take place as early as November 28.
Despite this looming deadline, Flynn was one of the few speakers at the three-day conference who didn't mention the Russia investigation or even President Trump, his former boss. Instead, Flynn focused his 13-minute speech (his first public address in months) on a promise to "never stop fighting" and "never stop believing," pledging that his "solemn vow...to our beautiful country...will never waiver"
In his remarks, Flynn invoked the name of the award he was receiving. "Service to America requires us today and tomorrow to stand together as champions for freedom, and soldiers of liberty, who are on the right side of history," he said. "Anything less cannot be tolerated if our country is to survive." The former Trump aide went on to quote from writings by Patrick Henry, Abraham Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan, calling them "patriots" who rose to participate in similar fights to the one "we're in today."
Flynn repeatedly referenced the "threats" and "enemies" facing the United States, although he did not elaborate on who or what they were, urging his audience to "buckle down, and listen up, and stand ready to fight for our way of life and our traditions." He continued: "The urgency to act is at the doorstep of our democracy. The future of this country depends on each one of you in this room tonight, and many, many others that you represent around our great country. This turning point is about the heart and soul of the United States of America," Flynn declared. "You cannot and must not be silent or take for granted that our great nation will not fall to the many threats that we face around the world, and some right here at home."
"We will be measured harshly, trust me, and our enemies will try to destroy us," the retired lieutenant general said. "But we cannot fail."
Following his acceptance of the award, Wake Up To Politics approached Flynn as he took selfies with admiring attendees, but he declined to answer any questions, as did his wife Lori, brother Joe, and son Michael Jr. "This isn't the night for that," his wife said. "None of that," Flynn Jr. responded.
General Flynn wasn't the only speaker attempting to enlist the assembled conservatives in waging war. In fact, the confab included a special premiere viewing of "Trump @ War," the latest film produced by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who headlined last year's Eagle Council. Numerous other speakers used similarly militant language, many pointing to the midterm elections as a crucial battle. "We have to work harder than we ever have before," Reed, the chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said of the midterms in his remarks, adding that the elections would "determine whether [the Trump presidency] ends prematurely or not."
"Let's make sure that the media is shocked on election night one more time," he urged.
Moore, a Heritage Foundation stalwart credited with the creation of "Trumponomics," laid out the economic achievements of the Trump presidency thus far before issuing a call to action of his own. "Keep fighting. We gotta win," he said. Along with Reed and others, Moore spoke as part of a series of sessions titled, "President Trump is #Winning," a clear sign as to who the conference organizers believed had emerged as the victor in the combat being described.
Kirk — a 24-year-old activist who meets frequently with the president — told the crowd that he wasn't focused on fighting the "political war" currently being fought in the United States. Instead, he said he is on the frontlines of the "much more important culture war," describing his much-watched debates on college campuses and touching on topics from atheism to the NFL.
Meanwhile, O'Keefe showed a trailer for his forthcoming film, "Unmasking the Deep State," which he promised would expose "the unelected cabal of federal government workers" who he said are working to block the Trump agenda, even hinting that the movie would include the name of the author of the anonymous New York Times op-ed published earlier this month. "The truth must be pursued at all costs," he said — but "we need your help," he insisted, asking attendees to share the project to circumvent alleged anti-conservative bias on social media networks. "They can't shadowban everyone in this room," O'Keefe exclaimed.
Many of the speakers criticized Democrats and moderate Republicans in equal doses. "Some of our biggest enemies are within the Republican Party," Kirk said. And Arpaio — who maintained in his speech that former President Barack Obama's birth certificate was "faked" — drew a clear distinction between "real Republicans" and those who oppose Trump. "I don't have the gun to shoot anymore," Arpaio said (he lost his law enforcement position in 2016), "but I have the mouth."
Similarly, Clovis noted that while "every day we fight as hard as we can for [Trump's] agenda," some congressional Republicans had been "disappointing" in their lack of support. "I honestly believe if some of these people were not in Congress, they would probably be homeless," he said, telling the audience: "Accountability rests in here. We're accountability. So if we want accountability in the swamp, we have to make the people [we send to Congress] accountable. And you can't settle for less than that. You have to settle for the best."
In addition to rhetoric, Clovis had something else in common with Flynn: he, too, has been embroiled in the Russia probe, having resigned from an Agriculture Department post earlier this year after reports that he encouraged Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadoplous (who has also entered a guilty plea in the investigation) to travel to Russia and foster relations with the Kremlin.
Toward the beginning of his speech, Clovis joked that the Russian national anthem should have been played when he walked on stage. "All of you know that I'm a Russian conspirator," he quipped. "Me too!" one attendee shouted. "We all are!" said another. In an interview with Wake Up To Politics after his speech, Clovis said that he "absolutely" denies having encouraged Papadopolous to travel to Russia. "That's old news," he said, adding: "I don't have to tell you that." The longtime Trump hand also said that he thinks the Mueller probe doesn't "have anything" and that "it's a great big nothing-burger."
Asked in the interview to respond to the guilty plea entered by Paul Manafort earlier that day, Clovis claimed: "I don't know Paul Manafort. I wouldn't know him if he walked in here," despite the fact that Manafort chaired the Trump campaign while Clovis served as a national co-chairman.
In interviews, Gateway Eagle Council attendees appeared unfazed by the controversies involving many of the conference's marquee speakers, from Clovis' involvement in the Russia probe to Flynn's guilty plea to Arpaio's conviction on a contempt of court charge last year (for which he was pardoned by President Trump).
"Those were all trumped-up charges against conservatives," Brenda Webb, an accountant from St. Charles, Missouri, told Wake Up To Politics. "I think the crimes [Flynn] pled to were fake," retired South Dakota nurse Jacke Myers said. "I think he was set up and I think he's a good man," said Carol Tunkel, a homemaker from Knoxville, Tennessee. "He's not guilty of anything other than being a patriot," local retiree Norman Guittar added. It was the near-unanimous verdict of the attendees interviewed that Flynn and Arpaio weren't guilty — and, if they were, it was only because they had been trapped into committing crimes.
"Oh, that's all a sham," St. Louis small business owner Ben Murphy said, before going on to assert that "globalists" and "nationalists" are on opposite sides of "a civil war in this country," which seemed to be the mindset of many attendees. It is not a war Trump's supporters plan to lose; at the very least, they are determined to go down fighting.
Kavanaugh, accuser invited to Senate hearing next week
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused him of sexual assault, will testify publicly before the Senate Judiciary Committee next Monday, setting up a key test that could decide the fate of Kavanaugh's nomination.
Ford, now a professor at Palo Alto University, has accused a "stumbling drunk" teenaged Kavanaugh of corraling her into a bedroom at a 1980s party, pinning her to a bed, attempting to remove her clothing, and covering her mouth when she tried to scream.
Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) announced that the hearing would take place at 10am on Monday, backing down from his initial plan to hold a committee vote on Kavanaugh's nomination this Thursday. "Judge Kavanaugh looks forward to a hearing where he can clear his name of this false allegation," the White House said in a statement.
The stakes at the hearing will be high: "I may conclude afterwards that he should go on and fill the seat. I may not," Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) told reporters Monday. "A lot will depend on that hearing." Flake also made clear that he would be voting on Kavanaugh based on the credibility of Ford's claim: "If you believe the charges are true, then you vote no."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) seemed to agree: "I'd have a hard time putting somebody on the court that I thought tried to rape somebody," he said. And Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) also signaled that next Monday will be crucial: "Obviously, if Judge Kavanaugh has lied about what happened, that would be disqualifying... I need to see them and listen to their answers to the questions in order to make an assessment."
According to CNN, Kavanaugh spent nine hours at the White House on Monday, huddling with his confirmation team, calling Republican senators, and preparing for the public hearing. One of the senators he spoke to, Orrin Hatch (R-UT), told reporters that the judge denied even being at "a party like the one [Ford] describes." President Trump's response to questions about the allegations on Monday was relatively muted: he defended Kavanaugh as "somebody very special," while urging a "complete process" of vetting the nominee to "hear everybody out." Trump refrained from saying anything specific about Ford, surprising some observers. When asked by a reporter if Kavanaugh had offered to withdraw his nomination, Trump replied: "Next question. What a ridiculous question."
Per Politico, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is working "feverishly behind the scenes" to save Kavanaugh's nomination. And according to the Washington Post, outgoing White House counsel Don McGahn has "pushed for a vigorous and robust public defense of the judge." But it was unclear Monday if the president was willing to go all-out to protect his nominee.
"He's going to do what's best for Trump," a confidant told the Post. "The president thinks it’s rough for Kavanaugh, and he’d decry the process as disgusting if he withdraws, but he’d nominate a carbon copy of Kavanaugh in a second if he goes down.”
--- Blast to the Past: This isn't the first time the Judiciary Committee has had to reopen confirmation hearings on a Supreme Court nominee due to allegations of sexual misconduct. How the Ford/Kavanaugh case is similar and different to the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas accusations of 1991, via the New York Times...
Declassification: "President Donald Trump moved on Monday to immediately release a tranche of former FBI Director James Comey's text messages and declassify 20 pages of a surveillance application that targeted former campaign adviser Carter Page, Trump’s latest offensive against a Russia investigation that has ensnared associates and has consumed his attention for much of his presidency." (Politico)
Refugees: "President Trump plans to cap the number of refugees that can be resettled in the United States next year at 30,000, his administration announced on Monday, further cutting an already drastically scaled-back program that offers protection to foreigners fleeing violence and persecution." (New York Times)
Tariffs: "President Trump said Monday he will impose new tariffs on about $200 billion in Chinese goods and threatened to add hundreds of billions more as part of his campaign to pressure Beijing to change its commercial practices, escalating trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies." (Wall Street Journal)
White House schedule
POTUS: At 11:30am, President Trump participates in a signing ceremony for the Biodefense National Security Presidential Memorandum. At 12:50pm, Trump participates in an expanded bilateral meeting with President Andrezj Duda of Poland, followed by a 2:10pm joint press conference. According to the White House, "President Trump and President Duda will address ways to strengthen the United States–Poland strategic partnership and plan to discuss topics of mutual interest, including trade, military, and security matters." At 3pm, Trump meets with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Senate: The upper chamber convenes at 10am to debate the $855.1 billion spending package funding the Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Departments, while extending other government funding at current levels through December 7. The Senate may vote today on passage of the legislation, which must be approved by September 30 to avert a government shutdown.
House: The lower chamber will meet at 10am and vote on a number of pieces of legislation related to water and energy research.
*All times Eastern