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Wake Up To Politics - September 6, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, September 6, 2018. 61 days until Election Day 2018. 789 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

A presidency at war with itself: White House hunts for anonymous op-ed writer, Woodward sources

The New York Times took the rare step of publishing an anonymous op-ed on Wednesday, which the newspaper said was written by "a senior official in the Trump administration," without disclosing the official's name or position. The piece, titled "I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration," describes a group of officials inside the government working to guard the country against the president's own impulses.

"The dilemma — which [Trump] does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations," the official wrote. "I would know. I am one of them."

The official continues to describe the president as acting "in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic," writing: "That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump's more misguided impulses until he is out of office."

The official also writes about Trump's "amorality" and "impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective" leadership style, while revealing that senior officials "will privately admit their daily disbelief" at his conduct. In the official's telling, "there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president."

The op-ed seemed to complement the depiction of the Trump presidency illustrated by legendary journalist Bob Woodward in his upcoming book, "Fear." According to excerpts, Woodward writes about at least one senior official who would steal papers off of Trump's desk to prevent him from signing them and about numerous others who speak of the president with contempt behind his back. "We're in Crazytown," White House chief of staff John Kelly is quoted as saying in the book.

In public and private in recent days, President Trump has railed against the anonymous mole op-ed writer within his administration as well as the numerous officials who granted interviews to Woodward. "If the GUTLESS anonymous person does indeed exist, the TImes must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!" Trump tweeted on Wednesday. In another message earlier in the day, he tweeted: "TREASON?"

In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders urged the piece's author to step down: "The individual behind this piece has chosen to deceive, rather than support, the duly elected President of the United States. He is not putting country first, but putting himself and his ego ahead of the will of the American people. This coward should do the right thing and resign.”

According to the Washington Post, the Times piece set off a "frantic hunt" to identify its author, as an "absolutely livid" Trump reacted with "volcanic" anger to "what he considered a treasonous act of disloyalty and told confidants he suspects the official works on national security issues or in the Justice Department."

"The column, which published midafternoon Wednesday, sent tremors through the West Wing and launched a frantic guessing game," according to The Post. "Startled aides canceled meetings and huddled behind closed doors to strategize a response... The phrase 'The sleeper cells have awoken' circulated on text messages among aides and outside allies."

The report also detailed Trump's increasing "sense of paranoia," in light of the one-two punch of the op-ed and book; one friend of the president's told The Post that Trump "fretted after Wednesday's op-ed that he could trust only his children."

The White House's response to the op-ed bled into its attacks on Woodward's book, with CNN reporting that a West Wing "witch hunt" is underway to discover who cooperated with the author. "The book is fiction," Trump repeatedly told reporters on Wednesday. But its impact has been immediate, with the fate of some officials who are quoted making negative comments about the president (such as Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis) already in doubt.

Taken together, the New York Times piece and the forthcoming Woodward book illustrate a presidency at war with itself, chaos ensuing as Trump finds himself surrounded by aides who are actively working against him and taking actions against his wishes out of a sense of duty to the country.

"This isn't the work of the so-called deep state," the anonymous official wrote. "It's the work of the steady state."

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The Rundown

Primary day in Delaware: "First, New York Rep. Joe Crowley lost to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in June. Then, Tuesday night, Ayanna Pressley ousted Massachusetts Rep. Michael Capuano. On Thursday, Delaware Democrats will decide if three-term Sen. Tom Carper becomes the latest lawmaker toppled by an activist base impatient to resist President Trump." (Wall Street Journal)

Shutdown: "President Donald Trump on Wednesday expressed a willingness to shut down the government to get his proposed border wall with Mexico, setting Hill Republicans on edge as they implore him to postpone those plans." (Politico)

Refugees: "The Trump administration has consistently sought to exaggerate the potential security threat posed by refugees and dismissed an intelligence assessment last year that showed refugees did not present a significant threat to the U.S., three former senior officials told NBC News." (NBC News)

44: "Former President Barack Obama is poised to plunge into the fray of the midterm campaign, returning to electoral politics with a frontal attack on Republican power in two states that are prime Democratic targets this fall: California and Ohio." (New York Times)

AZ-SEN: "John McCain’s former chief of staff said Wednesday that he is considering running for the Senate as a Democrat as he grapples with President Trump’s policies and the late Arizona senator’s death." (Washington Post)

Trump Administration: "A Fox News correspondent is a leading candidate to head the State Department agency tasked with combating propaganda and disinformation from foreign adversaries, CNN has learned." (CNN)

White House schedule

POTUS: At 12:15pm, President Trump participates in a Rosh Hashanah call with Jewish leaders and rabbis. The president will then depart the White House for Billings, Montana, where he will arrive at 7:25pm. At 7:50pm, he participates in a roundtable with supporters, before headlining a Make America Great Again rally in Billings at 9pm. While the event is partly to promote Republican Matt Rosendale's Senate campaign against Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, Trump is known for going off-script at his rallies and could speak about the controversies that have engulfed his White House in recent days.

VP: Vice President Mike Pence travels to Florida today, where he will participate in three events for Gov. Rick Scott, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson: a lunch and reception in Orlando, as well as a dinner reception in The Villages.

Congress schedule

Senate: The Senate meets at 12pm today; the chamber is expected to vote on confirmation of one or more district judge nominee.

--- Also today: Day Three of the confirmation hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump's second Supreme Court nominee. The hearing resumes at 9:30am today for the second round of questioning from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Recap of Day Two via Reuters...

House: The House meets at 10am; the chamber will consider the Ensuring Small Scale LNG Certainty and Access Act, followed by a motion to go to conference with the Senate on the appropriations bill funding the Departments of Interior, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, and Treasury, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Internal Revenue Service.


From Wednesday's newsletter:

  • I incorrectly shared a quote by Trump's former personal lawyer John Dowd from Bob Woodward's "Fear." According to the book, Dowd believed Trump was a "f---ing liar."
  • I misstated the home state of Democrat Stacey Abrams. She is the party's gubernatorial nominee in Georgia.

From Tuesday's newsletter:

  • I gave the name of the incorrect executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme. The organization is led by David Beasley.

Thank you to all the close readers who pointed out these mistakes!

*All times Eastern