The Hill’s Morning Report: Michael Cohen’s big day in court


 Trump’s Maelstrom, Here and Abroad


Welcome to The Hill's inaugural Morning Report, which is replacing The Hill's morning Tipsheet each weekday. This comprehensive morning email, reported by Jonathan Easley and Alexis Simendinger, briefs you on the most important developments in politics and what to look for in the days and weeks ahead…

...and what a week it’s lining up to be.

The backdrop of a commander in chief fresh off missile strikes in Syria, combined with investigations and collisions with law enforcement at home, has President TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump, Jared Kusher's lawyer threatens to sue Lincoln Project over Times Square billboards Facebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' MORE’s administration on an uncertain course.




On Syria:

  • Trump was emboldened by the Western attack he ordered, which the Pentagon said destroyed chemical weapons targets and left no civilian casualties. But questions about how the United States and allies would respond shifted to a new debate...

Missiles to what end?      

An email to us from retired U.S. Army Col. Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell: I fear greatly that there is much more of this sort of thing to come.”

Trump leaves Washington today for a two-day rendezvous with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. North Korea and trade are on the docket…


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COMEY’S COMEUPPANCE? — 850,000 copies of “A Higher Loyalty” will go on sale on Tuesday...the book is No.1 on Amazon...a series of dishy interviews follow last night’s “20/20” opus…

But Comey’s media blitz — detailed here by The Hill’s Joe Concha — won’t be a cakewalk. The former FBI director has racked up an impressive list of enemies in the past two years:

The Washington Post’s front-page review of Comey’s book was unflinching. From Carlos Lozada:

When Comey cops to petty misdeeds … the self-criticism — and self-regard — is almost comical when the stakes rise, self-examination diminishes.”

And Comey is being rapped for wielding petty, personal insults about the president he clearly loathes.

Former FBI Assistant Director Ron Hosko tells us:


“It’s unseemly. Look — when you’re in a mud-slinging fight, you have mud on you. Is that where he wants to put himself? This will drive book sales, but what is the takeaway for those who once thought highly of James Comey? Will they think this is an honest man telling a straight story? Or does it look like revenge on steroids?”


Comey has mocked Trump’s hair, skin and hand-size. Trump has called the former FBI director a “slimeball” who belongs in jail. We learned little new from last night’s highly-anticipated ABC News interview about what the FBI might have passed along to the special counsel, although Comey said there is evidence of obstruction of justice and that it’s “possible” the Russians have something on Trump.


Read The Hill’s Jordan Fabian: Comey pulls no punches with Trump… https://bit.ly/2EOLEuV ...and The Hill’s Niall Stanage has five takeaways....  https://bit.ly/2EMJyeZ



SYRIA, WHAT NOW? "We are confident we have crippled Syria's chemical weapons program," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said over the weekend. What worries military and foreign policy analysts is evidence that Bashar Assad remains undeterred in a civil war heading toward its eighth year, bolstered by support from Russia and Iran.


An email to us from Greg Thielmann, a former office director in the State Department's intelligence bureau: The attack was explicitly designed not to try to reverse the trajectory of Syria's civil war, which is clearly moving in Assad's direction.”


  • Today, deteriorating U.S. relations with Russia will be strained anew with new Trump administration economic sanctions designed to punish Moscow, Haley announced Sunday. “The international community will not allow chemical weapons to come back into our everyday life,” she vowed. “Russia was covering this up, all that has got to stop.”
  • Despite Trump’s expressed eagerness to pull U.S. forces out of Syria in the near term after battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the military will remain there for now, Haley said.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron, who will be at the White House on April 24, told French television that France “convinced” Trump to keep U.S. forces in Syria for the long term and to limit military strikes to chemical weapons facilities. (Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders pushed back Sunday night: “The U.S. mission has not changed -- the president has been clear that he wants U.S. forces to come home as quickly as possible.")
  • Many in Congress want the administration to clarify its rationale for continued U.S. involvement in Syria, consult with lawmakers about its avowed “sustained campaign” to deter the use of chemical weapons, and explain the West’s comparative tolerance for Assad’s deadly use of conventional weapons against civilians, including children.

Logically, if Assad’s civil war is today unbridled, and his government repeatedly finds ways to deploy chemical and nerve agents to shore up its weakened military might, a new U.S. commitment with allies for a “sustained campaign” to deter chemical weapons is an about-face for Trump’s stated goal of leaving the Middle East’s problems to others.


TRUMP’S COHEN MESS: Judge Kimba Wood has ordered Cohen to make his first appearance in a New York courtroom today, after photographs of Trump’s attorney at an outdoor cigar gathering during his first hearing circulated last week.

Stormy Daniels’s presence will ensure a circus-like atmosphere but the stakes for Trump and his personal attorney could not be higher. Few people are closer to the president personally or professionally than Cohen — and the FBI’s investigation is sweeping:


  • Prosecutors say Cohen has been under investigation for months. (Bloomberg)
  • The FBI seized phones, computers, detailed personal records and a safety deposit box. (The New York Times)
  • The FBI is investigating potential bank fraud and wire fraud pertaining to Cohen’s personal business dealings, although no charges have been filed. (The Washington Post)
  • Cohen’s payments to women who claim to have had affairs with Trump are under review as potential campaign finance violations.


Trump’s other lawyers late Sunday asked the court, out of “fairness,” to allow the president to review the FBI-seized documents for attorney-client privilege before investigators proceed, according to reporting by The Washington Post.


Cohen’s lawyers tried the same thing. Prosecutors shredded that defense in a Friday court filing, saying that:

  • Cohen has been “performing little to no legal work” for anyone.
  • There are zero emails exchanged between Cohen and Trump.
  • The “overwhelming majority of evidence seized" relates to Cohen’s private business dealings.

But Trump still has a lot of exposure here. The president phoned Cohen on Friday, and the White House is worried about reports that the feds may have seized taped conversations between the two.


The Hill’s Alexander Bolton: Prosecutors could be looking to turn Cohen on Trump…


The New Yorker’s Adam Davidson caught Washington’s attention over the weekend, writing that the Cohen saga represents the end stage of the Trump presidency.

There’s another take too, laid out here by Carl M. Cannon, writing for California’s The Orange County Register, in which he argues the FBI raid has crossed a line into prosecutorial abuse.

That view is shared by Trump, who spent the weekend tweeting about it.


BARBARA BUSH IN “FAILING HEALTH”: Former first lady Barbara Bush, 92, has declined medical intervention to prolong her life. Former President George H.W. Bush is 93 and also in delicate health.


Trump to meet Tuesday and Wednesday with Japan’s prime minister about North Korea, trade, and China, according to administration officials. Trump invited Shinzo Abe to Mar-a-Lago to confer about North Korea’s nuclear arms threat and a possible meeting in May or June between the president and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcCarthy faces pushback from anxious Republicans over interview comments Pelosi and Trump go a full year without speaking Jordan vows to back McCarthy as leader even if House loses more GOP seats MORE (R-Wis.) wants to tame unease among his GOP colleagues following his announcement last week that he’s leaving Congress next year, but his druthers may not sway his conference.

Throwing his weight behind House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyRocky Mountain National Park closed due to expanding Colorado wildfire Trump is out of touch with Republican voters on climate change The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Iran, Russia election bombshell; final Prez debate tonight MORE (R-Calif.) as his preferred eventual successor, the Wisconsin lawmaker, during an NBC News interview broadcast Sunday, said the current “intact leadership team” is best, and he said he intends to remain Speaker through January.

Not so fast, say some House Republicans, who doubt the lame-duck Ryan remains in the top job the rest of the year. I think there's a lot of goodwill for Paul Ryan, but I don't know if there's so much goodwill that they'll let him stay as Speaker,” Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the former Energy and Commerce Committee chairman who is retiring this year, tells The Hill’s Scott Wong. The Hill’s Juliegrace Brufke reports how the House is plotting a way forward amid jockeying for Ryan’s job. https://bit.ly/2HEofPV


From the Sunday shows: Ryan told NBC’s “Meet the Press” there’s nothing the GOP-controlled Congress could have done to avoid trillion-dollar deficits. That’s not something you would have heard Ryan say a decade ago...


Mueller protection legislation: Nearly 80 percent of House Democrats have signed on to Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeePocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Grand jury charges no officers in Breonna Taylor death Hillicon Valley: Murky TikTok deal raises questions about China's role | Twitter investigating automated image previews over apparent algorithmic bias | House approves bill making hacking federal voting systems a crime MORE’s (D-Texas) bill that seeks to prevent the firing of Robert Mueller. The measure picked up 16 co-sponsors last week. No Republican has co-sponsored the House legislation.


Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMcConnell tees up Barrett nomination, setting up rare weekend session Collins says running as Independent 'crossed my mind' Republicans advance Barrett's Supreme Court nomination after Democrats boycott committee vote MORE (R-Maine) says Trump will not sign any such measure, but she believes it’s important to publicly express support for the Mueller probe. "Having the conversation in Congress helps send a very strong message that we do not want Mr. Mueller's investigation interfered with in any way," she told ABC News.


Reporting by The Hill’s Jordain Carney: Partisan tensions rise as Mueller bill delayed...



More from The Hill’s Amie Parnes: Potential 2020 presidential candidates say it’s grounds for impeachment if Trump fires Mueller. https://bit.ly/2vi09Yx


White House press secretary Sanders said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week that she’s “not aware of any plans” to fire Mueller or Rosenstein, but added: “We do have some real concerns with some of the activities and some of the scope that the investigation has gone.”


White House turnstile: National security adviser John Bolton is not done recasting his White House team. From The Hill’s Jordan Fabian and Katie Bo Williams



Also: Jon Lerner, tapped as a top national security adviser to Vice President Pence on Friday, stepped down from that role on Sunday following internal White House deliberations about his 2016 preference among GOP candidates running for president. Lerner will return to his job as senior aide to Ambassador Haley (Reuters).


Mom is Running for Office, by Susan Chira, commentary with The New York Times https://nyti.ms/2EO4j9S


Comey’s Last Stand for the Deep State, by Mark Penn, opinion contributor with The Hill https://bit.ly/2JINT6F



The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. The House meets at 2 p.m. for legislative business; votes scheduled after 6:30 p.m.


President Trump departs this morning for Florida. He hosts a small business roundtable about tax cuts in Hialeah. He’ll be interviewed by WLTV Channel 23 Univision, then fly to Palm Beach this afternoon and arrive at Mar-a-Lago, where he and First Lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpTrumps to host Halloween at White House despite coronavirus Judge throws out Trump campaign lawsuit against New Jersey mail-in ballots MSNBC host cuts off interview with Trump campaign spokesman after clash on alleged voter fraud MORE plan to host Prime Minister Abe and his wife Tuesday and Wednesday.


Vice President Pence will be in Colorado to deliver remarks at the 34th Space Symposium.


> Trump’s re-election campaign has spent $1 of every $5 on legal fees. (The Washington Post)

> Wall Street futures rise, shrug off allied missile attack in Syria. (Reuters)

> U.S. quietly fighting war on opium in Mexico. (The Washington Post)

> Trump administration targets Big Pharma over drug costs. (The New York Times)


And finally… lending new meaning to walking a high wire, and because it’s Monday, we all need some inspiration to traverse another crazy week…. Watch this two-minute video, courtesy of National Geographic. Two bold highliners attached a 1,400-foot nylon slackline between two frozen waterfalls in the French Alps and performed acrobatics on the line, more than 500 feet above the ground in the frigid air. “You obviously get scared because you don’t know what is happening,” one of the French daredevils explained. Bien sûr.