The Hill's Morning Report: Giuliani bombshell draws Trump into Cohen legal mess



Welcome to The Hill's Morning Report, and happy Thursday! This daily email, a successor to The Hill’s Tipsheet, is reported by Jonathan Easley and Alexis Simendinger to get you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch.  (CLICK HERE to subscribe!)

***BREAKING OVERNIGHT: Former New York City mayor Rudolph “Rudy” Giuliani, who joined President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff blasts Trump for making 'false claims' about Russia intel: 'You've betrayed America. Again.' Poll: Sanders leads 2020 Democratic field with 28 percent, followed by Warren and Biden More than 6 in 10 expect Trump to be reelected: poll MORE’s legal team last week, told Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity that the president reimbursed his personal attorney Michael Cohen for a $130,000 payment to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels to stay quiet about an alleged affair with the president.***

Trump in early morning tweets said nondisclosure agreements are "very common" among celebrities and "people of wealth," adding that this one was used to stop "false and extortionist accusations." 







It is impossible to overstate the legal and political fallout from Giuliani’s admission, despite his assurances to reporters last night that the president was “very pleased” with his presentation, which he said they coordinated in advance. Giuliani said Trump repaid Cohen over several months using funds that did not come from his campaign.

Cable news reacts:

Daniels’s lawyer Michael Avenatti on CNN: “Mr. Trump will not serve out his term. No way. No how. He will be forced to ultimately resign. This is a bombshell.”

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley, seemingly caught unprepared on Fox News immediately after Giuliani’s remarks, deferred questions about Trump’s reimbursements to the president’s legal team: “I am not an attorney. I just work at the White House.”

In an interview with The Washington Post, Giuliani said Trump’s repayments to Cohen occurred after the election and were mostly completed in 2017, but might have included an installment this year. Giuliani said he did not know when the president learned of the nature of the payment Cohen made on his behalf to Daniels, but he said Trump gleaned new details in the past two weeks.

Stay tuned … Giuliani is booked at 8 a.m. as a guest on Fox Business Channel with Maria Bartiromo. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will face questions about the payment at the daily press briefing scheduled for 2 p.m. this afternoon.

Why Giuliani’s information matters:

Here’s a statement from Paul S. Ryan, the vice president for litigation at Common Cause, a watchdog group that had previously filed complaints with the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission alleging that the $130,000 payment was tantamount to an in-kind campaign contribution:

“Rudy Giuliani tonight put President Trump in legal peril for ‘knowing and willful’ violations of campaign finance law. ... Giuliani seemingly thought he was doing President Trump a favor — but instead made Trump’s legal problems much, much worse.”

This stunning turn of events capped a frenzied day of developments tied to Mueller’s special counsel probe, which will soon reach the one-year mark. Mueller has been examining Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and “related matters” since last May. The pace of multiple investigations, still largely hidden from public view, is escalating.

Even before Giuliani’s bombshell, yesterday was filled with news of the investigations and growing tensions — seen in Trump’s tweets and heard on cable TV.

  • President Trump’s longtime lead attorney for the Russia probe, Ty Cobb, will retire. The president is bringing on Emmet Flood, best known for representing former President Clinton during his impeachment hearings. This comes as Mueller has threatened Trump with a subpoena if he refuses to talk. (The New York Times)
  • The Department of Justice (DOJ) refused a request from House conservatives to turn over an unredacted memo detailing the scope of the Mueller probe. Those same lawmakers have drawn up articles of impeachment for Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinAttorney General Barr is in a mess — and has no one to blame but himself Graham requests interviews with DOJ, FBI officials as part of probe into Russia investigation DOJ won't charge former FBI Deputy Director McCabe MORE, who is overseeing the Mueller probe. Rosenstein said this week he will not be “extorted.” (The Hill)
  • The president, frustrated by what he views as stonewalling at Justice, lashed out on Twitter, threatening to “get involved” if the DOJ doesn’t hand over the documents lawmakers are requesting. (The Hill)
  • Democratic leaders in the House and Senate issued a new round of warnings at Trump to not interfere in the investigation.
  • Former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo met with Mueller on Wednesday. Earlier this week, Caputo cursed the Senate Intelligence Committee, accusing Democrats of driving him to financial ruin because of the Russia probe. He says the special counsel is still investigating collusion. (New York Magazine)
  • Trump’s former chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, blasted outgoing Trump attorney Cobb as “totally incompetent.” Bannon accused Cobb of naively trying to build a “special relationship" with Mueller. (The Washington Post)
  • Cambridge Analytica, the data firm the Trump campaign used during the 2016 campaign, shuttered its doors. The firm had been losing clients since it was revealed it had improperly obtained data on millions of Facebook users. (The Wall Street Journal)

Polls show broad support for the Mueller probe, but there are no signs that it’s wrapping up.

Cobb told ABC News on Wednesday that an interview between Trump and Mueller is “not off the table.” The Hill’s Niall Stanage spoke with Giuliani — before the Daniels mess. Giuliani set a high bar for a potential interview and said a decision is still “several weeks away.” An interview between those two could be a clear sign the investigation is nearing its end.

Lawfare’s analysis by Benjamin Wittes on the game theory of a Trump subpoena is a smart read.

The Hill: Mueller subpoena of Trump could spark historic legal battle.

The Hill: Rosenstein defiant as impeachment talk rises.


*** Farm Bill News *** Key Democrats were already lining up in opposition to the farm bill over reforms to federal food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Now, the bill will face opposition from the right, too. Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners, two groups associated with billionaire conservative donors Charles and David Koch, sent a joint letter to Congress this morning opposing the bill. The groups support the SNAP reforms but say the savings are being pumped into other wasteful programs. They say the bill is larded with “corporate welfare” and other “expensive, unfair policies.” Read their letter here.

CONGRESS: Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDemocrats: It's Trump's world, and we're just living in it Cheese, wine importers reeling from Trump trade fight Peace Corps' sudden decision to leave China stirs blowback MORE (R-Fla.) is doubling down on his claim that the GOP-passed corporate tax cuts are not doing enough to help workers. In this op-ed for The National Review, Rubio writes that the corporate tax cuts don’t account for this “new and very different economy.”

Rubio’s remarks have infuriated Republicans, who have made selling the tax-code overhaul the cornerstone of their midterm elections strategy.

John Kartch of the conservative group Americans for Tax Reform writes in the Washington Examiner:

            “Sen. Rubio, please get out there and listen to your constituents. Tell their stories. Resist the artificial ‘strange new respect’ from the swamp and the establishment media. You can tout the tax cuts while working for additional pro-family aspects of tax reform. If Democrats take charge, you can kiss the whole thing goodbye. So don't ruin it for everyone else.”


Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan says he disagrees with Romney's impeachment vote Trump doubles down on Neil Cavuto attacks: 'Will he get the same treatment as' Shep Smith? Trump lashes out at Fox News coverage: 'I won every one of my debates' MORE (R-Wis.) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyTrump's Intel moves spark Democratic fury Overnight Energy: EPA moves to limit financial pressure on 'forever chemical' manufacturers | California sues Trump over water order| Buttigieg expands on climate plan Barr to attend Senate GOP lunch on Tuesday MORE (R-Calif.), who is potentially the next GOP leader, are walking a fine line in an election year between their campaigns and leadership roles in Congress.

The Hill’s Scott Wong captures this dynamic: Ryan and McCarthy are personally steering clear of a House battle in Ohio between an establishment Republican and a Freedom Caucus-aligned outsider. However, their networks of political allies, donors, strategists and ad makers are deeply involved. Conservative leaders are warning Ryan and McCarthy to stay out. (The Hill)

The Associated Press: Ryan says to expect gridlock and partisan investigations into Trump if Democrats take control of Congress.

Around the Capitol:

Former Rep. Jeff MillerJefferson (Jeff) Bingham MillerAs VA's budget continues to Increase, greater oversight is required Committee on Veterans Affairs sends important message during tense Senate time Trump is misinformed about traumatic brain injuries MORE (R-Fla.), who spent 16 years in Congress, has emerged as a leading contender to become the next Veterans Affairs secretary. Miller currently works in Washington for the lobbying firm McDermott, Will and Emery. The White House is also meeting with Trump transition adviser Ron Nicol and acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. (The Associated Press)

The Hill: Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonProgressive group backs Senate candidates in Georgia, Iowa Overnight Health Care: Trump budget calls for cutting Medicaid, ACA by T | Trump proposes removing FDA authority over tobacco | Lawmakers frustrated by lack of emergency funds for coronavirus Anti-abortion group backs Loeffler's election campaign after opposing her Senate appointment MORE’s (R-Ga.) defense of Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocratic senator: 'The ultimate of ironies' for Trump to hit Romney for invoking his faith Committee on Veterans Affairs sends important message during tense Senate time Democrats cry foul over Schiff backlash MORE (D-Mont.) counters Trump attacks.

CAMPAIGNS: Vice President Pence is the subject of conservative backlash for praising controversial former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in a speech in Tempe, Ariz., on Tuesday.

Arpaio, pardoned by Trump last year after his guilty verdict in a Justice Department investigation of racially profiling Latinos, is in a three-way race for the Republican Senate nomination in Arizona to replace retiring Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMcSally ties Democratic rival Kelly to Sanders in new ad McSally launches 2020 campaign Sinema will vote to convict Trump MORE (R-Ariz.).

Many mainstream Republicans view Arpaio’s candidacy as an embarrassment to the party, so Pence’s shout-out did not go over well.

Becket Adams: Pence deserves every bit of criticism for praising Arpaio.



The Democrats:

The Hill’s Ben Kamisar and Lisa Hagen report: Progressives are fuming at Washington Democrats for meddling in crowded House primaries. House Democratic leadership and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) see intervention as an essential way to win back the House majority, particularly in moderate and conservative-leaning districts. Activists opposed to DCCC's efforts are responding by leaking details on what they see as unfair meddling from Beltway Democrats. (The Hill)


Suffolk: Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenButtigieg campaign claims 'irregularities' in Nevada caucuses Poll: Sanders leads 2020 Democratic field with 28 percent, followed by Warren and Biden More than 6 in 10 expect Trump to be reelected: poll MORE and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenPoll: Sanders leads 2020 Democratic field with 28 percent, followed by Warren and Biden More than 6 in 10 expect Trump to be reelected: poll Sanders has wide leads in two of three battleground states: survey MORE (D-Mass.) lead the Democratic field of potential presidential candidates in the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire. Trump, meanwhile, would easily defeat a GOP ticket of Ohio Gov. John Kasich or Flake.


The Hill: North Korea prepares to release three Americans detained for years in labor camps. U.S. government officials are reviewing reports about the potential detainee transfers, which would represent another breakthrough ahead of potential talks between Trump and North Korean president Kim Jong Un. (Reuters)


Administration policies dealing with trade, immigration and reproductive health were in the headlines Wednesday.


Trump’s trade agenda is at a crossroads this month on three tracks, including tensions with China, a prolonged rewrite of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico, and frictions with the European Union over steel and aluminum tariffs. (The Hill)

Chinese officials will meet with Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report — Sanders, Dems zero in on Super Tuesday Bloomberg proposes financial transaction tax GOP senators offering bill to cement business provision in Trump tax law MORE and a high-level U.S. trade team today and Friday in Beijing. Trump’s delegation wants to ease trade tensions and achieve tangible trade concessions, but faces numerous hurdles. (Reuters)


Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOn the Trail: Senate GOP hopefuls tie themselves to Trump Trump looms as flashpoint in Alabama Senate battle Trump tweets test Attorney General Barr MORE announced administration plans to send additional judges and U.S. assistant state attorneys to the border to deal with the Central American migrants traveling through Mexico to seek asylum in the United States. (The Hill)

Another 49 Central American migrants among the caravan trekkers crossed the border into the U.S. (Reuters)

First lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpIndia rolls out the red carpet for Trump The Hill's Morning Report — Sanders, Dems zero in on Super Tuesday The Hill's Morning Report - Democrats duke it out during Nevada debate MOREs parents, who are green card holders and lawful permanent residents, made an appearance with their attorney Wednesday at a federal building in New York that houses immigration offices (New York Daily News). Viktor and Amalija Knavs, both from Slovenia, waited for their naturalization ceremony for months. (People)


The Hill: Planned Parenthood is suing the Trump administration over changes to its family planning policy.

Des Moines Register: Iowa’s anti-abortion governor would not say Wednesday if she will sign a “fetal heartbeat” abortion bill approved by the state legislature. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) weighs the most restrictive abortion measure in the nation.

The Hill: A Kenyan health clinic rejects a U.S. policy restricting abortions and loses $2 million in U.S. assistance as a result. Family Health Options Kenya says that’s nearly 60 percent of its funding. (NPR)

Agencies: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Controversial Trump adviser reportedly returning to EPA | Delta aims to be first carbon neutral airline | Dem senator gives EPA D-minus on 'forever chemicals' Architect of controversial EPA policies to return as chief of staff: report EPA asked to justify proposal to limit power of its science advisers MORE is the subject of at least 11 investigations tied to ethics, excessive expenses and staff decisions. The New York Times adds to the muck with a report that a Washington analyst and former lobbyist helped arrange travel by Pruitt to Australia last year and tried to disguise his efforts behind a trip that never took place.

Gina Haspel, who is preparing for a turbulent Senate confirmation hearing next week to try to succeed Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoThe problem with Trump's Middle East peace plan India rolls out the red carpet for Trump Limbaugh: Democrats who set up George W. Bush to go to war with Iraq now organizing 'silent coup' against Trump MORE as CIA director, earned kudos Wednesday from the president as well as from a former Democratic official who served in the House and in the Defense Department during the Obama administration.

Jeremy Bash, a former top aide to Leon Panetta at the intelligence agency and the Pentagon, and a former chief counsel to the House Intelligence Committee, urged senators to confirm Haspel as the right choice at the right time for both parties (NBC News commentary).

Trump lauded Haspel as “our Gina” during remarks at a ceremonial swearing-in event yesterday for Secretary of State Pompeo. The Wall Street Journal profiles Haspel’s long career, which until recently was classified and shielded by the agency’s clandestine operations. The White House expects a “close” vote on her nomination.

The Hill: The Health and Human Services Department confirmed it reassigned a controversial official involved with debunked conspiracy theories. Ximena Barreto-Rice, who was hired as a deputy director of communications by HHS in December, was placed on leave early last month while the department reviewed online posts uncovered by the left-leaning watchdog group Media Matters.

To put a punctuation mark on the roiling personnel news within the administration, a new Politico/Morning Consult poll finds that 62 percent of Americans believe they see disorder in the Trump Cabinet and say the White House is functioning “chaotically.”


Under oath or not, President Trump owes the country answers, The Washington Post editorial board


Worry about the trade deficit, a bit (principal villain is not China, Europe or Mexico, but the U.S. itself), commentary by economist Jason FurmanJason FurmanTrillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see, and hardly a voice of caution to be heard Billionaires paid lower tax rate than working class for first time in US history: study Economy adds 130K jobs in August, falling below expectations MORE, The Wall Street Journal


The House and Senate are out this week.

President Trump participates in the annual National Day of Prayer.

Vice President Pence will hold a swearing-in ceremony for U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell this afternoon in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.


> Federal Reserve holds interest rates steady, but points to higher inflation (CNBC).


> Trump may be correct about progressive leanings in the courts, according to a review of opinions by nearly 40 federal district court and appellate judges about Trump’s ban on travelers from mostly Muslim countries (The Associated Press).


> Two African American men arrested in Starbucks in Philadelphia last month settle with the city for a symbolic $1 each, and ask the city to fund $200,000 in grants for high school students interested in becoming entrepreneurs (The New York Times).


PupPow!  Bruce Wayne is a long-haired Chihuahua near Baltimore — a proud “father” of five genetically identical puppies, thanks to cloning accomplished by a Texas company that charged his human $50,000. Owner Meesha Kauffman loves loves loves her cute canines, and kept four pups and found a home for the fifth. Don’t miss all the photos (The Baltimore Sun). (Bonus quiz … email us with answers by Friday for h/t: Which celebrity also cloned a beloved pooch? a) Kim Kardashian; b) Oprah Winfrey; c) Elton John; or d) Barbra Streisand.)   




And finally … “Scouts BSA” is the new, inclusive identity for the Boy Scouts program open to children from ages 11 to 17. For 108 years, the Boy Scouts of America’s flagship program has been known simply as the Boy Scouts. With girls soon entering the ranks, the group’s name changes in February (The Associated Press).