The Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s legal jeopardy mounts after Manafort, Cohen felony counts




Welcome to The Hill's Morning Report, and happy Wednesday! Our daily email gets you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch, co-created by Jonathan Easley and Alexis Simendinger. (CLICK HERE to subscribe!) On Twitter, find us at @joneasley and @asimendinger.


Hill.TV’s “Rising” program, starting at 8 a.m., features Alan Dershowitz, Seth Waxman and Jonathan Turley on the breaking legal news.

It was the biggest news day of the summer. President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump calls for Republicans to be 'united' on abortion Tlaib calls on Amash to join impeachment resolution Facebook temporarily suspended conservative commentator Candace Owens MORE’s former attorney implicated him in two campaign finance felonies and a jury found Trump’s former campaign chairman guilty on eight counts of bank and tax fraud and a campaign finance violation in one head-spinning hour of court action on Tuesday with huge implications for the presidency.


The president’s self-described “fixer,” Michael Cohen, who has worked for Trump since 2007 and once said he’d take a bullet for him, pleaded guilty on eight counts in total, including tax evasion, defrauding a financial institution and making excessive campaign contributions.


Under oath, Cohen admitted to making six-figure payments to bury claims from two women who said they had affairs with Trump. Without naming Trump, Cohen told the court that a candidate for federal office instructed him to make the payments and that it was an effort to influence the 2016 presidential election.


Cohen’s lawyer later revealed what everyone already knew — the candidate was Trump and Cohen has fully turned on him.


            "Michael Cohen took this step today so that his family can move on to the next chapter. This is Michael fulfilling his promise made on July 2nd to put his family and country first and tell the truth about Donald Trump. Today he stood up and testified under oath that Donald Trump directed him to commit a crime by making payments to two women for the principal purpose of influencing an election. If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn't they be a crime for Donald Trump?” – Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis. (Davis is also an opinion contributor to The Hill.)


Meanwhile, in a Virginia courtroom, a jury found Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortUkrainian who meddled against Trump in 2016 is now under Russia-corruption cloud Feds ask judge to postpone ex-Trump campaign aide's sentencing Giuliani cancels trip to Ukraine to press Biden investigation MORE guilty on eight of the 18 charges he faced pertaining to bank and tax fraud. That case was the first that special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE brought to trial.


The Memo: Cohen, Manafort hurricanes hit Trump.

NBC News: Democrats ready with detailed rapid-response plan should Trump try to purge Mueller, halt probe.


Here’s everything you need to know about both cases, which broke wide open while Trump was on Air Force One en route to a campaign rally in West Virginia:


The Cohen case


Cohen suddenly presents a very real and immediate legal risk to the president. Read his plea deal HERE.


Cohen admitted to making an excessive campaign contribution on Oct. 27, 2016. That’s the same date that Cohen paid adult-film actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 as part of a nondisclosure agreement over an affair Daniels claims to have had with Trump.


Cohen also admitted to making an illegal campaign contribution of $150,000 to a media company to bury a story about an alleged affair between Playboy model Karen McDougal and Trump. That’s how much Cohen paid the National Enquirer, which had obtained the rights to McDougal’s story.


“What [Cohen] did was he worked to pay money to silence two women who had information that he believed would be detrimental to the 2016 campaign, to the candidate and the campaign.” – Deputy U.S. Attorney Robert Khuzami, who is leading the case.


Cohen is in big trouble for allegedly hiding $4 million from the IRS and for making false statements to obtain bank loans. He faces a maximum of 35 years in prison on those felony charges, although his agreement with prosecutors would limit his jail time to between 46 and 63 months, if the judge complies.


But it’s the felony campaign contribution charges that will dominate discourse in Washington over the coming months. Cohen faces a maximum of five years behind bars on each of the two counts.


The president’s legal team will argue that the payments had nothing to do with the election – that they were instead about killing embarrassing stories pertaining to the president’s personal life. Trump denies the affairs took place.


Indeed, Cohen’s guilty pleas fall under a controversial area of campaign finance law. The most recent similar comparison might be former Democratic vice presidential nominee and presidential candidate John Edwards.


In that instance, the government failed to convince a jury that payments connected to his affair were considered regulated campaign contributions or expenditures.


Trump’s legal team could also argue that a sitting president cannot be indicted, although that is Justice Department guidance, not hard-and-fast law.


“We’re in a Watergate moment.” – Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a former state prosecutor, arguing on CNN that a sitting president can be indicted if the trial is postponed until after he’s finished serving in office.


Debate over those matters will rage amid speculation that Cohen’s illegal personal business dealings will lead back to the president or that he’ll be looking to cut a deal with Mueller to save his own skin.


    “Mr. Cohen has knowledge on certain subjects that should be of interest to the special counsel and is more than happy to tell the special counsel all that he knows.” - Lanny Davis


Mueller appears to have passed on the case, sending it along to the Southern District of New York to handle. Cohen’s plea deal does not presently include any outside cooperation with investigators.


But Tuesday’s developments also open the president to potential new civil suits.


Daniels and her attorney Michael Avenatti are threatening to use Cohen’s guilty plea to secure a deposition from the president.





Fox News anchor Ed Henry noted that was the path that led to former President Clinton’s impeachment.


"Let's not forget what happened in the Clinton administration. It was not just criminal cases that were problematic, it was private civil suits and depositions and allegations of lying under oath in a private civil suit with Paula Jones that led to impeachment." – Henry


The Manafort case


Trump is, at least for now, insulated from Manafort’s conviction, although the appearance of his former campaign chairman getting convicted and potentially sent to prison for the rest of his life will be damaging for his party ahead of the midterm elections.


A jury found Manafort guilty on five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of hiding a foreign account. The judge declared a mistrial on the 10 other charges against him, all of which pre-date his time with the campaign.


The Hill: Trump says Manafort verdict “nothing to do with Russia collusion.”


Manafort, 69, faces a maximum of 80 years in prison (The Hill).


Next up: Manafort and his former business associate Konstantin Kilimnik go on trial in Washington, D.C., in September on charges of illegal foreign lobbying.


The GOP’s midterm prospects


Democrats were vowing to cast Republicans as the party of corruption and abuse even before Tuesday’s developments in the Manafort and Cohen cases.


This won’t help:


The Hill: GOP Rep. Duncan HunterDuncan Duane HunterHouse ethics panel renews probes into three GOP lawmakers GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter accused of violating 'parole' after pretending to cross US-Mexico border Challenger outraises embattled California rep ahead of 2020 rematch MORE (Calif.) and wife indicted for allegedly misusing campaign funds.


The California secretary of State says Hunter must stay on the ballot, potentially imperiling another GOP-held seat in November. Trump won Hunter’s district by 15 points in 2016 but now Republicans have another seat to worry about.


Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDebate with Donald Trump? Just say no Ex-Trump adviser says GOP needs a better health-care message for 2020 Liz Cheney faces a big decision on her future MORE (R-Wis.) called the charges “deeply serious” stripped Hunter of his positions on the Transportation and Infrastructure, House Armed Services and Education committees.


Hunter’s legal woes come weeks after Rep. Chris CollinsChristopher (Chris) Carl CollinsHouse ethics panel renews probes into three GOP lawmakers The Hill's Morning Report - Barr stiff-arms House following Senate grilling Trump ally in House calls for doubling gas tax to pay for infrastructure MORE (R-N.Y.), another top Trump ally, was indicted on insider trading charges.


Analysis from around the web


Dan Balz: In wake of two convictions, “many more months of uncertainty” for Trump.

Franklin Foer: Blind confidence couldn’t save Paul Manafort.

Noah Bookbinder: What the Manafort verdict means.

S.A. Miller: Manafort, Cohen developments fuel partisan furor over Mueller probe.


CONGRESS: Senate – Supreme Court: Maine Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition — Trump: GOP has `clear contrast' with Dems on immigration Overnight Health Care — Presented by Campaign for Accountability — House passes drug pricing bills amid ObamaCare row | Senate Republicans running away from Alabama abortion law | Ocasio-Cortez confronts CEO over K drug price tag Colorado secretary of state bans employees from traveling to Alabama after abortion law MORE (R) nudged Brett Kavanaugh closer to a seat on the Supreme Court on Tuesday when she expressed confidence in the judge’s assurance that he sees Roe v. Wade as settled law. Collins, who supports abortion rights, met with Kavanaugh in her office (The Hill). Opponents of the president’s nominee argue that a view of “settled” constitutional right to abortion is a feint when it comes to state law, and that Kavanaugh would not say Roe was “correctly” decided.   


> Senate Democrats, who are increasingly doubtful they can derail Kavanaugh’s nomination while legislating in the minority, are intensely aware of the political dynamics ahead of the Nov. 6 elections. In advance of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing early in September, key Democrats are ducking past cameras and microphones to avoid commenting about how they may vote (The Hill).


> Advocacy groups opposed to Kavanaugh as a successor to Justice Anthony Kennedy on the court are pressuring Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerGetting serious about infrastructure Schumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act 'SleepyCreepy Joe' and 'Crazy Bernie': Trump seeks to define 2020 Dems with insults MORE (D-N.Y.) to keep his conference together in vocal opposition.


“We remain deeply concerned with Sen. Schumer’s hands-off approach,” said Heidi Hess, the co-director of the progressive group Credo Action, which claims 5 million supporters. "If Senate Democrats don't unanimously oppose Kavanaugh, the American people will suffer the consequences and Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerGetting serious about infrastructure Schumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act 'SleepyCreepy Joe' and 'Crazy Bernie': Trump seeks to define 2020 Dems with insults MORE will deserve the blame."


> Senate Democrats continue to argue with Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans to disclose all records pertaining to Kavanaugh’s career in the White House under former President George W. Bush, and as a legal adviser to former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who investigated former President Clinton. New Mexico Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichCongress readies for battle over nuclear policy Overnight Defense: Trump tells NRA he will pull US from arms treaty | Pentagon to broaden role of troops at border | Warren offers plan to improve military housing Warren unveils plan to address substandard military housing MORE (D) on Tuesday sent a formal written request to Judiciary Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Defense: Trump rails against media coverage | Calls reporting on Iran tensions 'highly inaccurate' | GOP senator blocking Trump pick for Turkey ambassador | Defense bill markup next week Trump reaches deal to lift steel, aluminum tariffs on Mexico, Canada Top GOP senator blocking Trump's pick for Turkey ambassador MORE (R-Iowa) making that case.


> More than 30 progressive groups opposed to Kavanaugh’s nomination plan a “national day of action” on Sunday, Aug. 26, to “Unite for Justice.” Across the political spectrum, Kavanaugh supporters are airing pro-Kavanaugh television ads.


Senate – criminal justice reform: Democratic Whip Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinLet's stop treating student borrowers like second-class citizens Trump's immigration push faces Capitol Hill buzzsaw Hillicon Valley: Trump takes flak for not joining anti-extremism pact | Phone carriers largely end sharing of location data | Huawei pushes back on ban | Florida lawmakers demand to learn counties hacked by Russians | Feds bust 0M cybercrime group MORE (Ill.) became the first in his party in the Senate to support a compromise criminal justice reform measure that builds on a House-passed bill. Durbin’s backing, as the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, served to boost the legislation during a period in which many in his party support the reforms, but are leery of working alongside Republicans (The Hill).  


CAMPAIGNS & POLITICS: Trump and Vice President Pence are charting ambitious campaign schedules through the final stretch ahead of the midterm elections.


The president is planning at least 40 days of campaign-related travel between Aug. 1 and Nov. 6. Trump campaigned in West Virginia on Tuesday night on behalf of state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R), who is looking to oust Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinLabor head warns of 'frightening uptick' in black lung disease among miners Labor leader: Trump has stopped erosion of coal jobs Overnight Energy: States fight Trump rollback of Obama lightbulb rules | Greens seek hearing over proposed rule on energy efficiency tests | Top Dem asks GAO to investigate climate threat MORE (D) in a state the president carried by more than 40 points in 2016.


The Hill: Trump plans heavy campaign barnstorming ahead of midterms.


Pence hits the road on Wednesday, traveling to Rockport, Texas, to mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey. From there, Pence is off to Houston for a presidential campaign event.


On Thursday, Pence will raise money for Rep. John CulbersonJohn Abney CulbersonEx-GOP Rep. Denham heads to lobbying firm 20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform The Hill's Morning Report - Dems debate if Biden's conduct with women disqualifying MORE (R-Texas), whose district is rated a toss-up by the Cook Political Report. Then Pence is off to New Orleans for a political event with House Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseTrump encouraged Scalise to run for governor in Louisiana: report We owe a debt of gratitude to all our police officers and their families House votes to extend flood insurance program MORE (R-La.).


> Results are in from last night’s primary elections Wyoming and Alaska.


Wyoming state Treasurer Mark Gordon won the GOP nomination for governor, defeating rival Foster Friess, who was backed by Trump (The Hill).


The Associated Press: Wyoming rebuffs Trump, picks native son in GOP race.


Alaskans will have three candidates for governor to choose from: Incumbent Gov. Bill Walker (I), former Sen. Mark BegichMark Peter BegichFormer GOP chairman Royce joins lobbying shop Lobbying world Dem governors on 2020: Opposing Trump not enough MORE (D) and Republican Mike Dunleavy (The Hill).


> The blame game is underway among Republicans over who will bear responsibility for the midterm elections outcome as party officials brace for potentially staggering losses in the House.


The Morning Report’s Jonathan Easley reports that some top former National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) staffers are blasting the House GOP campaign arm for effectively going off the airwaves in August.


Outside GOP groups have picked up the slack this month and the NRCC plans to go big beginning in the fall, when some strategists say undecided voters are paying closer attention.


But the tension there underscores Republican fears that the party could lose control of the House in November.


The Hill: Republicans blast party strategy for keeping House majority.


More from the campaign trail … The FBI and Department of Homeland Security are pushing back on Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonRepublicans amp up attacks on Tlaib's Holocaust comments The muscle for digital payment Rubio says hackers penetrated Florida elections systems MORE’s (D-Fla.) claims that Russians “penetrated” Florida’s voting system. That claim has become a major campaign issue in Nelson’s Senate race against Florida GOP Gov. Rick Scott (The Hill) … Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenHere are the potential candidates still eyeing 2020 bids Sanders unveils education plan that would ban for-profit charter schools Warren policy ideas show signs of paying off MORE (D-Mass.), who is considered a top contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, is proposing a law that would ban lawmakers from owning individual stocks (The Hill).

The Morning Report is created by journalists Jonathan Easley & Alexis Simendinger Suggestions? Tips? We want to hear from you! Share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!


All the president’s crooks. One of them, Mr. Trump’s own lawyer, has now implicated him in a crime (The New York Times editorial board).


Manafort split verdict says nothing on Trump, Russia and the 2016 election, by Byron York (Washington Examiner).


The House is out until after Labor Day.


The Senate at 10 a.m. continues debating the two largest annual spending bills funding the Defense Department as well as the Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS) and Education departments for 2019. Senate committee hearings today include markup of the Secure Elections Act, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee consideration of the president’s nominees to be ambassadors to Nicaragua, Honduras and Suriname.


The president will have lunch with Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisTrump officials slow-walk president's order to cut off Central American aid: report Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Trump nominates Shanahan as Pentagon chief | House panel advances bill to block military funds for border wall | Trump defends Bolton despite differences Graham to support Defense pick he previously declared his 'adversary' MORE. Later, he presents the Medal of Honor posthumously to Air Force Technical Sgt. John A. Chapman and his family for his conspicuous gallantry on March 4, 2002, in Afghanistan. Air Force surveillance video of Chapman’s combat against al Qaeda fighters is HERE.


Vice President Pence heads to Rockport, Texas, today to mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey and ongoing recovery efforts. Later, he flies to Houston for political fundraising events.


The U.S. Capitol Historical Society hosts a lunchtime lecture analyzing the dysfunctional effects in Congress of the 2010 ban on appropriations earmarks, by Laura Blessing, senior fellow with Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute. Location: Ketchum Hall in Washington, noon-1 p.m. Open to the public:  


Invitation from The Hill: Sept. 12, newsmakers discuss “A Healthy Start: Infant and Early Childhood Nutrition,” featuring Reps. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) and Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottDem lawmaker says 'adversity score' shows debate over 'usefulness' of SAT is 'not over' CBC member brushes off Biden's past opposition to school busing Dem lawmaker says U.S. has 'drifted backwards' on school integration MORE (D-Va.), and Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Brandon Lipps from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Hill’s Editor-in-Chief Bob Cusack kicks off a conversation about maternal, infant and early childhood nutrition, and progress toward the goal of healthier eating. RSVP HERE.


> Facebook: Russia and Iran created 652 phony pages, groups and accounts to spread disinformation to hundreds of thousands of users around the world, the company disclosed on Tuesday (The Washington Post). Meanwhile, Russian hackers are increasingly focusing their efforts on anti-Kremlin conservatives (The Hill).


> Employees: Seven fast-food companies expanded their workers’ opportunities to switch franchise jobs by jettisoning no-poach restrictions (The New York Times). The change was sparked by research by Princeton University economists that found such clauses hinder worker mobility and compensation.


> D.C. sports: San Francisco-based The Athletic, a subscription-based sports news outlet and app, will launch a D.C.-specific site early in September (WTOP).


> Animal magnetism: The unusual difficulty of photographing pandas (National Geographic). Tip: Don’t miss the pix!





And finally … Goats, part deux: In Tuesday’s newsletter, we mentioned a pair of goats in Brooklyn that wandered onto the subway tracks and delayed the N train for hours. So we can’t resist one of those only-in-New-York happy endings. Billy and Willy, the newly named ex-trespassers, are now in clover … transported by Farm Sanctuary, based in Watkins Glen in upstate New York. The tale ends in celebrity style with comedian Jon Stewart (!!), a supporter with his wife of the rescue organization, who helped wrangle the goats into a specially outfitted truck to make a getaway to the lush countryside. ABC News has video HERE.