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




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It was the biggest news day of the summer. President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republicans move to block Yemen war-powers votes for rest of Congress Trump says he's considering 10 to 12 contenders for chief of staff Michael Flynn asks judge to spare him from jail time 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 ManafortManafort might not fight claims he lied to Mueller The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump, Dem leaders spar before cameras at meeting over border wall | Senate to vote on criminal justice bill | Google chief gets grilling Incoming CBC chairwoman says Dems could have no choice but to impeach Trump 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 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 HunterCalifornia dreamin’ in the 2020 presidential race Proposed House GOP rules would force indicted lawmakers to step down from leader roles: report Overnight Defense: What the midterms mean for defense panels | Pompeo cancels North Korea meeting | Trump eyes Kim summit in early 2019 | Pentagon drops name for border mission 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 RyanHouse Republicans move to block Yemen war-powers votes for rest of Congress Stefanik: GOP leaders need to step up their female recruitment efforts McConnell agrees to vote on Trump-backed criminal justice bill 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 CollinsGM layoffs show Congress played Americans with corporate tax cut Election Countdown: Florida Senate race heads to hand recount | Dem flips Maine House seat | New 2020 trend - the 'friend-raiser' | Ad war intensifies in Mississippi runoff | Blue wave batters California GOP Election Countdown: Lawsuits fly in Florida recount fight | Nelson pushes to extend deadline | Judge says Georgia county violated Civil Rights Act | Biden, Sanders lead 2020 Dem field in poll | Bloomberg to decide on 2020 by February 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 CollinsLobbying World Senators want assurances from attorney general pick on fate of Mueller probe 5 themes to watch for in 2020 fight for House 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 SchumerTrump, Democratic leaders go toe-to-toe at White House Overnight Energy — Sponsored by the National Biodiesel Board — Trump moves to ease Obama water rule | EPA document contradicts agency over water rule data| Manchin to be top Dem on Senate Energy panel Coal supporter Manchin named top Dem on Senate Energy Committee 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 SchumerTrump, Democratic leaders go toe-to-toe at White House Overnight Energy — Sponsored by the National Biodiesel Board — Trump moves to ease Obama water rule | EPA document contradicts agency over water rule data| Manchin to be top Dem on Senate Energy panel Coal supporter Manchin named top Dem on Senate Energy Committee 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 HeinrichManchin’s likely senior role on key energy panel rankles progressives Senate panel advances Trump’s energy nominee despite Dem objections Dems wonder if Sherrod Brown could be their magic man MORE (D) on Tuesday sent a formal written request to Judiciary Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by Amgen — House passes bill to stop drug companies overcharging Medicaid | Incoming Dem chairman open to 'Medicare For All' hearings | Bill to reduce maternal mortality rates passes House House passes bill to keep drug companies from overcharging Medicaid Pence casts tie-breaking vote for Trump appeals court judge 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 DurbinMcConnell agrees to vote on Trump-backed criminal justice bill O’Rourke is fireball, but not all Dems are sold Trump tells McConnell to let Senate vote on criminal justice reform 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) ManchinOvernight Energy — Sponsored by the National Biodiesel Board — Trump moves to ease Obama water rule | EPA document contradicts agency over water rule data| Manchin to be top Dem on Senate Energy panel Coal supporter Manchin named top Dem on Senate Energy Committee Schumer to Trump: Future infrastructure bill must combat climate change 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 CulbersonNASA lost key support to explore Jupiter's moon Texas New Members 2019 Republicans must learn from the election mistake on immigration 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 ScaliseDem knocks GOP colleagues: Blame 'yourself' for unfavorable Google search results Stefanik: GOP leaders need to step up their female recruitment efforts Pressure builds as Pelosi, Schumer, Trump meet over border wall demands 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 BegichDem governors on 2020: Opposing Trump not enough Dem Begich concedes Alaska governor race to Republican Dunleavy Democrats gain governorships in red states 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 NelsonCoal supporter Manchin named top Dem on Senate Energy Committee GOP opens door to new NC election amid fraud claims More than 6,000 mail-in ballots in Florida were not counted: officials 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 WarrenGillum to speak at gathering of top Dem donors: report O'Rourke edges out Biden in MoveOn straw poll Dems ask if Trump aide Bill Shine is breaking ethics laws 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).

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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 MattisOval Office clash ups chances of shutdown Overnight Defense: Trump, Dem leaders fight before cameras over border wall | GOP skeptical of having military build wall | US spars with Russia, Venezuela over bomber deployment Trump, Democrats battle over wall in Oval Office spat 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 ScottOvernight Health Care: House set to vote on bill targeting drug companies for overcharging Medicaid | Dems press Trump officials on pre-existing conditions | Tobacco giant invests .8B in Canadian marijuana grower A new Congress, time for a new focus on public education Top Dems press Trump officials for answers on pre-existing conditions 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.