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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 Trump'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 Manafort guilty on eight of the 18 charges he faced pertaining to bank and tax fraud. That case was the first that special counsel Robert Mueller 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 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 Ryan (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 Collins (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.
LEADING THE DAY
CONGRESS: Senate - Supreme Court: Maine Sen. Susan Collins (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 Schumer (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 Schumer 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 Heinrich (D) on Tuesday sent a formal written request to Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (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 Durbin (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).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
➔ 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 Manchin (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 Culberson (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 Scalise (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.
> 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 Nelson'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 Warren (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).
WHERE AND WHEN
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 Mattis. 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: uschs.org.
Invitation from The Hill: Sept. 12, newsmakers discuss "A Healthy Start: Infant and Early Childhood Nutrition," featuring Reps. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) and Bobby Scott (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.