The Hill’s Morning Report – What Cohen’s testimony means and what’s next
Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. Happy Thursday, and February is a wrap! Our newsletter gets you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Co-creators are Jonathan Easley and Alexis Simendinger (CLICK HERE to subscribe!). On Twitter, you can find us at @joneasley and @asimendinger.
*** BREAKING OVERNIGHT: The U.S.-North Korea denuclearization summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, fell apart after President Trump and Kim Jong Un came to an impasse over specifics of verifiable denuclearization and sanctions relief. “It was a very productive two days, but sometimes you have to walk,” Trump told reporters. “Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that.” He said there are no current plans for a third summit. Transcript HERE. ***
Michael Cohen on Wednesday revealed there’s an active investigation into President Trump at the Southern District of New York (SDNY) and provided a roadmap for prosecutors and lawmakers probing the president’s personal finances, business empire and associates.
Over the course of seven explosive hours of public testimony on Capitol Hill, Trump’s one-time “fixer” accused the president of financial crimes, and in some cases provided documentation he said would back up his allegations.
Trump, speaking to reporters today in Hanoi, said he watched some of Cohen’s testimony and believes “he lied a lot,” but not in his assessment that the Trump campaign never colluded with Russia. The president did not comment specifically about Trump Organization business practices that prosecutors in New York are investigating with Cohen’s cooperation.
House Republicans made the strategic decision on Wednesday to attack Cohen’s credibility, rather than defend the president. GOP lawmakers cast Cohen as embittered, for being denied a job at the White House, and called him an opportunist, a liar and a tool of Trump’s Democratic opponents.
Cohen will begin a three-year prison sentence in May for, among other crimes, lying to Congress.
But Cohen’s overall testimony was immeasurably damaging for Trump and his family business.
As a separate probe by the Justice Department’s special counsel begins to wrap up, Cohen’s mesmerizing testimony, broadcast live by the networks and other news outlets, raised the specter of new legal jeopardy for a president who campaigned on bringing his business acumen into the Oval Office.
The Hill: Top moments from the Cohen hearing.
The Memo: Five takeaways from Cohen’s testimony.
House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings said Cohen’s testimony “is not the end of the process, but the beginning.” Here are some highlights from a dramatic and emotional day of testimony and cross-examination between Republican lawmakers and the Democrats’ star witness.
New revelations and allegations
> Under questioning from Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Cohen said he couldn’t discuss all of the illegal acts Trump has committed because “those are part of the investigation that is currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York.”
Cohen said he’s in “constant” contact with the SDNY about the investigation. He also said that he handed over to authorities a recorded conversation between himself and someone else he did not name as evidence in that probe.
> Cohen accused the president of bank and insurance fraud. He said Trump would routinely inflate the worth of his assets in financial documents to insurance companies and banks or to lock down business deals. He submitted Trump’s personal financial statements with Deutsche Bank to the committee.
> Cohen accused the president of tax fraud, saying his former client routinely deflated the value of his assets when reporting to the IRS.
> Cohen pleaded guilty to two campaign finance violations for election-year payments he made on behalf of his candidate client to silence two women who claim to have had affairs with Trump. The president has denied the affairs and initially denied knowledge of the payments.
But Cohen submitted a check he received from Trump that he said was partial reimbursement for the money routed to the women. Cohen says he has other checks signed by the president and Donald Trump Jr. that were issued as reimbursements but made to look like retainers.
While Cohen may have bolstered investigations into Trump’s businesses, the allegations against Trump’s alleged ties to Russia suffered a hit.
> Cohen said he had no knowledge of collaboration between members of the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
> The president’s former “fixer” said he was present when Roger Stone called Trump to give him a heads-up that WikiLeaks was about to publish stolen Democratic emails.
Stone and WikiLeaks deny they were ever in contact.
Stone has been charged by the special counsel for making false statements and obstructing an investigation, but not for conspiracy.
> Cohen says Trump pursued a real estate project in Moscow throughout the 2016 campaign, despite the president’s denials that he sought to do business in Russia.
Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the timeline of the Trump Tower Moscow project, but testified under oath on Wednesday that the president did not direct him to lie about the deal.
Rather, Cohen suggested that Trump’s legal team had a hand in his dishonest testimony, but he did not provide corroborating evidence. Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow vehemently denied the allegation.
> Cohen said he did not visit Prague to meet with a Russian official during the campaign, as reported, disputing a key assertion included in the campaign-year “dossier” prepared by British spy Christopher Steele.
> Cohen will meet behind closed doors with the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday, his third consecutive day of congressional testimony.
> Cohen implicated many members of Trump’s inner circle, from the president’s children to his longtime associates – such as Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, who has an immunity deal with prosecutors – and Trump Organization secretary Rhona Graff. Will Democrats begin hauling them in for testimony?
Esquire: Weisselberg is the key to Trump’s finances.
> Cohen’s allegations had some Democrats fanning the fire for impeachment. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) isn’t ready to go there, but the left-wing of her caucus is applying pressure.
> Wednesday’s hearing was likely a proxy for what lies ahead, as Democrats use their newfound power in the House to damage the president through investigations and public spectacles. Trump’s allies, led by Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), will not go down without a fight.
The hearing was ugly and at times personal.
At one point, freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) accused Meadows of committing a “racist act” for bringing a black woman to the hearing to rebut Cohen’s claims of racism against the president.
Cummings intervened before launching into an emotional closing statement.
“We have to get back to normal.” — Cummings
Perspectives and Analysis:
Noah Bookbinder, CREW: What we have learned from Cohen so far.
Noah Rothman: Cohen’s cynical ploy to join The Resistance.
Franklin Foer: A moral indictment of Trump.
Karen Tumulty: The most revealing insight of Cohen’s testimony.
Jim Jordan: Cohen is delusional.
Jennifer Rubin: The worst moments for Trump and the GOP he corrupted
Ken White: Republicans committed a classic cross-examination blunder.
Bloomberg: Trump’s shifting net worth may bear clues for investigators.
The Associated Press: Cohen hearing stokes touchy topic of impeachment.
The New York Times: The breakup of a New York relationship.
LEADING THE DAY
U.S.-NORTH KOREA SUMMIT: Trump and Kim failed to reach a deal on denuclearization during their second summit meeting in eight months. “Sometimes you have to walk,” Trump said after talks fell apart today.
The Hill: Trump-Kim summit ends with no agreement.
The president said he and Kim confronted their impasse without rancor, adding that Kim was willing to close some but not all nuclear sites in North Korea in exchange for the lifting of all international sanctions.
“It wasn’t appropriate to sign a deal today,” Trump said with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by his side. “I would much rather do it right than do it fast.”
The Washington Post: For Trump, the surprising turn of events amounted to a diplomatic failure.
The New York Times: The president said he discussed the closure of North Korea’s main nuclear complex in Yongbyon with Kim, who expressed a willingness to allow the facility to be dismantled. “He wants the sanctions [lifted] for that.” But Trump said North Korea has nuclear enrichment capabilities beyond Yongbyon.
On Wednesday, NBC News reported that the Trump administration had softened its insistence on a full accounting of North Korea’s nuclear program ahead of today’s discussions between the two leaders. Before arriving in Hanoi, U.S. officials said such an inventory from Pyongyang would be critical to verifying any nuclear deal now or later.
At his news conference, Trump said the U.S. will continue to press Kim for an accurate accounting as part of any denuclearization deal. “We would be able to do inspections, we think, very, very successfully,” he said. “We have that set up and [inspections] would be able to take place very easily.”
Both Trump and Pompeo insisted they saw progress during the summit, but not enough.
“We really want to do it right,” the president said, adding that Kim assured him North Korea’s nuclear testing would not resume as a result of the failed talks.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
CONGRESS: The House passed a bipartisan bill on Wednesday that would require all gun sellers to conduct background checks on firearm sales. The 240-190 vote, with just eight Republicans on board, bolsters a Democratic Party plank heading into the 2020 election year (The Hill). Eight Republicans sided with Democrats.
Procedurally, the House majority got a taste of how Republicans will continue to try to drive wedges between progressive and moderate Democrats by forcing lawmakers to cast uncomfortable votes on GOP motions to debate and add amendments to measures in the final stages of floor deliberations.
> Green New Deal: Senate Democrats spent their lunch hour on Tuesday discussing options to navigate a new environmental and economic equity wish list embraced by progressive lawmakers in the House and Senate. Recognizing that the “Green New Deal” splits progressive from Democratic centrists, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says senators will be asked to go on record with their votes on elements of the liberal outline before the August recess (The Hill).
> Trade: The president’s top trade negotiator told lawmakers on Wednesday that ongoing administration efforts to reach a trade agreement with China are part of a larger policy goal of halting unfair trade practices — and progress has been halting. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said that even if China agrees to ease trade barriers, it could take years to ensure any deal is enforced (The Hill).
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McCabe, Russia and the war against American democracy, by Stephen Blank, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2H6zzGf
India has made its point in Pakistan. Time to let the diplomats do the hard talk, by New Delhi author and journalist Barkha Dutt, opinion contributor, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/2SAK2fe
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 9 a.m.
The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. and resumes consideration of the nomination of Andrew Wheeler to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The president started his day in Hanoi, Vietnam, anticipating denuclearization negotiations with North Korea’s leader, to be followed by a planned working lunch and a signing ceremony. But the two-day summit ended early and Trump spoke with reporters before departing Vietnam to return to Washington.
The Conservative Political Action Committee meets through March 2 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center outside Washington. Headline speakers: Trump and Vice President Pence. Find the agenda HERE.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis at 8:30 a.m. releases its initial report on gross domestic product in the fourth quarter and for 2018.
YOU’RE INVITED to upcoming newsmaker events with The Hill:
- March 6, Overcoming Obstacles: Patient Access to Innovation, 8-10 a.m., at the Newseum. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb and Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors, kick off this important discussion. Editor-in-Chief Bob Cusack and health care reporter Peter Sullivan then talk with a panel of recognized experts about keeping patients at the center of the drug delivery system. RSVP HERE. http://bit.ly/2tBzgeg
- March 7, History Makers: Women and the 116th Congress, 8-10 a.m., at the Gallup downtown Washington offices. Editor Cusack and national political reporter Cate Martel lead the discussion about policy and politics ahead of International Women’s Day joined by freshman and veteran lawmakers, including Reps. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.), Kay Granger (R-Texas), Carol Miller (R-W.Va.), Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and Del. Jenniffer Gonzàlez Colón (R-Puerto Rico). RSVP HERE. http://bit.ly/2XapEEW
➔ International: Tensions are high between nuclear powers Pakistan and India, with jet fighters battling in the sky this week because of a border dispute and each side claiming to have taken a hostage (The Wall Street Journal). Villagers round Kashmir are fleeing their homes (The Associated Press). From Hanoi, Trump said the U.S. intervened and believes the fighting will cease. “We’ve been in the middle trying to help them out,” the president told reporters.
➔ Tech: The Federal Trade Commission, pressured to amp up its focus on tech firms’ outsized market power, formed a new federal task force. Some critics call it an empty gesture from an agency with insufficient legal authority over Silicon Valley (The Hill). … Meanwhile, senators on Wednesday slammed tech companies over weak or misleading data privacy protections (The Hill).
➔ Inauguration: The attorney general for the District of Columbia subpoenaed documents from Trump’s inaugural committee, the third governmental body to delve into how the committee raised and spent $107 million from predominantly private sources. Federal prosecutors are examining whether foreigners illegally contributed using Americans as straw donors, and New Jersey authorities appear to be examining whether the committee violated civil statutes (The New York Times).
And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Inspired by today’s closeout of a short but lively month, we’re eager for some smart guesses about February.
Email your responses to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who submit correct answers to our trivia puzzle will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.
Who first put 28 days in the month of February?
- Julius Caesar
- Roman King Numa Pompilius
- St. Valentine
In American history, which correctly describes the event(s) that occurred in February?
- Basketball was televised for the first time
- CBS’s M*A*S*H ended after 11 seasons
- Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani received an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II
- YouTube.com launched
- All of the above
In one of his plays, William Shakespeare wrote, “you have such a February face….” What did he mean?
- Blank gaze
- Small head
- Dimpled cheeks
- Cold, stormy expression
Four former U.S. presidents were born in February (i.e. the President’s Day month). Which four?
- George Washington, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln and Dwight D. Eisenhower
- Washington, Lincoln, Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman
- Washington, William Henry Harrison, Lincoln and Ronald Reagan
- Washington, Lincoln, Andrew Jackson and Bill Clinton
Which former first lady jokingly advised a college student who planned a trip to the Midwest, “Chicago in February — she doesn’t realize that it won’t be that fun. … Just bring a sweater, long underwear.”
- Michelle Obama
- Mary Todd Lincoln
- Betty Ford
- Mamie Eisenhower
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