The Hill's Morning Report — Cohen testimony turns up heat on Trump associates

The Hill's Morning Report — Cohen testimony turns up heat on Trump associates
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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. TGIF and beware the ides of March! 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. 

***   Some fans of the Washington Nationals are mourning the loss of Bryce Harper, the star outfielder for the hometown team who will take his talents to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2019. Harper agreed to sign a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Nats division rival, giving him the largest contract in Major League Baseball history. Scorned fans can catch him in action on April 2, when the Phillies come to town.  ***

Democrats are moving fast to investigate leads given to them by Michael Cohen, whose bombshell congressional testimony this week exposed President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Trump talks to Swedish leader about rapper A$AP Rocky, offers to vouch for his bail Matt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' MORE and his family business to a crush of new legal threats. 

The bottom line: If Cohen mentioned your name at the hearing on Wednesday, you can probably expect a phone call from Democrats on Capitol Hill.

That list includes:

"They have a good chance of hearing from us." — House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsCummings asks prosecutors about decision not to charge Trump in hush money probe DHS chief to Pelosi: Emergency border funding 'has already had an impact' Cummings tears into DHS chief for conditions at migrant border facilities MORE (D-Md.)

Cohen on Wednesday accused the president of a range of crimes, including bank fraud, tax fraud and campaign finance violations.

Trump’s former “fixer” repeatedly referred to Weisselberg, a top executive at the Trump Organization for decades, as the key to unlocking allegations of financial misconduct against the president. Weisselberg has an immunity deal with prosecutors at the Southern District of New York, who are said to be investigating Trump and his business empire.

Jacqueline Thomsen reports that the House Intelligence Committee, led by Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffCourt filings show Trump, Cohen contacts amid hush money payments House passes annual intelligence bill Judge finds Stone violated gag order, blocks him from using social media MORE (D-Calif.), will seek an interview with Weisselberg soon (The Hill). Sater will appear before the committee for public testimony later this month.

The Hill: Weisselberg emerges as key person of interest.

The New York Times: Trump’s money man could face scrutiny next.

The Washington Post: House Democrats see new probes in Cohen testimony.

Meanwhile, House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersHillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Maxine Waters says her committee will call in Zuckerberg to testify about Libra MORE (D-Calif.) is ramping up an investigation into the now-defunct Trump Foundation after Cohen alleged the nonprofit was used to avoid taxes.

Trump shuttered the charity last year after the attorney general in New York brought a lawsuit alleging a “shocking pattern of illegality.” Waters is also seeking documents from Deutsche Bank, where the president conducts business.

We should be seeing what we can unveil about his finances and about his taxes and the crime that is being committed or has been committed because of the way that he has handled and managed money.” — Waters 

Cohen, who spent a third day giving testimony before Congress on Thursday, will return next week for a follow-up interview with the House Intelligence Committee. 

Reuters: Cohen “fully cooperative” in third day of questioning.

The Hill: House Intel interrogates Cohen for eight hours.

The gripping testimony from Trump’s former lawyer was a hit among Democrats and a bona fide juggernaut on the airwaves.

The Hollywood Reporter: The Cohen hearing drew an audience of 13.5 million viewers, and final ratings reported Friday will be higher, according to Nielsen figures. It was the most-watched programming on Wednesday, but it drew a smaller audience than Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughMcConnell challenger faces tougher path after rocky launch Lindsey Graham's Faustian bargain Liberal, conservative Supreme Court justices unite in praising Stevens MORE’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing (20 million), and it had fewer viewers than former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyComey pens blog revealing what he would ask Mueller in upcoming testimony FBI's spreadsheet puts a stake through the heart of Steele's dossier Hannity invites Ocasio-Cortez to join prime-time show for full hour MORE’s congressional testimony in 2017 (19.5 million).

Of course, Cohen may also find himself in additional legal trouble. Reps. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanDOJ, Commerce slam House Dems contempt vote as 'political stunt' White House blasts 'shameful and cynical' Barr, Ross contempt vote House votes to hold Trump Cabinet members Barr, Ross in contempt MORE (R-Ohio) and Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsLawmakers request documents on DC councilman ethics investigation House Republicans dismissive of Paul Ryan's take on Trump The 27 Republicans who voted with Democrats to block Trump from taking military action against Iran MORE (R-N.C.), two of the president’s fiercest defenders on the Oversight committee, referred Cohen to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution for perjury

Cohen has already pleaded guilty to lying to Congress once. He will begin a three-year prison sentence in May for that offense and several others.

But the Republicans outlined a handful of instances where they say Cohen deliberately lied to Congress, including his insistence that he never sought a job at the White House. Media outlets, investigators and GOP insiders say Cohen pleaded for a top legal job within the administration. 

In an interview last night with Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity, Trump blamed Cohen for the payments to two women to stay silent about affairs they say they had with the president. Trump said Cohen told him “a dozen times that he made the decision on the payments.”

“He made the decision. And remember this, he is an attorney. Whatever decision he makes, you are supposed to rely on the attorney to make a decision.” — Trump

Still, Democrats bought wholesale into Cohen’s testimony, which reignited chatter in the House about impeaching Trump. Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump telling aides to look at potential spending cuts if he wins reelection: report Budget talks between White House, Pelosi spill into weekend Trump says he won't watch Mueller testimony MORE (D-Calif.) is working overtime to squash the idea (The Hill).

Alan Dershowitz: Cohen helped and hurt Trump.

Jonathan Turley: Cohen gives Congress a roadmap for collateral damage.




CONGRESS & POLITICS: Intraparty divisions are complicating the lives of majority leaders in both chambers.

In the upper chamber, senators have introduced a bipartisan resolution to block Trump’s national emergency declaration at the southern border with Mexico.  

The resolution was introduced by Sens. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallDems open to killing filibuster in next Congress House passes bill to crack down on toxic 'forever chemicals' Overnight Energy: Trump threatens veto on defense bill that targets 'forever chemicals' | Republicans form conservation caucus | Pressure mounts against EPA's new FOIA rule MORE (D-N.M.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp Trump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report MORE (R-Maine), and is co-sponsored by Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Overnight Defense: Highlights from Defense pick's confirmation hearing | Esper spars with Warren over ethics | Sidesteps questions on Mattis vs. Trump | Trump says he won't sell F-35s to Turkey Epstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse MORE (R-Alaska) and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator How to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian energy Epstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse MORE (D-N.H.).

In addition to Collins and Murkowski, Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisRepublicans scramble to contain Trump fallout McConnell says Trump is not a racist, but calls for better rhetoric GOP senator: 'Outrageous' to say Trump's tweets about Democratic congresswomen are racist MORE (R-N.C.) has said he’ll vote for the resolution. To pass the Senate, a united Democratic caucus only needs to pick off one more Republican, and plenty of GOP senators have said they’re considering supporting the resolution.

Passage of the resolution would be a resounding rebuke from the GOP-controlled Senate to the president’s efforts to build a wall along the southern border. It would also result in Trump’s first veto.

A vote is expected this month.

The Hill: GOP bristles over plan to shift military funding to border wall.

The Washington Post: GOP opposition to emergency declaration grows.

In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is having some trouble corralling her caucus, and the problems aren’t just coming from freshman lawmakers on the left.

House Republicans unexpectedly succeeded in adding an amendment that would alert immigration officials when someone in the country illegally tries to buy a gun to a Democratic bill requiring universal background checks.

In this instance, moderate Democrats peeled off, resulting in an embarrassing vote that overshadowed the passage of a landmark gun control bill in the House.

The Hill: Dems struggle to unify after GOP embarrasses them on procedure.

The Democratic debate over health care is also proving divisive.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget released a nonpartisan report on Thursday estimating that “Medicare for all,” a House proposal to expand affordable health coverage introduced by Democratic lawmakers this week, would cost the federal government an eye-popping $28 trillion to $32 trillion over a decade.

Many of the Democratic presidential contenders have announced support for Medicare for all, which was mainstreamed by Vermont Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersGabbard arrives in Puerto Rico to 'show support' amid street protests Democratic strategist predicts most 2020 candidates will drop out in late fall Sanders unveils plan to guarantee the 'right to a secure retirement' MORE (I) during his 2016 presidential run. 

Pelosi, in an interview with Rolling Stone published Thursday, suggested the price tag is too hefty and questioned why the party would be looking to overhaul the health care industry so soon after the passage of the Affordable Care Act. 

“When they say Medicare for All, people have to understand this: Medicare for All is not as good a benefit as the Affordable Care Act. It doesn’t have catastrophic [coverage] — you have to go buy it. It doesn’t have dental. It’s not as good as the plans that you can buy under the Affordable Care Act. So I say to them, come in with your ideas, but understand that we’re either gonna have to improve Medicare — for all, including seniors — or else people are not gonna get what they think they’re gonna get. And by the way, how’s it gonna be paid for?” — Pelosi 

More politics … Must-read: Inside former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden compares Trump to George Wallace Sanders unveils plan to guarantee the 'right to a secure retirement' CNN Democratic debate drawing finishes third in cable news ratings race MORE’s campaign-in-waiting (The Hill) … Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTop Democrats demand security assessment of Trump properties Lawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens Trump administration denies temporary immigrant status to Venezuelans in US MORE’s (D-N.Y.) plot to capture the Senate in 2020 (Politico) … Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) won’t run for Senate, clearing the way for a presidential bid (Dallas Morning News) … Voters say political, racial divisions are the most serious problems facing the country (Two Paths America).


INTERNATIONAL: Trump suffered a significant setback on the geopolitical stage Thursday when the administration’s nuclear summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wound up as one dinner and a high-level meeting in Vietnam, but no deal (The Hill).

The Hill: North Korean negotiators disputed the president’s characterization of Kim’s push for sanctions relief as a sticking point during the negotiations.

The Associated Press: Officials in North Korea and the U.S. say Trump overstated Kim’s demands on sanctions in Vietnam, and that North Korea’s position about relief from a set of sanctions had been clear for several weeks.

Kim interceded Friday with his own statement through state media vowing to meet again with Trump to continue nuclear negotiations (Bloomberg).



Analysts who commend the president’s efforts to try to change the dynamic between the United States and North Korea in order to achieve denuclearization said it was better to retreat from a bad agreement than try to paper over insurmountable differences to save face.



Democrats in Congress pounced on Trump’s decision to end the summit empty-handed and assailed the president for casting Kim on Thursday as innocent of the mistreatment of American college student Otto Warmbier, who was imprisoned in North Korea for a year and a half before Pyongyang released him to the United States in a profound and ultimately fatal vegetative state (The Hill).

The Hill: Trump’s defense of Kim in the Warmbier tragedy sparked instant, sharp criticism.

The Hill: Trump ally House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyThe Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants History in the House: Congress weathers unprecedented week EU official in Canada says he feels 'at home' there because no one was shouting 'send him back' MORE (R-Calif.) said, “I do not see the leader of North Korea as somebody who is a friend.”

GQ: The untold story of Warmbier, American hostage.

While Trump was still flying back to Washington, the White House attempted to stoke anticipation for a trade breakthrough between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping during another high-wire meeting expected in a few weeks, likely in Florida (Bloomberg).

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


Did Trump’s team miss signals about Hanoi summit’s chance for success? by Christopher Hill, opinion contributor, The Hill.

Why I’m suing Twitter, by Meghan Murphy, Quillette.


The House meets March 4 at 11:30 a.m.

The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. on March 4 and resumes consideration of the nomination of Allison Jones Rushing to be a U.S. Circuit Court judge for the 4th Circuit. 

The president has no public events on his schedule.

Vice President Pence speaks to the American Conservative Union’s annual political conference at 10 a.m.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump talks to Swedish leader about rapper A$AP Rocky, offers to vouch for his bail Trump confirms he authorized Rand Paul to negotiate with Iran Trump: 'We already started' talks to get A$AP Rocky home from Sweden MORE met at 9 a.m. with business leaders in Manila, Philippines. At 10 a.m., he conferred with Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. in Manila before holding a joint press conference with him at 10:45 am. The secretary met with U.S. staff and families at the American Embassy in Manila later in the morning.

The Conservative Political Action Conference meets through March 2 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center outside Washington. Today’s speakers include dinner headliner Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyTrump telling aides to look at potential spending cuts if he wins reelection: report Budget talks between White House, Pelosi spill into weekend Trump says Democrats shouldn't use debt ceiling as leverage MORE, the acting White House chief of staff, plus former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Iowa Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstTrump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout House Dems, Senate GOP build money edge to protect majorities MORE, both Republicans. Find the agenda HERE.

YOU’RE INVITED to upcoming newsmaker events with The Hill:



Middle East: With an election just over a month away, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be indicted on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges (Haaretz).

Tech: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has reached out to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, as he furiously tries to persuade the company to reconsider its decision to abandon plans to build a second headquarters in Long Island City because of local community opposition (The New York Times).

Economy: Gross domestic product in the United States grew at an above-forecast rate of 2.6 percent in the fourth quarter in the government’s initial estimate released Thursday. At 2.9 percent for all of 2018, the important yardstick for growth came in just below Trump’s stated goal of 3 percent (Bloomberg). 

Entertainment: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the award-winning star of “Seinfeld” and “Veep,” talks politics and success in Hollywood as a middle-aged woman (TIME).


And finally …   Kudos to Morning Report Quiz winners! This week’s trivia puzzle about the month of February prompted these readers to send us at least four out of five correct guesses in no time flat: Jekka Garner, Carol Katz, David Straney, William Chittam, Rich Gruber, Sandy Sycafoose, Luther Berg, Anita Bales, Paula Hassinger, Milt Mungo, Dale Collins and Ian Jackson.

Most surmised that Roman King Numa Pompilius gave February its 28 days.

“All of the above” was the right answer for cultural milestones that happened over the years in February: The first televised basketball game in America; the final broadcast of CBS’s M*A*S*H sitcom after an 11-year run; Queen Elizabeth’s honorary knighthood tribute to former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for his role after the 9/11 attacks; and the launch of in 2005.

In “Much Ado about Nothing,” William Shakespeare imagined a character’s cold, stormy expression with the phrase, “you have such a February face….”

February is known for a President’s Day holiday. Four American presidents were born in the month: George Washington, William Henry Harrison, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan.

Former first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaMichelle Obama weighs in on Trump, 'Squad' feud: 'Not my America or your America. It's our America' Poll: Michelle Obama most admired woman in the world Former Michelle Obama aide calls for 'honest conversation' about immigration MORE, who grew up in the Windy City, joked with an audience that a participant from Hawaii who was anticipating a visit to the Midwest needed some survival coaching. “Chicago in February — she doesn't realize that it won't be that fun. … Just bring a sweater, long underwear.”