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 TrumpCummings says Ivanka Trump not preserving all official communications Property is a fundamental right that is now being threatened 25 states could see severe flooding in coming weeks, scientists say 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 says Ivanka Trump not preserving all official communications Oversight Committee seeks Purdue OxyContin documents White House rejects Dem request for documents on Trump-Putin communications 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 SchiffWhite House rejects Dem request for documents on Trump-Putin communications Dems request probe into spa owner suspected of trying to sell access to Trump Dems fear Trump is looking at presidential pardons 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 WatersDems concerned impeachment will make Trump 'appear like a victim,' says pollster Trump calls Biden 'low I.Q. individual' after verbal slip On The Money: Senate rejects border declaration in rebuke to Trump | Dems press Mnuchin on Trump tax returns | Waters says Wells Fargo should fire its CEO 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 KavanaughCourt-packing becomes new litmus test on left Warren, Harris, Gillibrand back efforts to add justices to Supreme Court Pence traveling to SC for Graham reelection launch MORE’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing (20 million), and it had fewer viewers than former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyComey: I'm not rooting for Mueller to demonstrate Trump is a criminal Trump's attacks on McCain exacerbate tensions with Senate GOP Former White House staffer Hope Hicks to cooperate with Dems' probe into Trump 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 JordanJordan, Meadows backed by new ads from pro-Trump group: report Jordan jokes that sport coats inhibit him during heated hearings Attorney previously in contact with Cohen pushes back on pardon narrative to CNN MORE (R-Ohio) and Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsJordan, Meadows backed by new ads from pro-Trump group: report Trump keeps tight grip on GOP Dems fear Trump is looking at presidential pardons 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 Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump's intraparty feuds divide Republicans House leaders need to modernize Congress for the sake of America 4 in 5 Americans say they support net neutrality: poll 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 UdallOvernight Energy: DC moves closer to climate lawsuit against Exxon | Dems call for ethics investigation into Interior officials | Inslee doubles down on climate in 2020 bid Dem lawmakers call for investigation into Interior officials over alleged ethics violations The Hill's 12:30 Report: Manafort sentenced to total of 7.5 years in prison MORE (D-N.M.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks Overnight Health Care: CDC pushes for expanding HIV testing, treatment | Dem group launches ads attacking Trump on Medicare, Medicaid cuts | Hospitals, insurers spar over surprise bills | O'Rourke under pressure from left on Medicare for all Dem group launches ads attacking Trump's 'hypocrisy on Medicare and Medicaid cuts' MORE (R-Maine), and is co-sponsored by Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiRed dresses displayed around American Indian museum to memorialize missing, murdered native women Juan Williams: Don't rule out impeaching Trump The 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration MORE (R-Alaska) and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSenate Dems petition Saudi king to release dissidents, US citizen Senators offer bipartisan bill to fix 'retail glitch' in GOP tax law Overnight Energy: EPA moves to raise ethanol levels in gasoline | Dems look to counter White House climate council | Zinke cleared of allegations tied to special election MORE (D-N.H.).

In addition to Collins and Murkowski, Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisOvernight Health Care: CDC pushes for expanding HIV testing, treatment | Dem group launches ads attacking Trump on Medicare, Medicaid cuts | Hospitals, insurers spar over surprise bills | O'Rourke under pressure from left on Medicare for all Dem group launches ads attacking Trump's 'hypocrisy on Medicare and Medicaid cuts' Trump keeps tight grip on GOP 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 SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersBannon says an O'Rourke-Harris ticket poses the greatest threat to Trump in 2020 Trump has lost support from male voters since shutdown, analysis shows Watchdog group calls on 2020 candidates to release 10 years of tax returns 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 BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenTrump has lost support from male voters since shutdown, analysis shows Biden-Abrams ticket would be a genius media move The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump attacks on McCain rattle GOP senators MORE’s campaign-in-waiting (The Hill) … Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis Schumer4 in 5 Americans say they support net neutrality: poll GOP senator: Trump's criticism of McCain 'deplorable' Schumer to introduce bill naming Senate office building after McCain amid Trump uproar 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 McCarthyHouse leaders need to modernize Congress for the sake of America Overnight Energy: McConnell tees up vote on Green New Deal | Centrist Dems pitch alternative to plan | House Republican likens Green New Deal to genocide | Coca-Cola reveals it uses 3M tons of plastic every year House GOP lawmaker says Green New Deal is like genocide 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 PompeoWhite House rejects Dem request for documents on Trump-Putin communications US calls for Venezuela to release opposition leader's chief of staff Trump: 'It is time' to recognize Israeli control of Golan Heights 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 MulvaneyWhite House rejects Dem request for documents on Trump-Putin communications Consumer bureau chief reverses efforts to sideline advisory panels Mulvaney poised to become permanent White House chief of staff: report MORE, the acting White House chief of staff, plus former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Iowa Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstCrenshaw to Trump: 'Stop talking about McCain' Stop asking parents to sacrifice Social Security benefits for paid family leave Senate votes to confirm Neomi Rao to appeals court 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 on 'Becoming': 'Sasha still hasn't read it' Michelle Obama seeks volunteers for local campaigns: There are 'no "off" years' Obama condemns 'hatred in all its forms' after New Zealand shooting 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.”