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 TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Democrats wary of handing Trump a win on infrastructure 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 CummingsThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget On The Money: Judge upholds House subpoena for Trump financial records | Trump vows to appeal ruling by 'Obama-appointed judge' | Canada, Mexico lift retaliatory tariffs on US | IRS audit rate falls House Oversight Committee requests information on reported Trump plan to send TSA employees to border 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 SchiffCohen says Trump attorney told him to say Trump Tower talks ended earlier than they did Cohen told lawmakers that Trump lawyer Sekulow instructed him to lie about Moscow tower project: report Supreme Court declines to hear case on businesses' political contributions 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 WatersDemocrats are running out of stunts to pull from impeachment playbook Maxine Waters: Trump 'has done everything that one could even think of to be eligible for impeachment' Maxine Waters: Parts of Trump immigration plan are 'very racist' 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 KavanaughSupreme Court sides with Native American hunter as Gorsuch joins liberals Clash with Trump marks latest break with GOP leaders for Justin Amash ACLU, Women's March to hold nationwide protests over abortion bans MORE’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing (20 million), and it had fewer viewers than former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyClash with Trump marks latest break with GOP leaders for Justin Amash Giuliani says Trump is 'doing the right thing' by resisting congressional subpoenas Giuliani strikes back at Comey: 'No one really respects him' 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 JordanHouse Freedom Caucus votes to condemn Amash's impeachment comments Amash storm hits Capitol Hill Ohio governor calls to eliminate statute of limitations for sex crimes after OSU doctor abuse report MORE (R-Ohio) and Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsAmash storm hits Capitol Hill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - After GOP infighting, Trump Jr. agrees to testify again On The Money: House chairman issues subpoenas for Trump's tax returns | Trump touts trade talks as China, US fail to reach deal | Five things to know about Trump's trade war with China | GOP offers support for Trump on tariffs 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 - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Democrats wary of handing Trump a win on infrastructure 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: EPA watchdog finds Pruitt spent 4K on 'excessive' travel | Agency defends Pruitt expenses | Lawmakers push EPA to recover money | Inslee proposes spending T for green jobs Lawmakers take EPA head to task for refusing to demand Pruitt repay travel expenses Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Pentagon approves transfer of .5B to border wall | Dems blast move | House Dem pushes Pelosi to sue over Trump's Yemen veto MORE (D-N.M.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDem senator: Many Republicans 'privately expressed concerns' about Mueller findings Congress: Support legislation to defend Medicare home health  The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition — Trump: GOP has `clear contrast' with Dems on immigration MORE (R-Maine), and is co-sponsored by Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight Health Care — Presented by Campaign for Accountability — House passes drug pricing bills amid ObamaCare row | Senate Republicans running away from Alabama abortion law | Ocasio-Cortez confronts CEO over K drug price tag Senate Republicans running away from Alabama abortion law Bipartisan senators unveil measure to end surprise medical bills MORE (R-Alaska) and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenTrump, Europe increasingly at odds on Iran Foreign Relations senators demand Iran briefing The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - After GOP infighting, Trump Jr. agrees to testify again MORE (D-N.H.).

In addition to Collins and Murkowski, Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisLawmakers call for investigation after census hired registered sex offender Dem Senate campaign arm hits GOP lawmakers over Trump tax law Graham encourages Donald Trump Jr. to plead the Fifth 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 SandersThe Memo: Trump faces steep climb to reelection California Democrats face crisis of credibility after lawsuits Fox's Brit Hume fires back at Trump's criticism of the channel 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 BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget The Memo: Trump faces steep climb to reelection Trump: Foreign countries want Biden in office so they can continue 'ripping off' the US MORE’s campaign-in-waiting (The Hill) … Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer wants investigation into Chinese-designed New York subway cars Getting serious about infrastructure Schumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act 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 - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Buzz grows Rep. Amash will challenge Trump as a Libertarian 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).

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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 PompeoThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget Tensions swirl around Iran as administration to brief Congress Overnight Defense: Iran tensions swirl as officials prepare to brief Congress | Trump threatens war would be 'end of Iran' | Graham tells Trump to 'stand firm' | Budget talks begin 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 MulvaneyGOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending GOP senator warns Trump, Mulvaney against 'draconian' budget cuts Overnight Defense: Iran tensions swirl as officials prepare to brief Congress | Trump threatens war would be 'end of Iran' | Graham tells Trump to 'stand firm' | Budget talks begin MORE, the acting White House chief of staff, plus former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Iowa Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstBullock: Running for Senate 'never really got me excited' Dem Senate campaign arm hits GOP lawmakers over Trump tax law GOP angst grows amid Trump trade war 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 to headline Essence Festival Obama shares tribute to Michelle to celebrate Mother's Day 111-year-old woman gets free tickets to see Michelle Obama book tour 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.”