If Donald Trump calls Michael Cohen "weak" for turning against him, what's the president going to think about his once-favorite weekly?
Moments after a federal judge sentenced Cohen to 3 years in prison for assorted crimes, including secret payments to silence two of Trump's purported extramarital partners during the 2016 campaign, the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office revealed confessions of the supermarket tabloid's parent company and disclosed that it is aiding investigators.
In a deal to avoid charges, American Media Inc. admitted its $150,000 payment to one of the women, Karen McDougal, was made "in concert" with Trump's campaign "to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate," the prosecutors said. The "principal purpose" was "to suppress the woman’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election."
That backs up Cohen's account and could strengthen the hand of prosecutors if they move to act — in the near term or after the president leaves office — on what they have already alleged in their sentencing memo on Trump's former lawyer and fixer: that he acted at Trump's direction to arrange and conceal the hush-money payments for McDougal, a former Playboy model, and Stormy Daniels, a porn star, in violation of campaign finance laws.
It also signifies how Trump's defenses have crumbled since the payoff stories first emerged. In April, he told reporters he had no knowledge of the Daniels arrangement. In May, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani admitted Cohen was reimbursed by Trump for it, but insisted the buy of silence was for his marriage to Melania, not the campaign.
"This was for personal reasons. . . . It wasn't for the campaign, it was to save their marr — not their marriage as much as their reputation.”
In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, Trump had his new fallback positions arranged like a set of dominoes. “Number one: It wasn’t a campaign contribution. If it were, it’s only civil. And even if it’s only civil, there was no violation based on what we did.” And No. 4: "Michael Cohen IS a lawyer. He’s supposed to know what to do. . . . That’s what you pay lawyers for. Michael Cohen should have known what he was doing."
Heart of darkness
Regrets? Cohen had a few. And a few more after that.
Pleading for leniency from U.S. District Judge William Pauley, Cohen said of his dozen years with Trump, "I have been living in a personal and mental incarceration ever since the fateful day that I accepted the offer" to work for him. It was his "blind loyalty to this man that led me to choose a path of darkness over light."
He said Trump "was correct" to call him weak, but not because Cohen flipped on him. "Blind loyalty" was his failing. "It was because time and time again I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds rather than to listen to my own inner voice and my moral compass," Cohen said. "I was weak for not having the courage to stand up to his demands.”
But Pauley said Cohen's moves to make amends, including cooperation that the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office described as too limited, "does not wipe the slate clean.” He has also pleaded guilty to lying to get a bank loan, evading taxes on $4 million and lying to Congress about Trump's pursuit of business in Russia.
Cohen, according to spokesman Lanny Davis, still wants to go public with everything he knows about Trump after special counsel Robert Mueller completes his investigation. Mueller has given Cohen a more favorable review for his cooperation on the Russia investigation. For more, see Newsday's story by John Riley. To read Cohen's statement in court, click here.
Rail from the chief
Trump didn't take questions on Cohen during a Wednesday White House event after the sentencing. But privately, he vented his fury, CNN reported, telling associates over and over: "He's a liar."
Giuliani, not looking back at his past spurious spin, told Politico that Cohen has "proven to be a consummate liar who has lied at all stages of his situation.”
Janison: Javanka's staying power
In Trump's world, fixers for would-be sex scandals, Cabinet secretaries and senior White House staff come and go. A lot of them go. But there is a constant that endures and prospers: son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump.
Suspicions of potential conflicts don't seem to matter, writes Newsday's Dan Janison, even as The Associated Press reports this week that the couple's personal business interests stand to benefit from the so-called Opportunity Zone real estate program that Ivanka pushed.
Their influence extends to foreign affairs and even trade issues. Kushner has been a major driver of the go-easy response to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's strongly suspected role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Chief of staff John Kelly reportedly complained that "Javanka" was "playing government," but he's the one who's been told by Trump to take his ball and go home.
Chief among his concerns?
Given the high turnover rate, the risks of steep legal bills and the boss' uneven temperament, the Trump White House isn't likely to make the year-end lists of the most desirable places to work. But despite the embarrassing turndown from Kelly's once-likely replacement, Trump said in his Reuters interview that his search for a new chief of staff is going just fine. “I have at least 10, 12 — 12 people that want it badly.”
Scratch one as of Wednesday. Trump told Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who leads the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, that he'd like him to stay on Capitol Hill and fight for Trump's agenda there.
Giuliani's global hustling is a blur
While representing Trump for free, Giuliani has gone barnstorming around the world to drum up business for his company, Giuliani Security and Safety, The New York Times reported.
He was in Bahrain Tuesday, where the government-run Bahrain News Agency reported on his meeting in a royal palace with King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. The story said the king discussed “Bahraini-U. S. relations” with Giuliani, who was described as leading a “high-level U.S. delegation.”
Giuliani told The Times he is not trying to capitalize on his high-profile relationship with the president and makes that clear to prospective foreign clients.
“I’m probably the most ethical person you ever met,” Giuliani said.
They don't need no education
All in all, it's just another gaffe on the wall.
Seeking to shore up the president's false claim that his proposed massive border wall is already happening, the Department of Homeland Security posted an astoundingly illiterate memo on its web site that left some readers wondering who composed it. The precise text begins:
"DHS is committed to building wall and building wall quickly.
"We are not replacing short, outdated and ineffective wall with similar wall. Instead, under this President we are building a wall that is 30-feet high... Prior to President Trump taking office, we have never built wall that high."
The social-media mockery took off in a hurry.
What else is happening:
- Fresh off her Oval Office throwdown with Trump, Rep. Nancy Pelosi appeared to have locked up enough support to be elected as the next House speaker by the new Democratic majority, reports Newsday's Tom Brune. The San Francisco liberal placated a pivotal group of dissidents by agreeing to serve no more than four years.
- Vietnamese immigrants who fled the U.S.-involved war decades ago could be vulnerable to deportation under the latest Trump policy interpretation, The Atlantic reports.
- Cohen's judge agreed to recommend that he serve his time in the minimum-security section of the federal prison in Otisville, in Orange County, about 70 miles northwest of New York City. In 2009, Forbes named it one of "America's 10 cushiest prisons." Its recreational facilities, reports CNN, include boccie, basketball and cardio equipment.
- In a rebuff to Trump, the Senate voted 60-39 to start debate on a resolution calling on the U.S. to pull assistance from the Saudi-led war in Yemen, a measure that has won new support since the killing of Khashoggi.
- An annual survey found job satisfaction fell this year at a majority of federal agencies, The Washington Post reported.
- Texas Democrat Julian Castro, who served as HUD secretary in the Obama administration, told AP he's taking a step toward a possible White House campaign in 2020 by forming a presidential exploratory committee.
- Donald Trump Jr., interviewed by the entertainment program "Extra," said his father is a "regifter" who "may or may not" have once given him the same gift he presented to his dad the year before.
- The oil industry had carried out a lobbying campaign to get the government to ease up on its gas-mileage requirements.