Clams à la Cohen
Perhaps it wasn’t such a “stupid question” when Donald Trump was asked if he would consider a presidential pardon for Michael Cohen.
Premature, yes, but less so than on Tuesday, now that Trump’s personal lawyer/fixer says he will assert his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination to avoid questioning in the lawsuit against him by porn star Stormy Daniels. Cohen’s statement to a federal judge in Los Angeles cited “the ongoing criminal investigation by the FBI and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.”
Cohen’s $130,000 hush-money payment to Daniels during the 2016 campaign to keep under wraps her story of a sexual fling with Trump is among the matters under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York.
Cohen said that FBI agents had seized “various electronic devices and documents in my possession” with information about the payoff. The raid infuriated Trump, opening to prosecutorial scrutiny Cohen’s work on Trump’s behalf — a portion of which may not be covered by attorney-client privilege. Another Trump lawyer told the judge in New York who is sorting out privilege claims that the president “will make himself available, as needed” to review seized materials, Newsday’s John Riley reports.
Dr. Jackson pulls the plug
Saying that "false allegations" had become a distraction, Dr. Ronny Jackson withdrew from consideration for Veterans Affairs secretary.
Among the misdeeds alleged if not substantiated in a summary from Senate Democrats: that Jackson wrecked a government car while driving drunk, improperly dispensed pain medication and prescribed himself a stash of controlled substances.
By giving up the post, Jackson gets to avoid a scene in which Senators parse and seek support from the allegations and he must answer them. Which to some sends the nonsensical message that because he is innocent, Jackson won't defend his name.
No right to know
Besides serving as budget director, Mick Mulvaney is President Donald Trump’s interim director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The way Mulvaney disparages its mission, you’d think it was a protection racket.
Mulvaney told an appreciative crowd of bankers and lending industry officials that he wants to cut off public access to the bureau’s database of consumer complaints against financial companies.
“I don’t see anything in here that says I have to run a Yelp for financial services sponsored by the federal government,” Mulvaney said, holding up a copy of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial law that created the CFPB.
Consumer be extra wary: The bureau already has dramatically cut back on enforcement.
Mulvaney: They paid, I played
Mulvaney also painted a vivid picture for the bankers of how lobbyists seeking his attention could get in the fast lane when he was a House member.
“If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you,” Mulvaney said. Sounds like just the kind of pay-for-play influence-peddling that Trump denounced as a candidate promising to drain the swamp.
Janison: The bottomless line
If there ever was a real ideological battle in America over federal debt and deficits, it is over. Red ink won, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.
The federal deficit will cross the trillion-dollar mark by 2020, according to nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projections, and the federal deficit will nearly double from $14.7 trillion in fiscal year 2017 to $28.7 trillion in 2029.
But no worries, say those who believe last year’s tax cuts will stimulate the economy — revenue will catch up at some later date.
Click here for an explainer with graphics of debt and deficit projections by Newsday’s Caroline Curtin.
Never mind what he said
Calling on the Supreme Court to uphold the third version of Trump’s travel ban, the government’s lawyer urged the justices to disregard Trump’s campaign tweets and statements that targeted Muslims.
Lower courts saw Trump’s words as a sign of discriminatory intent, but Solicitor General Noel Francisco said “those statements should be out of bounds” because Trump wasn’t yet in office.
A majority of the justices seemed sympathetic during oral arguments to the notion that the courts should not second-guess a president with access to secret intelligence information on a national security matter.
Click here for audio of the arguments
Yeezy does it
Twitter blew up, whatever that means, over pro-Trump tweets from Kanye West. “You don’t have to agree with trump but the mob can’t make me not love him,” said West. “We are both dragon energy.” Whatever that means.
That got a retweet from Trump: “Thank you Kanye, very cool!” it said. So did West’s tweet of a Trump-autographed MAGA hat.
What else is happening:
- Rudy Giuliani, opening new negotiations with special counsel Robert Mueller on an interview with Trump, said the president and his advisers are resistant to it, but haven’t ruled it out, The Washington Post reported. “We’re trying to assess their good faith,” Giuliani told The Wall Street Journal.
- UN Ambassador Nikki Haley may be the most popular figure in the Trump administration. A Quinnipiac poll measured her approval as 63% by voters overall and 75% from Republicans. Even 55% of Democrats like her. Trump’s approval in the same poll is 39%.
- Trump’s relationship with Chris Christie is warming up again, Politico reports. The president has been calling the former New Jersey governor, now a regular ABC News commentator, to compliment or critique him on his Sunday show appearances.
- Leaked documents suggest EPA chief Scott Pruitt, testifying on Capitol Hill Thursday, plans to blame his staff for many of the missteps that put him under an ethics cloud, The New York Times reported. The White House defense is wobbling — spokesman Hogan Gidley said there are “serious concerns.”
- HUD Secretary Ben Carson on Wednesday proposed charging higher rent for low-income families — tripling it for the poorest households — and making it easier to set work requirements for people receiving federal housing subsidies.
- Trump is expected to visit Britain in July, holding talks with Prime Minister Theresa May and possibly meeting Queen Elizabeth IIs. It won’t be a state visit, so no carriage parade.