He saw Russians from his doorstep
Donald Trump says and tweets “NO COLLUSION!” so much it has almost replaced “Make America Great Again” as his catchphrase (though he hasn’t yet put it on baseball caps.)
Now, his once-loyal legal servant and fixer, Michael Cohen, is prepared to tell a different story to special counsel Robert Mueller, as first reported by CNN Thursday night.
Cohen claims Trump knew in advance about — and gave a green light to — the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with Russians linked to the Kremlin who were offering his campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton. Those present for the meeting included Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
That contradicts repeated denials by the president, Donald Trump Jr., their lawyers and other administration officials, who have said that the president knew nothing about the Trump Tower meeting until he was approached about it by The New York Times in July 2017.
Cohen’s story is that he was present, along with several others, when Trump was informed of the Russians' offer by his son. When news of the meeting broke a year ago in The New York Times, Donald Trump Jr. issued a statement — dictated by the president from Air Force One —concealing its true purpose, and describing the main topic as Russia’s ban on U.S. adoptions. Emails obtained by the Times shortly thereafter blew that story apart.
Cohen — who is under a federal criminal investigation and is reported to be growing more desperate to make a deal with prosecutors — does have evidence, such as audio recordings, to back up his explosive claim. Trump’s lead lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, went to work immediately to assail Cohen’s credibility.
“He has lied all his life,” Trump said of the man whom Trump employed as an enforcer and mouthpiece until FBI agents raided Cohen’s office and residence in April.
Behind the green eyeshade
The name Allen Weisselberg first popped into the news this week via Cohen's tape of a conversation with Trump about hush-money arrangements for Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal.
That may not be the last that is heard from Weisselberg, who has been keeping books for the Trump family business since the 1970s, when Trump's dad, Fred, was in charge, and is chief financial officer for the Trump Organization. The Wall Street Journal reports Weisselberg has been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury in the criminal probe of Cohen.
On the tape, Cohen assures Trump he has run his plan by Weisselberg for acquiring the rights to McDougal's story, which was bought earlier for $150,000 by the Trump-colluding National Enquirer in an apparent "catch and kill" gambit to keep it from surfacing during the 2016 campaign.
Weisselberg also arranged for the Trump Organization to reimburse Cohen for the $130,000 he put out to similarly silence Stormy Daniels, the porn star who says she too was a Trump extramarital sex partner.
The federal investigation of Cohen in New York includes whether Trump's now-estranged fixer committed bank fraud or campaign-finance violations while working to bury embarrassing stories about Trump during the 2016 campaign.
The Weisselberg subpoena is even more potentially worrisome for the president because he knows a lot that Cohen doesn't know — more about Trump's business and finances than just about anyone, according to Trump biographer Timothy O'Brien.
The Washington Post writes that the subpoena of Weisselberg as a witness is another sign the investigations of Trump by special counsel Robert Mueller and others have expanded into the Trump business, which the president a year ago declared a "red line" not to be crossed.
Getting back to Trump and the former USSR, The New York Times reports Mueller is scrutinizing tweets and negative statements from the president about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former FBI Director James Comey. Mueller wants to question Trump to determine whether those messages amounted to attempts to obstruct the Russia investigation by intimidating witnesses and pressuring senior law enforcement officials to rein it in.
Advisers have long warned Trump his tweeting could cause self-inflicted legal problems, and some of Trump's lawyers are worried Mueller will include them as part of an effort to depict a broader pattern of behavior. That would be off base, said Trump's lead lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. “If you’re going to obstruct justice, you do it quietly and secretly, not in public,” Giuliani told the Times.
At an Illinois steel mill, Trump Thursday hailed his day-old trade truce with the European Union as a “breakthrough agreement.” But much remains unsettled.
If history is a guide, The Associated Press writes, further talks on freer trade could stall as the EU's 28 member states register objections to specific market-opening proposals and U.S. companies start raising demands on Trump's negotiators.
Trump hinted he expects government data to show Friday that the U.S. economy grew at its fastest rate in years in the second quarter. But economists believe the gains were inflated by foreign countries rushing to buy up U.S. soybeans and other products before tariffs and retaliatory moves took effect, Politico reports. "That's going to be paid back in the next quarter,” said Eric Winograd, senior U.S. economist at Alliance-Bernstein.
Deadline blown on migrant kids
The Trump administration said that more than 1,800 children separated at the U.S.-Mexico border have been reunited with parents and sponsors, but 711 remained in government shelters on Thursday, the court-ordered deadline to complete the process of bringing the families back together.
Among the government's reasons: their parents have criminal records, their cases remain under review or their mothers and fathers are no longer in the United States, including 431 parents the government has already deported.
Poll: Get tougher on Russia
A Marist poll finds 64% of Americans, including 47% of Republicans, don't think Trump has been tough enough on Russia.
When specifically asked whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election, 69% — including 51% of Republicans — believe that happened, and 63% of Americans think it had an impact on the election.
Ryan: Spare the Rod
House Speaker Paul Ryan kicked the legs out from a bid by a small group of fiercely pro-Trump GOP conservatives to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees special counsel Robert Mueller.
Ryan said a fight over document requests between foes of the Mueller investigation and Rosenstein doesn't rise to the level of "high crimes and misdemeanors" that could warrant impeachment under the Constitution.
"I don't think we should be cavalier with this process or with this term," Ryan said.
What else is happening:
- A federal judge in Manhattan gave the go-ahead to a lawsuit that challenges the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census as an effort to undercount immigrants by making those here illegally fearful of cooperating. Judge Jesse Furman cited remarks from Trump that he said could show “animus toward immigrants of color.”
- A $40 million yacht owned by the family of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was vandalized while moored in the Lake Erie port of Huron, Ohio. Police said the vessel was untied and set adrift. It crashed into a dock, causing between $5,000 and $10,000 in damage.
- Students who are defrauded by their schools would have a tougher time getting their federal loans erased under proposed new Trump administration rules unveiled by DeVos on Wednesday. A bigger onus would be on students to investigate the schools themselves before enrolling. The projected savings is almost $13 billion over 10 years.
- Sessions acknowledges it wasn't a good look for him to laugh and echo a "Lock her up" anti-Hillary Clinton chant from conservative high school students earlier this week. "I perhaps should have taken a moment to advise them on the fact that you're presumed innocent until cases are made," he said.
- Trump threatened by tweet to impose"large sanctions" on Turkey for failing to free Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina held by strongman President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's regime on terrorism and espionage charges. One of Brunson's attorneys is Jay Sekulow, who also represents Trump in the Russia investigation.
- Coca-Cola blamed the trade war for its decision to raise prices. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, the beverage giant's CEO, James Quincey, cited increasing costs for shipping and metal after Trump imposed $50 billion of duties on China.
- Trump's 2020 campaign has signed off on plans to funnel contributions to 100 Republican candidates running in this year's House and Senate races, seeking to save the GOP majorities, Politico reports.