* Rosalind Helderman, Tom Hamburger, and Josh Dawsey report that Robert Mueller has the colorful Michael Cohen in his sights:
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has requested documents and interviewed witnesses about incidents involving Michael Cohen, the longtime lawyer for President Trump whose wide-ranging portfolio has given him a unique vantage point into Trump’s business, campaign and political activities.
There is no indication that Cohen is a subject or target of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. But the scrutiny of his interactions is another sign of the far-reaching nature of the special-counsel probe, which is examining members of the president’s inner circle and aspects of Trump’s past business outreach to Russia.
As one of Trump’s closest advisers, Cohen played a role in at least two episodes involving Russian interests that have drawn Mueller’s attention, according to several people familiar with document subpoenas and witness interviews.
One area of focus has been negotiations Cohen undertook during the campaign to help the Trump Organization build a tower in Moscow. Cohen brought Trump a letter of intent in October 2015 from a Russian developer to build a Moscow project. Later, he sent an email to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s chief spokesman seeking help to advance the stalled project. He said he did not recall receiving a response.
Another area that Mueller’s team has explored is a Russia-friendly peace proposal for Ukraine that was delivered to Cohen by an Ukrainian lawmaker one week after Trump took office, the people said.
I wouldn’t want to say that Cohen is the sleaziest of all the sleazy characters surrounding Trump, because there’s a lot of competition for that title. But let’s just say he’s probably more than a little concerned about having the special counsel rooting around in his affairs.
* Renae Merle and Tracy Jan report that the Trump administration is handling its responsibility to protect consumers in a bold new way:
President Trump and the regulators he appointed are taking a far less aggressive approach to consumer protection than their predecessors, delaying key regulations and imposing fewer penalties against financial institutions and other corporations accused of wrongdoing, according to a Washington Post review of available data and interviews with consumer advocates and government officials.
At the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, for example, enforcement actions have dropped from an average of three-to-five each month during the past four years down to zero since a Trump appointee took charge of the agency in late November.
The Labor Department has delayed full implementation of a rule requiring financial advisers to act in their clients’ best interest.
And the Department of Education has withdrawn Obama-era regulations meant to strengthen protections for student borrowers.
The new approach — welcomed by banks and business leaders — has alarmed consumer advocates who fear it gives an advantage to Wall Street and other powerful industries while leaving ordinary Americans more susceptible to fraud, discrimination and predatory lending.
You see, this is what happens when you elect a populist who wants to stick it to the elites and stand up for the forgotten men and women of America.
* At a presser today, Trump dug in on his plan for tariffs, but said that any U.S. retaliation in a trade war would be handled, well, read for yourself:
“We will straighten it out. We’ll do it in a very loving way. It will be a loving, loving way. They’ll like us better and they’ll respect us much more,” he said.
Trump also called for a “bill of love” to protect the “dreamers,” and look how that turned out.
* Gary Cohn is set to resign as Trump’s economic adviser, which probably doesn’t bode well for the chances of those inside the White House who still hope to stop Trump’s tariffs.
* Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis have the latest story of cronyism at the EPA, with an extra garnish of Scott Pruitt’s paranoia.
* Rebecca Shabad reports that Paul Ryan says Trump’s tariffs should be “more targeted,” which is already a step down from his previous free-trade position, and a step on the way toward abject acquiescence.
* The Office of Special Counsel has found that Kellyanne Conway twice violated the Hatch Act by using her official position to promote candidates. I’m sure Trump will discipline her severely, sending a clear message to all Executive Branch employees that the rules must be followed and this kind of transgression will not be tolerated.
* David Corn, Hannah Levintova, and Dan Friedman have “a bizarre tale of influence-peddling that spurs the suspicion that Russians covertly used Republicans in Washington in an effort to foment political conflict in the Balkans.” In other words, Tuesday.
* A new Quinnipiac poll finds that 60 percent of Americans think the NRA has too much power, and a majority are opposed to Trump’s new tariffs.
* Timothy O’Brien pivots off the Sam Nunberg meltdown to explain how the people Trump gathered around him before he was a politician, like Cohen and Nunberg, are haunting his presidency.
* The Center for American Progress’ Moscow Project has some recommendations for what we ought to do right now about continued Russian attacks on our political system.
* Amanda Marcotte reports on how Texas diverted millions of dollars from family planning to “abstinence only” groups that do nothing to stop unwanted pregnancy, and now Trump may take the model national.