With Joanie Greve and Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: The most consequential news from the opening statement that Michael Cohen plans to deliver before a House committee today stems from serious allegations about what President Trump knew and when he knew it. The president’s longtime lawyer makes these three explosive charges in his prepared testimony:

  • Mr. Trump knew about the release of the hacked Democratic National Committee emails ahead of time. … Mr. Trump knew from Roger Stone in advance about the WikiLeaks drop of emails.”
  • Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it. … And, so, I lied about it, too. … Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to Congress about the timing of the Moscow Tower negotiations before I gave it.”
  • He asked me to pay off an adult film star with whom he had an affair, and to lie to his wife about it. … Mr. Trump directed me to use my own personal funds from a Home Equity Line of Credit to avoid any money being traced back to him that could negatively impact his campaign. … The president of the United States wrote a personal check for the payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws.”

-- The sound bite of Cohen calling Trump “a racist, a conman and a cheat” will also certainly get lots of play on cable news, but that sounds like sour grapes from a disgruntled ex-employee who is heading to prison for his misdeeds.

-- But Cohen’s 20-page opening statement, in which he reflects on a decade in Trump’s inner circle, is perhaps most captivating for the portrait he paints of the man who now leads the country and his methods. In short, Trump’s longtime consigliere, who for years proudly played the role of his enforcer before getting into legal trouble, likens his old boss to a mobster. “Mr. Trump called me a ‘rat’ for choosing to tell the truth — much like a mobster would do when one of his men decides to cooperate with the government,” Cohen plans to testify.

He will open and close his testimony by expressing fear for his safety. “I have asked this committee to ensure that my family be protected from presidential threats,” he plans to say. In and of itself, that’s a remarkable statement — perhaps unprecedented — for a witness appearing on Capitol Hill.

-- Cohen describes two episodes that, in his telling, sound like they could be in a Hollywood movie about the mob:

1. “I lied to Congress about when Mr. Trump stopped negotiating the Moscow Tower project in Russia. I stated that we stopped negotiating in January 2016. That was false. Our negotiations continued for months later during the campaign. Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That’s not how he operates. In conversations we had during the campaign, at the same time I was actively negotiating in Russia for him, he would look me in the eye and tell me ‘There’s no business in Russia’ and then go out and lie to the American people by saying the same thing. In his way, he was telling me to lie. There were at least a half-dozen times between the Iowa caucus in January 2016 and the end of June when he would ask me ‘How’s it going in Russia?’ — referring to the Moscow Tower project.”

2. “Nothing went on in Trump world, especially the campaign, without Mr. Trump’s knowledge and approval,” Cohen plans to say. That’s why he believes Trump probably knew in advance about the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with the Russians in which the president’s son thought he could get dirt on Hillary Clinton. “I remember being in the room with Mr. Trump, probably in early June 2016, when something peculiar happened,” Cohen will recall. “Don Jr. came into the room and walked behind his father’s desk — which in itself was unusual. People didn’t just walk behind Mr. Trump’s desk to talk to him. I recalled Don Jr. leaning over to his father and speaking in a low voice, which I could clearly hear, and saying, ‘The meeting is all set.’ I remember Mr. Trump saying, ‘Ok good. Let me know.’”

It’s all about family. “What struck me as I looked back and thought about that exchange between Don Jr. and his father was, first, that Mr. Trump had frequently told me and others that his son Don Jr. had the worst judgment of anyone in the world,” Cohen plans to say. “And, also, that Don Jr. would never set up any meeting of any significance alone — and certainly not without checking with his father.”

-- Cohen is not the first person who has dealt with Trump to liken him to a mobster. Fired FBI director Jim Comey wrote last year in his memoir, “A Higher Loyalty,” that dealing with the president gave him “flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the Mob. The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview. The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and above the truth.”

According to Comey’s contemporaneous notes, Trump told him: “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.” In his book, Comey wrote that “the demand was like Sammy the Bull’s Cosa Nostra induction ceremony.”

Andrew McCabe, who replaced Comey as acting director and was later fired as well, has also likened Trump's style to a mafioso’s as he’s promoted his new book, “The Threat,” this month. “That kind of overwhelming or overriding focus on loyalty and sorting everybody out immediately—like you're either with us or you're against us,” he said.

--An affinity for mobsters and their rhetoric has been a consistent thread through Trump’s adult life,” Trump biographer Marc Fisher observed in a piece for the Sunday Outlook section last November. “From his early professional mentor, the New York lawyer and power broker Roy Cohn, to his many years of dealing with mob-connected union and construction industry bosses, Trump has formed close alliances with renegades and rogues who sometimes ended up on the wrong side of the law. He’s long learned from and looked up to tough, street-smart guys who didn’t mind breaking some rules to get things done. Trump also admires mobsters’ no-nonsense language and bias for action; he cites ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Goodfellas’ among his favorite movies. …

Trump’s work as a developer put him in close touch with mobsters from the very start. Early on, he believed that politics and real estate were dirty businesses, riddled with corruption, and he resolved to master the game. On his first building project in Manhattan, the 1970s rehab of the Grand Hyatt New York, Trump hired a notorious demolition company partly owned by a Philadelphia mobster, as well as a concrete firm run by a man later convicted of being part of a mob-run cartel, and a carpentry company controlled by the Genovese organized-crime family. He used some of the same contractors that his father, real estate developer Fred Trump, had employed, including S&A Concrete, which worked on Trump Tower and was owned in part by Anthony ‘Fat Tony’ Salerno, who ran the Genovese mob.

In 1981, as he made his first move into casino gambling, New Jersey’s gaming regulators concluded that Trump had been in contact with organized-crime figures. Two men — Daniel Sullivan, a former truck driver and Teamster, and Kenny Shapiro, an ex-scrap-metal dealer and real estate developer — played vital roles in finding and acquiring the land on which Trump would build his first casino hotel, Trump Plaza. Sullivan and Shapiro were mob associates.”

-- When Cohen agreed to cooperate with prosecutors last August, Trump attacked him on Fox News. “I know all about flipping,” the president said. “For 30, 40 years, I’ve been watching flippers. Everything’s wonderful, and then they get 10 years in jail and they flip on whoever the next highest one is, or as high as you can go.” Before Paul Manafort took a plea deal, which prosecutors say he later broke, Trump praised his former campaign chairman for fighting the charges in court. “He refused to ‘break,’” the president tweeted.

-- In the testimony he plans to deliver today, Cohen recalls how he became “intoxicated” by Trump and fell deeper under his spell. “It monopolized my life,” Cohen will say. “Lying for Mr. Trump was normalized, and no one around him questioned it. I knew early on in my work for Mr. Trump that he would direct me to lie to further his business interests. I am ashamed to say, that when it was for a real estate mogul in the private sector, I considered it trivial.”

-- Notably, Cohen still refers to Trump — for whom he once said he’d take a bullet for — with the honorific. “Mr. Trump is an enigma,” Cohen will say. “He is complicated, as am I. He has both good and bad, as do we all. He is capable of behaving kindly, but he is not kind. He is capable of committing acts of generosity, but he is not generous. He is capable of being loyal, but he is fundamentally disloyal.”

-- Tweeting from Vietnam overnight before his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump attacked Cohen:

“White House officials had hoped Trump would not become distracted overseas by the spectacle of his former attorney and fixer testifying publicly for the first time. But the president’s mind, no matter where he is, often is on domestic issues and his political standing, current and former advisers said,” Phil Rucker and Josh Dawsey report.

-- Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani also broadly dismissed Cohen’s claims as false:

-- To be sure, Cohen certainly has a credibility problem. He was formally disbarred yesterday in New York, in fact, and not all the criminal conduct he pleaded guilty to relates to his work for the Trump Organization. “For those who question my motives for being here today, I understand,” he will say. “I have lied, but I am not a liar. I have done bad things, but I am not a bad man.”

-- But, but, but: He’s bringing receipts. Cohen says he will show the committee a copy of a $35,000 check, signed by the president in August 2017, from Trump's personal bank account that he says was meant as a reimbursement for his payment to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels. He says this was one of 11 installments. “The president of the United States thus wrote a personal check for the payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws,” Cohen plans to say.

Cohen also provided copies of Trump financial statements from 2011 to 2013 that he provided to Deutsche Bank, letters he says he wrote “at Mr. Trump’s direction” that threatened his high school, colleges and the College Board not to release his grades or SAT scores, as well as a copy of an article with Trump’s handwriting related to the auction of a portrait of himself. “He arranged for the bidder ahead of time and then reimbursed the bidder from the account of his non-profit charitable foundation, with the picture now hanging in one of his country clubs,” Cohen will testify.

-- Separate from the thicket of legal issues, Cohen will make other incendiary allegations that could cause political fallout. Consider these two quotes from the prepared testimony:

1. “He once asked me if I could name a country run by a black person that wasn’t a ‘shithole.’ This was when Barack Obama was president … While we were once driving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago, he commented that only black people could live that way. And he told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.”

2. “Mr. Trump tasked me to handle the negative press surrounding his medical deferment from the Vietnam draft. Mr. Trump claimed it was because of a bone spur, but when I asked for medical records, he gave me none and said there was no surgery. … He finished the conversation with the following comment: ‘You think I’m stupid, I wasn’t going to Vietnam.’

-- The hearing of the House Oversight Committee starts at 10 a.m. Eastern in the Rayburn House Office Building. We’ll have a live stream on our home page. Read Cohen’s prepared testimony here.

-- House Democrats are quietly working behind the scenes to keep a simmering turf war from erupting before the cameras. Rachael Bade and Karoun Demirjian call it an early test of whether Dems can pursue complex and crisscrossing probes of the Trump administration without turning on one another: “Several Oversight Committee members are balking at terms the panel chairmen agreed to, dictating that all Russia matters will be addressed by the Intelligence Committee alone. The disagreement flared up during a late-night strategy session Monday, when some senior Oversight Committee lawmakers said they wanted to ask Cohen about Trump Organization connections with Russian oligarchs and Russia finances. The Intelligence Committee is scheduled to question Cohen behind closed doors on Thursday.” Democrats also don’t want to do anything to mess up Mueller’s probe.

-- Perjury trap? CNN reported in November that Trump told Bob Mueller in answers to questions from the special counsel that Stone did not tell him about WikiLeaks and that he was not told about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting ahead of time.

-- Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) suggested — without evidence — that Cohen engaged in affairs with “girlfriends,” something he said might prompt the former Trump lawyer's wife to cheat on him while he's in prison. Gaetz later deleted the tweet and apologized, but not before he defended it on the House floor. Rachael Bade reports: “The comment elicited instant pushback from House Democrats, who accused Gaetz of trying to intimidate their star witness. ... Reached by phone Tuesday evening, Gaetz said the tweet 'speaks for itself.' He would not say whether Republicans on the oversight committee intended to use this allegation during Wednesday’s hearing; Gaetz is not a member of the committee, but he is close with Republicans who are, including ranking member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)."

Here's the deleted tweet:

-- At least one Democratic lawmaker called for the Ethics Committee to investigate Gaetz for witness intimidation. “This is grossly unethical and probably illegal,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) wrote on Twitter. Speaker Nancy Pelosi stopped short of backing an investigation, but she warned “all members to be mindful” about their comments. Gaetz responded to Pelosi's statement:

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Escalation: Pakistan says it shot down two Indian aircraft inside its airspace and launched strikes on Indian-controlled Kashmir. Joanna Slater and Paul Schemm report from New DelhiThe operation came one day after India sent jets into Pakistani territory for the first time since 1971 and marked a further escalation in tension between the nuclear-armed neighbors. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry released a statement saying that its aircraft carried out strikes across the Line of Control, the unofficial border that divides the Himalayan region of Kashmir. The purpose was ‘to demonstrate our right, will and capability for self-defense,’ it said.”

  • Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, the spokesman for Pakistan’s armed forces, said an Indian pilot has been arrested by Pakistani troops. He added that one of the Indian jets went down in Indian-controlled territory and that the other crashed in their territory. India has not confirmed this.
  • At least three Pakistani jets entered the Indian side of Kashmir and were intercepted by Indian aircraft, per Reuters.
  • Commercial flights have been suspended in the region, including to and from cities in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and the neighboring state of Punjab.

-- The next mayor of Chicago will be a black woman. Among a sea of 14 candidates to replace Rahm Emanuel, voters advanced two black women to a runoff: former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. The women will face off in April after Bill Daley conceded. “Lightfoot had been a relative unknown in the race, but ... she had gained more votes than any other candidate,” Mark Guarino and Mark Berman report.

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Republican Mark Harris announced he would not run in the new election for the 9th Congressional District after his unofficial victory was thrown out over allegations of ballot tampering. The evangelical minister said he is still recovering from a serious infection that caused two strokes. Harris’s former Democratic opponent, Dan McCready, is running. (Felicia Sonmez and Amy Gardner)

  2. At least three people were killed in Long Island, N.Y., after two trains crashed into a car 30 miles from New York City. Officials said at least seven passengers on the train were injured. (New York Times)

  3. United Methodist leaders voted to maintain the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage and gay clergy. Many members of the Protestant church, which is the third-largest faith U.S. community, had hoped it would amend its position during a meeting in St. Louis. Instead, a majority of the gathered clergy and lay leaders voted to affirm “traditional” views of sexuality. (Julie Zauzmer and Sarah Pulliam Bailey)

  4. A federal appeals court upheld AT&T’s Time Warner merger, handing the Justice Department its second legal defeat on the issue. DOJ regulators said that a lower court’s initial decision to uphold the merger relied on a faulty understanding of the “fundamental principles of economics,” an argument rejected by the three-judge panel. (Brian Fung)

  5. Top pharmaceutical executives declined to commit to lowering drug prices during a Senate hearing. The CEOs blamed insurance companies for the high prices. (Christopher Rowland)

  6. Two Republican senators expressed concern over how Trump's pick for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit would rule on cases involving abortion. Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) are reportedly questioning the judicial philosophy of Neomi Rao, who could replace Brett Kavanaugh on the court. (Seung Min Kim)

  7. Hawley used a state-owned car to drive to some of his senate campaign events during his time as an employee of the Missouri attorney general’s office. This raises questions about the senator’s use of taxpayer funded resources in his successful Senate bid. (Kansas City Star)

  8. The Congressional Budget Office warned the Treasury Department will hit the debt ceiling and run out of money to pay the nation’s bills by the end of September unless Congress acts. (Heather Long)

  9. About 10.9 million people will lose out on the deduction for state and local taxes. The 2017 tax overhaul limited the amount of state and local taxes that can be written off. (Bloomberg News)

  10. The Nevada Gaming Commission imposed its largest fine ever, on Wynn Resorts, after the company admitted it had ignored claims of sexual misconduct against its founder and former CEO, Steve Wynn. The company will have to pay a $20 million fine. (Wall Street Journal)

  11. The Australian cardinal convicted of sexual assault has been taken into custody as a judge decides his sentence. Cardinal George Pell didn’t ask for bail, and it wasn’t offered. (A. Odysseus Patrick)

  12. A cold air blast from the Arctic could bring below-freezing temperatures to most of the Lower 48 next week. The cold snap could cause temperatures across the country to dip 20 or even 30 degrees below normal for the first week of March. (Ian Livingston)

  13. Amtrak passengers were stranded on a train in Oregon for 37 hours. The train stalled after striking a tree that had fallen on the tracks because of a snowstorm. For the next day and a half, more inclement weather complicated efforts to clear the track and get an alternate train to the passengers, forcing them to scrounge for feminine products and use washcloths for makeshift diapers. (Amy B Wang)

  14. The 800-year-old mummified head of a crusader was stolen from a church in Dublin. The thieves vandalized a crypt in the church and also badly damaged the mummified body of a nun who died 300 years ago. (New York Times)

  15. IBM apologized for using terms such as “yellow” and “mulatto” on an online job application. Job seekers could choose the racially insensitive terms to describe themselves in a recruitment website. (Taylor Telford)

THE IMMIGRATION WARS:

-- The House passed a resolution to overturn Trump’s national emergency declaration at the southern border but fell short of the two-thirds majority that would be necessary to overcome the president’s certain veto. Erica Werner, Seung Min Kim, Paul Kane and John Wagner report: “The 245-to-182 tally was mostly along party lines, with 13 Republicans defecting to side with Democrats on a vote that effectively became a test of GOP loyalty to Trump. Despite their frequent complaints of executive overreach during the Obama administration, most Republicans fell in line with Trump’s decision to try to circumvent Congress to get billions of dollars for his border wall. … Democrats argued that Trump’s claim of a crisis at the border was baseless and that he was embarking on the road to dictatorship by unilaterally declaring an emergency to try to get money from U.S. taxpayers to fulfill an unpopular campaign promise.”

Mitch McConnell said the Senate would vote on the resolution before the chamber’s next recess, which begins March 18. Several GOP senators voiced concerns about the declaration during a closed-door lunch yesterday with the vice president: “One of those senators was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who questioned a Justice Department attorney present about how a future Democratic president might be able to use similar emergency powers, according to an official briefed on the meeting … After attending the lunch with Pence, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he, too, was still evaluating the resolution, but he voiced deep concern about Trump’s decision to declare an emergency. … Senators said they had a ‘serious’ discussion with Pence, during which the vice president focused on trying to explain the rationale for the emergency declaration and mollify concerns among rank-and-file Republicans that the reprogramming of funds could hurt their local military installations.” Reminder: Only four Republican votes would be needed to pass the resolution, assuming all of their Democratic colleagues back it. But 19 GOP defections would be necessary to override a Trump veto, which is not going to happen.

Of the 13 House Republicans who opposed Trump, four are conservatives with strong libertarian leanings: Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Dusty Johnson (S.D.), Thomas Massie (Ky.) and F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (Wis.). The other nine are more-moderate Republicans, and some represent swing districts where Trump is not popular: Reps. Jamie Herrera Beutler (Wash.), Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Mike Gallagher (Wis.), Will Hurd (Tex.), Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), Francis Rooney (Fla.), Greg Walden (Ore.), Fred Upton (Mich.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), a former member of House GOP leadership.”

-- Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the top U.S. general for homeland defense, told Senators he sees no military threat coming from the border with Mexico. Instead, he said he is focused on the “very real” threats coming from Russia and China. (Time)

-- House Democrats held two hearings casting a fresh spotlight on the Trump administration’s family separation policy. Nick Miroff, Maria Sacchetti and Felicia Sonmez report: “Several Trump officials acknowledged to the House Judiciary Committee that they did not speak up to supervisors or attempt to stop the implementation of the family separations at the border, despite warnings it probably would traumatize children. Facing aggressive and sometimes angry questions from Democrats, the officials who formulated and carried out the separation system recognized communication failures among their agencies, but defended their actions as an attempt to uphold immigration laws. At another hearing on ‘zero tolerance’ Tuesday, the House Oversight Committee voted to subpoena records from the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services for documents related to the policy.

-- Internal HHS documents reveal that the agency received more than 4,500 complaints of sexual abuse against unaccompanied minors in custody between 2014 and 2018. In addition,1,303 complaints were reported to the Justice Department during that same time frame, per CNN’s Sophie Tatum. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) said the documents “demonstrate over the past three years, there have been 154 staff on unaccompanied minor ... allegations of sexual assault.” He noted that "this works out on average to one sexual assault by HHS staff on unaccompanied minor per week."

-- The Wisconsin National Guard is looking into ways to potentially punish a congressman from Illinois who criticized Gov. Tony Evers's decision to withdraw troops form the border. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) is a Wisconsin Air National Guard pilot with the rank of lieutenant colonel and ripped Evers, a Democrat, for his decision. Under Wisconsin law, any commissioned officer who uses "contemptuous words” against a leader such as the state's governor must be punished. (Chicago Tribune)

-- A Somali immigrant who entered Canada illegally after escaping Trump’s crackdown on immigrants had his refugee claim rejected. (National Post)

THE SECOND SUMMIT:

-- Hours before the summit began, Trump called Kim his “friend.” David Nakamura and Simon Denyer report: “White House aides have said the president is determined to sell Kim on a vision of modernization and present him with a choice between continued global isolation and burgeoning economic growth if he gives up the North’s nuclear weapons program.”

-- Walter Pincus notes that Trump appears, ironically, to have taken a more conciliatory tone toward Kim even as North Korea has come meaningfully closer to full nuclear capability than when he was threatening to rain down “fire and fury.” In his column for Cipher Brief, Pincus observes that the contours of the tentative deal that the Trump administration is negotiating with Kim “sounds very much like” the ill-fated 1994 framework that Bill Clinton agreed to with Kim Jong Il: “Kim and his representatives have been offering up Yongbyon in private conversations since last June’s US-North Korea summit. … In short, dismantling Yongbyon facilities, should that happen, would not close down North Korean production of weapons-grade fissile materials. … Like his father before him, Kim Jong-un has paused to see what he can get from the U.S. and its allies, based on the substantial advances he has made in becoming a world nuclear player.”

-- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov inserted himself into the nuclear talks between the U.S. and North Korea as Russia tries to carve itself a bigger role in the negotiations. John Hudson reports: “Given its proximity to North Korea and the need to cooperate over sanctions, Russia has been a natural player in denuclearization talks for previous U.S. presidents, but Trump’s warm rhetoric to Moscow and the country’s meddling in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf have raised concerns in Washington about any role for the Kremlin in the high-stakes negotiations. Analysts have said Russia’s interest stems from its desire to build an energy link between Siberia and the Far East by using North Korea as an energy foothold.”

-- Some experts on North Korea are coming around to Trump’s negotiating style. Simon Denyer reports: “Trump’s Democratic foes — and some Republican hawks — see dangerous signs of a president without much grasp of foreign policy who could be played by North Koreans. Even Trump’s own intelligence chief, Daniel Coats, testified last month that Kim isn’t likely to give up his nuclear weapons. But there are others — with deeper knowledge into North Korea than most — who say Trump’s approach is the best game in town at the moment. They see his willingness to rip up the foreign policy rule book on a gut instinct might — just might — be an advantage.”

-- The White House’s silence on human rights issues going into the meeting is worrying advocates. Siobhán O'Grady reports: “Human rights concerns may have been shelved out of fears that they would derail nuclear diplomacy. In November, the Associated Press reported that North Korea accused Washington of ‘stoking confrontation’ between the two countries when it called for the U.N. Security Council to meet on the subject of human rights abuses.”

-- The summit represents one of the greatest tests yet for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has worked to turn Trump’s opinions on foreign policy into a more consistent “doctrine.” Mattathias Schwartz profiles the former congressman for the New York Times Magazine:

  • “In his major policy speeches, like the one in Cairo, Pompeo has situated Trump somewhere between the neoconservative militarism of Paul Wolfowitz and the isolationism of Rand Paul. In so doing, he has helped to coalesce what might be called a frugal-hawk foreign policy, reflecting a new species of Republican leader who wants America to talk tough, avoid war, punish its enemies through economic sanctions and prod allies to pick up a larger share of the tab.”
  • Like his boss, Pompeo has sometimes lashed out against reporters since taking over the State Department: “He’ll often respond to hard questions as if they were rude questions, with the words ‘ridiculous’ or ‘ludicrous.’ For a senior official who is the face of United States foreign policy, the threshold for triggering his temper is unusually low. The outbursts are not random. Pompeo tends to flare up around those issues where the tensions between the president and the diplomatic corps are greatest.”
  • Pompeo danced around questions about whether he holds the Saudi crown prince responsible for the death of Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi: “‘Are you comfortable,’ I asked, ‘in your heart of hearts, that M.B.S. had nothing to do with the death of this man?’ ‘I know this drives you crazy — I’ve been painfully consistent,’ he said, adding: ‘It’s an outrageous act. It’s unacceptable.’ … ‘That didn’t sound like a yes or no,’ I said. ‘But I’m happy to leave it — ‘ ‘Yes! The answer is yes. No, the answer is yes. Am I comfortable? Yes.’ ‘You are comfortable that he had nothing to do with this?’ ‘No, no, no. No, you — no, you asked if I was comfortable with the U.S. position. At least I understood that to be your question.’”

2020 WATCH: 

-- A big shake-up: Bernie Sanders severed ties with a trio of political consultants who were key players in his 2016 campaign. Sean Sullivan and Matt Viser report: “Tad Devine, Julian Mulvey and Mark Longabaugh, partners in a high-profile Washington consulting firm, issued a statement Tuesday saying they would not be working for Sanders. They suggested their strategic approach had diverged from that of the Vermont independent. … According to one person familiar with the conversations, the consultants reached their decision late last week, but they held off on the announcement to avoid upstaging Sanders’s town hall Monday. ... Still, questions remain about the specific nature of the disagreement and how welcomed the consultants were in a campaign that is different from last time.”

-- Joe Biden said last night that he has not made a final decision about the race but that his family fully backs a campaign. He sounded as if he's leaning toward a third run for president. From the AP's Steve Peoples and Thomas Beaumont: "'There’s a consensus,' Biden told an excited crowd during an appearance at the University of Delaware. 'The most important people in my life want me to run.' ... The 76-year-old lifelong politician conceded he may not be popular enough to win over the Democratic Party of 2020. ... He gave no firm timeline for an announcement. Last year, he said he planned to make a decision in January, but he had spoken little of presidential politics until Tuesday, instead focusing on foreign policy issues.”

Biden acknowledged some of his challenges during the appearance: He lamented how a race against Trump would descend into the gutter, discussed how much campaigns have changed to become more digital and wondered aloud whether he’ll be able to raise the money that’s necessary. “I don’t want this to be a fool’s errand,” the former vice president said. “I want to make sure that if we do this, and we’re very close to getting to a decision, that I am fully prepared to do it.”

-- In an interview with the Root, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said she is open to decriminalizing sex work, called Trump a "racist" and appeared to water down her declaration of support for reparations. From the Root’s Terrell Jermaine Starr: “Harris told The Root that she supports reparations for black people, but that is not precisely what she told The Grio’s Natasha Alford after we spoke with her. For reparations, Harris said she supports the Lift Act, which would provide a tax credit for all families making up to $100,000. When Alford followed up by saying that’s a default benefit to black people but isn’t exactly reparations, Harris [said] … ‘Any policy that will benefit black people, will benefit all of society. Let’s be clear about that. ... So, I’m not gonna sit here and say I’m going to do something that only benefits black people. No. because whatever benefits that black family will benefit that community and society as a whole and the country.’”

-- Is Harris ready for prime time? From musing about ending private health insurance to her wishy-washiness on reparations, there are mounting concerns among Democratic elites about whether she'll hold up under the spotlight of growing national scrutiny. The New York Times’s Jonathan Martin looks at her strong start — but also her stumbles: “In this environment, it is perhaps not surprising that Ms. Harris’s first response on private health care echoed as loudly as it did. It was not just because of the implications for the nearly 60 percent of Americans who receive employer-based insurance — it was also because she made her remarks on live national television. … In other instances, she appears uneasy committing to a policy at all, perhaps sensing a political hazard. On Saturday, for example, an Iowan asked Ms. Harris if she would favor eliminating the filibuster if Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress and the presidency, to more easily push through the party’s agenda. … She initially joked that she wanted to change the subject, twice allowed that she was 'conflicted' and did not offer a direct answer.” 

-- Several Democratic candidates — including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) — are emphasizing their experiences as mothers. “And in doing so, experts say, they are breaking with long-held perceptions of the past that discouraged women in politics from talking about their roles in the home,” Samantha Schmidt reports. “Experts say the shift is part of a broader groundswell of support for women’s issues, building on the women’s marches, the #MeToo movement and particularly the record number of women elected to Congress. … Gillibrand and Warren in particular have made their experiences as mothers defining themes in the first few weeks of their campaigns, working to connect with a vast segment of voters and push for policies like paid leave, affordable child care and universal pre-k.”

-- More than 100 House Democrats are readying a new Medicare-for-all plan as the 2020 Democrats continue feuding over their party’s health-care platform. Jeff Stein reports: “Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, is expected to release legislation Wednesday that incorporates key policy demands of single-payer activists, aiming to overhaul the U.S. health-care system even faster and more dramatically than legislation proposed in 2017 by [Sanders]. Jayapal’s Medicare-for-all would move every American onto one government insurer in two years, while providing everyone with medical, vision, dental and long-term care at no cost. … The bill has 106 co-sponsors but essentially no chance of passing the House or Republican-controlled Senate this term. … The plan is, in a number of ways, more aggressive than the Sanders plan co-sponsored by more than a dozen Democratic senators.”

-- Free-college proposals have also become a staple of Democratic platforms for 2020. The Atlantic’s Adam Harris reports: “For Democratic candidates now, the question is not so much whether to support a plan to make college more affordable, but what the right approach is for doing so. The details—whether there is an income cap for eligibility; whether the government covers tuition costs up front before grants; whether there are merit or GPA requirements—will determine who will benefit the most, and who will pay for such a plan.”

-- In an op-ed for The Post, journalist Paul Heintz, a political editor for the Vermont newsweekly Seven Days who has covered Bernie for years, said he believes a free press won’t give the senator what he wants: “At a 1985 forum on the media, the late Vermont political columnist Peter Freyne complained to Sanders, then the mayor of Burlington, that he had reneged on his promise to hold regular press conferences, pointing out that ‘When asked a question you don’t want to answer, you leave the room.’ Sanders’s response? An ad hominem: ‘Peter, you are basically a gossip columnist.’ Decades later, Sanders hasn’t changed. During my time covering him … the senator has refused to answer questions I’ve posed on topics ranging from gun rights to the Syrian civil war to drone strikes on American citizens — hardly ‘political gossip.’ Sanders has always preferred to bypass the news media in order to stay on his chosen message. That’s why he hosted his own cable access show as mayor, his own talk radio show as a member of the House and his own podcast and social media empire as a senator.”

-- Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) is taunting Roy Moore into running against him in 2020. “Let's just do it again,” the senator said in response to Moore’s claims that the 2017 election was “stolen” from him. From Politico’s Burgess Everett: “Moore has not directly ruled out a run against Jones for the seat previously held by Jeff Sessions, which is up for grabs in 2020. He told Al.com that he's focusing on clearing his name rather than ‘thinking about the future’ and if he decides to run he'll ‘let it be known.’ … Democrats would be giddy to face Moore again in what's sure to be the toughest race for them in the country next year. Jones said he doesn't have a ‘preferred opponent’ but made clear that Moore shouldn't be discounted.”

-- Despite what his inner circle claims, Republican hard-liner and failed Kansas gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach does not have the White House’s blessing for a Senate run or a Cabinet position. McClatchy’s Franco Ordoñez and Bryan Lowry report: “White House officials have grown frustrated enough with the narrative being pushed by the Kobach camp that a senior administration official took the rare step of trying to squash the speculation. ‘Kris is not under consideration for a Cabinet position,’ a senior White House official told McClatchy. … The soon-to-be open Senate seat [in Kansas] is more important to Trump than any personal debt the president might feel toward the former Kansas secretary of state for his work in the 2016 campaign. Trump was unimpressed with Kobach’s 2018 campaign and he is not convinced that putting Kobach atop the Kansas ticket again is a winning strategy for the GOP.”

-- Democratic governors looking to hop on the 2020 train face a pretty major hurdle: fundraising. From the AP's Bran Slodysko: “The coming months will likely be an uphill battle for the governors. Though they have resumes full of executive experience, standing out could be difficult in a crowded Democratic field that already includes high-wattage names ... Without that name recognition, attracting small, online contributions, such as the ones fueling Sanders’ candidacy, could be difficult as could convincing big donors to invest."

THE NEW WORLD ORDER: 

-- Muhammadu Buhari was reelected as Nigeria's president in a vote marred by violence and delays. Max Bearak reports: “Buhari, 76, is a former military general who briefly held power in 1984 and 1985 following a coup. He is seen by his supporters as relatively untainted by the corruption that plagues politics in Africa’s most populous nation.”

-- Venezuelans are beginning to worry that the opposition and its leader, Juan Guaidó, are running out of steam against President Nicolás Maduro. Anthony Faiola and Dylan Baddour report: “As opposition leaders held a flurry of phone calls and meetings Tuesday to assess their options, the most pressing question was whether Guaidó would be able to reenter Venezuela after leaving it over the weekend for Colombia to lead the aid effort and meet with regional leaders. Guaidó will seek to reenter Venezuela within 72 hours, opposition officials said. ... The movement he almost single-handedly energized is confronting disappointment and deflated expectations — and is divided over whether to stay the course of peaceful disobedience or take the fight to Maduro through armed resistance.”

-- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani refused to accept his top diplomat's abrupt resignation. Erin Cunningham reports: Mohammad Javad Zarif “submitted his resignation late Monday in a shock decision he said was made to 'defend the integrity' of the Foreign Ministry. ... The announcement Tuesday that Rouhani, a relative moderate and pragmatist, had not accepted Zarif’s resignation added to a day of high drama and political intrigue in the Iranian capital as officials urged Zarif to stay on as foreign minister. Zarif’s political allies in Iran mobilized Tuesday to prevent his resignation, and more than 150 parliamentarians signed a letter calling on Rouhani to keep Zarif, state media outlets reported.” 

-- The Taliban’s rigid ideology appears to have changed little, particularly around gender roles, as peace talks with U.S. officials continue. CNN’s Clarissa Ward, Najibullah Quraishi and Salma Abdelaziz spent 36 hours with the militant group and described visiting a local religious school: “We see dozens of children -- boys and girls -- poring over their Qurans, reciting verses as they rock back and forth. Most of the girls are between 8 and 10, and several tell us they can read. … It doesn’t take long for this carefully crafted illusion of gender equality to be shattered. [Their teacher] adds that once the girls hit puberty, they can no longer be educated in the same school as boys, because there might be contact between the sexes. That means there need to be separate schools for the girls. So far, those don’t exist. It’s the same excuse that the Taliban used two decades ago to deprive millions of girls of education.”

-- Former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley was nominated to Boeing's board of directors. Haley is expected to help guide the company in the global aerospace market and might be approved to join the board in April. (Aaron Gregg)

-- Former National Economic Council director and Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn is writing a memoir that will include a section on his time as a member of Trump’s administration. The book is not finished but is likely to touch on how Cohn, who left the NEC in 2018, helped create Trump’s tax overhaul plan. (CNBC)

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Former acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker has agreed to return to the House to clarify previous testimony. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said Whitaker will meet with the House in the coming days. (Wall Street Journal)

-- A federal appeals court rejected a constitutional challenge to Bob Mueller’s appointment brought by Roger Stone associate Andrew Miller. Ann E. Marimow reports: Miller “has been trying to block a grand-jury subpoena from the special counsel’s office. … Miller’s attorney, Paul Kamenar, said Tuesday he is disappointed with the decision from a three-judge panel and considering whether to ask the full D.C. Circuit to rehear the case or go directly to the Supreme Court. A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment on the opinion Tuesday, or to say whether the special counsel would continue to seek Miller’s testimony before wrapping up its investigation.”

-- A U.S. Cyber Command operation disrupted the Internet access of an infamous Russian troll farm on the day of the 2018 midterms. Ellen Nakashima scoops: “The strike on the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, a company underwritten by an oligarch close to President Vladimir Putin, was part of the first offensive cyber-campaign against Russia designed to thwart attempts to interfere with a U.S. election … ‘They basically took the IRA offline,’ according to one individual familiar with the matter … ‘They shut them down.’ The operation marked the first muscle-flexing by U.S. Cyber Command, with intelligence from the National Security Agency, under new authorities it was granted … The president approved of the general operation to prevent Russian interference in the midterms … [The operation] took place as Americans went to the polls and a day or so afterward as the votes were tallied, to prevent the Russians from mounting a disinformation campaign that cast doubt on the results.”

-- Far-right activist Jacob Wohl was suspended from Twitter after creating accounts allegedly meant to manipulate the 2020 election. Tony Romm and Brian Fung report: “Twitter confirmed in a statement Tuesday that Wohl’s efforts violated its rules that prohibit users from creating misleading accounts to influence conversations on the site … Wohl’s suspension came on the same day as a story in USA Today in which Wohl said he planned to create ‘enormous left-wing online properties’ in a bid to steer voters ‘to what we feel are weaker candidates compared with Trump.’ … He said that he intends to keep busy, including by speaking and consulting, after proving that he can ‘hijack a news cycle.’ ‘It’s all fun, man,' he said. ‘You gotta have fun with this. I had fun with Twitter. They banned me? Oh well — it’s not the end of the world.’”

-- Facebook banned Tommy Robinson, a British far-right activist known for posting content that calls for violence against Muslims. Hamza Shaban reports: “Facebook said it sent a final warning to the administrators of Robinson’s Facebook account last month, but the page continued to feature content that violated its rules. Facebook said it deleted Robinson’s profile, his page and his Instagram account. Robinson did not respond to a request for comment through his YouTube channel, which has nearly 300,000 subscribers.”

-- Michael Sanchez, a Hollywood talent manager who reportedly leaked inflammatory text messages between Amazon chief executive and Post owner Jeff Bezos and his sister to the tabloids, is in the spotlight. He rejects the charge. Sanchez, who also said he doesn’t possess explicit photos of Bezos, tried to establish a confidential relationship with The Post to control his sister’s narrative. Sarah Ellison reports: “Sanchez said his main goal now — in addition to clearing his name — is to protect his sister and her relationship from [Bezos’s security consultant Gavin] de Becker’s control. But he also lays blame on Lauren and said she showed photos of Bezos to her friends, who may have in turn shared them with the Enquirer. According to people who’ve spoken to Lauren Sanchez recently, she feels betrayed by her brother and the two are not speaking.” 

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Struggling to keep his eye on the ball, the president fired off a tweet from Hanoi attacking Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) over a story from 2010:

An editor for Commentary magazine questioned a compliment Trump gave to Kim:

Trump calling Kim his "friend" prompted this response from the president of the Council on Foreign Relations:

A Fox News reporter complained about the handling of the press in Hanoi:

And an AP reporter shared this color from Hanoi: 

A Post reporter commented on the opening words of Cohen's testimony:

The former director of the Office of Government Ethics replied to Matt Gaetz's tweet by listing sections of the criminal code related to witness tampering, although the lawmaker could also arguably be protected by the speech or debate clause:

A former Republican congressman also responded to Gaetz's tweet:

The RNC told Cohen to “have fun in prison:

Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) suggested that she's okay with the emergency declaration, as long as her state does not lose money:

Many reacted with outrage after the president's daughter and senior adviser voiced this criticism of the Green New Deal, which proposes guaranteed jobs with “family-sustaining” wages:

From a Time editor at large:

From a Trump biographer:

Even "The Daily Show" chimed in:

A CNBC producer highlighted a sign of growing income inequality:

GOOD READS:

-- “Pigeon racing in Iraq: Pricey birds, obsessive owners and, alas, stone-throwing bandits,” by Tamer El-Ghobashy and Mustafa Salim: “On a muddy berm on the edge of a wheat farm about 100 miles south of Baghdad, a dozen flatbed trucks carrying some $14 million in precious cargo slowly line up before dawn. At first light, men with sticks and hammers begin banging on the cages stacked on the back of the trucks — rousing 14,000 pigeons into a frenetic and unruly chorus of deep coos and grunts. Moments later, at the blast of an air horn, the cages are opened in unison and the birds take flight, the force of 28,000 wings generating gusts of wind as the pigeons hurtle in a single direction: to Baghdad. Six months of practice runs and strict conditioning culminate in a launch that lasts less than a minute. But the birds carry with them the hopes of men who have spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours training them. These are the highflying pigeon races of Iraq.”

-- Rolling Stone, “Nancy Pelosi: The Rolling Stone Interview," by Tessa Stuart and Jann S. Wenner: “Pelosi is at the height of her power, having recaptured the House, dispatched an attempted coup of her leadership, and faced down the president in a very public, extremely high-stakes fight. Her approval rating has risen eight points since November, and now sits higher than it has been in more than a decade. ... She welcomed Rolling Stone staff writer Tessa Stuart and the magazine’s founder, Jann S. Wenner, into the speaker’s office, where there are frescoes on the ceiling, oil paintings of the San Francisco Bay and the California coastline, and an expansive view of the Washington Monument. She wore a long, thin gold pin, with a tiny eagle perched on top. It was a mace: the ancient Roman symbol of power. Technically, it’s a bludgeon — the person who wields the bludgeon holds the power. After retreating from a 35-day standoff with her over funding for his border wall, President Trump seemed well aware who wielded the bludgeon in their relationship, at least for the moment.” 

-- “Angela Davis is beloved, detested, misunderstood. What can a lifelong radical teach the resistance generation?” by Lavanya Ramanathan: “The tale is a parable for the resistance generation as it broaches subjects such as socialism, Palestinian rights, male privilege, prisons, systemic racism — issues that were once the crux of the radical Angela Agenda but are now liberal talking points. It reveals a crucial question about how we respond to activists: When should we push back — and when should we wait and see where they lead us?”

-- “Decades of investigative reporting couldn’t touch R. Kelly. It took a Lifetime TV series and a hashtag,” by Margaret Sullivan: “R&B superstar R. Kelly seemed immune to the explosive charges that he had sexually abused teenage girls … Then came last month’s six-part documentary series on Lifetime, ‘Surviving R. Kelly.’ Woman after woman faced the camera to tell her harrowing story. And suddenly, the walls surrounding the superstar began to tumble down … ‘I honestly feel zero satisfaction,’ said Jim DeRogatis, 54, the former music critic of the Chicago Sun-Times who first wrote about Kelly-as-predator in late 2000 and has been doggedly pursuing the story ever since. … ‘All of the systems failed — journalism failed, the police failed, the courts failed, the music industry failed, parents failed,’ he said. So, why did it take so long? And why did a Lifetime docuseries break through when traditional investigative journalism couldn’t?”

-- CNN, “Why Democrats are not afraid of gun control anymore,” by Ronald Brownstein: “The convergence of Democrats around the universal background check bill partly derives from the overwhelming public backing for the measure, which usually exceeds 80% support in polls. (The bill would close what's called “the gun show loophole” by including such venues, which are now exempt, in the requirement for background checks on all guns sold through licensed dealers.) But the Democratic consensus also reflects a larger shift in the party whose implications extend far beyond issues relating to guns. … The willingness, even eagerness, of most House Democrats to embrace new gun control measures highlights how the party's evolution into a metropolitan-based coalition is shifting its incentives -- and reconfiguring its central fault line.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“‘Where are the Obamas?’: Paintings of Barack and Michelle brought a million more people to Portrait Gallery,” from Peggy McGlone: “Justin Philip was back in line for the second time that day, waiting for another chance to snap a selfie with Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of Barack Obama. ‘It’s the only reason I’m here,’ the New York resident said of his visit to Washington’s National Portrait Gallery, where the paintings of the former president and first lady Michelle Obama, by Amy Sherald, have drawn millions of visitors in the year since they were unveiled. … The Obama portraits have catapulted the Smithsonian museum to the top tier of the city’s attractions by dramatically increasing attendance. The Old Patent Office Building — the historic home to the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum — had a record-breaking 2.3 million visitors in 2018, about a million more than in 2017.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Reps. Tlaib and Omar sign on to pledge to impeach Trump,” from John Wagner: “An advocacy group asking members of Congress to support impeachment of [Trump] has landed its first two recruits: Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). The group, which bills itself as By the People, announced Tuesday that the freshman lawmakers — both of whom have been at the center of controversies during their short tenure on Capitol Hill — are the ‘brave first’ members of Congress to sign its pledge. There has been little doubt about Tlaib’s position on the issue since her first day on the job, when she famously proclaimed at a reception her desire to ‘impeach the motherf-----.’ … In a statement released by By the People on Tuesday, Tlaib referred to Trump as ‘Individual 1,’ referencing his moniker in a federal indictment of [Cohen] for campaign finance violations.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump is in Hanoi and separately met with the leaders of Vietnam and North Korea earlier today.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) was asked what was different about the executive decisions made by Obama vs. Trump: “Nothing. I mean, I’ll be real honest, if Obama had done this, Republicans would be going nuts. That’s just the reality. Even if Obama had the authority to do it just like I think President Trump does.” (Erica Werner)

 

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

-- The weather will remain calm, though not quite warm enough. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Kind of a ho-hum weather day, with no strong high or low pressure in control. Temperatures rise from the upper 20s and low 30s this morning toward afternoon highs in the mid-40s under partly to mostly cloudy skies. Winds are fairly light from the east and southeast at about 10 mph.” 

-- The Capitals beat the Senators 7-2. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

-- A Maryland lawmaker who was accused of using a racial slur lost her leadership position and will have to undergo sensitivity training. Del. Mary Ann Lisanti (D) apologized earlier this week after witnesses said she used the n-word to describe a state district. (Ovetta Wiggins)

-- A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit over a D.C. rule that requires child-care workers to have a college degree. Samantha Schmidt reports: “The lawsuit, brought by two child-care providers and one parent in the District, argued that the rules issued in 2016 were overly burdensome and violated the constitutional rights of child-care workers. But U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras ruled that the arguments no longer applied because the Office of State Superintendent of Education has since amended the regulations to expand waivers for child-care workers and extend the deadline by which the education requirements must be met.” 

-- Lime warned that some of its scooters have a technical “bug” that can cause “sudden excessive braking during use.” Peter Holley reports: “The company said testing has revealed that the sudden braking usually arises when scooters are being ridden downhill at top speed. The danger prompted Lime to issue remote updates aimed at fixing the glitch, which have led to a reduction in the number of braking incidents, the company said. … Reports of riders being injured by malfunctioning brakes have emerged in Switzerland, New Zealand and the United States.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Trevor Noah reviewed Trump's first day in Vietnam:

Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro offered his first American interview in years and accused the U.S. of fabricating a crisis: 

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) defended the Green New Deal on Fox News:

A Houston socialite was accused of racism after she was filmed berating a mixed-race couple using a local esplanade for a photo shoot to celebrate their baby's birthday:

And firefighters in Germany rescued a fat rat that got stuck in a manhole: