With Joanie Greve and Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: After cutting short his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and before beginning the long journey back to Washington, President Trump complained overnight that House Democrats scheduled Michael Cohen’s hearing for while he was in Hanoi.

“I tried to watch as much as I could,” he said, adding that it was hard because he had to focus on negotiations, which fell apart when Kim demanded that all sanctions be lifted without promising to fully denuclearize. “I think having a fake hearing like that and having it in the middle of this very important summit is really a terrible thing. They could have made it two days later or next week, and it could have been even better. They would have had more time.”

The president only fielded one question on Cohen during his 37-minute news conference. By calling on several foreign journalists from places like Israel, China and South Korea, Trump reduced the odds he’d be asked specific follow-ups about the explosive claims that his longtime former lawyer made about him.

Trump said Cohen “lied a lot” but also claimed vindication. “The most important question up there was the one on collusion, and he said he saw no collusion,” the president said. “I was actually impressed that he didn’t say there was collusion … He could have gone all out. He only went about 95 percent. He could have gone 100 percent.”

In fact, while Cohen stopped short of accusing Trump of conspiring with Russia to influence the election, he did not flatly rule it out. Instead, he noted that his former boss has a “win-at-all-costs mentality.”

“Mr. Trump’s desire to win would have him work with anyone,” Cohen told the House Oversight Committee.

Cohen suggested that Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting that Don Jr. held with a Russian lawyer in pursuit of dirt on Hillary Clinton, which the president has previously denied. Cohen also testified that he heard Roger Stone tell Trump in advance that WikiLeaks planned to publish hacked Democratic emails, a conversation Stone and Trump have denied having.

-- Wednesday’s hearing, and Trump’s latest complaint about what he called “the Russia witch hunt hoax,” underscored the profound significance of divided government to the Trump presidency. Elections have consequences, and the seven-hour inquest never would have happened if Democrats had not won control of the House in November.

The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), said they would have instead held a hearing yesterday to question Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about whether he really considered invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. “They just want to use you, Mr. Cohen,” Jordan said. “You’re their patsy today, Mr. Cohen.”

House Republicans used their rounds of questioning to argue that Cohen has no credibility and that Congress should not hear from an admitted felon. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, are not using their majority to conduct vigorous public oversight of the Trump administration.

-- Hearing from Cohen was especially meaningful because Attorney General William Barr has not committed to publicly releasing the full report that will be submitted by special counsel Bob Mueller. Barr has cited Justice Department guidelines that limit the disclosure of information about people who are not charged with a crime. That means much of what the public learns about Trump vis-à-vis the investigations could come from House Democrats.

The Cohen hearing laid the groundwork and offered rationales for Democrats to issue subpoenas to a host of Trump world figures, including the president’s children Don Jr., Ivanka and Eric, plus several top executives in the Trump Organization. Cohen’s testimony also provided fresh fodder for Democrats to pursue Trump’s tax returns.  

-- Notably, it was freshmen Democrats on the Oversight Committee – swept into office with the blue wave of 2018 – who ferreted out some of Cohen’s most notable answers, foreshadowing future lines of inquiry.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the most famous new member, got Cohen to say that Trump provided insurance companies with financials that exaggerated his assets and wealth. She also got him to name names of three people in the Trump Organization who could speak to that. Ocasio-Cortez asked if it would be useful for Congress to review Trump’s tax returns to corroborate his claims. Cohen said yes.

Rep. Harley Rouda Jr. (D-Calif.), who defeated pro-Russia Republican Dana Rohrabacher in Orange County, pressed Cohen on Trump’s relationship with Felix Sater, a former Trump business associate who had deals to build Trump Soho in New York and was heavily involved in the pursuit of a Trump Tower in Moscow during the 2016 campaign. Trump testified in a sworn 2013 deposition that he would not recognize Sater if the two were ever in the same room. But Cohen told Rouda that Sater was a business partner and had been given both Trump business cards and an office in the Trump Organization’s suite. Cohen even noted that his office at Trump Tower in New York, which was right by Trump’s, had previously been used by Sater. Rouda asked Cohen if Trump had been misleading or, “at worst, lied under oath,” during the deposition. “Yes,” Cohen responded.

Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.), who defeated Republican Steve Knight last November, also asked more pointed questions than many of her more senior colleagues. Representing a swing district and anticipating a tough 2020 reelection campaign, the 31-year-old began her five-minute round of questioning by noting that she is “not someone who has a vendetta against the president” but just wants to get to the truth.

-- Some of the new Democratic firebrands, who ran on promises to lead the anti-Trump resistance, showed on Wednesday they’re still getting accustomed to the rules and mores of Congress.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), one of Trump’s biggest defenders in the House, invited Lynne Patton, who is African American, to stand behind him as he challenged Cohen’s claims that Trump is a racist. Cohen brought Patton into the Trump Organization, and she is now an employee at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), a freshman, declared that it is “racist in itself … to use a black woman as a prop.” Meadows was outraged at this suggestion and suggested that Tlaib violated House rules by impugning his character. He demanded her comments be stricken from the record. It then fell to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the chairman of the committee, to referee the dispute. He gently prodded Tlaib to say that she was not meaning to call Meadows himself a racist. “I can see and feel your pain,” Cummings told Meadows. “And I don’t think Ms. Tlaib intends to cause you that kind of pain and that kind of frustration.”

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), another freshman, also referred to Patton’s presence. She asked Cohen a rhetorical question: “Would you agree that someone could deny rental units to African Americans, lead the birther movement, refer to the diaspora as ‘shithole countries,’ refer to white supremacists as ‘fine people,’ have a black friend, and still be racist?” Cohen answered yes.

WHAT COHEN ALLEGED:

-- By the numbers:

  • Cohen said he’s talked with Mueller’s office seven times.
  • He guessed that he briefed Don Jr. and Ivanka Trump on Trump Tower Moscow project about 10 times.
  • Cohen said he threatened or intimidated people at Trump’s request, including reporters, “probably” 500 times over the decade he worked for him. He said it was “more” than 200 times.
  • He said he secretly recorded conversations “maybe 100 times over 10 years” while working for Trump.

-- Trump’s ex-lawyer suggested that federal prosecutors remain interested in other possible illegal acts regarding the president. Cohen said the last time he heard from Trump or one of his agents was about two months after his home and officer were raided, but he declined to say more because of a pending probe. "Unfortunately, this topic is something that's currently being investigated right now by the Southern District of New York,” he said.

“A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan declined to comment,” Matt Zapotosky, Rosalind Helderman, Karoun Demirjian and Rachael Bade report. “Former U.S. attorney Barbara McQuade, who watched the hearing, said she believed Cohen shared some evidence of bank and tax fraud.’”

Cohen alleged that Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow was involved in editing what would turn out to be Cohen’s false congressional testimony: “At one point, Cohen said, the changes had to do with ‘the length of time that the Trump Tower Moscow project stayed and remained alive,’ though later he said he would have to look at the document he submitted to describe Sekulow’s precise edits. In response, Sekulow said, ‘Today’s testimony by Michael Cohen that attorneys for the President edited or changed his statement to Congress to alter the duration of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations is completely false.’ The document was shared with Sekulow and Abbe Lowell, the lawyer for Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump, as part of a joint defense agreement, Cohen said. ‘At the end of the day,’ Cohen said of Trump, ‘I knew exactly what he wanted me to say.’ ...

“In other moments, Cohen shot down dark allegations that have long circulated about Trump. He said he had no knowledge of any compromising salacious material held by the Russians, as alleged in a dossier written before the election by a former British spy. Cohen also said he has never been to Prague, knocking down another allegation in the dossier that he visited the European city to meet with Russian operatives in the fall of 2016. (Cohen told The Post in January 2017 that he had been to Prague once — around 2002, when he drove through the city but did not stop.) He said he did not believe there is a rumored video of Trump striking his wife in an elevator, and that he was confident Trump would not hurt his wife.”

-- “Cohen unspooled a withering portrait of … his longtime patron as a liar and a fraud in starkly personal terms,” Paul Schwartzman writes in a sidebar. “He described how Trump ordered him to lie to the first lady about his relationship with an adult-film star and personally directed a hush-money scheme. He said Trump inflated his net worth to try to secure loans and to boost his status. He recounted how Trump made racist remarks, claiming he said at one point that African Americans were ‘too stupid’ to vote for him. … Asked during his testimony if White House staffers may end up in legal jeopardy because of their allegiance to the president, he replied, ‘Sadly, if they follow blindly like I have, the answer is yes.’”

-- “Cohen managed to suppress the angry, righteous, thuggish personality he has shown for years to reporters, lawyers and people doing business with Trump,” adds Marc Fisher. “Instead, he presented as a beaten-down puppy — sad, defeated and remorseful, fearful for his family’s safety, showing only flashes of the feisty, combative advocate who long took pride in his blind loyalty to all things Trump. … Cohen’s day-long quest for a morsel of redemption played for Republicans as a cynical attack on the president’s character and for Democrats as a vital affirmation of what many in Trump’s inner circle have until now said mostly behind the cloak of anonymity. There was no evidence that Cohen altered a single opinion in Congress, but his stark language and harsh portrait of the president put some meat on the bones of the long-standing case against Trump. … Asked whether he was ‘a cheat,’ Cohen demurred. No, he said, ‘a fool.’”

-- The Republican focus on discrediting Cohen left little time for them to defend Trump. Most Republicans on the Hill mused that Jordan couldn’t have done any better given his position in the minority. “Truthfully, it is tough to ignore some of the gross immoral behavior by the president,” one senior House Republican told Rachael Bade on background. “The reason there was no defense is because there is no defense.”

-- Ominously, Cohen warned that Trump won’t peacefully relinquish power. “Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will never be a peaceful transition of power,” he said. “I pray the country does not make the same mistakes I have made.”

The former fixer also suggested that Trump truly believes he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it. “You don’t know him,” Cohen testified. “I do.”

-- Cohen is back at the Capitol today for this third day of testimony. He’ll answer questions from the House Intelligence Committee in a closed session.

-- Additional team coverage:

  • Glenn Kessler and Salvador Rizzo: “Fact-checking the Michael Cohen hearing.” 
  • Jonathan O’Connell and David A. Fahrenthold: “Trump ‘inflated his total assets when it served his purposes,’ Cohen alleges in his hearing, citing financial documents.”
  • Katie Mettler: “Here are the documents Cohen brought to Congress.”
  • Morgan Smith: “Cohen says he ‘threatened’ schools over possible release of President Trump’s SAT scores or grades.”
  • Philip Bump: “The question of Cohen’s lie to Congress gets more complex: He blames Trump’s attorneys.”
  • Eugene Scott: “Cohen’s claims about Trump’s racism say more about him than the president.”
  • Aaron Blake: “The GOP’s attacks on Cohen sound a lot like attacks on Trump.”
  • Eli Rosenberg: “’Can we go home now?’: How conservative media downplayed Cohen’s explosive testimony.”
  • Peter Marks: “The Cohen hearing wasn’t a hearing at all. It was cheap theatrics.”

-- Commentary from the opinion page:

  • Karen Tumulty: “Of all the things [Cohen] revealed, … the one that shed the greatest light was this: Trump never expected — or even really wanted — to win the 2016 election.”
  • Max Boot: “Here are five felonies Trump committed — if Cohen is telling the truth.”
  • From the Post’s Editorial Board: “Cohen’s hearing was explosive — but not for what was new.”
  • Alexandra Petri: “What is the truth you’re most afraid of? The Cohen testimony, in brief.”
  • E.J. Dionne Jr.: “Cohen just breached Trump’s GOP stone wall.”
  • Jennifer Rubin: “The most important and worst moments for Trump and the GOP he corrupted.”
  • Henry Olsen: “Cohen has blown a lot of political smoke but no impeachable fire.” 
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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

NO DEAL IN HANOI: 

-- Although Kim said he was ready in principle to denuclearize, he and Trump abruptly cut short their two-day summit after they failed to reach a deal to dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons. Philip Rucker, David Nakamura and Simon Denyer report. “Talks collapsed unexpectedly amid a disagreement over economic sanctions, with the two leaders and their delegations departing their meeting site in Vietnam’s capital city without sitting for a planned lunch or participating in a scheduled signing ceremony. ... Trump said the main impediment to a deal was Kim’s requirement that the United States lift all economic sanctions on North Korea in exchange for the closure of only one North Korean nuclear facility, which still would have left Pyongyang with a large arsenal of missiles and warheads. 'We had some options, but at this time we decided not to do any of the options,' Trump said. He added, 'Sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times.'" 

-- “Asked if he was confident the pair would reach a deal, Kim was equally guarded,” per our guys on the ground. "‘It’s too early to tell. I won’t prejudge,’ Kim said in reply to the question from a Post reporter, a rare response from a North Korean leader to an independent journalist. ‘From what I feel right now, I do have a feeling that good results will come.’ ... Both Kim and Trump also said they would welcome the idea of opening a U.S. liaison office in the North Korean capital. Washington does not have direct diplomatic representation in Pyongyang." The turn of events amounted to a diplomatic failure for the president, who hoped his second summit with Kim would produce demonstrable progress toward North Korea's denuclearization. During the press conference, Trump handed the mic to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said he wished "we could have gotten a little bit further."

-- At the news conference, Trump claimed he believes Kim's denials he didn't know anything about the torture of American student Otto Warmbier, who died shortly after being released from a North Korean prison. “He tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word,” Trump said.

-- The White House banned four U.S. journalists from Trump’s dinner with Kim after they shouted questions at the leaders. Rucker and Josh Dawsey report: “Reporters from the Associated Press, Bloomberg News, the Los Angeles Times and Reuters were excluded from covering the dinner because of what White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said were ‘sensitivities over shouted questions in the previous sprays.’ ... The White House’s move to restrict press access [over shouted questions about Cohen] was an extraordinary act of retaliation by the U.S. government, which historically has upheld the rights of journalists while a president travels overseas. It was especially remarkable because it came during Trump’s meeting with the leader of a totalitarian state that does not have a free press.”

-- North Korean reporters, on the other hand, remained silent as they observed Kim interact with Trump. Min Joo Kim reports: “It’s just another day for members of North Korea’s state-controlled media, whose singular job is to chronicle Kim’s every move — to make him appear wise, statesmanlike and generally infallible.”

CRISIS IN KASHMIR:

-- In a bid to ease tensions, the Pakistani government will release an Indian fighter pilot who was captured after his plane was shot down in Kashmir. Joanna Slater and Shaiq Hussain report: The pilot will be released, Prime Minister Imran Khan told parliament, in "a 'peace gesture' one day after Pakistan and India engaged in their first their first aerial combat in nearly 50 years. ... The announcement comes just hours after Trump said that he had 'reasonably attractive news' that the tensions between India and Pakistan were likely to lessen. The United States and other countries called upon India and Pakistan to cease hostilities after two days of tit-for-tat airstrikes where both claimed to have shot down the other’s fighter jets and Pakistan captured an Indian pilot.” 

-- Though the U.S. and Chinese positions on Indian-controlled Kashmir have differed in the past, they had a similar message this time: for the countries to stop fighting. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said Wednesday that “we hope the two sides will bear in mind the peace and stability in the region.” (Rick Noack

-- Before Khan's announcement, the Pakistani information ministry posted and later deleted a video of the Indian pilot. Alex Horton reports: “In a video circulated Wednesday and later deleted by the Pakistani information ministry, the pilot gave his name, rank and service number but declined to provide more information to his captors — a common military custom for prisoners. He called them ‘sir.’ But the Pakistani government may have diverged from other norms spelled out in the Geneva Conventions, appearing to violate regulations written to protect prisoners from, among other things, ‘insults and public curiosity,’ as spelled out in Article 13.”

-- The nuclear arsenals held by India and Pakistan add more tension, Niha Masih notes. “Both countries are aware of the risks. On Wednesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan explicitly referred to both countries’ nuclear arsenals. ‘From here, it is imperative that we use our heads and act with wisdom,’ Khan said. ‘I ask India: With the weapons you have and the weapons we have, can we really afford such a miscalculation?’ Ever since India and Pakistan conducted tit-for-tat nuclear tests in 1998, they have both worked to enlarge their arsenals — though their stockpiles remain smaller than those of countries such as France and China.”

-- The U.S. economy expanded at a 2.9 percent pace last year, the Commerce Department announced this morning, a strong rate but just shy of Trump’s goal of 3 percent. Heather Long reports: “Last year’s growth marked the fastest gain for the economy since 2015. The economy received a big boost from the largest corporate tax cut in U.S. history that went into effect last year, as well as additional government spending on the military and domestic programs. But that stimulus is widely expected to wear off later this year, causing growth to slow somewhat in 2019. Growth in the final quarter of last year was 2.6 percent, above forecasts but below the 3.4 percent pace in the third quarter and 4.2 percent pace in the second quarter. … The Federal Reserve is currently predicting 2.3 percent growth for 2019. … The Commerce Department had to delay this report because of the partial government shutdown that furloughed many employees who work on key economic data collection and calculation.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Virginia first lady Pam Northam attracted criticism for giving raw cotton to two African American children and asking them to imagine being enslaved during a tour of the governor’s mansion. Gov. Ralph Northam’s office said the first lady handed out the cotton to a group and didn’t single out the black students, but one of their parents complained the episode showed the Northams have not taken allegations of racism seriously since the governor's blackface controversy. (Gregory S. Schneider and Laura Vozzella)

  2. The GOP political operative at the center of ballot-tampering allegations in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District was arrested and indicted. Leslie McCrae Dowless, who worked for Republican Mark Harris, was charged with seven felonies, and the Wake County district attorney said that more charges are likely, possibly against Harris himself. (Amy Gardner and John Wagner)

  3. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts sided with his liberal colleagues for the third time in recent weeks, ruling that an inmate with dementia cannot be executed if he is unable to understand the reason for his punishment. The decision gives Alabama death-row inmate Vernon Madison another chance to show that strokes and worsening vascular dementia have left him incapable of remembering why he might be executed for killing a police officer in 1985. (Robert Barnes)

  4. The court also heard arguments about the Bladensburg Peace Cross, a Maryland memorial commemorating World War I dead that has attracted a legal challenge because of its location on public land. The American Humanist Association, an atheist group, has complained that the religious symbol represents an unconstitutional connection between church and state. But a majority of the justices seemed to be searching for a way to keep the cross, possibly by issuing a narrow decision on the case. (Robert Barnes)  

  5. A train exploded after hitting a barrier at Cairo's main railway station, killing at least 20. Investigators believe a fight between two train conductors caused the crash. (Heba Farouk Mahfouz and Sudarsan Raghavan)

  6. U.S. pedestrian deaths hit its highest number since 1990 last year. The Governors Highway Safety Association estimated that 6,227 pedestrians died in 2018. (AP)

  7. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will propose a new federal tax credit for individual and corporate donations to private-school scholarship programs. The credits are meant to support school choice without directly sending tax dollars to private schools. (Laura Meckler)

  8. For five years, the California utility PG&E repeatedly delayed a safety overhaul of a power line that is now suspected to have caused the Camp Fire. The company first told federal regulators in 2013 that it would replace much of the Caribou-Palermo line, but the project has not yet started. In November, a wire snapped free from the line, probably sparking the wildfire that killed 85 people. (Wall Street Journal)

  9. A U.S.-funded broadcaster fired eight reporters and editors after they aired anti-Semitic segments in Cuba disparaging prominent Democratic donor George Soros. Radio and Television Martí, a sister agency to Voice of America, aired a three-part report alleging Soros was working to undermine governments in Central America. (Aaron C. Davis)

  10. Injections of umbilical cord blood, which has been touted as a miracle cure for a variety of ailments, have sickened at least 17 people over the past year. The hospitalizations across five states have prompted warnings from health officials about the risks of unproven stem-cell treatments. (William Wan and Laurie McGinley)

  11. The FBI said that a former missionary who maintained an amateur museum in his Indiana home had nearly 2,000 human bones that appeared to have been taken from ancient Native American burial sites. FBI agents raided Donald Miller’s collection in 2014 on their suspicion that many artifacts were obtained in violation of antiquities laws. But little was known about what they uncovered until this week, when an official from the FBI’s art theft unit spoke to CBS News. (Antonia Noori Farzan)

MORE ON THE NEW CONGRESS:

-- The House approved a bill to expand background checks on gun purchases and gun transfers, but it will almost certainly never make it through the Republican Senate. Mike DeBonis reports: “The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, which passed 240 to 190 with mostly Democratic votes, is unlikely to be considered in the Senate, where Republicans hold a majority with 53 seats. [Trump] issued a veto threat Tuesday for the expanded background checks bill. But amid loud applause in the House, Democrats and gun-control advocates celebrated Wednesday’s vote as the first significant congressional movement on tightening access to firearms since the 1990s. … Eight Republicans supported the overall measure, a showing that the bill’s proponents said reflected the bipartisan viability of the legislation. But many more GOP lawmakers — and Trump — opposed the bill, saying it represented an unwarranted burden on constitutional rights.”

-- But House Republicans scored a significant tactical victory by winning approval of an amendment to the bill to require ICE be notified when undocumented immigrants try to buy guns. Mike DeBonis reports: “Twenty-six Democrats joined Republicans on the vote, an embarrassing setback for party leaders who had carefully screened amendments to keep GOP fingerprints off a high-profile bill. … [It marked] the second occasion this month where Republicans passed a ‘motion to recommit’ and amend the legislation — something that did not happen once during the previously eight-year GOP majority. … Behind the scenes, according to multiple Democratic aides, tensions have emerged between [Nancy] Pelosi — who views these procedural votes as something Democrats should only rarely support — and [Majority Leader Steny] Hoyer and [Majority Whip Jim] Clyburn, who want to give members frequent latitude to join Republicans as long as their votes do not change the final outcome.”

-- Democrats are now considering changing some House rules after the GOP’s victory. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and other top Democrats are thinking about revising the rules so Republicans are required to give them more notice on procedural votes known as “motions to recommit.” (Politico)

-- The limited number of Republican defections on the gun bill demonstrated once again how the GOP has embraced a herd mentality under Trump, even on issues that were vulnerabilities for them in last year’s midterms. Paul Kane reports: “Course corrections do not happen quickly in politics, no matter how big the defeat might have been in November. … Of the 197 Republicans in the House, just three represent districts that Hillary Clinton won over Trump in 2016, down from more than 20 last year. That ideological purity creates a reflex action in which most Republicans now see backing Trump as their first instinct, no matter what his standing might be in national polls.”

-- Despite their majority, House Democratic leaders are still taking a cautious approach to gun legislation. DeBonis explains: “They have not announced firm plans for further gun votes, and prominent voices on the issue are hardly talking about action on aggressive measures such as an assault weapons ban that have long been liberal lodestars. … The rationale for that pragmatic approach is partly rooted in history, when Democrats endured drubbing after drubbing in rural districts and states where the [NRA] and other pro-gun organizations mobilized voters against their candidates. Many rural and suburban Democrats remained in a defensive crouch, which helped explain why, during their last House majority from 2007 to 2011, party leaders never brought a gun bill to the floor — even when the party held the presidency and a Senate supermajority, as well.”

-- Unprecedented: “Attorney Eric Miller was confirmed as a judge on the country’s most liberal appeals court this week, and for the first time in the Senate’s history, the confirmation took place without the consent of either home-state senator, a break from tradition that Democrats say Republicans will come to regret,” Deanna Paul reports. “Miller’s lifetime appointment followed a brief hearing, which took place during a congressional recess and with only two Republican senators present. ... Miller was confirmed on Tuesday on a 53-46 vote … Historically, senators from the state where a federal judiciary nominee lives may submit opinions, known as ‘blue slips,’ or choose not to return them. Before Tuesday, a nominee had never been confirmed without the support of at least one home-state senator, the Congressional Research Service told The Washington Post. Neither Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) nor Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) returned blue slips on Miller’s nomination. ... Murray called the confirmation ‘a dangerous first.’”

Why this matters: When Barack Obama was president and Democrats controlled the Senate, they respected the blue slip and Republicans repeatedly used that to block even the most moderate nominees. That’s why there were so many vacancies for Trump to fill when he took office. Miller, who clerked for Clarence Thomas, is Trump’s 31st confirmed nominee to an appellate court. Judicial appointments will be one of his biggest legacies as president, no matter how it ends.

-- A senior defense official told a House Appropriations subcommittee that the Pentagon would delay, but not cancel, any military construction projects to fund Trump’s border wall. Erica Werner and Paul Sonne report: The comments from Robert McMahon, assistant secretary of defense for sustainment, “amounted to the first public promise from a top Pentagon official that there will be no outright cancellation of pending military construction projects in service of Trump’s wall. … But McMahon’s remarks failed to convince Democrats … While the Pentagon is saying the projects aren’t being canceled, it most likely won’t have enough money in its military construction account to complete them, unless Congress agrees to replenish funds taken for the wall in the coming year’s budget.”

-- The border wall prototypes in San Diego have been taken down. The four concrete and four steel panel models of Trump's proposed wall were demolished 11 months after Trump visited them. (AP)

-- Five transgender troops testified before the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on military personnel, becoming the first to speak openly about their experiences before Congress. Dan Lamothe reports: “They appeared in civilian clothing in their own capacity, describing their experiences at a time when the Trump administration is fighting in federal court to put in place a new policy that will limit many transgender people from serving in their preferred sex. … All five service members have deployed and are eligible to do so now, they said. They all indicated they believe transgender service members should be required to do their jobs to stay in the military.”

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- The D.C. attorney general has subpoenaed documents from Trump’s inaugural committee. Peter Jamison reports: “The subpoena, issued Tuesday, requests documents related to committee payments to the Trump Organization or Trump International Hotel, according to two law enforcement officials familiar with the matter. It states that [Karl] Racine is seeking the documents under his civil authority to ensure that nonprofit groups in the District are not ‘wasteful, mismanaged and/or improperly provided private benefit.’ … The subpoena set a deadline of March 29 for the inaugural committee to respond, according to the law enforcement officials. If the committee does not meet that deadline, Racine’s office could file a lawsuit in pursuit of the documents.” Racine’s subpoena marks the third request for documents from the committee this month.

-- Citing new information from a witness, the special counsel's office corrected one element of its allegations that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied about his contact with a Russian businessman, giving Manafort's defense team new ammunition. From the New York Times's Sharon LaFraniere: “Prosecutors working for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, cited new evidence that they obtained less than two weeks ago from Rick Gates, the Trump campaign’s deputy chairman. They said their revised account should not change the recent ruling by Judge Amy Berman Jackson that Mr. Manafort had been untruthful about his interactions with the Russian associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, because they had presented sufficient other evidence of Mr. Manafort’s lies. Nonetheless, the filing was a rare admission of a mistake by the special counsel’s office, which is winding up a nearly two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race and whether anyone tied to the Trump campaign conspired in the effort to influence the outcome of the vote.”

-- The Florida Bar is investigating GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) over his now-deleted tweet that appeared to threaten Cohen with revealing information about alleged extramarital affairs. Meagan Flynn, Rachael Bade and Reis Thebault report: “‘The Florida Bar is aware of the comments made in a tweet yesterday by Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is a Florida Bar member, and I can confirm we have opened an investigation,’ spokeswoman Francine Andía Walker said in a statement to The Washington Post. After the investigation, the bar will decide whether to file charges against Gaetz with the Florida Supreme Court, Walker said. … In an email to The Post, a spokesperson for Gaetz downplayed the regulatory agency’s investigation. ‘It seems that the Florida Bar, by its rules, is required to investigate even the most frivolous of complaints,’ said Jillian Lane Wyant, Gaetz’s chief of staff.”

In a tweet, Gaetz said he apologized to Cohen and said his family should be left alone. 

-- The daughter of Putin's spokesman took a European Union internship, baffling lawmakers fighting against the Kremlin's influence on their political systems. Michael Birnbaum and Amie Ferris-Rotman report: “Elizaveta Peskova, 21, the Instagram-famous daughter of Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, is interning in the office of a far-right French member of the European Parliament, Aymeric Chauprade, the lawmaker confirmed. Peskova’s father has been a key shaper of Putin’s public image during nearly the entirety of his 19-year presidency. The arrangement has raised alarm among some members of the parliament, who said they feared the security consequences of her presence in their institution and condemned the message it sent about their ability to stand up to the Kremlin — particularly ahead of May parliamentary elections that they fear Russia is targeting. Some lawmakers said the internship fit into a pattern of Kremlin efforts to undermine the West, often with a twist of black humor.” 

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- Jared Kushner met with the Saudi crown prince to try to build support for his Middle East peace plan. The New York Times’s Ben Hubbard reports: “The meeting, held on Tuesday, was Mr. Kushner’s first face-to-face encounter with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the day-to-day ruler of Saudi Arabia, since Saudi agents killed [Post contributing columnist] Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October. … The White House statement did not mention Mr. Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen who lived in Virginia. … The White House issued its statement a day after the meeting took place, as public attention was dominated by congressional testimony by [Cohen].”

-- U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the Trump administration would drop its threat of 25 percent tariffs on Chinese imports for now. The Wall Street Journal’s Bob Davis and William Mauldin report: “His comments came following a House Ways and Means Committee meeting where Mr. Lighthizer said that the U.S. and China have reached a tentative agreement on a mechanism to enforce the trade deal, which has long been a stumbling block in talks. In a response to a question after, Mr. Lighthizer said that his agency would drop plans to move beyond the 10% tariffs now in force. Several hours later his office filed papers to ‘suspend the scheduled tariff increase until further notice.’ Mr. Trump had said Sunday the higher tariffs would be delayed but didn’t give a time frame.”

-- With just 30 days to go before Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union, the British Parliament seems to agree on only one thing: Brexit might have to be delayed. William Booth and Karla Adam report: “But beyond a consensus about possible postponement, the gridlock that has seized the British political class continued. ... On Wednesday, Parliament decisively voted against a one-page outline of a Brexit plan proposed by the opposition Labour Party and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn. ... The British Parliament’s rejection of Labour’s plan — widely expected — boxes a reluctant Corbyn into throwing his weight behind a new public vote on Brexit.” 

-- Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made an unannounced visit to France this week. Damian Paletta reports: “It marked a major diplomatic excursion for the public official whose signature is stamped on American currency. But the Treasury Department had never announced that Mnuchin was even leaving the country. On Friday, when Treasury revealed its public engagements for this week, it suggested Mnuchin wouldn’t make a single one. … Mnuchin’s trip, parts of which he has now chronicled on social media, is the latest in a string of events that show he is continuing to do things his own way, at times avoiding public scrutiny even if that has traditionally been part of the job.”

-- Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's troubles deepen as his country's former attorney general testified that she experienced a sustained effort by people in Trudeau's government to interfere in the prosecution of a major Canadian engineering company. From the AP's Rob Gillies: “Ex-justice minister and ex-attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould said 11 people tried to interfere in her prosecutorial discretion. In a meeting with Trudeau, the prime minister raised the issue and asked her to 'help out' with the case, she said. Wilson-Raybould said she asked Trudeau if he was politically interfering with her role as attorney general and told him she would strongly advise against it. 'No, no, no. We just need a find a solution,' she said Trudeau responded. ... Asked if she has confidence in Trudeau, Wilson-Raybould paused for some time and did not say yes. 'I’ll say this ... I resigned from Cabinet because I did not have confidence to sit around the Cabinet table,' she said.”

2020 WATCH:

-- Beto O’Rourke has decided not to run against Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) next year and appears to be headed toward a presidential bid. Isaac Stanley-Becker reports: “O’Rourke has made up his mind about a possible presidential bid, which could transform the nascent race for the Democratic nomination. He said Wednesday that he and his wife are preparing to make an announcement. If history is any guide, the announcement of the announcement rarely leads to a quiet withdrawal from public life. 'Amy and I have made a decision about how we can best serve our country,' the former three-term congressman from El Paso said ... 'We are excited to share it with everyone soon,' he added.”

-- Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) mischaracterized a policy she backed as San Francisco district attorney to turn over undocumented minors suspected of felonies to ICE. CNN’s Nathan McDermott and Andrew Kaczynski report: “Speaking to an audience in Iowa Sunday on Political Party Live, a podcast about Iowa politics, Harris was asked by host Misty Rebik about [the 2008 policy] … In her answer, Harris called the reporting of arrested juvenile undocumented immigrants before they were convicted of a felony an ‘unintended consequence’ of the policy that she did not support. However, this was in fact the intent of the policy.”

-- The majority of the Massachusetts congressional delegation is so far refraining from backing Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) presidential bid. The Boston Globe’s James Pindell reports: “[W]hen Warren kicked off her presidential campaign in early February, she showcased those members who were with her. Introducing her were Senator Ed Markey, and Representatives Lori Trahan of Lowell and Joseph Kennedy III of Newton. Not at the rally, but who is now also backing Warren, was Representative Jim McGovern of Worcester. … But the rest of the delegation presents a mixed bag for the Cambridge Democrat. … Five members have yet to endorse any presidential candidate and another has made his preference clear for another White House hopeful.”

-- Chirlane McCray said that “the timing is not exactly right” for her husband, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), to run for president next year. Politico’s Zack Stanton reports: “McCray talked up de Blasio’s five-year record as the mayor of America’s largest city, and said the demands of his current job would make a White House run difficult. … [A]n aide to the mayor stated that a de Blasio presidential candidacy is at least up for discussion. … De Blasio returned to Iowa last weekend for a visit that smacked of presidential ambition, and he acknowledged that he had ‘not ruled out a run for president, obviously.’”

-- A year and a half after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico has emerged as both a 2020 campaign stop and campaign issue. Some candidates like Warren and Julián Castro have already stopped by the territory and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) named San Juan's mayor his campaign co-chair. From Politico's Marc Caputo: “Between the well-publicized ravages of Hurricane Maria, loud criticisms of [Trump’s] disaster response and the delegate yield from the commonwealth’s primary, Puerto Rico is now something close to a must-stop for Democratic White House hopefuls. Adding to Puerto Rico’s political value, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is backing a plan to move the 2020 primary from early June to one of the final two weekends in March.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

A CNN reporter noted that Trump took more questions than usual from foreign reporters, probably in an effort to minimize questions about Cohen:

Another CNN reporter pointed out how abrupt the day's schedule change was: 

Reporters noticed a pattern in Trump's belief that Kim was not responsible for American student Otto Warmbier's death: 

A Times reporter brought back words Trump said after his last summit with Kim: 

Fox News host Sean Hannity shared this behind-the-scenes picture of his interview with Trump in Hanoi: 

The president's son appeared to be watching the Cohen hearing:

Trump's younger son piled on more criticism of Cohen:

Don Jr. also rather surprisingly retweeted this thought from a Wired contributor:

WikiLeaks hit back at Cohen, saying its publisher Julian Assange never met with Roger Stone: 

The billionaire activist who runs a group aimed at impeaching Trump denied suggestions from Republicans on the Oversight Committee that he's somehow supporting Cohen's defense:

A reporter for Canada's CTV News provided some background for one of Cohen's accusations against the president:

A Post reporter summarized Cohen's opening statement:

From a Los Angeles Times reporter:

From an Obama-era DOJ spokesman:

A Post columnist scrutinized an argument from one of Trump's closest congressional allies:

Another Post columnist added this:

The New Yorker's Washington correspondent took the long view:

From a Daily Beast reporter:

Former NBA player Dennis Rodman shared this letter he sent Trump, praising him for his work in North Korea, work he said would make him a front-runner for a Nobel Peace Prize:

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🌎✌🏿❤️

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And a Capitol Hill staffer got caught eating pizza in a live shot: 

GOOD READS:

-- The inability of the Office of Government Ethics to punish Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for his financial disclosure inaccuracies has revealed the limitations of the office to effectively crack down on such behavior. Carrie Levine and Peter Overby report for the Center for Public Integrity: “In a rare rebuke of a Cabinet-level official, [OGE] last week refused to certify Ross’ 2018 personal financial disclosure report, which he first filed last August. … But OGE lacks enforcement authority, leaving it with few tools beyond a public scolding and the ability to refer potential investigations to entities such as the inspector general at Commerce or the Department of Justice. … [Watchdog groups] say despite Ross’ disclosures — and the series of amendments he’s filed — they continue to have questions about what he’s actually divested.”

-- “‘They killed a white woman:’ Fifty-four years later, Leroy Moton looks back at the killing that changed the civil rights movement,” by Donna Britt: “Few know about [Leroy] Moton’s contribution to black history, or about the ink-black night a month after his release when he raced through the Alabama countryside in work boots he wore during the 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery. Dashing through muddy pastureland, Moton was fleeing the unseen gunman whose speeding car had pulled alongside the automobile he had been riding in. The man had fired into the front seat, killing the driver — protester Viola Liuzzo, a Detroit mother of five who became the only white woman killed in the civil rights movement. Whoever had murdered Liuzzo, Moton feared, was right behind him. … Weeks later, the unprecedented slaying of a white female protester inspired Congress to pass the once-stalled Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

-- New York Times, "21 Savage’s Still-Bumpy Path to Freedom,” by Jon Caramanica: “While his case winds its way through the immigration system, 21 Savage’s team has been actively underscoring the political dimension to his plight and marshaling public support. A #Free21Savage coalition of a couple of dozen activist organizations is drawing attention to his situation, and two members of Congress — Hank Johnson and Zoe Lofgren — spoke publicly on his behalf while he was still in detention. Lofgren, from California and chairwoman of the House Judiciary Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee, released a statement opening the door for 21 Savage to appear as a witness before her subcommittee and floating the idea that he had been arrested as a result of publicly questioning United States immigration policy. 'Was his arrest in response to his Constitutionally protected speech?' the statement said. 'It looks like that.'”

-- New Yorker, “Are Robots Competing for Your Job?” by Jill Lepore: “The old robots were blue-collar workers, burly and clunky, the machines that rusted the Rust Belt. But, according to the economist Richard Baldwin, in 'The Globotics Upheaval: Globalization, Robotics, and the Future of Work' (Oxford), the new ones are 'white-collar robots,' knowledge workers and quinoa-and-oat-milk globalists, the machines that will bankrupt Brooklyn. Mainly, they’re algorithms. Except when they’re immigrants. Baldwin calls that kind 'remote intelligence,' or R.I.: they’re not exactly robots but, somehow, they fall into the same category. They’re people from other countries who can steal your job without ever really crossing the border: they just hop over, by way of the Internet and apps like Upwork, undocumented, invisible, ethereal. Between artificial intelligence and remote intelligence, Baldwin warns, 'this international talent tidal wave is coming straight for the good, stable jobs that have been the foundation of middle-class prosperity in the US and Europe, and other high-wage economies.' Change your Wi-Fi password. Clear your browser history. Ask H.R. about early retirement. The globots are coming. How can you know if you’re about to get replaced by an invading algorithm or an augmented immigrant?”

-- Time, “Julia Louis-Dreyfus knew she was good. She fought to make sure the world did too,” by Molly Ball: “Louis-Dreyfus has always demanded to be taken seriously. For three decades, she has been portraying funny, self-centered women who are compelling despite often being ill-behaved. Selina, her capstone creation, pushes the envelope furthest: the accidental President’s megalomania, and her flamboyant vulgarity, have helped Veep break awards records. (“I was the game changer!” Selina yells in a scene from the upcoming season. “took a dump on the glass ceiling!”) The show has made Louis-Dreyfus, 58, arguably the most decorated television comedy actress in history. But over the course of her career, Louis-Dreyfus hasn’t only made a lot of people laugh. She has also left an indelible cultural mark, expanding the possibilities for women in comedy — and maybe in politics and public life as well."

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Lawmaker promoting anti-vaxx bill suggests measles can be treated with antibiotics. (It can’t.)” from Lindsey Bever: “Amid a relentless anti-vaccine movement and measles outbreaks across the United States, a Texas lawmaker has falsely suggested that antibiotics can be used to treat the deadly childhood disease. Texas state Rep. Bill Zedler (R), an anti-vaxxer who is promoting legislation to allow parents to more easily opt out of vaccinations for their children, said he had measles when he was a child. … ‘They want to say people are dying of measles,’ [Zedler said]. ‘Yeah, in Third World countries they’re dying of measles. Today, with antibiotics and that kind of stuff, they’re not dying in America.’ … There is no known treatment for measles, a highly contagious virus that once sickened millions of patients each year in the United States. … Antibiotics, which are used to treat bacterial infections, cannot kill viruses.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“A conservative activist was punched in the face at UC Berkeley. The response enraged the right,” from Katie Mettler: “Activist Hayden Williams was recruiting students for a grass-roots conservative organization at the University of California at Berkeley last week when he was confronted by two men, one of whom pushed him repeatedly and punched him in the face. Tuesday night, a week after the incident, UC Berkeley officials announced that police were preparing to apprehend a suspect, who has not been publicly named, on a felony charge once they were issued an arrest warrant. The news comes after a seven-day campaign by conservative activists both at Berkeley and nationally, who have argued, on social media, right-leaning political websites and Fox News, that because of liberal bias, the attack garnered what they perceive as a delayed response from the police and university and a muted response from the public.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump is flying back to Washington from Hanoi Thursday.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“There’s no question the Republican House failed, and they failed us in securing the border, but they also failed to make good on the promise to him that we would get that money for the wall. They completely lied about that.” — Senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway criticizing congressional Republicans for failing to fund Trump’s border wall while in the House majority. (John Wagner)

 

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

-- It will be sunny during the day, but snow may fall this night. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Enjoy the sun today, as there may be little of it through the weekend. Snow potential is climbing for late tonight into early Friday morning as a weak disturbance strengthens over the area. Some accumulation is possible, especially from the District north. The weekend is cloudy, and rain and/or snow is likely to develop Sunday.” 

-- The Wizards beat the Nets 125-116. (Candace Buckner)

-- A growing chorus of Maryland officials, including Gov. Larry Hogan (R), called for the resignation of Del. Mary Ann Lisanti after she used the n-word in a conversation with colleagues. Ovetta Wiggins reports: “‘We know she is one of our colleagues, we know she is a Democrat, but party has nothing to do with the hatred and bigotry that comes out of someone’s mouth,’ said Del. Darryl Barnes (D), who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland … State Democratic Party chair Maya Rockeymoore Cummings also called for Lisanti to step down." Hogan said "any public official who ‘engages in this reprehensible conduct should do the right thing and step down."

-- The Maryland House of Delegates gave initial approval to instituting a $15 minimum wage in the state. Arelis R. Hernández reports: The House, where Democrats have a veto-proof majority, passed the bill on a voice vote. A vote to give it final approval is scheduled for Friday. After that, it would be considered in the Senate. Some business groups, including the state restaurant association, are lobbying heavily against the wage increase.

-- Sully, George H.W. Bush's service dog, will now work with veterans at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Helena Andrews-Dyer reports: “According to his Instagram page (yes, Sully has one), his official rank is hospital corpsman second class, an enlisted medical specialist in the U.S. Navy. Sully (okay, fine, his human handler) wrote that his new assignment was 'an honor and a privilege.'”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Seth Meyers joked about Michael Cohen's testimony happening as Trump met with Kim in Hanoi: 

He also broke down the former lawyer's testimony: 

Trevor Noah commented on the attempts to prove that Trump is not a racist: 

In Hanoi, Trump answered for Kim when asked about human rights abuses: 

Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who briefly led Trump's transition team, reflected on Republican responses to the Cohen hearing:

A tornado in New Mexico collided with snow showers, creating what may be the first documented “snow tornado” in the United States: