Issa Friday. We made it. Again. Outside of our usual request for tips, recipes, and comments, we have another ask of you: as we approach the year's end, we want to hear what you thought this year's biggest stories were — inside and outside of Washington. Personal anecdotes are encouraged. We'd love to incorporate your ideas or experiences in next week's coverage. Please write us.Thanks, as always, for waking up with us.
This Fox News judge does a great job explaining why President Trump is in real trouble. pic.twitter.com/OysCloV5Xs— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) December 13, 2018
At the White House
"INDIVIDUAL 1": The latest revelations in Robert Mueller's probe and other legal investigations are getting uncomfortably close to the president. We don't know yet what kind of direct legal jeopardy President Trump himself might be in — if any at all. And a sitting president can't be indicted, according to the Justice Department. But the latest information reveals links between Trump and acts for which others, like his longtime lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, have been criminally charged and sentenced.
Cohen has said that he paid off two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump at the behest of the president. That news has prompted some leading House Democrats — and even some Republicans — to raise the specter of impeachment, perhaps before they were ready to do so.
- “Am I concerned that the president might be involved in a crime? Of course,” Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana told reporters on the Hill earlier this week, referring to the payments to women. “The only question is, then, whether or not this so-called hush money is a crime.”
- “They would be impeachable offenses. Whether they're important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question,” incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said on CNN's “State of the Union” this past Sunday. “Certainly, they're impeachable offenses, because, even though they were committed before the president became president, they were committed in the service of fraudulently obtaining the office.”
- Newly elected House Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) cautioned on MSNBC that Democrats have to “proceed carefully as it relates to impeachment because it is the ultimate political death penalty, put into the Constitution for extraordinary circumstances,” even though Trump “conducted himself like an organized crime boss.”
- “There’s no doubt that when you have a president . . . associated with the violation of the law, that you have a new ballgame,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) told The Hill. “But I think impeachment is a political process . . . That means that the American people as well have to feel that the integrity of the White House has been damaged.”
A warning?: Rudy Giuliani weighed in, telling the New York Times's Maggie Haberman and Michael Schmidt last night that "nearly three dozen members of Congress had made similar payments to people who have accused them of harassment and other embarrassing allegations."
“If they want to pursue an investigation for impeachment on this and if they do want to vote on an article of impeachment, somewhere between 30 to 40 of them better get a lawyer,” Giuliani added.
1) Campaign finance violations: Eleven months after the Wall Street Journal first broke the news that Cohen had arranged a $130,000 payment to former adult-film star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election to keep her from discussing an alleged sexual relationship with Trump, Cohen was sentenced to 36 months behind bars. Trump is now directly implicated in these federal campaign finance violations.
- Trump's directive: New York prosecutors supported Cohen's claims that his payoff to both Daniels and Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal were at the behest of Trump: “With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election. Cohen coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments. In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1,” the filing reads.
- In the room where it happened: Various news outlets report that Trump was the third individual in an August 2015 meeting between Cohen and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker when he offered “to help deal with negative stories about that presidential candidate's relationships with women, by among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided.” Pecker's acknowledgment was revealed in a non-prosecution agreement released on Wednesday after The Enquirer's parent company, American Media Inc., agreed to cooperate with the Southern District of New York in September.
Trump responds: The president took to Twitter and Fox News on Thursday to mount a defense and a departure from his previous denials. Trump did not dispute, as he has in the past, that he instructed Cohen to make payments to McDougal and Daniels but rather that he never told Cohen to “break the law.”
“I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law,” Trump tweeted. “He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law. It is called ‘advice of counsel,’ and a lawyer has great liability if a mistake is made. That is why they get paid.”
“Whatever he did, he did on his own,” Trump told Fox on Thursday. “He’s a lawyer. A lawyer who represents a client is supposed to do the right thing. That’s why you pay them a lot of money, et cetera, et cetera.”
From The Post's Phil Rucker and John Wagner: “The developments have shaken people in Trump’s orbit. White House staffers say they feel uneasy and nervous about what might come next, while Trump is publicly revealing a sense of betrayal that his longtime lawyer implicated him in crimes,” they report.
“What’s happened so far is not good, and it could get worse,” a former senior administration official told Rucker and Wagner.
2) Yet another investigation: In April, after Trump issued a blanket denial about the payoffs to women, the FBI raided Cohen's office and hotel room. Their findings led to further developments related to Trump's inauguration committee uncovered by the Wall Street Journal on Thursday.
- “Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether President Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee misspent some of the record $107 million it raised from donations, people familiar with the matter said,” according to the WSJ.
- Key: “In April raids of Mr. Cohen’s home, office and hotel room, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents obtained a recorded conversation between Mr. Cohen and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to Melania Trump, who worked on the inaugural events. In the recording, Ms. Wolkoff expressed concern about how the inaugural committee was spending money, according to a person familiar with the Cohen investigation.”
Quid pro quo?: “The criminal probe by the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, which is in its early stages, also is examining whether some of the committee’s top donors gave money in exchange for access to the incoming Trump administration, policy concessions or to influence official administration positions, some of the people said. Giving money in exchange for political favors could run afoul of federal corruption laws. Diverting funds from the organization, which was registered as a nonprofit, could also violate federal law,” Rebecca Davis O'Brien, Rebecca Ballhaus and Aruna Viswanatha report.
“Prosecutors from New York and from Mr. Mueller’s team have asked witnesses whether anyone from Qatar or other Middle Eastern countries also contributed money, perhaps using American intermediaries,” the Times reported.
3) Tax returns: Meanwhile on the Hill, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on Thursday she expects the House Ways and Means Committee to “take the first steps” to obtaining Trump's tax returns next month.
- Full circle: “Democrats have said they want to scrutinize Trump’s tax returns to see whether he has any conflicts of interest. The inquiry could tie in to a broader investigation into any connection between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian involvement in the 2016 election — an allegation the president has repeatedly and vehemently denied,” The Post's John Wagner writes.
4) Mueller “going global”: Just as we thought the Russia investigation might be coming to a close, The Daily Beast's Erin Banco reported that “Mueller's office is preparing to reveal to the public a different side of his investigation. In court filings that are set to drop in early 2019, prosecutors will begin to unveil Middle Eastern countries’ attempts to influence American politics, three sources familiar with this side of the probe told The Daily Beast.”
AND THEN THERE WERE FIVE: Trump's chief of staff search continues. The president told a group of governors-elect on Thursday he had whittled the choices down to five candidates to replace outgoing chief John Kelly. A few developments below:
- Chris Christie: Axios's Jonathan Swan reports that Christie met with Trump on Thursday evening and “considers him a top contender to replace Kelly.”
- Jared Kushner: HuffPost's S.V. Date reported that Trump met with his son-in-law on Wednesday to discuss the job.
- Dave Bossie: The Trump loyalist and Citizens United President heads to the White House today for a meeting with Trump about the job.
- Jose Canseco: Former Major League Baseballer Jose Canseco tweeted on Tuesday that he was available to be Trump's CoS.
Oh: “Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway told Fox News on Tuesday that Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, might stay on briefly into the new year while the president finds a replacement. Trump initially had said Kelly would be gone by year's end,” per Fox News's Gregg Re.
Having a great time at the Whitehouse Christmas Party! pic.twitter.com/dN96pra5QB— Reince Priebus (@Reince) December 14, 2018
A FACT OF LIFE: Since Trump was elected, it’s safe to say The Washington Post fact-checking team has never been busier. Indeed, POTUS has such a penchant for repeating — over and over — false and disproved statements that our fact checking team, Glenn Kessler & Co., created a new scale by which to measure them: the Bottomless Pinocchio.
Here’s the Fact Checker’s year-end retrospective, starting with a most timely one, Trump’s whopper — dubbed “a lie” — about hush-money payments made, via Cohen, to silence women. Here’s Glenn, from his just-published piece:
- The lie: “There was no knowledge of any payments.”
- What payments?: “The president and his aides denied for months any knowledge of hush-money payments before the 2016 election to silence women who alleged affairs with Donald Trump. But the lie slowly unraveled over the course of 2018, earning the president’s lawyer a jail term and imperiling the presidency.
- At first: Trump’s aides “said he had no knowledge of the payments. [Cohen], his attorney, then said he used his own funds to make the payoffs but Trump still insisted he knew nothing about it."
- Then: “The White House said he was aware of ‘the general arrangement.’ Trump tweeted it was related to a monthly retainer, not the campaign.”
- But that was false: “Cohen had sought and received reimbursement from the Trump Organization. Cohen in court eventually admitted the payments were intended to aid the campaign.”
On The Hill
HISTORIC SENATE REBUKE OF SAUDI ARABIA: The Senate cast two historic votes on yesterday amounting to a forceful condemnation of the Trump administration’s continued support — both monetary and moral — for Saudi Arabia. In the first, by a tally of 56 to 41, senators invoked the War Powers Resolution to end U.S. participation in the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen — marking the first time Congress has ever used that power. In the second vote, senators unanimously agreed to hold Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Post’s Karoun Demirjian reports:
- The Yemen war vote: “The 56-vote majority — a figure that includes seven Republicans — suggests that Saudi critics will still have a majority next year to challenge Trump on Saudi policy. Both Republicans and Democrats have said they plan to … stop the transfer of nondefensive weapons until Saudi forces withdraw from Yemen …”
- The MBS vote: The nonbinding resolution “reflects the extent to which senators of both parties have grown tired of Trump’s continued defense of Mohammed’s denials. It also puts significant pressure on leaders in the House — where the president’s Saudi policy is a much more partisan issue — to allow members to cast a similar vote condemning the crown prince before the end of the year.”
- Key quote: “Today we tell the despotic regime in Saudi Arabia that we will not be part of their military adventurism,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who co-sponsored the Yemen resolution.
Outside the Beltway
ON THE SOUTHERN BORDER: A 7-year-old Guatemalan girl died of dehydration and shock after being taken into custody by Border Patrol last week for illegally crossing the border from Mexico into the United States, The Post's Nick Miroff and Robert Moore report.
- Eight hours after being taken into custody, “the child began having seizures at 6:25 a.m., CBP records show. Emergency responders, who arrived soon after, measured her body temperature at 105.7 degrees, and according to a statement from CBP, she “reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days.”
- Important: “Food and water are typically provided to migrants in Border Patrol custody, and it wasn’t immediately clear Thursday if the girl received provisions and a medical exam before the onset of seizures.”
- Comment from CBP: “Our sincerest condolences go out to the family of the child,” CBP spokesman Andrew Meehan said . . . Border Patrol agents took every possible step to save the child’s life under the most trying of circumstances,” Meehan said. “As fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, we empathize with the loss of any child.”
More investigations: The death is likely to spark a congressional investigation into the conditions that led to the 7-year-old's death and “is likely to intensify scrutiny of detention conditions at Border Patrol stations and CBP facilities that are increasingly overwhelmed by large numbers of families seeking asylum in the United States.”
Related: NPR's John Burnett reported on Wednesday that “the number of immigrant children being held in government custody has reached almost 15,000, putting a network of federally contracted shelters across the country near capacity.”
In the Media
DECKING THE WHITE HOUSE HALLS: In times of war and peace, of poverty and plenty, White House first families have brought holiday joy to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. It's a tradition well over 100 years old, perhaps started by President Benjamin Harrison, who brought a Christmas tree into the residence in 1889 and lit with wax candles (as electricity wasn't yet installed in the building). Harrison reportedly dressed up as Santa Claus and proclaimed, “Let me hope that my example will be followed by every family in the land.”
Since then, presidential families have used White House decor to entertain children and guests, raise awareness for charitable causes and even settle a political score (see President Clinton's ornament that pictured a stocking stuffed with coal and marked “Newt"). Here are three snapshots from White House Christmas past:
- Grover Cleveland was the first president to boast a Christmas tree with electric lights (pictured above), which, apparently delighted his young daughters. Though electricity had only been installed in the White House for three years at the time, it had to be less scary than those dolls.
- Not pictured: That Christmas, the first family tucked into a dinner of fresh-killed duck that Cleveland had nabbed on a recent hunting trip, reported Post contributor Ronald G. Shafer.
- On Christmas Eve 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed a crowd of thousands from the South Portico of the White House. Pearl Harbor had been bombed less than 20 days before and some wanted the ceremony canceled. But, the Post reported then, “war and blackouts notwithstanding,” the event would go on.
- In his speech, Roosevelt considered the weight of the moment and asked “How can we light our trees? How can we give our gifts?” Then answered his own question: “Our strongest weapon in this war is that conviction of the dignity and brotherhood of man which Christmas Day signifies-more than any other day or any other symbol.”
- British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was a guest at the White House that Christmas (and is pictured above) as he successfully steered American efforts toward the military front in Europe.
- First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (pictured above with President Kennedy) first brought the tradition of themed Christmas trees to the White House. She picked "Nutcracker Suite" as the inaugural theme, inspired by the Tchaikovsky ballet, and adorned the tree with toys, birds, angels and characters from the performance.
- It was the first of just two Christmas seasons the Kennedy family would spend in the White House.
The Post is running a full-page ad in today's paper to draw attention to the death of Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The Post's publisher Fred Ryan told Politico's Jason Schwartz that an ad campaign will continue "until meaningful action is taken" over Saudi Arabia's role in Khashoggi's death: