'LIES, RACISM, CHEATING': That's just one of the explosive headlines that could emerge from President Trump's longtime fixer, Michael Cohen, when he launches his testimony tour on Capitol Hill today.
Cohen turned against Trump when he pleaded guilty in November to lying to Congress about the timeline of the possible Trump Tower project in Moscow. And he “made the extraordinary admission” in August that Trump directed him to make payments to two women who alleged they had affairs with Trump to stop them from speaking before the 2016 election.
Cohen's allies hope he could become “this generation's John Dean,” President Nixon's White House counsel who testified in the Senate Watergate hearings, according to a report out this morning from The Post's Matt Zapotosky and Rosalind S. Helderman. Others point to the fact that Trump's former attorney has admitted to lying.
Cohen is expected to “describe to lawmakers what he views as Trump’s 'lies, racism and cheating,' both as president and in private business, and will describe 'personal, behind-the-scenes' interactions he witnessed,” a person familiar with the matter told Matt and Roz.
You read that right: The Wall Street Journal writes that Cohen is expected to accuse Trump of criminal conduct while he was in office and would “be the first time Mr. Cohen alleges that Mr. Trump committed a crime while in office.”
- Key quote: “Mr. Cohen will give his most detailed public account to date of Mr. Trump’s alleged direction of the hush payments, as well as how Mr. Trump was involved in efforts to conceal them from the public weeks before the 2016 election, according to the person,” report Rebecca Balhaus and Warren P. Strobel.
- Documents: “Mr. Cohen also will make public some of Mr. Trump’s private financial statements and allege that Mr. Trump at times inflated or deflated his net worth for business and personal purposes, including avoiding paying property taxes, the person said. The financial statements were developed by Mr. Trump’s accountant, the person said.” (The Journal hadn't seen the paperwork.)
- According to the Journal: "Mr. Cohen is expected to recount racist remarks Mr. Trump allegedly made to him, including instances in which Mr. Trump allegedly questioned the intelligence of African-Americans and criticized their lifestyle choices, the person said."
- This is new, from Reuters: "... Cohen plans to tell U.S. lawmakers this week that Trump asked him several times about a proposed skyscraper project in Moscow long after he secured the Republican presidential nomination, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters."
The schedule: Cohen will start his week in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, followed by a hearing before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday, ending with testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday. Only Wednesday's hearing will be public, and will be starting just as Trump has wrapped his first day of meetings with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam.
Expectations: Republicans will be working overtime to attack Cohen's credibility. But there are few people who know Trump as well as Cohen. More from Cohen's testimony, per Matt and Roz:
- Hush money: " . . . Cohen is expected to detail his motives for having helped Trump and for now coming clean, the person familiar with the matter said. He will offer 'very specific details' — some of which have not yet been made public — about arranging the hush-money payments at Trump’s direction, the person said.”
- Did the president direct Cohen to lie?: Cohen is “expected to 'provide more detail about his lies to Congress,' and address in some capacity a BuzzFeed News report asserting he told special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s office that the president directed him to lie, the person said. The special counsel has disputed that report, though.” Cohen has not said anything about it publicly.
- Financial records: “Cohen is expected to present records of Trump’s finances, and will recall alleged instances 'where Trump used high numbers for his purposes, such as getting on the top ten wealthiest people on the Forbes list, and low numbers, when it came time to paying real estate taxes,' the person said.”
So, if you're a lawmaker asking Cohen questions this week, Matt and Roz are looking for answers to a sampling of questions they drafted below:
- “You pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about a possible Trump Tower project in Moscow. In a memo for your sentencing, your attorney wrote, 'Furthermore, in the weeks during which his then-counsel prepared his written response to the Congressional Committees, Michael remained in close and regular contact with White House-based staff and legal counsel to Client-1.' (Client-1 refers to Trump.) Who are the “White House-based staff and legal counsel to Client-1” that you remained in contact with, and what instruction did they give you about your testimony?
- BuzzFeed News reported that Trump directed you to lie to Congress, and that you told the special counsel as much. Describe any conversation you and Trump had about your testimony. Did he direct you to lie, and did you tell that to the special counsel’s office . . . was Cohen lying merely because he knew what Trump wanted, or because Trump told him to do so?
- Do you believe Trump obstructed any investigation, and do you have evidence to prove that?
- Were you ever offered a pardon in exchange for being silent?
- Can you provide more information about the frequency and substance of your conversations with Trump about the Trump Tower Moscow project after January 2016?
As for concerns from the White House regarding Cohen's testimony, one senior administration official told the New York Times's Annie Karni that it would not steal the spotlight from the president and described Cohen as a “convicted criminal who has already lied to Congress” while Trump is “trying to undo 70 years of war and neglect.”
- “I don’t think the president has any concerns whatsoever about Michael Cohen,” press secretary Sarah Sanders said last week on “Fox & Friends.” “I think Michael Cohen may need to be concerned for himself, but that’s certainly something that’s not influencing or bothering us in this building.”
ABOUT THAT MUELLER REPORT: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, at the Center for Strategic International Studies on Monday, signaled what we are to expect to be disclosed to the public once special counsel Robert Mueller's probe has concluded.
- Key: “The guidance I always gave my prosecutors and the agents that I worked with during my tenure on the front lines of law enforcement were if we aren’t prepared to prove our case beyond a reasonable doubt in court, then we have no business making allegations against American citizens,” Rosenstein said.
- The argument against transparency: “There’s a knee-jerk reaction to suggest that we should be transparent about what we do in government, but there are a lot of reasons not to be transparent about what we do in government,” Rosenstein said. “Just because the government collects information doesn’t mean that information is accurate, and it can be really misleading if you’re overly transparent about information that the government collects, so I think we do need to be really cautious about that.”
Rosenstein's comments about limiting disclosure regarding uncharged individuals all but ensure a heated legal battle between congressional Democrats and the Justice Department when the report is delivered.
WHAT A WORLD: President Trump is headed to Vietnam for his second summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un while Vice President Pence visited Colombia to talk Venezuela. Here's a smattering of news, from around the world:
NORTH KOREA: Kim arrived in Vietnam on Tuesday “after a 65-hour, 2,500-mile train journey from Pyongyang through China,” according to my colleagues Simon Denyer and John Hudson. Other North Korean guests include Kim Jong Un's younger sister and Kim Hyok Chol, North Korea special envoy Stephen Biegun's counterpart. Kim's Vietnam schedule has not yet been publicly announced. Trump arrives at 9:15am EST/9:15pm local time at Hanoi's Noi Bai International Airport.
Melee over Kim's arrival at the Melia: Kim's arrival sparked the ouster of the U.S. press corps from its designated filing center in the Melia hotel tower in downtown Hanoi, where Kim is staying. Reporters were left scrambling after weeks of preparation, according to The Post's John Hudson and David Nakamura.
“The Vietnamese government informed the White House of the request for the press corps to vacate the Melia. It is not clear why summit organizers did not foresee the coincidence in advance and make the switch before both sides had checked in,” they report. w
VENEZUELA: In Colombia, Vice President Pence announced new sanctions against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's loyalists and “called on other nations to follow the Trump administration’s lead in freezing the assets of Venezuela’s state oil giant PDVSA — a move meant to further cut Maduro’s international cash flow,” according to my colleagues Anne Gearan, Anthony Faiola and Carol Morello. He and Colombian President Iván Duque met with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó. “We are with you, 100 percent,” Pence told Guiado.
- Key: “Pence did not publicly back immediate military force, but he reiterated a long-standing administration stance that all options were being considered.” Although, Pence later confirmed to reporters that Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó “could use force if necessary.”
- Pence has repeatedly called for a peaceful transition of power in Venezuela. But sanctions are reaching their limit as it's unclear if sanctions are making it untenable for Maduro to rule or worsening the humanitarian crisis on the ground.
Maduro also briefly detained Univision anchor Jorge Ramos after he showed Maduro a video of children scavenging for food. Ramos and his team were detained for three hours at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, where their equipment, cellphones, and interview and footage were confiscated. Jorge Ramos explains how the episode played out here.
IRAN: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tendered a surprise and abrupt resignation via Instagram late Monday night. “I highly appreciate the graciousness of the brave Iranian people and respected officials over the past 67 months,” Zarif wrote in the statement posted to his Instagram. "I sincerely apologize for my lack of ability to continue my service and for all of the shortcomings,” he added.
"The reason for Zarif’s resignation was not disclosed," my colleagues Erin Cunningham and Carol Morello report. "Nor is it clear whether top Iranian officials will accept the resignation, and there were immediately conflicting reports about whether President Hassan Rouhani had already rejected it."
- Speculating: "Michael Singh, managing director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Zarif’s resignation is not surprising because the policies he championed have fallen out of favor since the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)," per Cunningham and Morello.
ENGLAND: Finally, "Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, announced Monday evening that his bloc in Parliament would support a second referendum to stop what he called 'a damaging Tory Brexit,'" reports my colleague William Booth in London.
2019, where foreign ministers resign from their jobs on Instagram:
On The Hill
UNPRECEDENTED: “Congress braced Monday for an unprecedented effort to overturn a presidential emergency declaration, as Republicans worked to limit defections on the eve of a critical House vote while Democrats framed the issue as a constitutional showdown,” reports my colleague Erica Werner ahead of today's vote to nullify Trump's national emergency declaration at the southern border.
- “House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Monday evening that he wasn’t sure how many Republicans would vote for the resolution [of disapproval against the national emergency declaration], 'but there will not be enough to override any veto,'" per Warner.
- The disapproval resolution is still expected to pass the Senate, even though multiple Republican senators have come out against the emergency declaration. Even so, they're unlikely to forma big enough group to override a Trump veto.
Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) wrote an opinion piece for The Post on Monday explaining why he opposes Trump's emergency declaration: he knows “future left-wing presidents will exploit to advance radical policies that will erode economic and individual freedoms.”
“In fact, if I were the leader of the Constitution’s Article II branch, I would probably declare an emergency and use all the tools at my disposal as well. But I am not. I am a member of the Senate, and I have grave concerns when our institution looks the other way at the expense of weakening Congress’s power,” Tillis writes. “It is my responsibility to be a steward of the Article I branch, to preserve the separation of powers and to curb the kind of executive overreach that Congress has allowed to fester for the better part of the past century. I stood by that principle during the Obama administration, and I stand by it now.”
“Republicans need to realize that this will lead inevitably to regret when a Democrat once again controls the White House, cites the precedent set by Trump, and declares his or her own national emergency to advance a policy that couldn’t gain congressional approval,” according to Tillis.
Party of Three: Tillis joins “Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, along with 47 Senate Democrats to block Trump’s attempts to secure billions for his border wall after lawmakers effectively stiffed him. Now just one more GOP senator’s support for a resolution to block Trump's bid would send the measure to Trump’s desk and force a veto,” per Politico's Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine. Several GOP senators told Everett and Levine that they were still undecided on the issue, including Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.).
- Key: “There will be others. I think if you look at the comments made by several of my colleagues, I really don’t think I’m the only one,” Collins told Burgess and Marianne. “I intend to vote yes [on the disapproval resolution] as long as we’re sent a clean resolution.”
ALSO ON THE HILL TODAY: A slew of drug executives head to Capitol Hill for a hearing before the Senate Finance Committee on the skyhigh price of prescription drugs in the U.S. My colleague/expert Paige Winfield Cunningham wrote in The Health 202 yesterday of expectations surrounding the "largest panel of pharmaceutical CEOs in decades to sit before a congressional committee" and who will be forced to defend what.
In the Media
What we're pre-ordering: The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un. By WaPo's Anna Fifield.
What we're watching: GOP maneuver will block Yemen bill from getting Senate vote. By Politico's Andrew Desiderio.
Getting to know the people behind Mueller: It’s Mueller’s Investigation. But Right Behind Him Is Andrew Goldstein. By The New York Times's Noah Weiland and Michael Schmidt.
ICYMI, juicy backstabbing: Ex-Clinton staffers slam Sanders over private jet flights. By Politico's Daniel Lippman.
Progress: A landmark policy reversal in Congo will now allow pregnant women to receive the Ebola vaccine. By The Lily's Abigail Higgins.
Shade: Former Fed Chair Janet Yellen: Far from retired, nowhere near done. By Marketplace's Kai Ryssdal.
- “I doubt that [Trump] would even be able to say that the Fed's goals are maximum employment and price stability, which is the goals that Congress have assigned to the Fed,” Yellen told Marketplace's Kai Ryssdal. “He's made comments about the Fed having an exchange rate objective in order to support his trade plans, or possibly targeting the U.S. balance of trade. And, you know, I think comments like that shows a lack of understanding of the impact of the Fed on the economy and appropriate policy goals.”
THREAD on Venezuela from a New York Times reporter on the ground in Caracas: