THE FRESCO: President Trump is taking a victory lap as special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe closes without finding a criminal conspiracy between his associates and Russia. But new details Power Up uncovered from Michael Cohen’s recent closed-door testimony before the House Intelligence Committee serve as a reminder that the president’s legal troubles are far from over.
What Cohen claimed: Trump’s longtime fixer and personal attorney told lawmakers earlier this month that Trump submitted a false insurance claim regarding a fresco on the ceiling of Melania Trump’s bathroom, three sources with knowledge of the testimony tell me and my colleagues Ellen Nakashima and Karoun Demirjian.
The painting, located in Trump Tower, was apparently damaged by steam, the sources said.
What we don’t know: It remains unclear what evidence, if any, Cohen has to corroborate his allegations of fraud. The timing of the alleged insurance claim is also unknown.
Note: Trump Tower is famous for its fresco-style ceilings.
White House pushes back: “Mr. Cohen lied to Congress, defrauded the federal government out of millions of dollars, and is going to prison — no one should believe a word he says,” deputy spokesman Hogan Gidley told Power Up.
What’s at stake: Lawmakers are looking into Cohen’s claim, which would be the first example of insurance fraud that has surfaced following his public testimony that Trump often exaggerated his personal wealth in financial documents provided to banks and insurers.
Big picture: Cohen’s accusation comes as several investigations are probing alleged criminal behavior by the president.
Over in New York …: State regulators subpoenaed the Trump Organization’s longtime insurance broker, Aon, earlier in March. The move came after Cohen’s public testimony on Feb. 27 before the House Oversight Committee, as my colleague David Fahrenthold has reported.
From Cohen’s public testimony, per David: “Cohen described how Trump sent exaggerated statements of his wealth — called ‘Statements of Financial Condition’ — to journalists, potential lenders and insurers. Cohen said these statements contained inflated statistics about the value of Trump’s assets. For instance, if Trump wanted to pump up the value of an office building, he would simply multiply its actual rent receipts ‘by a multiple — and you make up the multiple,’ Cohen testified.”
“In other cases, according to copies of the statements obtained by The Washington Post, Trump exaggerated his wealth by leaving things out … ‘When we were dealing . . . with insurance companies, we would provide them with these copies so that they would understand that the premium, which is based sometimes upon the individual’s capabilities to pay, would be reduced,’ Cohen testified.”
Flash back: The AP's Jeff Horwitz reported on Trump's questionable insurance practices in 2016. “Donald Trump said he received a $17 million insurance payment in 2005 for hurricane damage to Mar-a-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach, but the Associated Press found little evidence of such large-scale damage,” per Horwitz. “Two years after a series of storms, the real estate tycoon said he didn’t know how much had been spent on repairs but acknowledged he pocketed some of the money.”
The no comment crew: New York’s Department of Financial Services declined to comment on whether Cohen's allegation about the fresco was part of its probe.
Also not commenting: The Trump Organization. A spokeswoman for Aon. A spokesman for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis.
A reminder: Cohen, by his own admission, has lied to lawmakers. He pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the Trump-branded project in Moscow. And while he provided information to Mueller’s Russia probe, Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison for making false statements to Congress, as well as tax evasion and campaign finance violations involving hush-money payments to two women who alleged affairs with Trump.
Credibility gap: “Disputes about the veracity of Cohen’s claims are fueling a political fight over whether lawmakers should take Cohen at his word,” Karoun and Robert Costa wrote after Cohen made other disputed claims about pardon discussions with Trump's legal team during closed-door testimony. “While Democrats have questioned what incentive that Cohen, who is heading to prison, would have to lie to Congress now, Republicans have pointed to Cohen’s guilty plea as proof he can’t be trusted to deliver honest testimony.”
IT'S NOT JUST INSURANCE: Trump is still mired in a variety of other investigations in New York, outlined by Roz Helderman and Fahrenthold.
Trump faces a lawsuit in New York State Court over what the state called “persistently illegal conduct” within the Trump Foundation.
Manhattan prosecutors also issued a subpoena in February into Trump’s inaugural committee, which raised a record amount of cash.
MEANWHILE, ON THE HILL: House Democrats are requesting a decade's worth of Trump’s financial records from audit firm Mazars USA, after Cohen accused Trump of inflating his worth to mislead lenders and insurers, David and Colby Itkowitz report.
- The request from Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), sent last week, comes after Cohen testified in February that Trump exaggerated his net worth in financial statements he sent to Deutsche Bank during his unsuccessful effort to buy the NFL’s Buffalo Bills in 2014.
AND THE GRAND JURY CONTINUES: “A grand jury that worked with [Mueller] in Washington is continuing to work on related matters, including an ongoing investigation of a mystery, foreign state-owned company that refused to comply with a Mueller subpoena,” my colleague Spencer S. Hsu reports.
- Politico's Darren Samuelsohn first reported the news: “The revelation — while laced with uncertainty — indicates that the ongoing cases Mueller handed off after concluding his probe could still feature significant developments, legal experts said.”
As for the release of the actual Mueller report itself: Attorney General Bill Barr is expected to miss the April 2 deadline House Democrats set to provide the full report documenting Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Karoun reports. That increases the likelihood lawmakers will subpoena the Justice Department.
- House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) says Barr told him it would be "weeks, not months" to see the report and would give the panel an interview "reasonably soon"
“We may very well want Mueller after Barr,” Nadler said.
On The Hill
THE PRESSURE'S ON: Just one day after declaring the GOP would become “The Party of Healthcare!", Trump is pressing Republicans to come up with a replacement for the Affordable Care Act.
- That's “a request the GOP considers unrealistic in a divided Congress and politically perilous ahead of the 2020 elections,” my colleagues Rachael Bade, Josh Dawsey, Seung Min Kim and John Wagner write.
- The goal: “The White House has no proposal in the works, according to administration officials, but Trump wants Republicans to pass a bill before his reelection effort that would do what Obamacare does — provide coverage to millions of Americans.”
- People to watch: “Trump spoke with Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) on Tuesday evening and listed his priorities in a phone call with Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) on Wednesday morning.”
- Top-line thoughts: “He wants to preserve people being able to get their insurance through work . . . and focused on people with preexisting conditions,” Barrasso said. “ . . . The president is also focused on lowering the cost of drugs.”
- Trump told reporters: “If the Supreme Court rules that Obamacare is out, we'll have a plan that is far better than Obamacare.”
Yet a gaggle of Trump allies all urged the president (unsuccessfully) against pushing for the court-ordered invalidation of the Affordable Care Act. They included Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Attorney General William Barr. Vice President Pence. And Trump's 'friend, fixer and candy man', House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
- “The unheeded counsel, which McCarthy recounted to fellow lawmakers in recent days and was first reported by Axios, underscores the angst that has set in among Republicans now that Trump is pursuing the politically precarious strategy with no plan in hand to replace President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law, ” Rachel, Josh, Seung Min and John write.
- “McCarthy has complained privately to donors that the GOP attempt to gut Obamacare — including its most popular provisions, such as protections of preexisting conditions — was the main reason the party lost at least 40 seats in last year’s midterm elections.”
It was Trump's instinct to follow through on his campaign promise that ultimately won out. Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff and Joe Grogan, Mulvaney's head of the Domestic Policy Council, made the winning case:
- “Mr. Trump has boasted that he has kept his promises, Mr. Mulvaney and Mr. Grogan argued, and as a candidate he campaigned on repealing the health law. His base of voters would love it. Besides, they argued, Democrats have been campaigning successfully on health care, and Republicans should try to claim the issue for themselves. This could force the matter,” the New York Times's Maggie Haberman and Robert Pear report.
W/o consensus on a smart conservative alternative to lower costs and protect people w/ pre-existing conditions, a renewed GOP effort to repeal ObamaCare makes as much political sense as diving headfirst into a wood chipper— Michael Steel (@michael_steel) March 27, 2019
But there is at least one GOP senator (other than Sen. Lindsey Graham) eager to tackle the issue despite the lack of an Obamacare replacement plan: Sen. Mike Braun.
- Trump “definitely said with no equivocation that Republicans are going to lead on health care. And when he was walking out of the room I shook his hand and said, 'I'm glad you're doing it and want to be a part of it and help craft it, if you need help from me,'” the Indiana Republican told us in a phone interview.
Braun conceded that there's currently a lack of specifics from the White House and lawmakers on the Hill — “we didn't know that it was going to be the forefront issue from the White House until yesterday so that was a surprise to everyone in the conference” — but believes that in order for Republicans to be competitive in 2020, they need to “tackle hard issues.”
“I think there is this legit concern that we don't want a repeat performance of repeal without a credible replacement,” Braun added, referring to the failed 2017 bid to pass Republicans' American Health Care Act.
Braun is in favor of a plan that “cuts costs” but protects preexisting conditions, has no caps on the benefits insurance companies will pay in a year, and provides the option to keep young adults on their parents' insurance plans until age 26.
He says that he would “definitely not” support any plan that does not cover preexisting conditions.
“I hope there isn't any other Republican that would either. I campaigned on that, by the way, and people were having trouble believing it because Republicans have been so timid about acknowledging it,” Braun added.
Reminder: The AHCA actually weakened Obamacare's protections for people with preexisting conditions by making it easier for insurers to charge them more.
This is El Paso right now, where hundreds of migrant families are being held in the parking lot of a Border Patrol station because there is no room for them inside, or anywhere else. pic.twitter.com/lFGZ9zRcZk— Nick Miroff (@NickMiroff) March 27, 2019
Outside the Beltway
ON THE BORDER: Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan says a “breaking point has arrived" as an unprecedented surge of migrants has left holding stations dangerously overcrowded.
My colleagues Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti report from El Paso that McAleenan “said that for the first time in more than a decade, his agency is 'reluctantly' performing direct releases of migrants, meaning they are not turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, they are not detained, and they are allowed to leave with just a notice to appear in court at a later date.”
- “McAleenan’s statements reflect the growing desperation among Homeland Security officials faced with a border influx that is on pace to be the largest in more than a decade, led by Guatemalan and Honduran asylum seekers who arrive with children and surrender to U.S. agents. McAleenan said his agency currently has more than 13,000 migrants in its custody,” per Nick and Maria.
- “A high number is 4,000,” [McAleenan] said. “Six thousand is crisis level. Thirteen thousand is unprecedented.”
Guardian front page, Thursday 28 March 2019: Parliament finally has its say: No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No pic.twitter.com/F21ltmOu1K— The Guardian (@guardian) March 27, 2019
BREXIT LOGJAM CONTINUES: Once again, the House of Commons "could not produce a majority for any of eight Brexit proposals put forth by members" in order to break the impasse, per my colleagues William Booth and Karla Adam.
- "Prime Minister Theresa May told fellow Conservative Party lawmakers on Wednesday that she was prepared to resign before the next round of Brexit negotiations with the European Union, offering up her leadership post in an effort to persuade hard-liners to support her unpopular plan to exit the bloc," William and Karla report.
- May's offer persuaded a few "Conservative rebels" to commit to supporting the "twice-defeated" plan May already negotiated, but she still might fall short in having enough votes to push the deal through parliament.
In the Media
What we’re reading:
- Reporter’s notebook: Rocket fire lands near Fox News crew as it reported on Israel-Hamas violence. By Fox News’s Trey Yingst.
- ‘Vivaporu’: For many Latinos, memories of Vicks VapoRub are as strong as the scent of eucalyptus. By the Los Angeles Times’s Esmeralda Bermudez.
- Nobody said this was easy: The Brexit Breakup Gets Messier. By Amanda Sloat for Foreign Affairs.
- Save Local News: Why Losing Our Newspapers Is Breaking Our Politics. By Scientific American’s Matthew P. Hitt, Joshua Darr, Johanna Dunaway.
- Comey: Mueller findings show Trump lied about FBI, his attempt to destroy the agency failed. By NBC News’s Adam Edelman.
- “That’s some serious entitlement”: Why The Joe Biden-Stacey Abrams Rumors Won’t Go Away. By BuzzFeed News's Darren Sands.