I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, April 10, 2018. 210 days until Election Day 2018. 938 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trump blasts FBI raid of his personal lawyer's office as "attack on our country"
The FBI raided the Manhattan office, home, and hotel room of President Donald Trump's longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen on Monday. According to the New York Times, which was the first to report on the raids, agents seized "business records, emails and documents related to several topics," including Cohen's $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels.
What happened: According to Cohen's lawyer Stephen Ryan, the raids were conducted by the U.S. Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York after prosecutors obtained a search warrant upon referral by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the Russia investigation.
The matter would have to go through many layers of the Justice Department before resulting in a raid. According to Bloomberg, Mueller brought information involving Cohen to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who decided that it should be handled by the U.S. attorney's office in New York. Then, acting U.S. attorney Geoffrey Berman in Manhattan and DOJ officials in Washington would have had to sign off on a search warrant; finally, a judge would have to approve, deeming that the need for the records in question superseded attorney-client privilege, since a lawyer's communications with his clients are highly protected.
Ryan described it as a "completely inappropriate and unnecessary...seizure of protected attorney client communications between a lawyer and his clients." However, according to the Washington Post, Cohen "is under federal investigation for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations"; per the Wall Street Journal, the investigation by the U.S. attorney's office is being coordinated with special counsel Mueller's office.
"Investigators took Cohen’s computer, phone and personal financial records, including tax returns, as part of the search of his office at Rockefeller Center," The Post reported, adding that "federal prosecutors collected communications between Cohen and his clients — including those between the lawyer and Trump." The payment to Stormy Daniels was just one of many issues covered by the documents seized.
How Trump responded: According to CNN, President Trump spent much of Monday afternoon watching reports of the raids on television, "growing more incensed and planning his response." Later in the evening, surrounded by his "war cabinet" ahead of a high-stakes meeting on how to respond to the chemical weapons attack in Syria, Trump unleashed on the Russia investigation and his own Justice Department.
"So I just heard that they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys -- a good man," Trump said, unprompted by a reporter. "And it's a disgraceful situation. It's a total witch hunt." The president went on to say that the raids constituted "a real disgrace," "an attack on our country" and "what we all stand for," and a "whole new level of unfairness."
Trump criticized his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, for his fateful decision last year to recuse himself from the Russia investigation and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for his leadership in the probe. "The Attorney General made a terrible mistake when he did this, and when he recused himself," the president said. "Or he should have certainly let us know if he was going to recuse himself, and we would have used a -- put a different Attorney General in. So he made what I consider to be a very terrible mistake for the country."
The president also bemoaned that the Russia probe has been "hanging over us now from the very, very beginning" while "nobody bothers looking" at "the other side," referring to Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server.
Asked by a reporter if he planned to fire Mueller, Trump responded: "We'll see what happens," noting that "many people" have advised him to dismiss the special counsel. "This is a pure and simple witch hunt," he concluded the tirade.
Aides and outside allies described the president to the Associated Press as "shaken and increasingly frustrated by the development," and his anger has apparently yet to subside. Trump referred to the raids in a pair of messages this morning, tweeting "Attorney-client privilege is dead!", followed by "A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!"
Why it matters: Cohen has represented Trump for more than a decade, serving as a confidant and fixer for him on a range of legal issues. He is "Trump's virtual vault," as the Washington Post described him, "the keeper of his secrets, from his business deals to his personal affairs — and the executor of his wishes." He has become best known in the news recently for handling the "hush agreement" with Stormy Daniels, claiming that he paid the $130,000 out of his own pocket and without Trump's knowledge, in order to protect his client.
Monday's development represents another sign that the many legal issues surrounding the White House — from the Russia investigation to lawsuits from the president's alleged mistresses — are creeping closer to Trump's inner circle. Mueller is currently seeking an interview with the president, which Trump's shrunken legal team is negotiating with the special counsel's team of veteran prosecutors.
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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a joint hearing held by the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees at 2:15pm today. Zuckerberg will be pressed by senators of both parties on the disclosure that the data of as many as 87 million of Facebook's users have been improperly shared, most prominently with Trump-tied data firm Cambridge Analytica. He will also testify tomorrow before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has released his prepared opening statement. "We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake," he will say. "It was my mistake, and I’m sorry."
President Trump and his top military advisers on Monday discussed a possible military strike against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in response to a suspected chemical-weapons attack that killed at least 42 civilians. "It will be met, and it will be met forcefully," Trump promised. According to the New York Times, a U.S. airstrike against Syria could be carried out as early as today. Trump said Monday that a decision would be made in the next 24 to 48 hours.
The federal government's annual budget deficit is expected to exceed $1 trillion by 2020, the Congressional Budget Office said in new projections Monday. The deficit was projected to total $804 billion this year, a 43% increase from what it had projected it would be last summer; the dramatic increase comes after taxes were cuts by the Republican tax overhaul and spending was increased by last month's omnibus spending bill.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating a $150,000 payment made to the Trump Foundation by a Ukranian steel magnate in exchange for a brief appearance via video Donald Trump made at a conference in Kiev during the 2016 campaign, the New York Times reports. According to the Times, the probe into the payment is "part of a broader examination of streams of foreign money to Mr. Trump and his associates in the years leading up to the election."
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) became the first sitting senator to give birth while in office Monday, the same day as Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) was sworn in. Hyde-Smith is the first woman to represent Mississippi in Congress; her arrival brings the number of women in the Senate to 23, an all-time high.
Lawyers for the Trump Organization penned a letter to Panama's president last month, directly asking for him to intervene in a fight over control of Trump International Hotel & Tower Panama. Per the Associated Press, which obtained the letter, ethics experts characterized the appeal as "a blatant mingling of Trump’s business and government interests."
Quote of the Day
"I love political science. I love government. I'm obsessed with presidents. I'm obsessed to know how the system works." — rapper Cardi B to GQ on her love of politics, in a profile that touches on her knowledge of presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to James Buchanan
President Donald Trump hosts Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar at the White House today. Trump meets with the Emir in the Oval Office at 12:05pm, followed by a 12:20pm working lunch in the Cabinet Room. He later hosts the 2017 NCAA Football National Champions, the Alabama Crismon Tide, on the South Lawn.
Vice President Mike Pence participates in the working lunch with the Qatari Emir, before traveling to Boston, Massachusetts. At 5pm, Vice President Pence participates in a Republican National Committee event in Boston, and then returns to Washington, D.C.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders holds an on-camera press briefing at 2pm.
The Senate convenes at 10am and will return to consideration of President Trump's nominees. The chamber will hold a 12:10pm confirmation vote on Claria Horn Boom, nominated to be a U.S. District Judge for the Eastern and Western Districts of Kentucky, followed by a recess from 12:30pm to 2:15pm for weekly caucus meetings, and then a 2:15pm cloture vote advancing the nomination of John F. Ring to be a member of the National Labor Relations Board.
The House convenes at 12pm to vote on five pieces of legislation:
- the STB Information Security Improvement Act, "to require the Surface Board of Transportation to implement certain recommendations of the Inspector General of the Department of Transportation";
- the FRA Safety Data Improvement Act, "to require the Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration to implement certain recommendations for management and collection of railroad safety data";
- the Combat Online Predators Act, which "increases the maximum term of imprisonment by up to five years for the most serious forms of stalking and cyberstalking of a minor";
- a resolution "supporting respect for human rights and encouraging inclusive governance in Ethiopia";
- and the End Banking for Human Traffickers Act, "to increase the role of the financial industry in combating human trafficking."
*All times Eastern