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Wake Up To Politics - February 27, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, February 27, 2019. 341 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 615 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Michael Cohen to call Trump a "conman" and a "cheat" in congressional testimony, as president meets with Kim Jong Un

President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam today, their second historic summit in the past eight months, to continue talks over North Korea's nuclear program.  

Meanwhile, half a world away, Trump's former longtime personal attorney and "fixer" Michael Cohen will publicly testify before the House Oversight Committee at 10 a.m., offering documents to lawmakers that he says provide "irrefutable" evidence that his onetime boss committed "illicit" acts.

"He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat," Cohen plans to say of Trump, according to his prepared opening statement, which was obtained by multiple news organizations. While questions about the Russia probe will be "off limits" at the hearing, according to CNN, Cohen's prepared testimony also includes allegations that strike at the heart of the ongoing investigation.

Cohen is set to testify that Trump was aware of his longtime adviser Roger Stone's contacts with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during the 2016 campaign, recounting a phone call between Trump and Stone in July 2016 that Cohen overheard, in which Stone told Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Assange, who had said a massive dump of emails damaging Hillary Clinton would land in a few days. According to Cohen, Trump "responded to the effect of 'wouldn't that be great.'"

In addition, Cohen will address the lie to Congress that led to his guilty plea agreement with special counsel Robert Mueller, about the negotiations over the planned Trump Tower Moscow. Cohen will tell lawmakers that Trump "did not directly tell me to lie to Congress," but did implicitly instruct him to do so, telling Cohen throughout the campaign "there's no business in Russia" even as Cohen was negotiating in Russia on his behalf. "In his way, he was telling me to lie," Cohen will say.

And while Cohen will testify that he knows of no "direct evidence that Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia," he will share his suspicions with the panel, revealing a memory from Trump's office in 2016 when Donald Trump, Jr. whispered to his father, "The meeting is all set," and Trump responded: "OK, good...let me know." Cohen later suspected that the meeting in question was the now-infamous Trump Tower meeting between Trump, Jr., and Russians who had promised him "dirt" on Hillary Clinton, which Trump has since denied any knowledge of.

Finally, Cohen will describe racist comments allegedly said by the future president, and also share documents that show Trump inflating his assets, directing Cohen to use his charitable organization to purchase a portrait, and telling Cohen to send letters threatening schools not to disclose his grades. As part of his evidence, Cohen will also provide a copy of a $35,000 check that Trump "personally signed from his personal bank account" in August 2017 to reimburse Cohen for his hush money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, which were deemed illegal by federal prosecutors.

In related court documents, Cohen was described as making the felonious payments in coordination with someone listed as "Individual One." During his testimony today, Cohen will confirm what was already universally assumed: "For the record, Individual One is President Donald J. Trump."

According to CNN, Trump will stay up in Hanoi to watch Cohen's hearing today; the testimony was clearly on his mind just moments before meeting Kim this morning, as he sent a tweet accusing Cohen of "lying in order to reduce his prison time" and doing "bad things unrelated to Trump." The president also tweeted this morning about a Democratic senator and about the "false reporting (guessing) on my intentions with respect to North Korea," adding that he and Kim "will try very hard to work something out on Denuclearization & then making North Korea an Economic Powerhouse."

The Washington Post has reported that some senior Trump aides fear the president will "feel pressure to make a major concession to Kim during face-to-face talks... in hopes of securing a reciprocal commitment he can herald as a political victory," in order to distract from Cohen's testimony and other swirling domestic controversies. Trump has spent the lead-up to the summit heralding his chemistry with the North Korean leader. "The potential is AWESOME, a great opportunity, like almost none other in history, for my friend Kim Jong Un," Trump tweeted Tuesday.

As Trump seized on his tweet this morning, Cohen enters the hearing today with significant credibility issues, on the brink of heading to prison for three years for crimes that include lying to the very institution he will be testifying before. While Cohen will offer an apology to "each of [the lawmakers before him] and to Congress as a whole" in his opening statement, the testimony comes just a day after Cohen was disbarred by in the state of New York. A top Trump ally, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), sought to seize on these credibility issues in a tweet on Tuesday, appearing to accuse of Cohen of infidelity. Gaetz later deleted the tweet, after numerous experts pointed out that it may have constituted threatening and tampering with a witness, just hours before the witness' planned testimony before Congress.

Today will not be the first time that domestic events, especially surrounding the Russia investigation, have interrupted President Trump's foreign travel, but it will be one of the most formidable split screens yet: on one side, the president sits down with the mysterious leader of a nuclear-powered rogue state; on the other, a former member of the president's inner circle will testify under oath that he is a "conman" and a "cheat."

And just as Trump has tweeted about Cohen from Hanoi, the president's travels to Vietnam will not go unmentioned at the hearing on Capitol Hill. "I find it ironic, President Trump, that you are in Vietnam right now," Cohen is set to say, addressing his onetime patron, since it once fell to Cohen to defend Trump's "medical deferment from the Vietnam draft" due to a "bone spur."

Cohen will describe the "bone spur" claim as just one of many that he made to the American people on Trump's behalf without being provided any evidence. "And yet," Cohen plans to remorsefully testify, "I continued to work for him."

The Rundown

--- The House approved a resolution on Tuesday that would overturn President Trump's declaration of a national emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border. The resolution passed, 245-182, with 13 Republicans joining all present Democrats in support of the measure, which is now guaranteed a vote in the Senate. Three Republican senators — Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Thom Tillis (NC) — have so far signaled that they will support the resolution; if one more GOP senator joins them, it will pass the upper chamber. The resolution would then head to the president's desk; the White House issued a formal veto threat on Tuesday, raising the possibility that the measure could be his first veto since taking office.

--- The Department of Health and Human Services received over 4,500 complaints of sexual abuse from migrant children in U.S. custody from 2014 to 2018, according to data published by Axios.

--- 2020 Central: Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday that his family members are encouraging him to run for president, telling an audience in Delaware that he is in "the final stages" of deciding... a trio of political consultants who helped craft Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign parted ways with him on Tuesday, as his second White House bid kicks off... Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) received the first endorsement of an Iowa state lawmaker, nearly a year before the state's first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses...

--- Chicago voters selected two African-American women, former police board president Lori Lightfoot and Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle, from a crowded field of mayoral candidates to advance to an April runoff election. Either Lightfoot or Preckwinkle will succeed Rahm Emanuel, who has served as the city's chief executive for two terms; among the candidates they beat were Bill Daley, the former Obama White House chief of staff who is the son and brother of former Chicago mayors.

--- Citing health issues, Republican Mark Harris announced Tuesday that he will not run in the re-do election in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District, which was called last week after an investigation into potential absentee ballot fraud stemming from the work of a consultant hired by Harris' 2018 campaign for the seat. Democrat Dan McCready, who lost to Harris by 905 votes in November (according to the uncertified results), has already said he will run in the do-over.

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White House schedule

POTUS: President Trump is in Hanoi, Vietnam for his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The president held meetings with Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc overnight.

At 6:30 a.m. today (6:30 p.m. local time), Trump participated in a greeting with Kim, followed by a one-on-one meeting between the two leaders at 6:40 a.m. At 7 a.m. Eastern Time, Trump and Kim participated in a "social dinner" together.  

VP: Vice President Mike Pence has no events on his public schedule today.

Congress schedule

Senate: The Senate meets at 10 a.m. today. At 12:15 p.m., the chamber will vote on confirmation of Michael J. Desmond to be Chief Counsel for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Assistant General Counsel for the Treasury Department, and hold a cloture vote on the nomination of Andrew Wheeler to be Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist and the EPA's current Deputy Administrator, has also served as the agency's Acting Administrator since Scott Pruitt resigned from the post in July 2018.

House: The House convenes at 10 a.m. today. The chamber is scheduled to vote on H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, which would require backgrounds checks for all firearm purchases. The legislation would close the "gun show loophole" that allows firearms to be purchased through private sellers without going through background checks, as well as the "Charleston loophole" that requires FBI background checks on gun sales be completed in three days. The deadline will be extended to 10 days. Although the legislation is not expected to receive a vote in the Senate, it would be the largest-scale expansion of the federal background checks system since its creation in 1993.

Supreme Court schedule

The Supreme Court hears oral arguments today in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association, a highly-anticipated case centering around a 40-foot cross at a state memorial for veterans in Bladensburg, Maryland; the plaintiffs in the lawsuit claim that the cross violates the separation of church and state.

There is a possibility of the justices issuing opinions at 10 a.m.

*All times Eastern