5 min read

Wake Up To Politics - November 30, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Friday, November 30, 2018. 430 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 704 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Michael Cohen pleads guilty to lying to Congress

President Trump's former personal attorney and "fixer," Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty Thursday to one charge from special counsel Robert Mueller's office of making false statements to Congress. Cohen admitted to lying about the proposed Trump Tower Moscow project; he told lawmakers last year that discussions about the proposal ended in January 2016, when voting began in the 2016 presidential primaries. In fact, they continued "as late as approximately June 2016," in the heat of Trump's presidential campaign, according to a nine-page court filing submitted by Mueller's prosecutors.

Cohen also admitted to making other false statements about the discussions: claiming that he never agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the project and "never considered" asking then-candidate Donald Trump to travel fro the project, and claiming that the Russian government did not respond to his attempts to discuss the proposal with them.

However, the filing says, Cohen and Russian-born developer Felix Sater (a Trump business associate who worked on the project) "discussed on multiple occasions traveling to Russia to pursue the Moscow Project," and Cohen asked Trump and other campaign officials about the candidate traveling to Russia "in connection with the Moscow Project" as well. In addition, the filing reveals that after Cohen emailed the Kremlin about the project, he did receive a response, and he spoke on the phone to an assistant to a top aide to Russian president Vladimir Putin for about 20 minutes.

Why did Cohen lie to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees? In his surprise appearance at a New York courtroom to enter the guilty plea, Cohen told the judge that he did so in order to match up with Trump's "repeated disavowals of commercial and political ties between himself and Russia" and his repeated claims that any contact between the Trump Organization and Russian nationals had ended in January 2016.

"I made these misstatements to be consistent with Individual 1's political messaging and out of loyalty to Individual 1," Cohen said. In the "criminal information" submitted by Mueller's prosecutors, Trump is referred to as "Individual 1."

Later Thursday, Trump attacked Cohen as "a weak person," telling reporters: "Michael Cohen is lying and he’s trying to get a reduced sentence for things that have nothing to do with me. This was a project that we didn’t do, I didn’t do." But he also defended the project, adding: "There would be nothing wrong if I did do it."

The president also addressed the Trump Tower Moscow project in a pair of tweets sent this morning from Buenos Aires, Argentina. In the tweets, Trump insisted that he only "lightly looked at doing a building somewhere in Russia" and that all of his actions were "very legal & very cool."

Cohen is the fifth ex-Trump associate charged in Mueller's Russia investigation, after the president's former national security adviser, former campaign chairman and deputy chairman, and a former campaign foreign policy aide. In August, Cohen was charged by federal prosecutors in New York on eight counts of campaign finance violations, tax fraud, and bank fraud. Cohen pleaded guilty to those charges as well.  

More Cohen fallout...

---Per BuzzFeed, the Trump Organization planned to give a $50 million penthouse at the proposed Trump Tower Moscow to Russian president Putin, an idea Cohen discussed with a representative of Putin's press secretary.  

--- Per Yahoo News, Mueller's investigators have been probing the role Donald Trump Jr. and Invaka Trump played in the Trump Tower Moscow discussions.

--- Per Politico, House Democrats plan to call Cohen to testify before Congress after they take over the lower chamber in January, viewing him as a perfect "star witness." In addition, NBC News reports that the Senate and House Intelligence Committees are now combing through testimony from other witnesses in their Russia probes, looking "for possible misleading or untruthful statements."

--- The backstory:  "‘We will be in Moscow’: The story of Trump’s 30-year quest to expand his brand to Russia" (Washington Post)... "How a Lawyer, a Felon and a Russian General Chased a Moscow Trump Tower Deal" (New York Times)...

--- And the big picture: "Individual 1’: Trump emerges as a central subject of Mueller probe" (Washington Post)

The Rundown

Farr nomination: Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) announced Thursday that he would oppose the confirmation of controversial Trump district court nominee Thomas Farr, who has come under fire for his involvement in former Sen. Jesse Helms' campaign's attempts to intimidate black voters in 1984 and 1990. Scott joined Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who has said he will oppose any Trump judicial nominees until a vote is held on his bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller, to effectively sink the nomination.

AG shortlist: President Trump is reportedly in no rush to nominate a permanent replacement for Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, who has led the Justice Department since Jeff Sessions' resignation earlier this month. But according to CNN, Trump's short list for the position is coming together; names include Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division Makan Delrahim, who served as a White House lawyer earlier in the Trump administration, former New Jersey Gov. Chirs Christie, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX), former appeals court judge J. Michael Luttig, and former Bush 41-era attorney general Bill Barr. According to McClatchy, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta is out of the running for the position after a Miami Herald report that he offered the "deal of a lifetime" to sexual abuser Jeffrey Epstein as a federal prosecutor in Florida.

#MeToo continues: California Democratic Party chairman Eric Bauman resigned Thursday after allegations that he sexually harassed and assaulted several party staff members. Bauman had chaired the state party since May 2017; he was the first openly gay person to lead the California Democrats. Bauman said he made the decision "in order for those to whom I have caused pain...to heal, for my own health, and in the best interest of the party."

Do you like Wake Up To Politics? Share it with your colleagues, friends, and family! Please forward this newsletter to them and tell them to sign up at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!

White House schedule

POTUS: President Donald Trump is in Buenos Aires, Argentina today for the Group of 20 (G-20) summit. Already this morning, he has met with Argentine president Mauricio Macri and participated in a signing ceremony for the new North American trade pact replacing NAFTA, the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), with the leaders of Mexico and Canada.

At 10:05, President Trump participates in the official G20 welcome and family photo. At 10:30am, he attends the G20 opening remarks by President Macri. At 10:45am, he participates in the G20 working luncheon on "putting people first."

At 11:45am, Trump meets with Prime Minister Shinzō Abe of Japan. At 12:30pm, he meets with Prime Minister Abe and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. At 12:55pm, he participates in a "pull-aside meeting" with Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia.

At 2:10pm, President and First Lady Trump participate in a meet and greet at the U.S. embassy in Buenos Aires. At 5:10pm, they participate in the G20 family photo. At 5:30pm, they participate in the G20 cultural performance. At 6:15pm, they participate in the G20 leaders' dinner.  

--- Not for the first time, Trump's foreign travel coincides with key developments in the Mueller investigation... "Mueller stalks Trump abroad — again" (Politico)

---Trump was scheduled to meet with Russian president Vladimir Putin on Saturday, but announced Thursday on Twitter that he had canceled the meeting due to Russia's recent seizure of three Ukranian naval ships. "I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!" Trump tweeted.

VP: At 1:30pm, Vice President Mike Pence addresses the 5th Israeli-American Council National Conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Congress schedule

Senate: The Senate does not meet today.

House: The House is scheduled to vote on one piece of legislation: the Federal CIO Authorization Act, which would rename the Office of E-Government to the "Office of the Federal Chief Information Officer," and would elevate the CIO position so it reports to the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Supreme Court schedule

The justices meet today for their Friday conference.

*All times Eastern