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February 2019: Get the latest monthly headline news from multiple news sources and news links. Get real facts, real news from major news originations.  

By Manu Raju and Clare Foran, CNN
Washington (CNN)House Oversight Chair Elijah Cummings on Thursday outlined plans for his committee to seek interviews with close Trump associates and family members following a blockbuster public hearing featuring President Donald Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen. Cummings told CNN that five or six House committees will investigate all the allegations that emerged from Cohen's testimony. Asked if his committee would focus on Trump's role in the hush-money scandal, the Maryland Democrat said: "Probably." Cummings told reporters that his committee will reach out to individuals named repeatedly during Wednesday's hearing for interviews, saying his panel will comb through the transcript of the hours-long hearing to "figure out who we want to talk to and we'll bring them in." "All you have to do is follow the transcript. If there were names that were mentioned or records that were mentioned during the hearing, we're going to take a look at all of that," Cummings told reporters when asked who the committee expects to follow up with. "We'll go through, we'll figure out who we want to talk to and we'll bring them in." A list of names drawn from people mentioned during the hearing could encompass a range of individuals, including members of the President's inner circle and family such as his daughter Ivanka Trump and son Donald Trump Jr. as well as Allen Weisselberg, a top Trump Organization official and the company's longtime chief financial officer.
The House Intelligence Committee is also expressing an interest in Weisselberg. A committee aide told CNN the panel "anticipates" bringing in Weisselberg. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, also announced on Thursday that his committee will hold an open hearing on March 14 with Felix Sater, the Russian-born onetime business associate of Trump's who worked to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Asked on Thursday if his committee is interested in speaking with members of the Trump family such as Ivanka and Don Jr., Cummings replied, "Just follow the transcript."

By Maggie Haberman, Michael S. Schmidt, Adam Goldman and Annie Karni
WASHINGTON — President Trump ordered his chief of staff to grant his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, a top-secret security clearance last year, overruling concerns flagged by intelligence officials and the White House’s top lawyer, four people briefed on the matter said. Mr. Trump’s decision in May so troubled senior administration officials that at least one, the White House chief of staff at the time, John F. Kelly, wrote a contemporaneous internal memo about how he had been “ordered” to give Mr. Kushner the top-secret clearance. The White House counsel at the time, Donald F. McGahn II, also wrote an internal memo outlining the concerns that had been raised about Mr. Kushner — including by the C.I.A. — and how Mr. McGahn had recommended that he not be given a top-secret clearance. The disclosure of the memos contradicts statements made by the president, who told The New York Times in January in an Oval Office interview that he had no role in his son-in-law receiving his clearance. Mr. Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe D. Lowell, also said that at the time the clearance was granted last year that his client went through a standard process. Ivanka Trump, the president’s eldest daughter and Mr. Kushner’s wife, said the same thing three weeks ago. Asked on Thursday about the memos contradicting the president’s account, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said, “We don’t comment on security clearances.”

by Becket Adams
It’s amazing how far people can get with President Trump so long as they dangle in front of him the promise of prestige. You can be a murderous third-world dictator and oversee the slow execution of an American citizen, and the president will defend you for it before the entire world just so long as he believes doing so will get him closer to boosting his own personal and professional capital. This isn’t hyperbole either. The president did exactly this Thursday during a joint press conference in Hanoi, Vietnam, with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Trump actually defended the potbellied tyrant king’s claim that he was in the dark in 2016 when his regime imprisoned and tortured a University of Virginia student from Ohio. Otto Warmbier, who was beaten into a coma by North Korean prison guards during his 17-month imprisonment, died shortly after arriving back in the U.S. in June 2017. "He felt badly about it. He felt very badly," Trump said Thursday after his second summit with Kim, adding they discussed Warmbier’s death privately. "He tells me that he didn't know about it and I will take him at his word." The president added that it wouldn’t have been in Kim’s interest for Warmbier to be irreparably harmed, saying, "I don't think that the top leadership knew about it. I don't believe that [Kim] would have allowed that to happen." “It just wasn't to his advantage to allow that to happen,” Trump said. Considering the Kim regime maintains an iron grip on all information that comes in and out of North Korea, and the fact that he has a murderous special police who are tasked specifically with keeping him informed of all goings on in the country, Trump’s suggestion that the North Korean despot wasn’t aware of what was happening to Warmbier beggars belief.

By John Harwood
Throughout the 2016 campaign and since, the president and his party have vowed to kick-start tepid Obama-era economic growth. New government data show that Trump, too, has failed to reach the 3 percent promised land, according to one major metric. The Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis measured 2018 growth at 2.9 percent, matching the peak Obama enjoyed in 2015. For the rest of the president's term, economic forecasters agree, that number will decline. President Donald Trump's central claim about his economic policies officially crashed into reality on Thursday. Throughout the 2016 campaign and since, the president and his party have vowed to kick-start tepid Obama-era economic growth. Specifically, they insisted tax cuts and deregulation would return growth to its post-World War II average of 3 percent — a level, candidate Trump said derisively, that President Barack Obama became "the first president in modern history" never to reach in a single year. New government data on Thursday morning show that Trump, too, has failed to reach the 3 percent promised land, according to one major metric. The Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis measured 2018 growth at 2.9 percent, matching the peak Obama enjoyed in 2015. Instead of annual 2018 growth, the White House emphasized a different growth measure comparing growth from the fourth quarter of 2017 to the fourth quarter of 2018. By that measure, the economy grew 3.1 percent. But Obama, too, reached 3 percent growth on a four-quarter basis four different times. Where Obama failed to enjoy 3 percent annual growth was on the BEA's official annual number. His 2015 peak was 2.9 percent, like Trump's for 2018. Thursday's preliminary 2.9 percent figure could later be revised, although economist Mark Zandi of Moody's Analytics said the most likely direction would be down. For the rest of the president's term, economic forecasters agree, that number will decline. "2018 will be the high-water mark for growth in the Trump administration," Zandi predicted. He expects the decade-old economic expansion will shrink to 1.1 percent growth in 2020, with a better-than-even chance of recession.

Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large
(CNN)When Otto Warmbier was returned to the United States in 2017 and died shortly afterward, President Donald Trump condemned the North Korean regime for the imprisonment and suspected torture of the college student who was arrested in 2015 for alleged spying. "You are powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world, and your strength inspires us all," Trump said, addressing Warmbier's parents, during his 2018 State of the Union address. "Tonight, we pledge to honor Otto's memory with American resolve." He added in that same speech: "We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and our allies." Fast forward to Thursday in Hanoi, when, at a summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, Trump said this of Warmbier and North Korea: "He tells me that he didn't know about it and I will take him at his word." Trump added that Kim "felt badly about it. He felt very badly." Trump is, apparently, taking the word of a brutal dictator who had his half-brother murdered with nerve gas at an airport and who continues to live a posh lifestyle while his country suffers the effects of staggering economic sanctions? The guy who North Korean media says began driving a car at age 3, helped cure Ebola and can control the weather? We're going to believe THAT guy??? On its face, Kim's claim that he was unaware of Warmbier's arrest and treatment is beyond laughable. Kim rules North Korea with an iron fist. He wouldn't know that an American college student had been arrested in his country? He would miss how Warmbier's arrest and incarceration became a massive national and international story? And at no time in the 18 months Warmbier was held would anyone in Kim's government ever see fit to mention that they were holding an American prisoner? Like I said, that's beyond unbelievable. So why did Trump reverse course on Warmbier and North Korea? Simple: Because it was the politically expedient thing to do. Trump wants to make a denuclearization deal with North Korea. He suspects, rightly, that doing so would be a massive foreign policy achievement and a major pillar of his presidential legacy. To make that deal, which Trump was unable to close during this second summit with Kim, he knows that he has to keep Kim happy, keep him talking and keep him in the right mindspace to make a deal. In order to do that, Trump is willing to say and do whatever is needed -- up to and including giving a violent dictator a pass on the wrongful imprisonment and mistreatment of an American college student who, after being held for 18 months, was returned to the United States in a vegetative state and died days later.

By Dan Alexander, Forbes Staff
Since the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump has claimed that he cannot release his tax returns because he is under audit. But his former attorney Michael Cohen cast doubt on that excuse Wednesday, when responding to a question about the “real reason” the president refused to make his tax filings public. “What he didn’t want,” Cohen testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, “was to have an entire group of think tanks that are tax experts run through his tax return and start ripping it to pieces, and then he’ll end up in an audit and he’ll ultimately have taxable consequences, penalties and so on.” Asked whether the president was actually under audit in 2016, Cohen said even he was unsure. “I don’t know the answer. I asked for a copy of the audit so that I could use it in terms of my statements to the press, and I was never able to obtain one.” “I presume that he is not under audit,” Cohen added. A spokesperson for the president’s company did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It is no secret that President Trump has tried to avoid taxes for decades. The first time he landed in the pages of Forbes, in 1982, the magazine noted that he got the “biggest tax abatement ever” for his midtown Manhattan hotel. Four years later, Forbes pointed out his $100 million tax break on Trump Tower. One year after that, amid a skirmish with the New York City mayor involving tax breaks on a third project, Trump called the official a “moron.”

The Pentagon's justification for the trans military ban fell completely to pieces.
By Zack Ford
While the Michael Cohen hearing was stealing the spotlight Wednesday, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel held its own hearing on President Donald Trump’s transgender military ban. After stirring testimony from a panel of five out trans service members, two representatives from the administration then attempted to defend the ban — and ended up doing so by comparing being transgender to having a disease. James N. Stewart, who is currently performing the duties of Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, rehashed the administration’s familiar arguments. Repeatedly, he insisted that the policy is not a “ban,” nor does it target “transgender” people. Instead, he claimed that it only impacts people who present with the condition of gender dysphoria, and was thus not discriminatory. Vice Admiral Raquel Bono, Director of the Defense Health Agency, was also on hand to testify that there were medical justifications for not allowing people with gender dysphoria to serve. With the exception of Rep. Trent Kelly (R-MS), who appeared sympathetic to allowing transgender people to serve, only Democratic members of the committee asked questions, and they all attempted to chip away at Stewart and Bono’s claims. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), who chairs the subcommittee, said she was “astonished” by their arguments, and Rep. Lori Trahan (D-MA) noted that it costs three times as much to train a single pilot as it does to provide a year’s worth of transition-related medical services across the entire military. Many of the members pointed out that every major medical organization has rejected the ban, leaving Bono to claim that the military has its own data to justify it. But she could not in any way explain how they determined, for example, that starting hormone replacement therapy would result in 12 months of non-deployability, insisting the science was still shifting.

By Sharon LaFraniere
WASHINGTON — The special counsel’s office, citing new information from a cooperating witness, appeared on Wednesday to correct one element of its earlier allegations that Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, lied about his contacts with a Russian business associate whom they have linked to Russian intelligence. In a heavily redacted memo filed in United States District Court in Washington, prosecutors working for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, cited new evidence that they obtained less than two weeks ago from Rick Gates, the Trump campaign’s deputy chairman. They said their revised account should not change the recent ruling by Judge Amy Berman Jackson that Mr. Manafort had been untruthful about his interactions with the Russian associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, because they had presented sufficient other evidence of Mr. Manafort’s lies. Nonetheless, the filing was a rare admission of a mistake by the special counsel’s office, which is winding up a nearly two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race and whether anyone tied to the Trump campaign conspired in the effort to influence the outcome of the vote. The filing could give new ammunition to Mr. Manafort’s defense team, which has argued that prosecutors overreached in accusing Mr. Manafort of lying because they were too eager to believe Mr. Gates. Lawyers for Mr. Manafort have repeatedly contended that Mr. Gates, who has been cooperating with Mr. Mueller’s team for the past year, is not a credible witness. Mr. Gates pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators and conspiracy and is assisting the special counsel in hopes of a lighter sentence. The subject in dispute was unclear from the filing, but one issue that prosecutors have said that Mr. Manafort lied about was whether he ordered Mr. Gates to give Trump campaign polling data to Mr. Kilimnik before the election. Court records suggest that prosecutors relied heavily on Mr. Gates for evidence of data transfers.

By Devan Cole
Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump's decision not to hold North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un responsible for Otto Warmbier's death was "reprehensible," former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum said Thursday. "This is the conundrum of Donald Trump for many of us who like his policies and don't like a lot of the things he does and says," Santorum said of the decision to CNN's John Berman on "New Day." "But, this is reprehensible, what he just did. He gave cover, as you said, to a leader who knew very well what was going on with Otto Warmbier," Santorum, who is a CNN political commentator, said. "And again, I don't understand why the President does this. I am disappointed, to say the least, that he did it." Earlier Thursday, Trump, who was in Hanoi for a summit with Kim, said the North Korean leader "felt badly about it. He felt very badly," telling reporters the two discussed the matter privately. "He tells me that he didn't know about it and I will take him at his word." North Korea released Warmbier, an American student, in June 2017 after more than a year of imprisonment, returning him to the US in a coma. Warmbier died days after returning home and US officials quickly blamed North Korea for the brain damage Warmbier suffered that led to his death.

By Emery Dalesio and Jonathan Drew, Associated Press
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The political operative at the center of an election fraud scandal that has engulfed a North Carolina congressional race was arrested Wednesday on charges of illegal ballot handling and conspiracy. Four people working for him were also charged. Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., 63, was accused of directing workers to collect and mail in other people’s absentee ballots during the 2018 Republican congressional primary and the 2016 general election. It is against the law in North Carolina for anyone other than the voter or a close relative to handle a mail-in ballot, a measure aimed at guarding against manipulation. Prosecutors are still investigating evidence of ballot tampering by Dowless and others working on behalf of GOP candidate Mark Harris during last fall’s congressional election in the mostly rural 9th District, which includes part of Charlotte and extends eastward across several counties. The indictment represents the first charges in a scandal that has cast doubt on election integrity and will leave a congressional seat unfilled for months. “These indictments should serve as a stern warning to anyone trying to defraud elections in North Carolina,” state elections director Kim Westbrook Strach said. Dowless was arrested less than a week after the state elections board decided that his work for Harris, starting with the primary, tainted the Republican’s apparent victory in November. The board ordered a new election but hasn’t set a date. Harris is not running in the do-over election; his Democratic opponent from November, Dan McCready, is. Harris has not been charged and has denied knowledge of any illegal practices by those involved in his campaign. But he, too, could come under scrutiny. During last week’s board hearing, he admitted writing personal checks to Dowless in 2017, a potential violation if the payments weren’t reported.

By William Cummings, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON – After Rep. Mark Meadows defended himself against allegations of racism during a House committee meeting Wednesday, critics resurfaced two 2012 videos of the North Carolina Republican in which he vowed to send then-President Barack Obama "home to Kenya." The videos were shared by Liberal commentators in response to an exchange between Meadows and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., during a hearing featuring President Donald Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen. Meadows invited Lynne Patton – a longtime Trump associate and current Housing and Urban Development official – to the hearing and referred to her while disputing Cohen's allegation that the president is a racist. "Just because someone has a person of color, a black person working for them, does not mean they aren't racist," Tlaib said. She added that the use of Patton as a political "prop" was "racism in itself."

By Peter Baker and Nicholas Fandos
WASHINGTON — President Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer accused him on Wednesday of an expansive pattern of lies and criminality, offering a damning portrayal of life inside the president’s orbit where he said advisers sacrificed integrity for proximity to power. Michael D. Cohen, who represented Mr. Trump for a decade, told Congress that the president lied to the American public about business interests in Russia during the 2016 campaign and lied to reporters about stolen Democratic emails. Mr. Trump also told Mr. Cohen to lie about illegal hush payments to cover up alleged sexual indiscretions, the lawyer charged. The allegations, aired at a daylong hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, exposed a dark underside of Mr. Trump’s business and political worlds in the voice of one of the ultimate insiders. Perhaps no close associate of a president has turned on him in front of Congress in such dramatic fashion since John Dean testified against President Richard M. Nixon during the Watergate scandal. “He is a racist. He is a con man. And he is a cheat,” Mr. Cohen said of the president. Mr. Cohen, who has pleaded guilty to lying under oath to Congress, among other crimes, said he did so to protect Mr. Trump. “I am not protecting Mr. Trump anymore,” he said. But it remained unclear whether his testimony would change the political dynamics of a series of scandals that have already polarized Washington and the country and that could lead to an impeachment battle later this year. Assailing Mr. Cohen as a proven liar, Republicans denounced the hearing as a “charade” and an “embarrassment for our country.” Democrats said Republicans “ran away from the truth” as they sought to defend a corrupt president who has employed “textbook mob tactics.”

By Spencer Ackerman, Sam Brodey
The Republican game plan was to impugn Cohen’s nonexistent integrity. Cohen told them that if they continue down their path, they’ll end up as disgraced as he is. For all the Republican assaults on Michael Cohen’s character and credibility – an easy thing to pull off against someone convicted of both fraud and lying to Congress – President Trump’s ex-fixer had a warning for them: You’re going down the road that led me here. “I can only warn people,” the disgraced ex-attorney said, “the more people that follow Mr. Trump as I did, blindly, are going to suffer the same consequences that I’m suffering.” Cohen, testifying to the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday, said that throughout his decade-long tenure as Trump’s attorney, the “conman” instructed him to lie. Those lies including covering up to Congress the extent and campaign-time duration of a nine-figure deal to build a Moscow Trump Tower and arranging hush-money payments to silence women during the 2016 election who said they had sex with Trump. Cohen’s account of deceit put Trump closer to legally perilous terrain of the sort that will soon send Cohen to prison: obstructing congressional investigations and violating campaign finance law. He told the panel that in meetings with Trump and attorney Jay Sekulow ahead of his deceitful 2017 congressional testimony, Trump told him: “‘Michael, there’s no Russia, there’s no collusion, there’s no interference.’ I know what he wants because I’ve been around him for so long” – that is, to lie to Congress.

By David Shortell, CNN
Washington (CNN)The Florida Bar is investigating Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz after his threatening tweet last night about President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen.
Francine Andía Walker, the group's director of communications, said the Florida Bar received a number of calls and emails regarding the tweet after it posted. According to disciplinary guidelines for the group, which is the organization of all lawyers licensed by the Supreme Court of Florida to practice law in the state, the state bar's lawyer regulation arm must determine that an allegation against a bar member "would constitute a violation of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar" before a probe is opened. On Tuesday night, just hours ahead of Cohen's public testimony before the House Oversight Committee, Gaetz -- a Trump ally -- tweeted at Cohen, "Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she'll remain faithful when you're in prison. She's about to learn a lot..." Gaetz later deleted his tweet and issued an apology. As part of their investigation, Walker said the Florida Bar on Wednesday would send Gaetz a letter outlining the allegation against him. Gaetz will have 15 days to respond. The Daily Beast first reported the investigation Wednesday. "It seems that the Florida Bar, by its rules, is required to investigate even the most frivolous of complaints," said Jillian Lane Wyant, a spokeswoman for Gaetz, when asked for a response to the investigation. A state bar investigation is not a criminal probe, and in Florida, there are further layers of investigation that the probe will go through before any potential disciplinary action is brought down by the Florida Supreme Court. Rules regulating the Florida Bar say that "a lawyer's conduct should conform to the requirements of the law, both in professional service to clients and in the lawyer's business and personal affairs. A lawyer should use the law's procedures only for legitimate purposes and not to harass or intimidate others."

By Dara Lind
Michael Cohen and Republican Mark Meadows had a massively awkward argument about whether Donald Trump is a racist. Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday generally did not reflect well on the character of President Donald Trump. He accused Trump of committing crimes while in office; lying to the public about his business dealings in Russia and tacitly encouraging Cohen to do the same; and ordering Cohen to bully Trump’s alma maters out of releasing his school records. But what Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) took issue with was Cohen’s recounting that Trump had made racist comments on multiple occasions. The brief exchange exhibited a lot of the worst problems with the way people talk about racism in the early 21st century — and Trump’s racism in particular. Here’s what Cohen said in his prepared testimony:

By Sharon LaFraniere and Maggie Haberman
WASHINGTON — The attorney general for the District of Columbia has subpoenaed documents from President Trump’s inaugural committee, the third governmental body to delve into how the fund raised $107 million and spent it to celebrate Mr. Trump’s swearing in. The latest subpoena follows similar demands for documents by federal prosecutors in Manhattan and by New Jersey’s attorney general. The attorney general in Washington is a local official who enforces statutes governing the operation of nonprofit organizations like the inaugural committee. No other recent inaugural committee has generated such intense scrutiny of its finances. Typically short-lived, the committees are charged with staging balls, concerts and black-tie dinners in the nation’s capital during inauguration week. Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee raised and spent at least twice as much as its predecessors, but it ended in acrimony amid allegations of misspent funds. Federal prosecutors are examining whether foreigners illegally contributed to events using Americans as straw donors, a possible violation of criminal law. New Jersey authorities appear to be examining whether the committee obeyed civil statutes governing how nonprofit organizations raise funds, among other matters. Karl A. Racine, the Washington attorney general, appears to be looking for any evidence of self-dealing. His subpoena said investigators are seeking to determine whether funds “were wasted, mismanaged and/or improperly provided private benefit, causing the committee to exceed or abuse its authority or act contrary to its nonprofit purpose.” It seeks documents showing payments to the Trump International Hotel or the Trump Organization, including any communications related to “the pricing of venue rentals.” The committee paid Mr. Trump’s hotel $1.5 million for rooms, meals and the use of a ballroom.

By Michael D. Shear
WASHINGTON — The dramatic public testimony to Congress on Wednesday morning by President Trump’s former lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, could intensify the legal issues facing the president in the criminal and civil investigations that are swirling around him, legal experts said. Mr. Cohen’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee was a remarkable personal and political rebuke to the president from a lawyer who served Mr. Trump with fierce loyalty for more than a decade. In his prepared testimony, Mr. Cohen — who has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress and will go to prison for his crimes — blasted the president as a “racist,” a “con-man” and a “cheat.” But legal experts said that several of the specific allegations by Mr. Cohen in his opening statement could be relevant to questions about whether Mr. Trump participated in a conspiracy to affect the 2016 election, violated campaign finance laws and obstructed justice in an effort to deflect investigations. The experts cautioned that nothing Mr. Cohen said in his prepared remarks dramatically altered what is known about any legal case against the president. The relevant laws are complex and the president’s lawyers have repeatedly argued that he did not violate them. And perhaps most important, they note, there is a Justice Department policy that asserts that a president may not be indicted while in office. Still, Mr. Cohen’s testimony surfaced some new information that could be relevant to Robert S. Mueller, the special counsel, or other prosecutors investigating cases touching on the president. Here are some examples: Hush Money Payments to Porn Star. In his prepared remarks, Mr. Cohen described in detail how Mr. Trump personally reimbursed Mr. Cohen for the $130,000 hush money payment to Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, to ensure her silence about an affair with Mr. Trump.

By Lee Moran, HuffPost US
President Donald Trump’s sons Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. lashed out Wednesday about the imminent congressional hearing of their father’s former fixer and attorney, Michael Cohen. Eric Trump tweeted that it was “a national disgrace that on the eve of historic peace talks” between his father and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, “the Democrats in the House orchestrate this clownshow.” He also claimed his father’s accomplishments “are nothing short of incredible especially in the face of such hate & adversity.” Donald Trump Jr., meanwhile, shared video to Instagram in which Cohen repeatedly praised his former boss. “It was only after Cohen was caught for tax evasion and other personal financial misdeeds, he began lying about President Trump in an effort to save face,” he captioned the clip, below: Trump Jr. also tweeted a link to the right-wing website The Gateway Pundit, which documented his Tuesday night appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show. He claimed in the interview that Democrats were trying “to counter-program” his father’s attempts to denuclearize North Korea with Cohen’s testimony.

By John Wagner
Leslie McCrae Dowless, a political operative at the center of a Republican congressional campaign in North Carolina tainted by evidence of ballot fraud, was indicted by a grand jury on seven counts, a prosecutor announced Wednesday. Dowless, who worked for Mark Harris, the Republican nominee in the state’s 9th Congressional District, was arrested and charged with three counts of felonious obstruction of justice, two counts of conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice, and two counts of possession of absentee ballot, the Wake County district attorney’s office said. North Carolina election officials last week ordered a new contest in the district, ending a dramatic, months-long investigation focused on irregularities with mail-in ballots. The board voted unanimously to throw out the November results between Harris and Democrat Dan McCready. Harris, an evangelical minister from Charlotte, had led by 905 votes in unofficial returns. He announced Tuesday that he would not run in the new election.

By Barbie Latza Nadeau
Threats to the College Board. There’s no respect for his son. He’s far more racist in private. Here, the nastiest parts of what Michael Cohen said about Donald Trump. Michael Cohen did not pull any punches when he testified in front of the House Oversight Committee Wednesday morning. The former first fixer—if he is to be believed—confirmed much of what the public already believes is true. Cohen’s opening statement laid out a series of jaw-droppers. Here’s a fast look at the nastiest personal dirt that was dished out loud on national TV this morning: ‘I Find It Ironic, President Trump, That You Are in Vietnam Right Now’ Cohen claimed that Trump asked him to put off reporters who were asking about his medical deferment from the Vietnam War draft, privately telling his consigliere that there were no medical records of the bone spurs that he has said affected his heel in the late ’60s and early ’70s. “When I asked for medical records, he gave me none and said there was no surgery,” Cohen told the House committee. “He told me not to answer the specific questions by reporters but rather offer simply the fact that he received a medical deferment.” When Cohen pressed him for more details, he said Trump finished the conversation abruptly. “You think I’m stupid,” Trump said, according to Cohen. “I wasn’t going to Vietnam.”

By Ed Mazza
Michael Cohen testifies before Congress on Wednesday, but his opening statement was published by The New York Times late Tuesday. In it, the disgraced former attorney to President Donald Trump painted a picture of a “racist,” a “conman” and a “cheat” sitting in the Oval Office. Then, in scathing detail, Cohen listed examples of each in action. Here are some of the most stunning excerpts from the statement: “Mr. Trump is a racist” “He once asked me if I could name a country run by a black person that wasn’t a ‘shithole.’ This was when Barack Obama was President of the United States. “While we were once driving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago, he commented that only black people could live that way. “And, he told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.”

By Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey
HANOI — The White House abruptly banned four U.S. journalists from covering President Trump’s dinner here Wednesday with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un after some of them shouted questions at the leaders during their earlier meetings. Reporters from the Associated Press, Bloomberg News, the Los Angeles Times and Reuters were excluded from covering the dinner because of what White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said were “sensitivities over shouted questions in the previous sprays.” Among the questions asked of Trump was one about the congressional testimony of his former lawyer Michael Cohen. The White House’s move to restrict press access was an extraordinary act of retaliation by the U.S. government, which historically has upheld the rights of journalists while a president travels overseas. It was especially remarkable because it came during Trump’s meeting with the leader of a totalitarian state that does not have a free press. Trump’s exchanges with Kim were being covered by the standard 13-member traveling White House press pool, but ahead of the dinner Sanders sought to exclude all reporters from the pool and permit only the photographers and television crew, citing “sensitivities over shouted questions in the previous sprays.”

By D'Angelo Gore
In declaring a national emergency at the southern border, President Donald Trump spoke of an “invasion” by “all types of criminals and gangs.” He suggested that the media “take a look at our federal prison population” and “see how many of them, percentage-wise, are illegal aliens.” But it’s misleading to look only at the federal prison population, since state prisons and local jails house approximately 90 percent of the total U.S. incarcerated population. We looked at the available data for the entire prison population. About 17 percent of individuals in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Marshals Service were confirmed to be in the U.S. illegally, according to federal data as of Dec. 31, 2017. But less than 6 percent of inmates at the federal, state and local level in 2016 were in the U.S. illegally, according to one independent estimate based on Census Bureau data. Besides, the percentage of all noncitizens in federal prison is inflated by the number of individuals charged with or convicted of committing federal immigration crimes. An immigration violation, such as unlawful entry or reentry into the U.S., was the primary offense for 29 percent of the “known or suspected” noncitizens in BOP custody, according to government data as of the end of 2017. Of the confirmed noncitizens in USMS custody at the time, 56 percent were charged with a primary offense related to immigration. Trump’s statement about federal prisons came during the Feb. 15 press conference in which he declared a national emergency at the U.S. border with Mexico. CNN’s chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, told Trump that “a lot of crime data out there” show “undocumented immigrants committing crime at lower levels than native-born Americans.” (We have written that numerous studies have found that immigrants, regardless of legal status, don’t commit crimes at a higher rate than nonimmigrants, and that higher concentrations of immigrants don’t lead to higher rates of violent crime.)

By Dmitriy Kiselyov
It is fundamental that our retaliation in case of a counter-attack would be directed against the United States, as Putin said, against ‘decision-making centers.’...Where are these decision-making centers in the United States? On the U.S. East Coast, the Pentagon, where the highest command of the Armed Forces, the Joint Chiefs of Staff is located; Camp David, the government command post the U.S. President is also present; Fort Ritchie, Maryland, a command post of the American President and command center of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Now on the West Coast: McClellan (California), a command center of the strategic offensive forces, and Jim Creek (Washington), a nuclear command control center.” - Source: Rossiya 24 TV. Russian television host Dmitriy Kiselyov attempted to clarify what President Vladimir Putin meant when he threatened the United States with retaliation during his annual address to the Federation Council, the Russian parliament. Putin declared that should Washington deploy intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Russia would be forced to strike at key “decision-making centers” in the United States. He then spoke of Russia’s progress in developing a hypersonic missile, the Tsirkon, which Moscow claims would have a range of 1,000 km and move with a speed of 11,000 km. Russian TV host and CEO of the Kremlin’s media arm Rossiya Segodnya, Kiselyov, who is reportedly close to Putin, was quick to identify the U.S. military “decision-making centers” located along the East and West coasts. But he blundered, listing nonexistent military bases as Russian targets and Kremlin spokesperson Dmitriy Peskov immediately distanced the government from war scenarios presented on its own state-owned television outlet. “We never interfere and cannot interfere in the editorial policy of our television channels, even the state ones. Therefore, in this case, the question must be addressed directly to the television channels,” said Peskov. Kiselyov listed the Pentagon as the defense department’s headquarters and Camp David, as the command center of the U.S. president and the Joint Chief of Staff.. But the remainder of Kiselyov’s list seems to not have been updated for at least two decades. Two of the military facilities he named were closed more than twenty years ago and he misrepresented the functions of the third base.

By Matthew Dessem
On Tuesday, Florida congressman Matt Gaetz sent the following tweet to Donald Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen: Hey @MichaelCohen212 - Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot... — Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) February 26, 2019. Gaetz’s threat comes on the eve of Cohen’s public testimony about the president’s involvement in schemes to buy the silence of adult actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal in order to prevent the public from discovering that a man famous for being unfaithful to his various wives was still sleeping around. There’s a complicated moral calculus surrounding these payoffs: It’s obviously good any time Donald Trump has less money, but it might also have been good for the public to have evidence that Trump is an amoral jerk who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near government power. On the other hand, the public already had mountains of evidence that Trump was an amoral jerk who shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near government power on Nov. 8 and elected him anyway, so it’s possible the payoffs were nothing more than waste of Trump’s money, which, again, would be something to applaud. On the other hand, Gaetz’s tweet threatening Cohen the night before he testifies seems to be a little easier to parse. For more on this, let’s check in with what looks like every single law professor in America. Here’s Ryan Goodman of NYU: Hey @mattgaetz - Does your personal attorney know you’ve just engaged, very clearly, in the crime of witness tampering? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. https://t.co/d4d1O7nnMw — Ryan Goodman (@rgoodlaw) February 26, 2019. Here’s Steve Vladeck of the University of Texas: Hey @mattgaetz: Do you know about 18 U.S.C. § 1512(b), which prohibits tampering with witnesses to official proceedings?:https://t.co/4ZZ2jQ0Qrs https://t.co/t7XMXITlNb  — Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) February 26, 2019.

By Justin Doom, James Hill and Benjamin Siegel
The president's former attorney says Trump knew Stone was talking to Assange.  Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer, intends to tell the House Oversight Committee today that President Donald Trump is "a racist," "a conman" and "a cheat." Cohen, according to a copy of his intended remarks obtained by ABC News, also plans to divulge that Trump, as a candidate, knew Roger Stone was talking with Julian Assange about WikiLeaks' revealing of emails from the Democratic National Committee. The comments obtained by ABC News and media outlets including The New York Times could very well change during today's testimony.  "I am ashamed of my own failings, and I publicly accepted responsibility for them by pleading guilty in the Southern District of New York," Cohen writes in his intended remarks. "I am ashamed of my weakness and misplaced loyalty -- of the things I did for Mr. Trump in an effort to protect and promote him. "I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump's illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience. I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat." According to the copy of Cohen's prepared remarks, he'll be presenting evidence including: a copy of a check Trump allegedly wrote, after taking office, to reimburse Cohen for hush-money paid to an adult-film star; copies of letters written by Cohen threatening Trump's high school, colleges and the College Board not to release his grades or SAT scores; and copies of financial statements from 2011 to 2013. "Questions have been raised about whether I know of direct evidence that Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia. I do not. I want to be clear," Cohen's prepared remarks state. "But, I have my suspicions."  Cohen's statement also include an apology to lawmakers. "I want to apologize to each of you and to Congress as a whole," the intended remarks state. "The last time I appeared before Congress, I came to protect Mr. Trump. Today, I'm here to tell the truth about Mr. Trump. I lied to Congress about when Mr. Trump stopped negotiating the Moscow Tower project in Russia. I stated that we stopped negotiating in January 2016. That was false -- our negotiations continued for months later during the campaign." Cohen's statement goes on to say, "Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That's not how he operates. In conversations we had during the campaign, at the same time I was actively negotiating in Russia for him, he would look me in the eye and tell me there's no business in Russia and then go out and lie to the American people by saying the same thing. In his way, he was telling me to lie."

By Emily Cochrane
WASHINGTON — The House voted on Tuesday to overturn President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the Mexican border, with just 13 Republicans joining Democrats to try to block his effort to divert funding to a border wall without congressional approval. House Republican leaders kept defections low after feverishly working to assuage concerns among rank-and-file members about protecting congressional powers and about the precedent that Mr. Trump could be setting for Democratic presidents to use for their own purposes. “Is your oath of office to Donald Trump or is it to the Constitution of the United States?” Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked her Republican colleagues in a speech on the floor ahead of the vote. “You cannot let him undermine your pledge to the Constitution.” The resolution of disapproval, which passed 245 to 182, must now be taken up by the Senate, where three Republicans have already declared their support, only one short of the number needed for Congress to ratify a stinging rebuke of Mr. Trump’s efforts. It remains highly unlikely that opponents will muster the votes to overturn a promised veto of the resolution. But final passage of a measure to assert Congress’s constitutional authority over spending is sure to bolster numerous lawsuits that maintain that Mr. Trump’s declaration is an unconstitutional end run around Congress’s lawful power of the purse. Many of the 13 Republicans who defected in the House were adamant in their arguments. Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, a veteran lawmaker who once helped manage Republican efforts to remove Bill Clinton from the White House, made it clear he supported the border wall.

Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, a staunch ally of President Donald Trump, threatened Michael Cohen on Tuesday with the release of damaging personal information, the latest in a string of increasingly aggressive attacks on Trump's former lawyer as he testifies before Congress this week. "Hey @MichaelCohen212 - Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot...," Gaetz, a sitting Florida congressman, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon. Gaetz's tweet came one day before Cohen is scheduled to testify publicly before the House Oversight Committee. Cohen is planning to offer up potentially damaging information about the president to Congress, including a document that he claims will show the president engaged in criminal conduct related to a hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, according to a person familiar with his planned testimony. Gaetz is not on the Oversight panel. Still, the remarkable online threat prompted immediate speculation about potential consequences for Gaetz. Some raised the prospect that Gaetz could be in legal trouble, while others warned he could face serious backlash from his colleagues in Congress. "I encourage all Members to be mindful that comments made on social media or in the press can adversely affect the ability of House Committees to obtain the truthful and complete information necessary to fulfill their duties," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement, adding that the House Ethics Committee should "vigilantly monitor these types of statements, which may not be protected by the speech or debate clause."

Special counsel Robert Mueller scored one of the biggest legal wins of his tenure on Tuesday, as a federal appeals court rejected claims that his appointment was unconstitutional. In a unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals turned aside arguments that Mueller wields so much power as a special prosecutor that he should have been nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The appeals court judges also found no flaw in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s appointment of Mueller in the wake of the recusal of then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The court said that because the attorney general can repeal the regulations used to appoint Mueller at any time, he remains under the control of a Cabinet official. “Special Counsel Mueller effectively serves at the pleasure of an Executive Branch officer who was appointed with the advice and consent of the Senate,” Judge Judith Rogers wrote, joined by Judges Sri Srinivasan and Karen Henderson. Mueller’s office declined to comment on the decision. The D.C. Circuit challenge was brought by Andrew Miller, an associate of former Trump adviser Roger Stone, who was indicted in January on charges of witness tampering and lying to congressional investigators.

Federal prosecutors and Democratic committees are just getting started. Even if special counsel Robert Mueller finishes his work without filing new charges, President Donald Trump and his associates won’t be in the clear. In recent weeks, several prominent figures close to Trump have insisted that they’ll survive Mueller’s probe unscathed. Trump himself maintains that Justice Department officials have told his lawyers he is not a target of the special counsel’s investigation. And his family members have sent similar signs. Trump’s oldest daughter, Ivanka, recently told ABC News that she has “zero concern” about the investigation. Her brother, Donald Trump Jr., told Fox News on Monday that he wasn’t worried because “we know there’s nothing there.” But Mueller is far from the only threat to the president, his family and aides. Federal prosecutors in New York are examining Trump’s 2016 campaign, inauguration and businesses. Congress has given the Justice Department dozens of hearing transcripts that could contain lies told under oath. State and local prosecutors have reportedly prepped new charges that can’t be erased with a presidential pardon. And a slate of sealed indictments sit in the Washington, D.C., federal courthouse, raising the prospect that some in Trump’s circle may have already been indicted and just don’t know it. “If anyone in Trump world is breathing easy right now, I’d say they are very foolish,” said Shanlon Wu, a defense lawyer who previously represented Trump’s former deputy campaign chairman, Rick Gates. “Even if Mueller’s report were to appear and didn’t implicate the president, all these other criminal investigations will continue. That’s not going to be the magic bullet that solves everything. I’d be very concerned if I was a lawyer or a potential target in that world right now.”

By Pam Fessler
About five years ago, immigration attorneys started contacting Pennsylvania election officials to report that many of their clients had gone to get a driver's license and a few weeks later, received a voter registration card in the mail. Sundrop Carter, executive director of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, says it was especially disturbing for immigrants who were trying to become citizens. "'I received this in the mail, I don't know why,'" she says they would tell their lawyers. "'I didn't think I was eligible to register to vote. Am I actually? Should I go vote?'" The answer was definitely "No." That would be illegal (noncitizens are not eligible to vote in federal elections but a handful of jurisdictions allow them to vote in some local races). Since 1995, federal law has required states to offer people a chance to register to vote when they visit a local motor vehicle office. But it turns out that Pennsylvania, like some other states, was asking that question of everyone who applied for a driver's license or state ID card — even those showing green cards or other documents identifying them as noncitizens. That is often confusing for immigrants who come in to get a driver's license or ID, which noncitizens are eligible to do. The issue remains a challenge for states, especially as President Trump and other Republicans have alleged — without providing evidence — that tens of thousands, even millions, of noncitizens have illegally registered and voted in U.S. elections.

Bart Jansen, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON – Michael Cohen, the pugnacious lawyer and problem-solver for Donald Trump who has confessed to committing crimes for his benefit, is scheduled to testify for the first time in public on Wednesday before members of Congress eager to explore the details of his work for the president. Cohen has pleaded guilty and agreed to provide evidence to prosecutors in two separate criminal investigations into Trump and those around him. He admitted to illegally paying hush money to two women who claimed to have had sex with Trump and lying to Congress about the extent of negotiations for a Trump real-estate project in Russia. The question looming over his testimony will be whether the president himself participated in those crimes. A person familiar with Cohen's planned testimony said he is prepared to testify about "criminal conduct" by Trump after he assumed the presidency. The person, who was not authorized to speak publicly, declined to characterize the conduct, but said it happened during Trump's first year in the White House. Trump has said he was not involved in Cohen's crimes. He argued some of them weren't crimes at all, and derided Cohen as a "liar" and a "rat." Both Cohen and the Justice Department have said in court that Trump directed the payoffs to two women in the final months of the 2016 campaign. And prosecutors have confirmed that they are scrutinizing the circumstances that led Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. The House Oversight and Reform Committee plans to delve widely into Trump's business and finances, exploring his debts and payments for the 2016 election, his compliance with campaign-finance and tax laws, his business practices, the Trump Foundation and the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Cohen had been an executive vice president and special counsel to The Trump Organization. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. EST on Wednesday. Cohen is meeting behind closed doors on Tuesday with the Senate Intelligence Committee, and is scheduled to appear in private on Thursday before the House intelligence panel. Both of those committees planned to focus their questioning on their investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Asked Tuesday what he hoped to learn from a man who had already confessed to lying to Congress, the chairman of the Senate intelligence panel, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., replied: "the truth."

By Joan Biskupic, CNN
Washington (CNN)A federal judge who ruled the Selective Service System's men-only registration unconstitutional late Friday rejected the reasoning of a 1981 Supreme Court decision, opting for the recent women's rights rationale of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the contemporary court. US District Court Judge Gray Miller, based in Houston, spurned the government's argument about excluding women, based partly on their interest and readiness for combat, by declaring, "this argument smacks of archaic and overbroad generalizations about women's preferences." Miller said that while "historical restrictions on women in the military may have justified past discrimination," men and women now have many similar roles.
"If there ever was a time to discuss the place of women in the Armed Services, that time has passed," he wrote. Miller said the Selective Service had not shown that the male-only registration requirement was "substantially related to Congress's objective of raising and supporting armies." Congress eliminated the draft in the early 1970s, but all men ages 18-25 are required by law to provide basic personal information to the Selective Service System. The judge's decision, favoring a group known as National Coalition for Men and two men of registration age, would have no immediate effect. It did not block the government's current policy. Any appeal by the agency would go to the New Orleans-based 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals before it would reach the Supreme Court. It is uncertain whether it would reach that level. The Selective Service System had urged Miller to reject the case, largely because the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, appointed by Congress, is now studying the male-only registration policy. Irrespective of the fate of the case on appeal, National Coalition for Men v. Selective Service System recalls practice and precedent of another era. The government agency relied heavily on a 1981 Supreme Court decision, Rostker v. Goldberg, that said women could be excluded from the draft because they were not "similarly situated" with men for draft purposes. That decision highlighted the fact that women could not serve in combat. "In the nearly four decades since Rostker, however, women's opportunities in the military have expanded dramatically," Miller observed. "In 2013, the Department of Defense officially lifted the ban on women in combat."

By Beth Reinhard and Alice Crites
A staffer on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign says he kissed her without her consent at a small gathering of supporters before a Florida rally, an interaction that she alleges in a new lawsuit still causes her anguish. In interviews and in the lawsuit, Alva Johnson said Trump grabbed her hand and leaned in to kiss her on the lips as he exited an RV outside the rally in Tampa on Aug. 24, 2016. Johnson said she turned her head and the unwanted kiss landed on the side of her mouth. In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders dismissed Johnson’s allegation as “absurd on its face.” “This never happened and is directly contradicted by multiple highly credible eye witness accounts,” she wrote. Two Trump supporters that Johnson identified as witnesses — a campaign official and Pam Bondi, then the Florida attorney general — denied seeing the alleged kiss in interviews with The Washington Post. As recently as May 2017, Johnson spoke glowingly of Trump in a radio interview. “He is more incredible in person than I think you would even think as you see him on TV,” she told the Alabama-based program “Politics and Moore.” “He’s just the nicest guy . . . He treats everyone as if they are a part of his family.” She also said she expected to be given a job as the “second-in-command” at the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon. “I will at some point be heading over to Portugal to work in the embassy,” she said. The Post found the recording of the show after the first version of this story was published.

By John Wagner and Tom Hamburger
A lawyer for the Trump Organization has asked the House Judiciary Committee to cease any investigations related to it, claiming that the panel’s work has been tainted by its hiring of an outside lawyer whose firm has represented Trump’s company. In a letter Monday to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Trump Organization lawyer Alan S. Futerfas objected to the committee’s hiring of Berry H. Berke on the grounds that his law firm, Kramer Levin, has represented the Trump Organization on an array of issues. “This state of affairs violates recognized ethical obligations and irreparably taints the Committee’s work,” Futerfas wrote, adding that it “requires that the Committee cease and desist from any and all activities that are adverse to the Company.” Futerfas raised similar concerns in a letter last week to House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), saying that his panel works closely with Nadler’s committee. In a statement, Kramer Levin called the Trump Organization’s letter to Nadler “baseless” and said Berke’s consulting work for the Judiciary Committee “complies fully with all applicable ethical rules, does not pose any conflicts of interest and respects any obligations the firm may have.” A spokesman for Nadler did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nadler announced Berke’s hiring two weeks ago, calling him “a nationally prominent expert on federal criminal law, including public corruption.” The House Judiciary Committee has launched a broad inquiry examining legal and ethical issues facing Trump, including whether he tried to obstruct efforts by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to probe Russian interference in the 2016 election.

By Chris Cillizza
(CNN) As Donald Trump heads to Vietnam for the second summit of his presidency with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, one big question remains: Is the rogue nation still a nuclear threat or, well, isn't it? Following the first summit with Kim, Trump tweeted: "Just landed - a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!" So that seems pretty clear, right? "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea." Problem solved! Nothing to see here, folks! Which brings me to Sunday morning, when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sat down with CNN's Jake Tapper to talk about, among other things, the coming summit. And this exchange happened:

By Asawin Suebsaeng,  Erin Banco
The president has made private admissions that federal investigations bedeviling his first term in office will be haunting him for possibly years to come. Donald Trump has signaled to his inner circle that even he knows Special Counsel Robert Mueller finishing his investigation will be a new beginning, not a dramatic end, for Trumpworld’s eclectic legal hellscape. The president made clear to his outside legal team, which includes Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow, that he didn’t want his lawyers going anywhere—even after the Mueller probe ends. The conversations served as a private admission that federal investigations bedeviling his first term in office will be haunting him for possibly years to come. The president broached the topic of keeping his team together starting late last year, according to two sources familiar with the exchanges, by discussing other legal woes he might face after the Special Counsel’s Office submits its report to the Department of Justice. Trump’s focus at the time? The Southern District of New York. The jurisdiction, known as SDNY, is currently looking into matters involving the president. Those cases have long been considered by Trump’s close allies as a far graver potential threat than the Mueller investigation. Details about Trump and his family business could be laid bare for public scrutiny as Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer and self-described fixer, heads to the Hill to testify this week. He is set to answer questions regarding Trump’s debts and payments, compliance with federal disclosure requirements, tax laws, campaign finance laws, and potentially fraudulent practices by the Trump foundation. Cohen’s appearances come at a time when members of Trump’s former inner circle are facing increased scrutiny by federal prosecutors. Earlier this month, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she had been interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team. And Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is set to be sentenced Friday in Virginia for tax and bank fraud charges. He could face decades in prison not only for those charges, but also for conspiring against the U.S. and a conspiracy to obstruct justice.

By Salvador Rizzo
“South Korea — we defend them and lose a tremendous amount of money. Billions of dollars a year defending them. And working with Secretary Pompeo and John Bolton, they agreed to pay, yesterday, $500 million more toward their defense. Five hundred million, with a couple of phone calls. I said, ‘Why didn’t you do this before?’ They said, ‘Nobody asked.’ … But South Korea is costing us $5 billion a year. And they pay — they were paying about $500 million for $5 billion worth of protection. And we have to do better than that. So they’ve agreed to pay $500 million more.” — President Trump, in a Cabinet meeting, Feb. 12, 2019. The United States does keeps a large military presence in South Korea, spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year, but Trump’s figures are wildly inflated. Let’s dig in. The Facts: The United States and South Korea signed a mutual defense treaty in 1953, after the United States led a United Nations force that helped repel an invasion from North Korea. U.S. troops have been stationed in South Korea for more than a half-century, and the two countries began to share costs under agreements dating to 1991. The American contingent in South Korea acts as “a vital security guarantor that helps to ensure that the more than 51 million Koreans and over 200,000 Americans living and working throughout South Korea are protected from real and present North Korean threats,” according to a 2018 report from U.S. Forces Korea. “United States Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors, and Marines have been stationed in South Korea for over half a century, and the requirement for a robust alliance has never been greater,” the 2018 report said. “Situated at the epicenter of one of the world’s most geopolitically volatile regions, the Korean Peninsula is of particular strategic importance to U.S. policy and posture across East Asia. With North Korea continuing to engage in frequent provocations that threaten the stability of the United States and its Allies, the enduring strength of the Republic of Korea (ROK)-U. S. Alliance is paramount to the mission of the Combined Forces Command (CFC) and U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM).”

By Jane C. Timm
Trump repeated one false claim — that the wall is already under construction — at least eight times in one day. President Donald Trump put his long-promised border wall at the center of the government funding debate on Tuesday, repeating the frequently fact-checked falsehood that it's already under construction no fewer than eight times while making a host of questionable new assertions. Here are Trump's claims, made on Twitter and during a testy public spat with Democratic leaders at the White House, and the facts. The White House did not respond to a request for more clarity. 1. We're building the border wall. "Tremendous amounts of wall have already been built, and a lot of — a lot of wall," Trump said in the Oval Office. "In San Diego, we’re building new walls right now." This is still false. The government is currently repairing and replacing old sections of border fencing, but construction on a new section of border barrier has not yet begun and won't this year. 2. A lot of the wall is already "built." "But the wall will get built. A lot of the wall is built. It's been very effective," Trump said at the White House. This is misleading at best, given that no new sections of border fencing have actually been built under Trump. The president seems to be referring to the 650 miles of existing fencing or barrier along the southern border, the majority of which was constructed long before he launched his bid for president, as "the wall." Under his administration, old fencing has been repaired and replaced. It's unclear when these existing fences became an accepted part of his vision for "the wall," since he repeatedly derided fencing on the 2016 campaign trail in favor of a concrete barrier that would run the 2,000 mile stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border.

By Devan Cole
Washington (CNN)Months after President Donald Trump declared that North Korea no longer poses a nuclear threat to the US, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the country remains a threat ahead of a planned summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this week. "Do you think North Korea remains a nuclear threat?" CNN's Jake Tapper asked Pompeo Sunday on "State of the Union." "Yes," Pompeo replied. "But the President said he doesn't," Tapper said. "That's not what he said ... I know precisely what he said," Pompeo said. "He tweeted: 'There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea,'" Tapper said. "What he said was that the efforts that had been made in Singapore -- this commitment that Chairman Kim made -- have substantially taken down the risk to the American people. It's the mission of the Secretary of State and the President of the United States to keep American people secure. We're aiming to achieve that," Pompeo said. In June, Trump, having just returned to Washington from a historic summit with Kim in Singapore, tweeted, "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea."

By Allan Smith
"We are going to get to the bottom of this," Schiff told ABC's "This Week." "We are going to share this information with the public." House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff says he's got a plan ready if special counsel Robert Mueller's full report isn't made public. And it includes bringing Mueller himself before his committee. On Sunday, Schiff, a California Democrat, was asked on ABC's "This Week" about what Democrats will do should Attorney General William Barr decide to keep the highly anticipated report mostly under wraps. "Well we will obviously subpoena the report, we will bring Bob Mueller in to testify before Congress, we will take it to court if necessary," Schiff said. "And in the end, I think the department understands they're going to have to make this public. I think Barr will ultimately understand that as well." Schiff said that if Barr, who was recently confirmed as attorney general, tried "to withhold, to try to bury any part of this report, that will be his legacy, and it will be a tarnished legacy." "So I think there’ll be immense pressure not only on the department, but on the attorney general to be forthcoming," he said.

By Doug Criss and Tina Burnside
(CNN)An African-American woman is now the publisher and editor of the Alabama newspaper that recently urged the Ku Klux Klan to "night ride again," the paper said. Elecia R. Dexter, a "strategic leader with expertise in human resources, operations and change management," took up the positions Thursday, the weekly Democrat-Reporter of Linden said in a press release. Dexter replaces Goodloe Sutton, the newspaper's owner who penned a staggering editorial with the headline "The Klan Needs to Ride Again" in the paper's February 14 edition. Dexter's family has "strong roots and a rich history in Marengo County where her dad, John Dexter Jr. was born," the newspaper said.
Sutton's editorial sparked outrage around the country. "Time for the Ku Klux Klan to night ride again," Sutton wrote. "Democrats in the Republican Party and Democrats are plotting to raise taxes in Alabama." Sutton told the Montgomery Advertiser he urged the white supremacist group to "clean out D.C." via lynchings. "We'll get the hemp ropes out, loop them over a tall limb and hang all of them," Sutton told the newspaper. He stressed that he wasn't calling for the hangings of all Americans, just the "socialist-communists." "Seem like the Klan would be welcome to raid the gated communities up there," Sutton wrote in the editorial. Beginning in the late 19th century, Klan members used night rides to terrorize blacks and their white allies with violence, including lynchings and firebombings. When asked by the Advertiser if he recognized the Klan as a white supremacist group, Sutton compared it to the NAACP and said, "The Klan wasn't violent until they needed to be."

US News February 2019 Page 1

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