ABC: Cohen, Trump’s former longtime personal attorney, pleads guilty to illegal campaign contributions ‘at the direction of a candidate for federal office’

Michael Cohen, the former longtime fixer and personal attorney for Donald Trump, appeared in federal court Tuesday afternoon, pleaded guilty to eight counts and said in open court that he made illegal campaign contributions “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office.”

The campaign finance violations are associated with Cohen’s role in alleged hush money agreements with two women, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, who claim to have had affairs with Trump.

The “candidate” Cohen referred to was not named in court but the criminal information identifies Cohen as the personal attorney “to Individual-1, who at that point had become the President of the United States.”

The information states that Cohen made a contribution to “Individual-1” and “did so by making and causing to be made an expenditure, in cooperation, consultation, and concert with, and at the request and suggestion of one or more members of the campaign, to wit, COHEN made a $130,000 payment to Woman-2 to ensure that she not publicize damaging allegation before the 2016 presidential election and thereby influence that election.”

“I participated in this conduct for the principal purpose” of influencing an election, Cohen said.

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CBS: Paul Manafort trial verdict: Guilty on several counts

Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, has been found guilty on five counts of tax fraud, one count of failing to disclose his foreign bank accounts and two counts of bank fraud.

The jury was unable to reach consensus on 10 of the 18 counts in the bank fraud trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Judge T.S. Ellis III will declare a mistrial on the 10 unresolved counts but is accepting the jury’s verdict on the remaining eight counts. Ellis decided there was “manifest necessity” to proceed.

When the verdict was read, Manafort stood before the judge without flinching, his hands folded beneath his waist. He appears to have lost weight in recent weeks.

Manafort faced 18 counts — five counts related to false income tax returns, four counts of failing to file foreign bank account reports, four counts of bank fraud and five counts of bank fraud conspiracy. The government alleges Manafort hid tens of millions of dollars in income and falsified records to enrich himself and live a life of luxury.

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NBC: Trump revokes former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance

President Donald Trump has decided to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan’s clearance for access to classified information, he said in a statement read by press secretary Sarah Sanders on Wednesday.

The courtesy of allowing a former administration official to retain security clearance has been “outweighed by the risk posed by his erratic conduct and behavior,” Trump said in the statement. “Mr. Brennan has a history that calls into question his objectivity and credibility.”

He added that Brennan “has recently leveraged his status … to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations, wild outbursts on the internet and on television, about this administration.”

Brennan, who served as director of the clandestine intelligence agency in President Barack Obama’s second term, has been a frequent critic of Trump.

Brennan, a senior national security analyst for NBC News and MSNBC, fired back during an interview with MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace and on Twitter on Wednesday.

“If Mr. Trump believes that this is going to lead me to just go away and be quiet, he is very badly mistaken,” Brennan said, describing the move as “his way of getting back at me” and saying it was designed “to intimidate and suppress any criticism of him or his administration.”

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Politico: Trump calls on Sessions to stop Mueller probe

President Donald Trump called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to shut down special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation Wednesday, prompting a race by the president’s legal team to try to contain the fallout.

“This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!” Trump said in a series of tweets.

Trump’s personal lawyers quickly sought to downplay his comments, calling them an expression of his personal opinion — not an order to Sessions that could plunge the country into a political and constitutional crisis. And the Justice Department indicated it would take no action based on Trump’s Twitter venting.

“We have been saying for months that it is time to bring this inquiry to an end,” Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani said. “The president has expressed the same opinion.”

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders Wednesday afternoon said Trump’s tweet was not an order, rather the “president’s opinion.”

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USA Today: Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has a lot to say: Here’s what we know

For years, it was Michael Cohen’s job to protect Donald Trump from damaging stories and allegations. Now, the president’s former personal attorney and “fixer” appears to be the one threatening Trump with potentially incriminating information.

No longer willing to “take a bullet” for Trump, Cohen is reportedly willing to tell special counsel Robert Mueller that Trump knew in advance about a Russian offer to deliver dirt on Hillary Clinton ahead of the 2016 election.

Cohen turning against Trump could prove significant because, in addition to information he may or may not have about alleged election meddling and collusion, Cohen also handled payments to women in exchange for their silence about alleged affairs with Trump.

Here is what we know:

Cohen is prepared to tell Mueller that Trump approved a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower that included his son Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, according to multiple media reports that relied on unnamed sources.

A person familiar with the matter told USA TODAY Cohen is aware that Trump was informed in advance of the Trump Tower meeting.

Veselnitskaya’s offer to hand over dirt on Clinton has been a major factor driving suspicion that the Trump campaign went along with Russian efforts to sway the election.

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CNN obtains secret Trump-Cohen tape

Presidential candidate Donald Trump is heard on tape discussing with his attorney Michael Cohen how they would buy the rights to a Playboy model’s story about an alleged affair Trump had with her years earlier, according to the audio recording of the conversation aired exclusively on CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time.”

The recording offers the public a glimpse at the confidential discussions between Trump and Cohen, and it confirms the man who now occupies the Oval Office had contemporaneous knowledge of a proposal to buy the rights to the story of Karen McDougal, a woman who has alleged she had an extramarital affair with Trump about a decade ago.

Cohen told Trump about his plans to set up a company and finance the purchase of the rights from American Media, which publishes the National Enquirer. The recording captures what appears to be a routine business conversation of several matters on their agenda. The audio is muddled and the meaning of Trump’s use of the word “cash” is disputed by the two sides.

“I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David,” Cohen said in the recording, likely a reference to American Media head David Pecker.
When financing comes up again later in the conversation, Trump interrupts Cohen asking, “What financing?” according to the recording.

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CNN: White House denies President Trump doesn’t think Russia is targeting US

The White House denied on Wednesday that President Trump doesn’t believe Russia is targeting the United States.

Press secretary Sarah Sanders, who said she spoke with Trump about his answer earlier during a Cabinet meeting, said the President was declining to answer shouted questions when he said “no” to a question about Russia’s current efforts.

“The President said thank you very much and said no to answering questions,” Sanders said.”The President and his administration are working very hard to make sure Russia is unable to meddling in our elections,” she said, indicating Trump does believe Russia poses a current threat.

“We certainly believe that we are taking steps to make sure they can’t do it again,” Sanders said.

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The Atlantic: The White House Transcript Is Missing the Most Explosive Part of the Trump–Putin Press Conference

It was perhaps the most explosive exchange in an incendiary press conference: Russian President Vladimir Putin appearing to frankly admit to a motive for, and maybe even to the act of, meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, despite repeatedly denying Russian interference in American politics during the rest of his appearance with Donald Trump in Finland on Monday.

But the exchange doesn’t appear in full in the White House’s live-stream or transcript of the press conference, and it’s missing entirely from the Kremlin’s transcript of the event. The White House did not immediately provide an explanation for the discrepancy.

Understanding what Putin said depends on what you watch or where you look. If you watch the video of the news conference provided by the Russian government, or by news outlets such as PBS and the Associated Press, you will hear the Reuters reporter Jeff Mason ask a bombshell of a question: “President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?”

Putin then responds with a bombshell of an answer, according to the English translation of his remarks that was broadcast during the press conference: “Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.”

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Naval War College Professor: Trump has taken Putin’s side. His stability and America’s safety are now in question.

The Helsinki summit is over, and we are all left struggling to find the words to capture the nightmare that in the space of less than 24 hours destroyed years of American diplomacy, sacrifice and leadership.

So perhaps we should just admit what our own eyes cannot deny: We have now witnessed the very worst humiliations of a president of the United States ever, and one of the lowest points in the history of the American presidency.

The summit was completely in Putin’s control, and it showed. That was to be expected from an incompetent leader believing he could waltz unprepared into a media event with a professional intelligence officer. A summit without an agenda is a bad idea from the start, but Trump clearly wanted to replicate the artificial media high of his trip to Singapore to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — another disgraceful episode in itself — and garner high ratings and hollow applause from his usual fans and camp-followers.

But Kim Jong Un is a young and relatively inexperienced brute, whose personal stature and weird mien do not play all that well on television. And all Kim needed to do was share a stage with an American president to accomplish his mission. Kim is crude and dangerous, but he is an amateur.­­­

Putin, however, is no amateur. He performed brilliantly, turning every issue back to the Americans, and Trump took it all. Ukraine? The Americans should talk to their Ukrainian friends, not us. Espionage? Pish-posh. We’re not that kind of country, but if you’d like us to look into it, hand over Putin opponent Bill Browder. Syria? Of course, we’d love to remain involved there under the guise of humanitarian aid, thank you for the invitation. Putin did what one would expect him to do, and his behavior was icily competent and carefully executed.

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