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Trump-Cohen crisis: President struggles to contain fallout as lawyer Lanny Davis says Cohen could talk to Mueller investigation

Donald Trump tells bizarre story about Chinese drivers following 'day of disaster'

Donald Trump has addressed the escalating crisis besetting his presidency surrounding revelations from his former lawyer and a run of legal troubles that could see him investigated as part of a criminal case.

Following his former personal attorney and 'fixer' Michael Cohen's guilty pleas to a string of crimes - one of which he said the then-Republican candidate directed him to commit - the president tweeted:"If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!"

The outburst follows a day of major legal troubles unprecedented since he entered the White House in 2017 — and there may be rocky waters ahead after a fresh subpoena for Mr Cohen on Wednesday indicated investigators may be circling in on the Trump Foundation as well. In addition, Mr Trump has seen numerous calls from Democrats saying that Mr Trump's recent Supreme Court nomination should be stalled in light of Mr Cohen's statements, and the lawyer for the former Trump fixer further ratcheted up the pressure, and said his client would not accept a pardon from the president to reduce his sentence.

"Michael Cohen knows information that would be of interest to the special counsel, in my opinion, regarding both knowledge about a conspiracy to corrupt American democracy by Russians, and the failure to report that information to the FBI," Mr Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, said on MSNBC. Mr Davis continued to say his client had set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for legal fees, and to help him "tell the truth about Donald Trump".

Within minutes of each other in separate courts on Tuesday, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was found guilty on tax and bank fraud charges, while Mr Cohen pleaded guilty to a range of charges.

Mr Cohen also testified that Mr Trump directed him to commit a crime by arranging payments for Mr Trump ahead of the 2016 presidential election to silence two women who said they had affairs with the former reality TV show star.

Mr Trump did not address the public after the latest developments were announced, but opted to spend a rally in West Virginia avoiding discussion of either Mr Cohen or Mr Manafort, and instead addressing issues ranging from his mother's turkeys, exploding windmills and imaginary Chinese drivers.

During the White House press briefing on Wednesday, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pushed back on talk that the events on Tuesday related to the president. She argued that Mr Manafort's charges had nothing to do with Mr Trump or his 2016 campaign, and said that it was "a ridiculous accusation" when asked if the president lied about having known about the payments made by Mr Cohen.

The president has previously denied having affairs with either of the women involved in the Cohen case. And he has strenuously objected to any suggestion that he is connected to any crimes revealed by the Mueller probe, which is looking into possible illegal collusion with the Russians.

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The first sign of any comment from Trump himself on his day of legal disasters is likely to come from his Twitter account. But that page has stayed notably silent about any discussion of the Cohen or Manafort developments, or his legal situation more generally.

"Just landed in West Virginia. Big crowd, looking forward to seeing everyone soon! #MAGA," he wrote on arrival, after a plane journey that took place right as the day of disaster unfolded. He then posted videos and pictures of himself during the event, including one captioned with the message: "Thank you West Virginia. I love you!"

Andrew Griffin22 August 2018 11:55
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Democrats, who hope the scandal will power them to success in the upcoming midterm elections, have pounced on the news. But some voices are notably silent.

"The American people deserve answers regarding the president's role in these corrupt and criminal actions," said Democratic Representative Rosa DeLauro.

Rodell Mollineau, a senior Democratic strategist, said the news "adds to a constant drumbeat that will ultimately affect some independent voters" and help Democrats at the polls.

"Manafort being convicted, on its own, might not sway any votes. But given the totality of criminality uncovered ... it will be hard for some Republicans to ignore and even harder to explain."

Still, there were no immediate calls for Trump's impeachment and Republican lawmakers did not join the chorus of criticism from Democratic ranks.

Andrew Griffin22 August 2018 11:57
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Here's some analysis from the Associated Press about how much damage this will really all do:

It is the Cohen case that places Trump in the most jeopardy, legal experts said, as the longtime personal "fixer" acknowledged his role in a scheme to pay off women who accused the future president of sexual misconduct. 

"It's going to be hard for the president to try to discredit all this. It's circling him," said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor who is not involved in the case. 

Trump has shown an uncanny ability to shake off a relentless stream of accusations and jolting statements that provoked outrage. His loyal base of supporters has stayed with him despite his effort to blame "both sides" for the deadly violence between white nationalists and anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, for one, and his refusal to side with the U.S. intelligence services over Russia's Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last month, among other controversies. 

Case in point, the crowd in West Virginia loudly chanted Trump's campaign staples "Drain the swamp!" and "Lock her up!" despite the fresh corruption convictions and looming prison sentences for his former advisers. 

Manafort's conviction served as a vindication of Mueller's work as investigators continue to probe potential misdeeds by the president and those in his orbit. Mueller's team also had referred evidence in the Cohen case to federal prosecutors in New York. 

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani sought to cast the blame solely on Cohen in a Tuesday statement, saying: "There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the President in the government's charges against Mr. Cohen." 

Trump's legal team has also been engaged in a monthslong negotiation with Mueller's team about a potential sit-down with the president, but has objected to the scope of the questions. 

In a separate courtroom Tuesday, prosecutors and defense attorneys for former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn agreed to postpone his sentencing after he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with a Russian official, in a sign his cooperation was still needed in the Mueller probe. 

The afternoon of explosive legal developments comes as the White House is refocusing itself around the upcoming midterms and as Trump allies like Steve Bannon seek to frame the election as a referendum on the potential impeachment of the president. Trump confidants have long argued that the president's fate in such a scenario would ultimately be more a matter of politics than law. 

Of Cohen's plea, Bannon argued Tuesday that it "takes away the argument from those who are telling the president it's not that bad if he loses the House. This now becomes more than ever a national election on the issue of impeachment." 

The president seemed to convey the stakes in Charleston, warning the crowd that "You aren't just voting for a candidate. You're voting for which party controls the House and which party controls the Senate." 

Trump confidants reasserted late Tuesday that it is the White House position that a president cannot be indicted, referring to a 2000 opinion of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, which provides legal advice and guidance to executive branch agencies. Trump's lawyers have said Mueller plans to adhere to that guidance, though Mueller's office has never independently confirmed that. There would presumably be no bar against charging a president after he or she departs the White House. 

Michael Avenatti, a lawyer pressing a civil case against Trump for Daniels, who has said she had sex with the president, tweeted Tuesday that the resolution of the criminal case against Cohen "should also permit us to proceed with an expedited deposition of Trump under oath about what he knew, when he knew it, and what he did about it." 

The Supreme Court in 1997, ruling in a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Paula Jones, held that a sitting president could be made to answer questions as part of a lawsuit. That ruling did not directly address whether a president could be subpoenaed to testify in a criminal investigation. 

Despite blustery public denials, the fate of Manafort and Cohen has worried the president's inner circle. 

For many around Trump, Cohen has represented a greater threat than even the Russia investigation, drawing from his decade of working as the then-celebrity real estate developer's fixer. An FBI raid on Cohen's New York office and hotel room in April rattled the president, who has complained publicly about what he felt was government overreach while privately worrying about what material Cohen may have had after working for the Trump Organization for a decade. 

Those in Trump's orbit, including Giuliani, have steadily ratcheted up attacks on Cohen, suggesting he was untrustworthy and lying about what he knew about Trump's business dealings. When Cohen's team produced a recording that the former fixer had made of Trump discussing a payment to silence a woman about an alleged affair, Giuliani sought to impugn Cohen's credibility and question his loyalty. 

Trump stewed for weeks over the media coverage of the Manafort trial. Though the proceedings were not connected to Russian election interference, Trump has seethed to confidants that he views the Manafort charges as "a warning shot" from Mueller. 

As he watched the courtroom proceedings, he told confidants that he feared his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., could at some point be the one on trial, according to two people familiar with his thinking but not authorized to discuss private conversations. 

"What matters is that a jury found that the facts presented to them by the special prosecutor warranted a conviction of someone who surrounds the president," Weinstein said.

Andrew Griffin22 August 2018 11:59
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Lanny Davis, who was hired by Mr Cohen last month, told National Public Radio Mr Trump's former attorney would "never" accept a pardon from "a man that he considers to be a corrupt and a dangerous person".

"He has flatly authorised me to say under no circumstances would he accept a pardon from Mr Trump, who uses the pardon power in a way that no president in American history has ever used," he said.

Mr Davis accused Mr Trump of using the power to "relieve people of guilt" for "political cronies" who "committed crimes", adding, "Mr Cohen is not interested in being dirtied by a pardon from such a man".

Andrew Griffin22 August 2018 12:17
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Donald Trump's first tweets usually come around 7am or 8am local time. That's right about now – though he sometimes does not use the account in the mornings, and there is no reason to believe that his first post will address the growing crisis.

Andrew Griffin22 August 2018 12:22
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It is easy to forget amid all the furore over the Cohen and Manafort cases that there was another legal breakthrough yesterday, too.

Attorneys in the case of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn agreed to postpone his sentencing after he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with a Russian official, in a sign his cooperation was still needed in the Mueller probe.

Andrew Griffin22 August 2018 12:24
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Here's some details from the Associated Press about what the reaction to the Cohen case has been from the inside – detail that could allow us to see what's going to happen today:

For many around Trump, Cohen has represented a greater threat than even the Russia investigation, drawing from his decade of working as the then-celebrity real estate developer's fixer. An FBI raid on Cohen's New York office and hotel room in April rattled the president, who has complained publicly about what he felt was government overreach while privately worrying about what material Cohen may have had after working for the Trump Organization for a decade. 

Those in Trump's orbit, including Giuliani, have steadily ratcheted up attacks on Cohen, suggesting he was untrustworthy and lying about what he knew about Trump's business dealings. When Cohen's team produced a recording that the former fixer had made of Trump discussing a payment to silence a woman about an alleged affair, Giuliani sought to impugn Cohen's credibility and question his loyalty. 

Trump stewed for weeks over the media coverage of the Manafort trial. Though the proceedings were not connected to Russian election interference, Trump has seethed to confidants that he views the Manafort charges as "a warning shot" from Mueller. 

As he watched the courtroom proceedings, he told confidants that he feared his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., could at some point be the one on trial, according to two people familiar with his thinking but not authorized to discuss private conversations. 

"What matters is that a jury found that the facts presented to them by the special prosecutor warranted a conviction of someone who surrounds the president," Weinstein said. 

Andrew Griffin22 August 2018 12:26
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Away from the legal issues, Trump's day is being complicated by questions over his middle east peace plan.

His national security adviser has there is no timetable for releasing the administration's much-anticipated Mideast peace plan.

John Bolton said a "lot of progress" has been made, but he refused to say what the plan entailed or when it may be publicized. The Trump administration recently began staffing its Mideast policy team ahead of the plan's expected release.

Trump officials have long promised the most comprehensive package ever put forward toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians have indicated they consider it a non-starter given Trump's bias toward Israel and his unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as its capital.

At a West Virginia rally on Tuesday, Trump said Israel will pay a "price" for that move and the Palestinians will "get something very good" in return.

Bolton would not address the Trump comments or say what the Palestinians could expect.

Andrew Griffin22 August 2018 12:50
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Trump's account is still yet to tweet. It has now been silent for more than 12 hours. His first post would usually have arrived by now – they tend to come before 8am local time – though he has been known not to tweet until well into the afternoon, too.

Andrew Griffin22 August 2018 13:14
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The financial markets are looking a little depressed on the Trump-Cohen news. But not especially so, and analysts expect the president to glide through his current problems.

"Trump has weathered quite a few allegations before this, where many people were quick with the 'I' word (impeachment), so we need to see whether this could open a new chapter, or if it will calm down again and markets move on," Commerzbank rates strategist Christoph Rieger said.

Apart from political headlines, focus will also be on the upcoming trade talks, the minutes from the Federal Reserve's last meeting and earnings reports from a host of U.S. retailers. Trump has already said he does not expect any real progress during the trade talks.

The benchmark S&P 500 is on the cusp of notching the longest-ever bull-market run, which comes a day after the index hit an all-time intraday high.

Stock futures opened lower late on Tuesday after news on Cohen and Manafort, but have gained ground since.

At 7:31 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were down 16 points, or 0.06 percent. S&P 500 e-minis were down 3.25 points, or 0.11 percent and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were down 0.25 points.

The minutes of the Fed's August policy meeting is expected to reaffirm the central bank's confidence in the U.S. economy and its commitment to future rate hikes. The report is due at 2:00 p.m. ET (1800 GMT).

Trump has been critical about higher interest rates and has asked the Fed to do more to help him boost the economy.

Among stocks, shares of Target rose 5.1 percent in premarket trading after the retailer posted quarterly same-store sales above analysts' estimates and raised its full-year profit forecast.

Lowe's dropped 2.6 percent after the home improvement retailer missed analysts' estimates for quarterly same-store sales and trimmed its full-year profit and sales forecast.

Andrew Griffin22 August 2018 13:25

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