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An emergency declaration may be the shutdown off-ramp. But what about the consequences?



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By Chuck Todd and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — It’s a strange, upside-down world when much of official Washington is hoping for the president to make a sweeping, legally questionable constitutional power play to get out of a political jam. But that’s where we are on Day 21 of the partial government shutdown, now tied for the longest such funding lapse in modern political history.

With 800,000 federal workers slated to miss a paycheck today, there are no meetings scheduled for negotiations. Efforts for grand bargain legislation have been abandoned. We’re just… stuck. And there’s a grudging acceptance from many lawmakers that the best way out of the impasse is for the president to declare a national emergency and attempt to take unilateral action to construct a border wall while also opening the federal government.

The short-term politics make sense for Trump: The move would surely be caught up in a lengthy court challenge, which would give Trump a new foil and show his base his willingness to fight.

But in the long-term, what does it say about the health of our democracy that lawmakers are hoping to fix a political problem with an executive power grab with major constitutional consequences? Trump’s skeptics are putting a lot of faith in the courts to be a guardrail, but isn’t this the definition of a slippery slope? And of course, it goes without saying that Republicans would be howling at even a hint of a move like this from a Democratic president.

There’s a sense of ominousness about the whole thing, as we certainly took away from Lindsey Graham’s written statement yesterday.

“It is time for President Trump to use emergency powers to fund the construction of a border wall/barrier,” he wrote. “I hope it works.”

If Trump doesn’t declare an emergency, this may be the last day McConnell can sit on the sidelines

Until now, Mitch McConnell has been mostly absent from the shutdown debate. But if Trump declines to declare an emergency and the shutdown drags into next week, McConnell may finally be dragged off the sidelines. Yes, Trump has said he will oppose any legislation to open the government that doesn’t include wall funding, and McConnell is in no mood to be burned like he was when the Senate unanimously passed a short-term funding measure that the White House rejected last month. But nearly a month into the crisis, McConnell may finally have to do something to move the ball if the White House won’t.

And while McConnell may face the most acute pressure, Democrats aren’t off the hook here, either. They think they’re winning this fight now — and they may be — but it’s hard for anyone to look like a winner the longer this mess goes on.

Shutdown costs are mounting

Meanwhile, here’s the latest on the consequences of the shutdown today:

  • At Day 21, we are now tied for the longest shutdown in modern political history. The previous 21-day shutdown stretched from December 16, 1995- to January 6, 1996.
  • 800,000 federal workers are set to miss their first paycheck today, including about 420,000 who are working without pay
  • Aviation industry workers are warning of “eroding” safety, including delays in aircraft inspections
  • HUD funds have been frozen for low-income senior citizens, with staff scrambling to fund affordable housing contracts that have expired during the shutdown
  • Federal cleanups at Superfund sites have been suspended.
  • ICE could run out of money to pay contractors
  • Some farmers in Trump Country are losing patience with the shutdown

Michael Cohen to testify publicly before House Oversight Committee

Back during the 2018 campaign, when we talked about the potential consequences of Democrats taking back the House, this is what we were talking about. Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has agreed to testify publicly before the House Oversight Committee on February 7, before he goes to prison, per NBC’s Rebecca Shabad.

The public testimony — which will include questions about Trump’s personal life and business deals — is sure to be blockbuster TV (although limitations on questioning mean that Cohen likely won’t be able to address the Russia investigation.)

But there are risks for Democrats here, too. Cohen is far from the most credible witness, and it’s easy to imagine a situation where the whole spectacle goes off the rails. If it does, it could be an inauspicious start to Democrats’ new investigative role.

Fact checking Trump’s “write out a check” claim

At the White House yesterday, Trump said this of his wall promise: “When during the campaign, I would say Mexico’s going to pay for it. Obviously, I never said this, and I never meant they’re gonna write out a check, I said they’re gonna pay for it.”

But back when his campaign was being pressed for details on how Trump would compel Mexico to pay for a wall, the campaign released a memo to the Washington Post in March 2016 outlining how he’d threaten to cut off the flow of money from Mexican nationals working in the U.S. sending money back home. The document also suggested moves like cancelling visas and enacting new tariffs to pressure the Mexican government into paying.

“It’s an easy decision for Mexico,” the memo read. “Make a one-time payment of $5-10 billion to ensure that $24 billion continues to flow into their country year after year.”

And finally: Tarrant County GOP official survives recall vote over his Muslim faith

Here’s a story we’ve been watching out of Texas. “Shahid Shafi will retain his role as vice-chairman of the Tarrant County Republican Party despite a push from a small faction of precinct chairs to remove him from his post because he’s Muslim,” writes the Texas Tribune.

“The formal motion to oust him failed in a 49-139 vote, said county party spokesman Mike Snyder. Those who were in favor of Shafi’s removal said he’s unequipped to be vice-chairman because he doesn’t represent all Tarrant County Republicans due to his religion. They’ve also said Islamic ideologies run counter to the U.S. Constitution — an assertion many Texas GOP officials have called bigoted and Shafi himself has vehemently denied.”

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Michael Cohen search warrants show federal probe began nearly a year earlier than known



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 / Updated 

By Tom Winter, Adiel Kaplan and Rich Schapiro

The investigation of Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, began at least nine months before federal agents raided his home and office, according to search warrants made public Tuesday.

The newly released documents show that the first FBI warrant was executed on July 19, 2017, targeting Cohen’s Gmail account and seeking messages from all of 2016 up to July 2017. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team turned over documents to federal prosecutors in New York on Feb. 8, 2018.

Some 20 days later, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York received search warrants for the same account granting them the right to access Cohen’s emails from Nov. 13, 2017, to the end of February 2018.

The search warrants reveal that Mueller’s investigation of Cohen began nearly a year earlier than previously known.

The FBI raided Cohen’s office and hotel suite on April 9, 2018, seeking evidence of bank fraud and hush money payments to two women, porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, who claimed they had affairs with Trump. In addition to the emails, the investigators seized cell phones and at least 12 audio recordings, federal prosecutors said in court documents released last year.

The newly released search warrants show that the probe into Cohen largely focused at the outset on his taxi businesses and false statements to banks as part of an effort to “relieve him” of some $22 million in debt he owed on taxi medallion loans. In communications with banks, Cohen reported that his net worth cratered between 2014 and 2017 — dropping from $75.9 million to negative $12.2 million due to the depreciation of his real estate assets and taxi medallion investments.

View all the Cohen documents

“From my review of a summary of bank records that were scheduled by forensic accountants, I have learned that Cohen had approximately $5 million in cash and cash equivalents as of Sept. 30, 2017,” an FBI agent says in the court documents.

It’s unclear how an investigation that started with suspected bank fraud led to a probe of possible campaign finance crimes related to the payouts to Daniels and McDougal. The roughly 19 pages of the search warrant that detail the hush money scheme are all redacted, suggesting that it remains part of an ongoing probe.

The documents show that Mueller’s office was also investigating Cohen for a previously-unknown allegation: that he was acting as an unregistered foreign agent.

Thousands of dollars from companies with overseas ties began flowing into Cohen’s bank accounts in the days and months after Trump took office, according to the search warrants.

From January 2017 to August 2017, Cohen received seven monthly payments totaling $583,332 from Columbus Nova, an investment management firm controlled by Renova Group. The court documents describe Renova Group as a Switzerland-based company controlled by Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg.

An attorney for Columbus Nova has previously said the management firm is owned and controlled by Americans and not Vekselberg, whose links to Cohen emerged last year when Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti detailed the transaction in a dossier posted to Twitter.

Cohen was also paid $600,000 by South Korean aircraft company Korea Aerospace Industries, and a Kazahkstani bank, Kazkommertsbank, deposited $150,000 into one of his accounts, according to the search warrants.

An FBI agent wrote in the documents that the payments appeared to stem from “political consulting work, including consulting for international clients on issues pending before the Trump administration.”

Cohen, who is slated to begin a three-year prison sentence in May, was ultimately not charged with acting as an unregistered foreign agent.

The warrants describe the use of a “triggerfish” cellphone surveillance device to pinpoint the location of Cohen who was using a room at the Loews Regency hotel in Manhattan. They also sought and obtained a “pen register” or “trap and trace” warrant to find out who Cohen was calling and receiving phone calls from, but without the ability to listen or monitor those calls.

Last December, Cohen was sentenced to three years behind bars for what a Manhattan federal court judge called a “veritable smorgasbord” of criminal conduct.

Cohen had earlier pleaded guilty to making secret payments to Daniels and McDougal, lying to Congress about the president’s business dealings with Russia, and failing to report millions of dollars in income.

The president and White House have denied the affairs.

Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis, speaking ahead of the search warrants’ release, said Monday that it “only furthers his interest in continuing to cooperate and providing information and the truth about Donald Trump and the Trump organization to law enforcement and Congress.”

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UK to sign Canada trade deal in race against time to secure TWO DOZEN agreements



BRITAIN is set to sign a post-Brexit trade deal with Canada, but has potentially just nine days left to sign more than two dozen other agreements.

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Rod Rosenstein staying at Justice Department ‘a little longer’



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Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

By Julia Ainsley and Pete Williams

WASHINGTON — Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will stay at the Justice Department “a little longer,” according to a senior department official.

Rosenstein had previously said he would leave in mid-March, noting during a public appearance on March 7 that it would be one of his final speeches.

Rosenstein recently discussed his upcoming planned departure with Attorney General William Barr, after which it was decided that he would stay on a little longer, the official said.

The departure of Rosenstein, who appointed special counsel Robert Mueller in 2017 and oversaw his Russia investigation until Barr was confirmed as attorney general earlier this year, was widely thought to be tied to the completion of Mueller’s report. Many speculated Rosenstein would stay on until Mueller completed his investigation and delivered a report on his findings to Barr.

Asked whether the delay in Rosenstein’s departure means that Mueller is still not ready to deliver his report, the official declined to comment.

On March 7, at the annual TRACE Forum, Rosenstein said, “It’s fitting that one of my final speeches as deputy attorney general is about promoting compliance and preventing corruption.”

He then joked that what was next for him was a period of unemployment.

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