Trump lawyer ‘paid by Ukraine’ to arrange White House talks

Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, received a secret payment of at least $400,000 (£300,000) to fix talks between the Ukrainian president and President Trump, according to sources in Kiev close to those involved.

The payment was arranged by intermediaries acting for Ukraine’s leader, Petro Poroshenko, the sources said, though Mr Cohen was not registered as a representative of Ukraine as required by US law.

Mr Cohen denies the allegation.

The meeting at the White House was last June. Shortly after the Ukrainian president returned home, his country’s anti-corruption agency stopped its investigation into Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

A high-ranking Ukrainian intelligence officer in Mr Poroshenko’s administration described what happened before the visit to the White House.

Mr Cohen was brought in, he said, because Ukraine’s registered lobbyists and embassy in Washington DC could get Mr Poroshenko little more than a brief photo-op with Mr Trump. Mr Poroshenko needed something that could be portrayed as “talks”.

This senior official’s account is as follows – Mr Poroshenko decided to establish a back channel to Mr Trump. The task was given to a former aide, who asked a loyal Ukrainian MP for help.

He in turn used personal contacts who attended a Jewish charity in New York state, Chabad of Port Washington. (A spokeman for the Chabad has asked us to make clear that officials there were not involved.)

This eventually led to Michael Cohen, the president’s lawyer and trusted fixer. Mr Cohen was paid $400,000.

There is no suggestion that Mr Trump knew about the payment.

A second source in Kiev gave the same details, except that the total paid to Mr Cohen was $600,000.

There was also support for the account from a lawyer in the US who has uncovered details of Mr Cohen’s finances, Michael Avenatti. He represents a porn actress, Stormy Daniels, in legal action against President Trump.

Avenatti said that Suspicious Activity Reports filed by Mr Cohen’s bank to the US Treasury showed he had received money from “Ukrainian interests”.

As well as Mr Cohen, the two Ukrainians said to have opened the backchannel for their president also denied the story.

The senior intelligence official in Kiev said Mr Cohen had been helped by Felix Sater, a convicted former mobster who was once Trump’s business partner. Mr Sater’s lawyer, too, denied the allegations.

The Ukrainian president’s office initially refused to comment but, asked by a local journalist to respond, a statement was issued calling the story a “blatant lie, slander and fake”.

As was widely reported last June, Mr Poroshenko was still guessing at how much time he would have with Mr Trump even as he flew to Washington.

The White House schedule said only that Mr Poroshenko would “drop in” to the Oval Office while Mr Trump was having staff meetings.

That had been agreed through official channels. Mr Cohen’s fee was for getting Mr Poroshenko more than just an embarrassingly brief few minutes of small talk and a handshake, the senior official said. But negotiations continued until the early hours of the day of the visit.

The Ukrainian side were angry, the official went on, because Mr Cohen had taken “hundreds of thousands” of dollars from them for something it seemed he could not deliver.

Right up until the last moment, the Ukrainian leader was uncertain if he would avoid humiliation.

“Poroshenko’s inner circle were shocked by how dirty this whole arrangement [with Cohen] was.”

Mr Poroshenko was desperate to meet Mr Trump because of what had happened in the US presidential election campaign.

In August 2016, the New York Times published a document that appeared to show Mr Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, getting millions of dollars from pro-Russian interests in Ukraine.

It was a page of the so-called “black ledger” belonging to the Party of the Regions, the pro-Russian party that employed Mr Manafort when he ran a political consultancy in Ukraine.

The page appeared to have come from Ukraine’s National Anti Corruption Bureau, which was investigating him. Mr Manafort had to resign.

Several sources in Ukraine said Mr Poroshenko authorised the leak, believing that Hillary Clinton was certain to win the presidency.

If so, this was a disastrous mistake – Ukraine had backed the losing candidate in the US election. Regardless of how the leak came about, it hurt Mr Trump, the eventual winner.

Ukraine was (and remains) at war with Russia and Russian-backed separatists and could not afford to make an enemy of the new US president.

So Mr Poroshenko appeared relieved as he beamed and paid tribute to Mr Trump in the Oval Office.

He boasted that he had seen the new president before Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin. He called it a “substantial visit”. He held a triumphant news conference in front of the north portico of the White House.

A week after Mr Poroshenko returned home to Kiev, Ukraine’s National Anti Corruption Bureau announced that it was no longer investigating Mr Manafort.

At the time, an official there explained to me that Mr Manafort had not signed the “black ledger” acknowledging receipt of the money. And anyway, he went on, Mr Manafort was American and the law allowed the bureau only to investigate Ukrainians.

[BBC]

Pruitt bars AP, CNN from EPA summit on contaminants, guards push reporter out of building

The Environmental Protection Agency barred The Associated Press and CNN from a national summit on harmful water contaminants on Tuesday — and guards forcibly shoved a female reporter out of the building.

The EPA blocked the media organizations, along with the environmental-focused E&E News, from attending the meeting in Washington, convened by EPA chief Scott Pruitt.

Guards barred an AP reporter from passing through a security checkpoint inside the building.

When the reporter, Ellen Knickmeyer, asked to speak to an EPA public-affairs person, the security guards grabbed the reporter by the shoulders and shoved her forcibly out of the EPA building. She said she was not injured and was later permitted to attend the meeting.

“The Environmental Protection Agency’s selective barring of news organizations, including the AP, from covering today’s meeting is alarming and a direct threat to the public’s right to know about what is happening inside their government,” said AP Executive Editor Sally Buzbee.

“It is particularly distressing that any journalist trying to cover an event in the public interest would be forcibly removed,” Buzbee added.

CNN said in a statement that its reporter also was turned away from covering the event “after multiple attempts to attend.”

“We understand the importance of an open and free press and we hope the EPA does, too,” CNN said, according to the AP.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox told the barred organizations they were not invited and there was no space for them, but gave no indication of why they specifically were barred.

“This was simply an issue of the room reaching capacity, which reporters were aware of prior to the event,” Wilcox told NBC News. “We were able to accommodate 10 reporters, provided a livestream for those we could not accommodate and were unaware of the individual situation that has been reported.”

The reporter threatened “negative coverage” if she couldn’t get in, Wilcox alleged.

Some media that had been permitted to attend said that there appeared to be a handful of open seats for the press in the room despite claims that there was no room left.

A reporter for E&E News tweeted about being shut out by the EPA.

Amid criticism for barring the media outlets, Wilcox announced later that the afternoon session of the meeting would be open to all press.

Following that decision, the AP said, “We are pleased that the EPA has reconsidered its decision and will now allow AP to attend the remainder of today’s meeting. The AP looks forward to informing the public of the important discussions at the water contaminants summit this afternoon.”

Pruitt spoke Tuesday as he opened a hearing on the contaminants, known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl. The chemicals were used in items like nonstick coating and firefighting foam and have contaminated some water systems nationwide. The compounds are linked to developmental defects and other health problems.

Pruitt has faced criticism in recent weeks over emails showing the EPA sought to intervene in a critical study on the contaminants.

Convening Tuesday’s session, Pruitt is pledging to work on establishing a maximum allowable level for the chemicals in drinking water.

Representatives of states, tribes, the chemical industry, environmental groups and others attended the session.

[NBC News]

Trump Jr. Met With Foreign Group Offering to Help Trump Win Election

Donald Trump Jr. met with an Israeli social media expert who pitched a multimillion dollar campaign to help his father win the 2016 presidential election just months before the vote, The New York Times reports. Blackwater founder Erik Prince reportedly arranged the August 2016 meeting, which was also attended by George Nader, an adviser to the United Arab Emirates who is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in the Russia probe. Nader is said to have informed Trump Jr. that the crown princes in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates wanted to offer as much support as they could to help the older Trump win.

The social media expert, Joel Zamel, reportedly attended the meeting at Trump Tower on behalf of a company that specializes in online manipulation and had already drawn up a massive campaign to elect Trump that involved using thousands of fake social media accounts. The company, Psy-Group, whose motto is “Shape Reality,” reportedly went so far as to consult an American law firm about the legality of its proposal. The meeting has come under scrutiny by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, with investigators now trying to determine whether these offers were connected to Russia in any way.

[The Daily Beast]

Cohen promised Novartis access to Trump

President Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen promised the pharmaceutical company Novartis that they could have access to President Trump and his inner circle if they signed a contract with him, a Novartis employee told Stat on Wednesday.

The employee told Stat that Cohen contacted then-chief executive officer Joe Jimenez last year, promising that he could get Novartis access to both Trump and top administration officials. Jimenez then reportedly ordered company officials to make a deal with Cohen.

“With a new administration coming in, basically, all the traditional contacts disappeared and they were all new players,” the employee told the publication. “We were trying to find an inroad into the administration. Cohen promised access to not just Trump, but also the circle around him. It was almost as if we were hiring him as a lobbyist.”

Novartis on Wednesday in a statement said that it hired Cohen in February 2017 for consulting services, paying him a total of $1.2 million for a one-year contract.

The company also said that special counsel Robert Mueller had contacted it last year over the payments to Cohen.

“With the recent change in administration, Novartis believed that Michael Cohen could advise the company as to how the Trump administration might approach certain US healthcare policy matters, including the Affordable Care Act,” the company said in a statement Wednesday.

However, Novartis said that it concluded that Cohen would “be unable to provide the services that Novartis had anticipated related to US healthcare policy matters and the decision was taken not to engage further.”

The contract was not terminated and Cohen continued to be paid in monthly installments through the end of the agreement.

The payments to Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants LLC, from Novartis were first detailed in a report by Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti on Tuesday. Daniels is currently suing Cohen for defamation.

Cohen arranged a payment to Daniels to stay quiet about her alleged affair with Trump. Daniels is also suing Trump to void the nondisclosure agreement about the alleged affair.

[The Hill]

Michael Cohen Took Cash From Russian Oligarch After Election

The Daily Beast can confirm that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen received hundreds of thousands of dollars from a company controlled by Putin-aligned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

The allegations were initially made Tuesday by Michael Avenatti, porn actress Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, and confirmed by a source familiar with the matter.

“How the fuck did Avenatti find out?” the source asked The Daily Beast.

According to a dossier published by Avenatti on Tuesday evening, “Vekselberg and his cousin Mr. Andrew Intrater routed eight payments to Mr. Cohen through a company named Columbus Nova LLC beginning in January 2017 and continuing until at least August 2017.”

The funds, Avenatti suggested, may have been used to reimburse Cohen for the $130,000 hush payment made to Daniels in exchange for her silence about an alleged affair with Trump.

Intrater was also a donor to the Republican National Committee, where Cohen served as a deputy finance chairman. In June 2017, Intrater donated $35,000 to a joint fundraising committee for the RNC and Trump’s reelection campaign. He also gave a quarter-million dollars to Trump’s inaugural committee. (Previously, Intrater gave only to Democrats like Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Ted Kennedy.)

Intrater and Vekselberg have also been active investors in the U.S. technology and media sectors. Columbus Nova Technology Partners was the first and only outside investor in Gawker Media, before the company was felled by a lawsuit funded by Trump ally Peter Thiel. Columbus Nova also backed the record label of former Def Jam boss Lyor Cohen, invested in the streaming music pioneer Rhapsody, and put moneybehind a gig-economy site, a “genetic risk” firm, and a company called Tomfoolery Incorporated.

Vekselberg himself has holdings all over the world—including a 26.2 percent stake in Rusal, the aluminum producing giant owned by Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch now infamous for bankrolling former Trump campaign boss Paul Manafort. Both Deripaska and Vekselberg were sanctioned by the U.S. government in early April. But later that month, the U.S. Treasury Department, in effect, slow-rolled the sanctions, giving companies and individuals until late October to get out of business with Rusal, which is appealing Washington’s ruling. “Given the impact on our partners and allies, we are… extending the maintenance and wind-down period while we consider RUSAL’s petition,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

And according to The New York Times, Vekselberg was recently questioned by federal agents working with special counsel Robert Mueller. CNN reported that those queries involved the oligarch’s payments to Cohen.

While Cohen’s lawyers refused to comment on the payments, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani dismissed the news as Avenatti having foresaw the president’s Tuesday withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal—part of “one of the best days of the Trump presidency”—and simply trying to “stink it up as much as possible.”

In a statement provided to The Daily Beast, Columbus Nova’s attorney, Richard Owens of Latham & Watkins, said: “Columbus Nova is a management company solely owned and controlled by Americans. After the inauguration, the firm hired Michael Cohen as a business consultant regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures. Reports today that Viktor Vekselberg used Columbus Nova as a conduit for payments to Michael Cohen are false. The claim that Viktor Vekselberg was involved or provided any funding for Columbus Nova’s engagement of Michael Cohen is patently untrue. Neither Viktor Vekselberg nor anyone else other than Columbus Nova’s owners, were involved in the decision to hire Cohen or provided funding for his engagement.”

Cohen and Trump’s lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But this development could put further pressure on President Donald Trump’s inner circle. If Avenatti’s analysis is correct and the payments violated federal banking law, then the Cohen could be in serious legal jeopardy. There are reportedly concerns in the president’s inner circle that Cohen could begin cooperating with investigators. The greater the legal jeopardy he faces, the greater pressure he will face to cooperate. And he wouldn’t be the only one; former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Trump campaign official Rick Gates are already cooperating with Mueller’s investigators.

Meanwhile, Avenatti is making a sport of riding Cohen in the press.

[The Daily Beast]

AT&T confirms it paid Trump lawyer Michael Cohen for ‘insights’ on administration

Telecommunications giant AT&T said Tuesday night that it had paid President Donald Trump‘s lawyer Michael Cohen for “insights” about the Trump administration.

AT&T’s admission came after a lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels claimed the company, drug giant Novartis and a company controlled by a Russian oligarch had all made payments to Cohen’s shell company.

Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, said AT&T had made four separate payments of $50,000 apiece to Cohen’s company, for a total of $200,000 in late 2017 and into early 2018.

That company, Essential Consultants, was created by Cohen in October 2016 and soon after was used to make a $130,000 hush-money payment to Daniels.

In a prepared statement to CNBC, AT&T said Cohen’s company “was one of several firms we engaged in early 2017 to provide insights into understanding the new administration.”

“They did no legal or lobbying work for us, and the contract ended in December 2017,” AT&T said.

The company did not say how much it had paid Cohen, who was the president’s personal lawyer at the time.

AT&T is in the midst of pursuing an $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner. The U.S. Justice Department has sued to block that deal.

In a report on Cohen’s company, Avenatti’s law firm said that Novartis in late 2017 and early 2018 made four separate payments to Essential Consultants totaling nearly $400,000.

“Following these payments, reports surfaced that Mr. Trump took a dinner with the incoming CEO of Novartis before Mr. Trump’s speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in late January 2018,” Avenatti’s report said.

That CEO, Vas Narasimhan, was joined with a group of other companies’ executives at that dinner.

A Novartis spokesperson said in a statement that “any agreements with Essential Consultants were entered before our current CEO taking office in February of this year and have expired.”

The White House declined to comment on whether Trump knew about payments to Cohen from AT&T, Novartis or Columbus Nova, the company linked to the Russian oligarch, and instead referred questions to the president’s outside legal team.

Avenatti’s report says another company, Korea Aerospace Industries LTD, paid Essential Consultants $150,000 in November 2017.

Avenatti’s client Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was paid $130,000 by Essential Consultants on the eve of the 2016 presidential election.

Daniels says the money was in exchange for her signing a deal that required her to remain silent about an affair she claims to have had with Trump in 2006, shortly after the birth of his youngest son.

The White House has denied that Trump had sex with the adult film actress.

Cohen did not have an immediate comment on Avenatti’s new allegations about payments to Cohen’s company.

[CNBC]

Trump doctor Harold Bornstein says bodyguard, lawyer ‘raided’ his office, took medical files

In February 2017, a top White House aide who was Trump’s longtime personal bodyguard, along with the top lawyer at the Trump Organization and a third man showed up at the office of Trump’s New York doctor without notice and took all the president’s medical records.

The incident, which Dr. Harold Bornstein described as a “raid,” took place two days after Bornstein told a newspaper that he had prescribed a hair growth medicine for the president for years.

In an exclusive interview in his Park Avenue office, Bornstein told NBC News that he felt “raped, frightened and sad” when Keith Schiller and another “large man” came to his office to collect the president’s records on the morning of Feb. 3, 2017. At the time, Schiller, who had long worked as Trump’s bodyguard, was serving as director of Oval Office operations at the White House.

“They must have been here for 25 or 30 minutes. It created a lot of chaos,” said Bornstein, who described the incident as frightening.

A framed 8-by-10 photo of Bornstein and Trump that had been hanging on the wall in the waiting room now lies flat under a stack of papers on the top shelf of Bornstein’s bookshelf. Bornstein said the men asked him to take it off the wall.

Bornstein said he was not given a form authorizing the release of the records and signed by the president known as a HIPAA release — which is a violation of patient privacy law. A person familiar with the matter said there was a letter to Bornstein from then-White House doctor Ronny Jackson, but didn’t know if there was a release form attached.

“If Ronny Jackson was the treating doctor, and he was asking for his patient’s paperwork, a doctor is obligated to give it to him to ensure continuity of care,” said NBC News medical correspondent Dr. John Torres, “but it has to be given in a secure fashion. Nobody who doesn’t have HIPAA clearance can see the patient records.”

NBC News legal analyst Danny Cevallos said that patients generally own their medical information, but the original record is the property of the provider. “New York state law requires that a doctor maintain records for at least six years, so a doctor who hands over his original records runs the risk of violating New York state law,” said Cevallos.

Bornstein said the original and only copy of Trump’s charts, including lab reports under Trump’s name as well as under the pseudonyms his office used for Trump, were taken.

Another man, Trump Organization chief legal officer Alan Garten, joined Schiller’s team at Bornstein’s office, and Bornstein’s wife, Melissa, photocopied his business card. Garten declined to comment for this article.

Schiller, who left the White House in September 2017, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Asked about the incident by Hallie Jackson of NBC News on Tuesday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that taking possession of medical records was “standard operating procedure for a new president” and that it was not accurate to characterize what happened as a “raid.”

“Those records were being transferred over to the White House Medical Unit, as requested,” said Sanders.

Bornstein said that Trump cut ties with him after he told The New York Times that Trump takes Propecia, a drug for enlarged prostates that is often prescribed to stimulate hair growth in men. Bornstein told the Times that he prescribed Trump drugs for rosacea and high cholesterol as well.

The story also quotes Bornstein recalling that he had told Rhona Graff, Trump’s longtime assistant, “You know, I should be the White House physician.”

After the article ran on Feb. 1, 2017, Bornstein said Graff called him and said, “So you wanted to be the White House doctor? Forget it, you’re out.’ ”

Two days after the article ran, the men came to his office.

“I couldn’t believe anybody was making a big deal out of a drug to grow his hair that seemed to be so important. And it certainly was not a breach of medical trust to tell somebody they take Propecia to grow their hair. What’s the matter with that?”

Bornstein said he is speaking out now after seeing reports that Jackson, who has allegedly been called “the candy man” for loosely prescribing pain medications as White House doctor, will not return to his post after being considered to run the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“This is like a celebration for me,” he said.

Jackson has denied improperly prescribing drugs.

Bornstein, 70, had been Trump’s personal doctor for more than 35 years.

During Trump’s presidential campaign, Bornstein wrote a letter declaring “unequivocally” that Trump would be the healthiest president in history. He called Trump’s health “astonishingly excellent.” The Trump campaign released the letter in December 2015.

Bornstein told NBC News in 2016 that he wrote the note in just five minutes while a limo sent by the candidate waited outside his office.

Asked how he could justify saying Trump would be the healthiest president ever, Bornstein said, “I like that sentence, to be quite honest with you, and all the rest of them are either sick or dead.”

[NBC News]

Trump campaign has paid portions of Michael Cohen’s legal fees

The Trump campaign has spent nearly $228,000 to cover some of the legal expenses for President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen, sources familiar with the payments tell ABC News, raising questions about whether the Trump campaign may have violated campaign finance laws.

Federal Election Commission records show three payments made from the Trump campaign to a firm representing Cohen. The “legal consulting” payments were made to McDermott Will and Emery — a law firm where Cohen’s attorney Stephen Ryan is a partner — between October 2017 and January 2018.

Cohen has said that he did not have a formal role in the Trump campaign, and it is illegal to spend campaign funds for personal use – defined by the FEC as payments for expenses “that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s campaign or responsibilities as a federal officeholder.”

“They’re on shaky legal ground,” said Stephen Spaulding, chief of strategy at the nonprofit watchdog group Common Cause. “It sounds like they are really pushing the envelope … If the campaign were to say they are campaign-related payments, then maybe it’s okay to use campaign funds. But he can’t have it both ways.”

Legal experts told ABC News that if the payments referenced in the FEC filings are related to the Russia investigation, they likely wouldn’t violate campaign finance law, as the investigation is related to the 2016 presidential campaign. If the payments are related to the Stormy Daniels matter, however, the campaign could have a problem.

It is not clear what type of legal work the payments were for, but sources familiar with the matter said that the legal work in question was not related to Daniels.

A spokesperson for the Trump campaign declined to comment on the payments. Ryan, Cohen’s attorney, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Cohen has been Trump’s personal attorney and confidant for more than a decade, but he is now facing possible legal exposure related to his work for Trump.

Ryan has represented Cohen in two key legal matters — Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s ongoing investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian agents ahead of the 2016 presidential election, and the so-called “hush” agreement he arranged with a porn star who claimed to have had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006.

Mueller’s team has subpoenaed the Trump Organization for Russia-related documents, according to sources with direct knowledge of the matter, and congressional investigators have asked Cohen to explain his role in confidential negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow at the height of the presidential campaign. Cohen told ABC News in Augusts that the Trump Organization seriously considered the proposal — which would have brought the world’s tallest building to Moscow — before eventually abandoning the plan.

The special counsel could also be interested in Cohen’s $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels shortly before the election to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Trump. Earlier this month, the FBI raided Cohen’s home, office, and hotel room and seized records related to the Daniels matter, after a referral from Mueller’s team was made to the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York. Cohen has not been charged with a crime. He appeared in court last week, where a judge appointed a “special master” to review the seized material to determine what records, if any, fall under attorney-client privilege.

Cohen’s possible legal jeopardy doesn’t end with the investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York or the special counsel. Daniels has since sued Trump and Cohen over the “hush” agreement, challenging its legitimacy because Trump never signed it, and she later added defamation charges against Cohen to the suit. In a court filing last week, Cohen revealed his plans to exercise his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination in that lawsuit.

The Trump campaign spent more than $830,000 on legal consulting during the first three months of 2018, including one payment to the firm representing Cohen, according to FEC reports. The payments made up more than 20 percent of the total campaign expenditures.

More than $279,000 of that went to two other law firms — Harder LLP received $93,181 and Larocca, Hornik, Rosen, Greenberg & Blaha received $186,279 — that have represented President Trump and Cohen in matters related to Daniels, but sources said these particular payments were related to other matters.

The Trump campaign also paid Larocca, Hornik, Rosen, Greenberg & Blaha firm nearly $81,000 for “legal consulting” during the 2016 election cycle, FEC reports show. President Trump added Lawrence Rosen, a partner at Larocca, Hornik, Rosen, Greenberg & Blaha, to his legal team in March to handle the legal issues following the disclosure of the so-called “hush” agreement that Cohen negotiated with Daniels. Rosen did not respond to a request for comment on the payments.

The Patriot Legal Defense Fund was established earlier this year to help former Trump campaign staffers and Trump administration officials pay for legal bills associated with the ongoing Russia probes. It is unclear, however, who has benefited from the fund as it does not disclose its beneficiaries. Trump and his immediate family members are excluded from receiving money from the fund, and a source close to former national security adviser Michael Flynn told ABC News in February that he would not accept support from the fund.

In 2017, the Trump campaign also paid legal fees to the attorneys representing top aides – and family members – tangled in the ongoing Russia probes. The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee paid $514,000 in legal fees for Donald Trump Jr, and in January, the Trump campaign paid more than $66,000 to the law firm representing former Trump bodyguard Keith Schiller, who has been a fixture at Trump’s side for decades and served as Trump’s director of Oval Office operations until September.

[ABC News]

Trump tweets “Mission Accomplished!” after Syria bombing

Less than 24 hours after ordering missile strikes in Syria, President Donald Trump declared, “Mission Accomplished!” in a tweet on Saturday.

The reaction was swift: Twitter users and political pundits immediately drew parallels with President George W. Bush’s now-infamous 2003 speech just over a month into the Iraq War, in which he announced an end to “major combat operations” in Iraq under a “Mission Accomplished” banner. In actuality, the war was far from over and would stretch on for years.

Trump on Sunday defended his use of the phrase on Twitter and said he’s trying to bring it back in vogue. He said he knew the “Fake News Media” would “seize on this but felt it is such a great Military term.” He said he wants to bring it back and “use often!”

The missile strike that Trump was referring to occurred on Friday night. In an announcement, Trump said the attack was underway in retaliation for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons on rebel-held areas of the country. The attacks left at least 42 adults and children dead. The United States, Britain, and France hit three targets in the country, including the capital of Damascus, in what Defense Secretary Jim Mattiscalled a “one-time shot.”

Trump, who has publicly telegraphed his thinking on Syria on Twitter in recent days, took to the platform to take a victory lap after the bombing.

“A perfectly executed strike last night,” he wrote. “Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!”

The Pentagon backed Trump’s assertion. “We met our objectives. We hit the sites, the heart of the chemical weapons program. So it was mission accomplished,” spokesperson Dana White said in a statement to ABC News.

[Vox]

Reality

US military officials have already acknowledged that the strikes did little to blunt Syria’s capacity to manufacture and deliver chemical weapons. The mission was a compromise from the start, targeting facilities that would result in the lowest possible probability of loss of civilian life. And the US warned Russia in advance using the deconfliction line between the US and Russian militaries that there would be an operation over Syria, tipping off Russia and Syria of the strike Trump had already promised was coming.

The strike did accomplish a few things besides blowing up (apparently empty) buildings. It demonstrated how the US, French, and British militaries are capable of orchestrating a joint strike operation on (relatively) short notice, as well as the effectiveness of two relatively new weapons systems. It also demonstrated how some of the oldest weapons systems in the US military’s inventory can still serve a role in these sorts of operations. And the strike gave nearly everyone but the US Army and US Coast Guard an opportunity to take part.

There is also the possibility that these strikes were illegal and unconstitutional.

Trump bragged that his tower withstood a fire — but has been silent about the man who died in it

Depending on whom you followed more closely, there were two accounts of the fire Saturday night that tore through a 50th-floor apartment in Trump Tower, President Trump’s namesake building on Fifth Avenue in New York.

The first narrative unfolded through official alerts and images from the New York Fire Department, which painted a picture of an extraordinarily challenging — and ultimately fatal — blaze to contain and extinguish.

The fire broke out just before 6 p.m. Saturday, officials said. Soon, flames could be seen making their way across the unit as dark plumes of smoke billowed upward, obstructing many of the floors above.

By the time firefighters arrived at the 50th floor of the building, they found “the apartment was entirely on fire,” New York Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said Saturday.

Forcing their way into the unit, firefighters pulled out one person, unconscious and unresponsive, who had been trapped inside, Nigro added.

The man was taken to the hospital in critical condition, police said. He later died.

In all, six firefighters — of the roughly 200 or so who had responded — suffered minor injuries fighting the blaze, Nigro said.

For the president, however, the fire seemed first a chance to boast of the construction quality of Trump Tower on Twitter, his preferred method of communicating with the public.

“Very confined (well built building),” Trump tweeted Saturday, about an hour after the fire broke out. “Firemen (and women) did a great job. THANK YOU!”

Trump also declared that the fire had been extinguished — before it actually had been.

The fire was still not considered to be under control then because of smoke conditions above the 50th floor, Nigro said Saturday. It was brought under control shortly before 8 p.m. Saturday, about an hour after Trump’s tweet, fire officials said.

[Washington Post]

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