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October 11, 2018

President Trump called into Shannon Bream's Fox News @Night show Wednesday night, after his latest campaign-style rally, this one in Erie, Pennsylvania, but Fox News did not broadcast the rally itself. Fox News also stuck with its usual nighttime lineup on Tuesday night, even as Trump gave shout-outs to the hosts during his unaired speech in Council Bluffs, Iowa — even C-SPAN cut away for other news. (MSNBC and CNN mostly stopped broadcasting Trump's rallies months ago.) Republicans are getting worried that with the midterms less than a month away, Trump "is losing a prime-time megaphone to his base," Politico reports.

A senior White House official told Politico that officials planned "to look into" Fox News deciding to cut away from presidential rallies, suggesting that Bill Shine, the White House communications director and former Fox News president, would get in touch with his former colleagues. But Politico already did that, and the answer seems to be a combination of low ratings, the repetitive and scripted nature of Trump's speeches, the loss of revenue from commercials, and some discomfort with handing over the network's prime time to the president, even a simpatico president like Trump.

Fox News still streams Trump's rallies online and shows highlights after the fact, but with so many of them and subpar ratings, "they don't want to give up so much prime-time real estate," a person familiar with Fox News' decisions tells Politico. "They're going with the route they think will give the best ratings performance." Trump, as a "massive consumer of the media," might "be disappointed" if Fox News drops his beloved rallies completely, a source close to Trump added. But this is really a "huge loss on the state and local level for Republicans, because they're certainly not going to get any of that on other cable networks." Peter Weber

7:27 a.m.

President Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen is speaking out in his first televised interview since being sentenced to three years in prison.

Cohen told ABC News Friday that "of course" Trump knew that making hush money payments to two women, Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, was wrong. But Cohen says his boss instructed him to silence the women, who have alleged they had affairs with Trump before he ran for president. Trump denies their allegations. "I knew what I was doing was wrong," Cohen also said.

Referring to Trump's claim that the payments were made without his knowledge, Cohen said, "I don't think there is anybody that believes that ... He directed me to make the payments."

Trump has additionally argued that the payments were not campaign contributions, but Cohen tells ABC that they were specifically made to "help [Trump] and his campaign.”

Cohen regrets giving loyalty to Trump, who "truthfully does not deserve loyalty," he said. When ABC's George Stephanopoulos asked Cohen why people should believe him now when he has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress, Cohen responded that prosecutors have a "substantial amount of information that they possessed that corroborates the fact that I am telling the truth," adding that he's "done with the lying."

Speaking more about his former boss, Cohen observed that Trump is now a "very different individual" than in the past because the "pressure of the job is much more than what he thought it was going to be." Watch a portion of Cohen's interview with ABC below. Brendan Morrow

6:58 a.m.

There was lots of legal news about President Trump on Thursday. None of it was good.

A day after Michael Cohen was handed jail time for crimes he said he committed on Trump's orders, NBC News placed Trump in the room where apparently illegal campaign finance violations were plotted, The Wall Street Journal said federal prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into Trump's inaugural committee, and The Daily Beast reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was investigating possible Trump campaign collusion with Israel and Saudi Arabia, not just Russia. Maria Butina admitted to being a Russian agent and affirmed she is cooperating with U.S. prosecutors in a case about Russian 2016 campaign meddling.

Publicly, Trump tried to distance himself from Cohen on Thursday, and "in private, Mr. Trump vented about investigators' scrutiny of him and his associates," people familiar with the matter tell The Wall Street Journal.

At the same time, people close to the White House described the president as less consumed this week about the investigations than the media coverage of a contentious meeting he had with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). "He was annoyed with how that meeting was playing out," one person close to the White House said. Network shows have repeatedly played clips of Mrs. Pelosi correcting the president on how many votes he has in the House and on his characterization of her. [The Wall Street Journal]

Trump and Pelosi were discussing a looming government shutdown over Trump's demands for $5 billion for a border wall. "With Trump fueling the border wall brinkmanship, everyone in the Capitol has basically stopped talking," Politico reports. "The House and Senate left town Thursday with no strategy to avert a partial government shutdown next week, putting Congress on the brink of an intractable conflict that could drag out through New Year's Day — furloughing hundreds of thousands of workers and costing taxpayers millions." Peter Weber

5:34 a.m.

First lady Melania Trump sat down for an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity on Wednesday night, and Stephen Colbert took it a little personally. "Hannity asked Melania what's her least favorite part about first lady," and her list of the "opportunists" profiting from her name sounded familiar, he said on Thursday's Late Show. "Comedians, journalists, performers, book writers — hey, I'm some of those things. But you left off Grammy-winning audio book narrator and disgraced lifeguard." The first lady also said she will ignore the criticism from the media and do what she thinks is best for the country and true to herself. "Well certainly there's nothing wrong with trying to stay true to yourself," Colbert said. "It's just like Shakespeare famously said, 'This above all: To thine own self be best.'"

"On Fox News last night, Melania Trump was interviewed by Sean Hannity," Jimmy Fallon said on The Tonight Show. "Trump said it was a lot of fun tuning in to watch the love of his life, and also Melania."

Hannity asked Melania "the moment she and Donald fell in love," Seth Meyers said on Late Night. "Said Melania: I'll let you know. In the same interview, Melania said the hardest part about her role is dealing with opportunists who use her name and her family's name to advance themselves. Said one such opportunist: You're not my real mom!" Meyers joked over a photo of Donald Trump Jr. "Now give me my allowance!"

Coincidentally, a CNN/SSRS poll released Thursday found Melania Trump's favorability rating dropping to 43 percent, from 54 percent in October. She is still widely popular among older white male Republicans and conservatives, the poll found. CNN's Kate Bennett suggested that her recent media appearances, in which she said she felt bullied and aligned herself with her husband and his policies, probably account for her drop in approval among women and younger Americans. Peter Weber

4:02 a.m.

Federal prosecutors in New York City have begun a criminal investigation into whether President Trump's 2017 inaugural committee misspent any of its record $107 million haul and whether any of the committee's biggest donors sought access to or special favors from the incoming Trump administration for their donations, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday evening, citing people familiar with the matter.

The investigation arose party out of materials seized by the FBI in an April raid of former Trump fixer Michael Cohen's office and residences, the Journal says, and federal prosecutors have sought information from Rick Gates, deputy chairman for both Trump's campaign and inaugural committee, who has pleaded guilty to different crimes and is cooperating with investigators. "Giving money in exchange for political favors could run afoul of federal corruption laws," the Journal notes. "Diverting funds from the organization, which was registered as a nonprofit, could also violate federal law."

Trump's $107 million inaugural fund was more than twice the previous record, set in 2009. The inaugural committee has not publicly accounted for how it spent $103 million, though it has identified vendors it paid $61 million and broken out some of the broad spending categories. Thomas Barrack, the real estate developer and longtime Trump friend who chaired the inaugural committee, said the committee's finances were audited by an outside organization, though he has not made that audit public. "There is no sign the investigation is targeting Mr. Barrack," the Journal says. Reporter Rebecca Davis O'Brien, who helped break the story, walked through some of the other details with CNN's Jake Tapper, and you can watch that below and read more at The Wall Street Journal. Peter Weber

3:06 a.m.

On Thursday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said a 7-year-old girl from Guatemala had died of dehydration and shock more than eight hours after the Border Patrol took her into custody, along with her father and 161 other migrants who turned themselves in after crossing into New Mexico from Mexico on Dec. 6. The following morning, the unidentified girl began having seizures, The Washington Post reports, and the emergency responders who arrived shortly measured her temperature at 105.7 degrees. She "reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days," CBP said, and she died at a hospital in El Paso "less than 24 hours after being transported."

"Food and water are typically provided to migrants in Border Patrol custody, and it wasn't immediately clear Thursday if the girl received provisions and a medical exam before the onset of seizures," the Post reports. The initial diagnosis for cause of death was septic shock, fever, and dehydration, and an autopsy is being performed. "Our sincerest condolences go out to the family of the child," CBP spokesman Andrew Meehan said in a statement.

Even as the number of border crossings has dropped this year, the numbers of families traveling to the U.S. from Central America has risen. So have the number of migrant deaths, said Cynthia Pompa at the ACLU Border Rights Center. “This tragedy represents the worst possible outcome when people, including children, are held in inhumane conditions. Lack of accountability, and a culture of cruelty within CBP have exacerbated policies that lead to migrant deaths." Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said he will ask the Homeland Security Department's inspector general to investigate the death, noting that a previous IG report found that as President Trump limits asylum seekers at ports of entry, migrant families are forced to make "dangerous treks across the desert in search of safety, and a better life." Peter Weber

2:18 a.m.

"It really feels that we're at a turning point in the Trump presidency — not the point where he's turning himself in, but still," Stephen Colbert said on Thursday's Late Show. According to a guilty plea from President Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen, Trump is essentially "an unindicted co-conspirator" in felony campaign finance violations, Colbert said. And "when he saw he was in trouble with the Justice Department, Trump immediately appealed to a higher authority, Fox News." Trump said he doesn't think he ever paid the National Enquirer to "catch and kill" a story for him and insisted the feds cut a deal with Cohen to "embarrass" him. Colbert laughed: "Well, if they're giving out deals to people who embarrass the president, you might have a chance."

"Trump also keeps insisting that the payments were totally legal and do not violate campaign finance law, despite the fact that prosecutors in his own Justice Department and independent legal experts say they did," Seth Meyers said on Late Night. When pressed by Fox News, Trump said hiring lying criminals like Cohen is something that "just happens," and Meyers disagreed: "It only happens to you. No one else accidentally hires a criminal liar who pays hush money to cover up an affair!"

"Paying people hush money is not a crime," Trevor Noah noted on The Daily Show, "but if it turns out that a presidential candidate secretly used campaign funds to hide damaging information from voters, that is a felony. And today, it's being reported that Donald Trump was actually in the room when the whole plan was hatched." Most people agree that being "implicated in a criminal conspiracy" is a really bad look for Trump, but many top Republicans are waving it away, Noah said, shaking his head. "I understand the Republicans' desire to protect their party's president, I get that. But they're pivoting so far just to defend him that they're moving away from what they said the Republican Party stands for in the first place: law and order." No one claimed that more than Trump. Noah squared the circle, in Trump voice: "That's right, folks, I am the law-and-order candidate — as in, I will break the law in order to become president." Watch below. Peter Weber

12:47 a.m.

In Wednesday's non-prosecution deal with National Enquirer publisher American Media Inc., federal prosecutors said AMI admitted that in an August 2015 Trump Tower meeting with President Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen and "at least one other member of the [Trump] campaign," CEO David Pecker had agreed to "help deal with negative stories about that presidential candidate's relationships with women." AMI subsequently made a $150,000 payment "in concert with the campaign" to one purported mistress, former Playboy model Karen McDougal, prosecutors said, and the "principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman's story so as to prevent it from influencing the election."

In that August 2015 meeting, "the 'other member' was Trump," NBC News reports, citing "a person familiar with the matter." Trump's active participation in the meeting — and direct involvement in or knowledge of the hush payment — was reported by The Wall Street Journal in early November. Cohen has since pleaded guilty to felony campaign finance violations, purportedly committed at the direction of Trump, in connection with a separate hush payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels.

Trump and his lawyers have continuously shifted their story about what happened and what Trump knew about the hush payments, with the latest iteration being Trump's insistence Thursday that he "never directed Michael Cohen to break the law," and if any laws were broken, that's on Cohen. "But if Trump is now in the room, as early as August of 2015 and in combination with the recording where Trump clearly knows what Cohen is talking about with regarding to David Pecker," former federal prosecutor Daniel Goldman told NBC News, "you now squarely place Trump in the middle of a conspiracy to commit campaign finance fraud."

At CNN, The New Yorker's Ronan Farrow discussed the Enquirer's "catch and kill" practices and reminded Anderson Cooper that AMI paid to bury at least one other negative story about Trump during the campaign. Peter Weber

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