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January 23, 2019

Michael Cohen's congressional tell-all won't come as soon as we'd thought.

President Trump's former fixer long ago left his ex-boss' side, providing hours of testimony to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into the Trump campaign's potential involvement with Russian election interference. Cohen was scheduled to publicly testify about Trump to Congress on Feb. 7, but revealed Wednesday he'd postpone that appearance due to "ongoing threats against his family from President Trump" and Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

In a statement from Cohen's lawyer Lanny Davis, Cohen confirmed his "continued cooperation with ongoing investigations," presumably including Mueller's. But he also said he had to "put his family and their safety first" and put his House Oversight Committee hearing on hold indefinitely.

Cohen is probably best known for paying porn star Stormy Daniels to conceal her story of an affair with Trump, as well as reportedly handling the Trump Organization's plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. He's since fallen out of Trump's good graces and landed a three-year jail sentence for lying to Congress about the Moscow discussions and financial crimes. Cohen promised in his December sentencing to "state publicly all he knows about Mr. Trump" after the Mueller investigation concluded, and reportedly planned to "say things that will give you chills" in his February testimony. Kathryn Krawczyk

5:05 a.m.

Twelve major telecommunications firms and attorneys general from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., announced new efforts Thursday to combat the scourge of illegal robocalls. In the deal, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and the other firms agreed to deploy call-blocking technology at the network level and provide other tools, like call labeling, for customers who want more screening options, all free of charge. There is no timeline for putting the anti-robocall principles into practice.

The Federal Communications Commission, which approved rules in June to encourage telecoms to block illegal robocalls by default and deploy a phone number verification technology called SHAKEN/STIR, congratulated the parties for reaching agreement. But as The Wall Street Journal explained in March, when the FCC started considering the rules, fighting robocalls is tricky and ending all robocalls is probably impossible, even with the newly adopted protocols.

Americans receive billions of robocalls a month, and robocall scammers bilked customers out of $9.5 billion in 2017, according to Truecaller. The companies participating in the nationwide agreement are AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, Comcast, Charter, U.S. Cellular, Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Consolidated Communications, Frontier, and Windstream. Not participating: Cox, Altice, and many small rural telecoms. Peter Weber

3:54 a.m.

Lest you think The Atlantic's James Fallows believes President Trump is fit for office, he reminded readers Thursday that during the 2016 campaign he cataloged "in real time, what was known about Donald Trump’s fitness for office," ultimately concluding "even then there was no doubt of Trump’s mental, emotional, civic, and ethical unfitness for national leadership."

In 2016, Fallows notes, he refrained from "medicalizing" Trump's fitness for office, for reasons he explains. But now we're seeing "episodes of what would be called outright lunacy, if they occurred in any other setting." He tried to imagine how some of Trump's recent antics would be treated in any other profession:

  • If an airline learned that a pilot was talking publicly about being "the Chosen One" or "the King of Israel" (or Scotland or whatever), the airline would be looking carefully into whether this person should be in the cockpit.
  • If a hospital had a senior surgeon behaving as Trump now does, other doctors and nurses would be talking with administrators and lawyers before giving that surgeon the scalpel again.
  • If a public company knew that a CEO was making costly strategic decisions on personal impulse or from personal vanity or slight, and was doing so more and more frequently, the board would be starting to act. ...
  • If the U.S. Navy knew that one of its commanders was routinely lying about important operational details, plus lashing out under criticism, plus talking in "Chosen One" terms, the Navy would not want that person in charge of, say, a nuclear-missile submarine.
    [James Fallows, The Atlantic]

"If Donald Trump were in virtually any other position of responsibility, action would already be under way to remove him from that role," Fallows argues, with two exceptions: "One is a purely family-run business, like the firm in which Trump spent his entire previous career. And the other is the U.S. presidency, where he will remain, despite more and more-manifest Queeg-like unfitness, as long as the GOP Senate stands with him." Read the entire post at The Atlantic. Peter Weber

2:51 a.m.

In March 2018, the inspector general for the federal General Services Administration released its findings on a complaint that acting GSA chief of staff Brennan Hart and a White House official whose name is redacted had sex on the roof of the GSA headquarters, after having some vodka drinks in Hart's office, according to a copy of the report obtained by D.C. NBC affiliate WRC through a public records request.

Hart, who was also an associate GSA administrator, admitted to having sexual relations with the White House official on the roof just one time, in the summer of 2017, and his last day of employment was March 12, 2018, four days after the report was submitted. The GSA inspector general found several violations of federal policies, including drinking alcohol in the office without proper permission and improper use of government facilities. And the IG office's report included this explainer in its section on "Sexual Conduct on Government Property":

Per 5 C.F.R. § 2635.704(a) an employee has a duty to not allow the use of Government property for anything other than authorized purposes. Having sex in the central office building is not an authorized purpose for use by the public. Further, there is no law or GSA regulation that allows an employee to have sex in the building. [GSA Inspector General report]

Now you know.

The GSA is an independent agency that oversees federal buildings and offices. The unidentified White House official refused to be interviewed. Peter Weber

1:41 a.m.

The Justice Department's daily briefing to all immigration court employees Monday contained a link to an article on a white nationalist site that "directly attacks sitting immigration judges with racial and ethnically tinged slurs," according to a letter sent Thursday by the National Association of Immigration Judges union. The linked post, from the website VDARE, detailed the Justice Department's efforts to strip immigration judges of their right to be represented by a union, BuzzFeed News reports.

Immigration judges are part of the Justice Department, and their union has pushed to make the immigration courts independent, The Associated Press reports. The judges say the DOJ push to strip them of union representation is an attempt to silence criticism.

The NAIJ supports VDARE's free speech rights, but "the publication and dissemination of a white supremacist, Anti-Semitic website ... is antithetical to the goals and ideals of the Department of Justice," union president Ashley Tabbador wrote to James McHenry, the director of the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). The union "received numerous complaints from judges across the nation who found the blog offensive," she added, requesting that the post be withdrawn and apologies issued to all EOIR employees, especially the judges mentioned in the post.

Late Thursday, EOIR Assistant Press Secretary Kathryn Mattingly said in a statement that the "morning news briefings are compiled by a contractor and the blog post should not have been included. The Department of Justice condemns Anti-Semitism in the strongest terms." Peter Weber

12:33 a.m.

President Trump's economic advisers notified him earlier this month that "some internal forecasts showed that the economy could slow markedly over the next year," The Washington Post reports. But even as warning signs mounted, Trump "has been portraying the economy to the public as 'phenomenal' and 'incredible.' He has told aides that he thinks he can convince Americans that the economy is vibrant and unrattled through a public messaging campaign."

But that messaging campaign has been "muddled and often contradictory" thanks to mixed economic data, Trump's erratic comments, and internal disagreements over how to shore up the economy, compounded by uncertainty among staffers about what Trump measures would support or what he's thinking at any given moment, the Post reports, citing interviews with more than 25 current and former administration officials, lawmakers, and external advisers who've spoken with Trump and his team throughout this tumultuous month.

"Everyone is nervous — everyone," a Republican with close ties to the White House told the Post. "It's not a panic, but they are nervous."

"Compounding Trump's situation, some of the economy's strains appear to be of his own making, as uncertainty surrounding his trade war with China has frozen much investment nationwide," and the White House is struggling with "how to handle that bracing reality — and Trump's own stubbornness on trade strategy and his anger about news coverage of the economy," the Post reports. "Trump, aides said, is obsessed with media coverage of the economy, and thinks Americans will believe negative news and stop spending money."

White House spokesman Judd Deere insisted "the fundamentals of the economy are strong because of this president's pro-growth policies," but former White House economic advisers disagree. "The irony here is that Trump's erratic, chaotic approach to the economy is probably the most significant economic risk factor in the world right now," said Gene Sperling, a veteran of the Clinton and Obama administrations. "Their response is just to show even more erratic behavior. It's economic narcissism." Read more about the economic tumult of August at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

August 22, 2019

Environmental groups and researchers say the fires destroying the Amazon were almost all set by humans, as cattle ranchers and loggers want to take over the land.

Brazil's National Institute for Space Research said that so far this year, there have been 72,843 fires in the country, an 80 percent increase compared to this same time period in 2018; more than half of those blazes have been in the Amazon. The Amazon is a humid rainforest, and it is difficult, even during dry spells, for it to catch on fire, Christian Poirier of the nonprofit group Amazon Watch told CNN.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro promised during his campaign that he would open the Amazon up to business, and he has since slashed the environmental enforcement agency's budget. Environmentalists say his policies encourage ranchers and loggers to burn down land, with no fear about getting in trouble. The government has said lightning strikes are one reason for the fires, and Bolsonaro has also claimed baselessly that the fires were started by environmentalists to make him look bad.

The Amazon forest produces roughly 20 percent of the world's oxygen, and the World Wildlife Fund said if it is damaged beyond repair, the Amazon could start emitting carbon, which would make climate change even worse. Catherine Garcia

August 22, 2019

President Trump will be missing what could have been a crucial trip to Denmark after postponing it due to some "very not nice" comments from its prime minister.

Trump earlier this week announced he wouldn't be going on his planned trip to Denmark over Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen's rejection of his interest in purchasing Greenland, a notion she called "absurd." On Wednesday, Trump made clear this "absurd" comment is the reason he canceled, telling reporters, "You don't talk to the United States that way."

But The Atlantic notes that Trump's visit would have come at a key time when the United States is looking for "concessions" from Denmark and as portions of Frederiksen's government have "indicated that they would reject U.S. requests for increased support in the Middle East." Kristian Søby Kristensen, deputy director of the University of Copenhagen's Centre for Military Studies, explained to The Atlantic that there's currently resistance in Denmark to U.S. requests for increased Danish troops in Syria, as well as naval support in the Strait of Hormuz.

With that in mind, Kristensen noted the importance of this now-axed trip, saying, "if you want to convince a country of something, a state visit can be a good way." Frederiksen on Wednesday, however, said that decisions about potential Danish contributions in Syria or the Strait of Hormuz would not be affected by this snafu, The New York Times reports. The Atlantic writes that the delicate diplomatic situation could be at play as Frederiksen says that the relationship between Denmark and the U.S. is not "in crisis." Trump after Frederiksen's Wednesday comments went on to complain on Twitter about Denmark's contribution to NATO. Brendan Morrow

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