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Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Capitol Hill, Wednesday. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
‘Racist,’ ‘con man’: Cohen assails Trump before Congress
WASHINGTON — In a damning depiction of Donald Trump, the president’s former lawyer on Wednesday cast him as a racist and a con man who used his inner circle to cover up politically damaging allegations about sex, and who lied throughout the 2016 election campaign about his business interests in Russia.
Michael Cohen, who previously pleaded guilty to lying to Congress, told lawmakers that Trump had advance knowledge and embraced the news that emails damaging to Hillary Clinton would be released during the campaign. But he also said he had no “direct evidence” that Trump or his aides colluded with Russia to get him elected, the primary question of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Cohen, shaking off incessant criticism from Republicans anxious to paint him as a felon and liar, became the first Trump insider to pull back the curtain on a version of the inner workings of Trump’s political and business operations. He likened the president to a “mobster” who demanded blind loyalty from underlings and expected them to lie on his behalf to conceal information and protect him — even if it meant breaking the law.
“I am not protecting Mr. Trump anymore,” Cohen declared.
“My loyalty to Mr. Trump has cost me everything: my family’s happiness, friendships, my law license, my company, my livelihood, my honor, my reputation, and soon my freedom,” Cohen said. “I will not sit back say nothing and allow him to do the same to the country.”
Trump, at North Korea summit, distracted by Cohen
HANOI, Vietnam — The moment was meant to be a grand diplomatic triumph, a headline-dominating spectacle that could lead to the disarmament of a dangerous nation while delivering a vital political victory.
Instead, President Donald Trump’s high-stakes summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in Vietnam on Wednesday was in danger of being upstaged by a monumental betrayal unfolding half a world away in Washington.
Hours after Trump sat face-to-face with Kim in Vietnam, his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, sat before Congress and testified that his longtime boss was a “conman” and a “racist” who lied about having advanced knowledge of Wikileaks plans to release an opponent’s stolen emails.
The spectacle was proof the Trump presidency has not yet exhausted its ability to surprise. As the president staged a historic summit abroad, a former confidante delivered testimony, both detailed and taunting, that threatened to humiliate the president and undermine his foreign policy goals.
The drama drew Trump’s attention even amid sensitive denuclearization talks. Even before the hearing began, the president unleashed an attack on his former fixer, who has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress and campaign finance violations and has been sentenced to three years. In a tweet, Trump downplayed Cohen’s influence and claimed he was “lying in order to reduce his prison time.”
From wire sources
Transgender troops tell Congress they excel in military
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Transgender troops testifying for the first time to Congress on Wednesday said transitioning to another sex made them stronger, while Pentagon officials defended the Trump administration’s desire to bar people like them from enlisting in the future.
Army Capt. Alivia Stehlik, an infantry officer and graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. and Ranger School, told lawmakers she became a more “effective soldier” after she transitioned from male to female in 2017.
“What is the value of having transgender people in the military? Based on my experience first as a combat arms officer and medical provider, the answer is unequivocally that my transition — and so many others — has dramatically increased the readiness and lethality of every branch of the armed forces,” said Stehlik, who returned from a deployment to Afghanistan a month ago where she treated soldiers as a physical therapist.
With the ban now blocked by lawsuits, active-duty transgender service members were invited to testify about their service at the hearing called by Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier, chairwoman of the subcommittee.
Speier said the ban is “discriminatory, unconstitutional and self-defeating” and said lifting the barrier for transgender people to serve by the Obama administration in 2016 has been an “unequivocal success.”
Floods isolate 2 California towns; storm dumps snow in West
GUERNEVILLE, Calif. (AP) — Two communities in Northern California’s wine country were accessible only by boat Wednesday after a rain-swollen river overflowed its banks following a relentless downpour across an already waterlogged region.
The small city of Guerneville north of San Francisco “is officially an island,” with the overflowing Russian River forecast to hit its highest level in about 25 years, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
“Nobody is coming or going from the Guerneville area at this time,” said sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Crum. The nearby town of Monte Rio was also isolated by floodwaters and all roads leading to it were swamped.
The still rising Russian River was engorged by days of rain from western U.S. storms that have also dumped heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada, throughout the Pacific Northwest and into Montana, where Gov. Steve Bullock signed an emergency order to help keep up the supply of heating fuel amid frigid temperatures.
Snow from the storms closed roads and schools and toppled trucks and trees from Oregon to Montana and an avalanche in the Sierra prompted Amtrak to suspend rail service between Sacramento and Reno, Nevada.
Political operative arrested in North Carolina scandal
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The political operative at the center of an election fraud scandal that has engulfed a North Carolina congressional race was arrested Wednesday on charges of illegal ballot handling and conspiracy. Four people working for him were also charged.
Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., 63, was accused of directing workers to collect and mail in other people’s absentee ballots during the 2018 Republican congressional primary and the 2016 general election. It is against the law in North Carolina for anyone other than the voter or a close relative to handle a mail-in ballot, a measure aimed at guarding against manipulation.
Prosecutors are still investigating evidence of ballot tampering by Dowless and others working on behalf of GOP candidate Mark Harris during last fall’s congressional election in the mostly rural 9th District, which includes part of Charlotte and extends eastward across several counties.
The indictment represents the first charges in a scandal that has cast doubt on election integrity and will leave a congressional seat unfilled for months.
“These indictments should serve as a stern warning to anyone trying to defraud elections in North Carolina,” state elections director Kim Westbrook Strach said.
Cohen says Trump inflated his wealth in bid to buy Bills
NEW YORK (AP) — Michael Cohen said during his congressional testimony Wednesday that Donald Trump grossly overstated his wealth before becoming president, including inflating his assets during a failed bid to buy the Buffalo Bills in 2014.
The claim raises questions about whether Trump could face even more legal trouble if, as Cohen said, he misrepresented his worth in applying for a loan to buy the NFL team.
Experts said a criminal case against Trump appears unlikely for several reasons. But Cohen’s latest assertions could affect the court of public opinion at a time when lawmakers are discussing the possibility of impeachment.
Trump was one of three known finalists in the bid to purchase the Bills in the summer of 2014 following the death of franchise founder and Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson. He lost out to NHL Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula, who purchased the Bills for $1.4 billion. The third group was led by rocker Jon Bon Jovi that included two Toronto businessmen.
As part of his effort to buy the team, Cohen said Trump gave financial statements to Deutsche Bank in hopes of getting a loan.
Contrasts abound for 2 black women in Chicago mayoral runoff
CHICAGO (AP) — A political outsider who campaigned on reforming Chicago’s police department after a white officer’s fatal shooting of a black teenager said Wednesday that voters likely had the high-profile case on their minds when they advanced her to an April runoff for mayor, assuring for the first time a black woman will lead the nation’s third-largest city.
Former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot’s first-place finish in Tuesday’s opening round of voting was somewhat surprising considering the 14-candidate field featured prominent state and local leaders and a member of the Daley family that had dominated Chicago politics for more than half a century.
But former Commerce Secretary and White House chief of staff William Daley, whose father and brother both served two-decade stints as mayor, didn’t even make it to the runoff to succeed Rahm Emanuel, who isn’t seeking a third term.
Instead, Lightfoot’s outsider candidacy will be matched up against the ultimate insider, Toni Preckwinkle — a longtime member of the City Council who now holds the top job in Cook County. They are both black women who campaigned as progressives, but that’s largely where the similarities end.
Lightfoot rose to prominence after she was appointed to lead the Police Accountability Task Force in the wake of the death of Laquan McDonald. The black teenager was shot 16 times and killed by white police officer Jason Van Dyke, who was convicted and sentenced to about seven years in prison.
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