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Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Michael Cohen, President Trump's former lawyer and fixer, denied portions of his February guilty plea in a private phone call recorded without his knowledge by actor and comedian Tom Arnold, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

The big picture: "There is no tax evasion. ... And the Heloc? I have an 18% loan-to-value on my home. How could there be a Heloc issue? How? Right?… It's a lie," he reportedly said, referring to a criminal charge involving his home-equity line of credit. Cohen's comments are unlikely to have much, if any, effect on his 3-year prison sentence, set to start on May 6, for campaign finance violations, tax evasion and lying to Congress.

  • Cohen had pleaded guilty to criminal charges brought by New York federal prosecutors last August, explicitly stating that he acting knowingly. Since, he has been trying to reduce his sentence by helping with other congressional investigations.

Statement from Lanny Davis, Cohen's attorney:

"Nothing said by Mr. Cohen to Tom Arnold contradicts Mr. Cohen’s previous defense attorney, Guy Petrillo, in his sentencing memorandum to the presiding federal US District Court Judge William H. Pauley III back in December. I would also add the important words used by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and others, in describing Michael Cohen’s cooperation and testimony as “credible” addressing the “core” issues involved in his investigation."

Go deeper: Recap: Michael Cohen's explosive public testimony

Go deeper

12 mins ago - World

Pope Francis set to make first papal visit to Iraq amid possible turmoil

Data: Vatican News; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Pope Francis is forging ahead with the first papal trip to Iraq despite new coronavirus outbreaks and fears of instability.

The big picture: The March 5–8 visit is intended to reassure Christians in Iraq who were violently persecuted under the Islamic State. Francis also hopes to further ties with Shiite Muslims, AP notes.

"Neanderthal thinking": Biden slams states lifting mask mandates

States that are relaxing coronavirus restrictions are making "a big mistake," President Biden told reporters on Wednesday, adding: "The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking."

Driving the news: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Wednesday he will end all coronavirus restrictions via executive order, although some businesses are continuing to ask patrons to wear face masks. Mississippi is lifting its mask mandate for all counties Wednesday, per Gov. Tate Reeves (R).

Cuomo: "I am not going to resign"

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo apologized Wednesday for acting in a way that made women feel "uncomfortable," but insisted that he has "never touched anyone inappropriately" and said he will not resign.

Driving the news: Cuomo reiterated in his first public appearance since sexual harassment allegations surfaced that he will fully cooperate with a team of independent investigators appointed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, but suggested that demands for his resignation from were simply "politics."