Aug 22, 2018

Axios PM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Situational awareness: Hurricane Lane came closer to Hawaii than any Category 5 storm in modern records.

  • Now a Category 4, the storm's exact track is still uncertain, but it threatens to unleash life-threatening destruction as it approaches the islands starting late Wednesday and lasting into Saturday. Go deeper.
1 big thing... Trump: We are not crooks

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump spent the morning defending a "brave" convicted felon and saying that Michael Cohen's campaign finance violations aren't illegal.

Why it matters: Trump denied crimes are crimes, days after his lawyer claimed truth is not truth, and less than 24 hours after his former lawyer and campaign chairman became felons.

Let's play the tape from Trump's morning tweets:

  • 8:44 am: "If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!"
  • 9:21 am: "I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. 'Justice' took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to 'break' - make up stories in order to get a 'deal.' Such respect for a brave man!"
  • 9:34 am: "A large number of counts, ten, could not even be decided in the Paul Manafort case. Witch Hunt!"
  • 9:37 am: "Michael Cohen plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime. President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!"

Reality check: Obama's 2008 campaign paid one of the largest fines of any presidential campaign for failing to give adequate notice of around 1,300 campaign contributions totaling more than $1.8 million, Politico reported at the time.

  • That's a different kind of violation than paying women accusing the candidate of having an affair.
  • Trump denied using campaign funds today: "[T]hey didn’t come out of the campaign and that’s big. But they weren’t – that’s not a – it’s not even a campaign violation."

Between the lines: In his plea deal, Cohen admitted to breaking the law and said he did it at Trump’s direction.

  • But making that connection stick may require more evidence than what's been publicly released so far, even setting aside the fact that the Justice Department's internal policy is not to indict a sitting president, Axios' Sam Baker reports.
  • The big question: Did Trump intend to break the law — and can prosecutors prove it?
  • The closest parallel is probably former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, who was prosecuted unsuccessfully in 2012 for allegedly using campaign money to cover up an extramarital affair and secret child.
  • Edwards’ lawyers argued that he wasn’t trying to conceal the affair to protect his political career, but rather to hide it from his wife. Trump could make similar arguments about the payments Cohen helped arrange, and proving his intent would be key to any prosecution.

Go deeper: Sam dives into the legal implications for Trump

2. What you missed
  1. Saudi Arabia has abandoned its stalled plan for going public with a portion of state oil giant Aramco. It would have been the biggest IPO in world history. Go deeper.
  2. Michael Cohen has been subpoenaed by New York state investigators in the ongoing probe of the Trump Foundation, the Associated Press reports.
  3. 54% of teens are worried they're spending too much time with their devices, according to a new Pew Research Center report. Go deeper.
  4. U.S officials are trying to extinguish a mini-political fire in Israel after Trump's speech last night during which he said Israel "will have to pay a higher price" in future negotiations with the Palestinians because of his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Go deeper.
  5. Trump plans to meet with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Jared Kushner and Brooke Rollins on Thursday to discuss the prison and sentencing reform package being negotiated between the White House and members from both parties. Go deeper.
3. Pic du jour

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Jesse Jackson wades through Washington residents today as they enjoy the 60th birthday block party for Ben's Chili Bowl.

  • The original location has been visited by figures such as as Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Martin Luther King, Jr., and former President Barack Obama.
Mike Allen