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D.C. Memo: From combs to Cohen

Border vote; Klobuchar’s leadership style; Cohen testimony; and more.

Michael Cohen went before the House Oversight and Reform Committee and talked about, in no particular order: hush money payments, a Moscow Trump Tower, the Wikileaks email dump, Trump’s SAT scores, bone spurs, “shithole” countries, book deals, ripping off small business owners, and how Trump basically considered his 2016 presidential campaign to be one big marketing scheme.
REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Welcome to the D.C. Memo, where all the men are cheats, all the first ladies deserve apologies and all the Don Jrs. have the worst judgment in the world. Sorry, still recovering from Michael Cohen’s testimony Wednesday in front of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. Which we’ll get to, of course, but there’s a couple of other things to talk about first, like the House’s decision to remind itself it’s a co-equal branch of government and the fallout from Amy Klobuchar’s creative utensil choices. Onward:

Three big things

1. Border vote: We realize it seems like it was, like, decades ago, but it was in fact this week that the U.S. House voted to block President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to address U.S.-Mexico border crossings. And while the measure is far from a sure thing to make it through the Senate, and has even less of a chance of becoming law, the episode provided a window into just how contentious the next two years are going to get in Washington. As the New York Times reports: “The resolution of disapproval, which passed 245 to 182, must now be taken up by the Senate, where three Republicans have already declared their support, only one short of the number needed for Congress to ratify a stinging rebuke of Mr. Trump’s efforts.” More important: “The debate over the merits of Mr. Trump’s national emergency declaration has led some lawmakers to suggest that Congress should re-evaluate how much power it has shifted to the executive branch and the scope of the National Emergencies Act.” You think?

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Predictably, on Thursday Trump started lobbying Republican senators, in his way: “President Trump warned Thursday that fellow Republicans who vote to nullify his national emergency declaration at the U.S.-Mexico border are putting themselves ‘at great jeopardy’ politically,” writes The Washington Post’s John Wagner. “Trump’s comments come as the Senate prepares to vote on a measure aimed at thwarting the president’s use of the declaration to direct billions of dollars more in funding to border barriers than Congress has authorized. ‘I think that really it’s a very dangerous thing for people to be voting against border security,’ Trump said in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity. ‘I really think that Republicans that vote against border security and the wall, I think you know, I’ve been okay at predicting things, I think they put themselves at great jeopardy.’”

Also, in related developments that strike the Memo as just a little too on-the-nose: this happened.

2. Her time has comb. In this week’s edition of “Chasing Amy,” our kinda sorta semi-official series keeping tabs on U.S. senators from Minnesota not named Tina Smith running for president, we check in on a story that broke too late for last week’s memo: a New York Times piece devoted to investigating whether it was true that Amy Klobuchar once ate a salad with a comb. Sure, the Times piece also touched on a bunch of stuff that had already been reported by other outlets — notably HuffPost and BuzzFeed News — that said Klobuchar had a penchant for throwing office products at staffers, among other harrowing habits of inspiring bosses. (I mean, who hasn’t told underlings, “I would trade three of you for a bottle of water”?) But, really, the comb was the star.

As you might expect, some people had fun with the Times story, and some people sort of hated it, partly because the Times-i-ness of it all, and partly because the bill of particulars against Klobuchar seemed pear-shaped, with much of the most salient if less sexy information — like the notion that the Senator Next Door reacts to a misplaced comma and constitutional crisis in roughly the same manner — being somewhat buried at the end.

The story also immediately got pushback from Kloby-world, most notably from a group of 61 former Klobuchar staffers who published a letter on Medium taking issue with the reports and offering support for their old boss. “Unfortunately, the positive anecdotes and stories we experienced have not been fully reported by the Times and other media. We do not believe these reports adequately describe our thoughts on Amy Klobuchar, many of which we shared with the authors. … She was there for us in the hard times, too. And at the office, she pushed us to be better professionals and public servants. We remain grateful for our time in Senator Klobuchar’s office and still consider Amy a mentor and friend. Sadly, this was not fully conveyed in the recent news reports.”

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3. Zen Cohen. Which brings us to Wednesday, when former Trump fixer/attorney Michael Cohen went before the House Oversight and Reform Committee and talked about, in no particular order: hush money payments, a Moscow Trump Tower, the Wikileaks email dump, Trump’s SAT scores, bone spurs, “shithole” countries, book deals, ripping off small business owners, and how Trump basically considered his 2016 presidential campaign to be one big marketing scheme. From Politico:

President Donald Trump’s former attorney and fixer on Wednesday laid out a series of damning accusations against the president, presenting evidence of alleged lies and criminal conduct and expressing remorse over his decade of service to a man he described as unstable and racist.

Michael Cohen testified to the House Oversight Committee that Trump directed him to lie about the president’s knowledge of hush-money payments, that Trump was informed about plans to dump Democratic emails during the 2016 presidential campaign and was kept in the loop about a Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The explosive comments from Cohen during a sharply partisan House hearing contradict Trump’s previous claims and expose Trump and some of his closest advisers to new legal and political trouble, potentially including impeachment, as Democrats used the hearing to draw out evidence of wrongdoing by the president.

Cohen sought redemption by revealing what he said is the true character of the commander in chief and apologizing to lawmakers for lying to them in previous testimony. In stunning daylong testimony, Cohen became the highest-profile witness to testify against a sitting president since former White House counsel John Dean took the stand against President Richard Nixon.

“I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is,” Cohen said Wednesday in his opening statement. “He is a racist, he is a conman, and he is a cheat.”

Indeed, there was so much disgorged by Cohen that it was hard to keep track of it all, let alone know what was important. Alas, this is why God and beltway journalism invented the takeaway, of which there were, oh, just a couple:

From the NYT: “Five Takeaways From Cohen’s Testimony to Congress”

From Politico: “Key moments from Michael Cohen’s House testimony”

More Politico: “Michael Cohen’s most fiery accusations against Trump”

From CNN: “6 takeaways from the Michael Cohen hearing”

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From The Guardian: “Key takeaways from the former Trump lawyer’s testimony”

From Wired: “5 Key Takeaways from Michael Cohen’s Prepared Testimony to Congress”

From the Wall Street Journal: “Six Key Takeaways From the Michael Cohen Hearing”

From Breitbart: “Eight Times Michael Cohen’s Testimony Cleared Trump of All Wrongdoing”

The week in takes

Your weekend read

On Wednesday, the summit between Trump and Kim Jong-un collapsed over sanctions. Though the North Korean leader offered to dismantle the country’s principle nuclear facility if the United States lifted its sanctions on the DPRK, Kim wouldn’t promise to do the same for other parts of its weapons program, and Trump bolted. “Sometimes you have to walk,” said told reporters in Hanoi, where the talks were being held.

Before the summit, the Times’ Jane Perlez talked to Thae Yong-ho, one of the highest ranking diplomats to defect from North Korea in recent years — an interview that offers some rare and pretty scary insights into Kim, his motivations, and why it’s doubtful he will ever willingly give up his nukes:

Is Mr. Kim serious about dismantling his nuclear weapons, or is he meeting with President Trump out of vanity or to preserve his family dynasty?

He is just doing this for the preservation of his family. The main goal of Kim Jong-un’s meeting with Trump is first to buy time, and second, get sanctions relief. Finally, he wants the status that comes with being a nuclear power.

Who is most threatened by North Korea’s nuclear weapons?

Kim Jong-un wants his dictatorship and dynasty to go on. If you want to control North Korean society, you have to make South Korea afraid of North Korea. The existence of South Korea is itself a direct threat to the North Korean system.

He wants to make sure South Korea stays in South Korean territory, and does not extend it. That is his first goal.

Kim Jong-un wants to keep his military in balance with South Korea. But he knows the North Korean military cannot afford modern tanks and guns. He knows this balance is changing unfavorably for North Korea. Nuclear weapons are the only way to keep the balance with South Korea.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for sticking around. Until next week, feel free to send tips, suggestions, and sound advice to: