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January 19, 2018
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One month before the 2016 presidential election, President Trump's attorney Michael Cohen set up a private company in Delaware to pay former adult film star Stormy Daniels $130,000 in exchange for her silence regarding alleged sexual encounters with Trump, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The Journal spoke with people familiar with the matter and looked at state records showing that on Oct. 17, 2016, Cohen established Essential Consultants LLC, then used a bank account linked to the company to send $130,000 to the client-trust account of an attorney representing Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. In Delaware, it's easier to set up business entities and there's more privacy, with many companies choosing to hire lawyers or agents to appear on the formation documents. In this case, Cohen is listed as the "authorized person" for the company, the Journal reports.

People with knowledge of the situation said pseudonyms were used to conduct the business, with Clifford referred to as "Peggy Peterson." Records also show that on Sept. 30, 2016, Cohen started an entity in Delaware called Resolution Consultants LLC, but on Oct. 17, just two minutes after creating Essential Consultants, he dissolved Resolution Consultants, for unknown reasons. The Journal first reported last week that Cohen paid Daniels off; he denies doing so. Catherine Garcia

1:02 p.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Even without giving definitive answers, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is drawing plenty of scrutiny.

While attending the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday, Nielsen was forced to immediately backtrack on her claim that Russia didn't favor President Trump when interfering in the 2016 election. On other matters, however, she opted to double down rather than 'fess up.

Vice reports that Nielsen was asked about Trump's comments about the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year, where white nationalist demonstrators were confronted by counterprotesters. When violence broke out, a counterprotester was killed, and multiple people have since been charged with malicious wounding of a black man who was protesting the rally.

Trump was widely criticized for saying that there were "very fine people on both sides" of the incident, a comment that Nielsen was asked about Thursday. She reportedly said that "it's not that one side was right and one side was wrong," and added that "anybody that is advocating violence, we need to work to mitigate."

Nielsen additionally dodged a question about the Trump administration's focus on countering white supremacist violence overall. GQ correspondent Julia Ioffe reports that Nielsen instead addressed "Islamic radicalism," again noting that she takes all violence seriously. Summer Meza

12:06 p.m. ET

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Thursday claimed that she hadn't "seen any evidence" that Russian interference in the 2016 election was intended to help President Trump win, despite the U.S. intelligence community concluding that Russia's efforts favored Trump.

Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, Nielsen said, "I don't think there's any question that Russians attempted to infiltrate and interfere with our electoral system," adding that "we should all be prepared that they'll do it again." However, when NBC News' Peter Alexander gave her the chance to clarify her thoughts on Russia's preferred outcome, she contradicted intelligence officials' findings by saying Russia merely sought to create "chaos."

"I haven't seen any evidence that the attempts to interfere in our election infrastructure was to favor a particular political party," she said. She expanded on that theory to say that Russia simply wanted to "cause chaos on both sides. Whether it was in Charlottesville, where we saw them on both sides, whether it's in Syria — both sides. So, no, I would not necessarily say that was the purpose." Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday said he wanted Trump to win the election.

Later, Nielsen backtracked and said "I do not disagree" with the intelligence community's assessment. It seems the rest of Nielsen's appearance at Aspen didn't go very smoothly, either, as her speech elicited laughs when she said that Trump "loves diverse opinions" and "craves different points of view." Watch her denial of Russia's favoring of Trump below, via Bloomberg. Summer Meza

11:39 a.m. ET

President Trump has been under fire since Monday for his press conference in Helsinki alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin, where he suggested Moscow didn't interfere in the 2016 election — contrary to the conclusions of U.S. intelligence. So he backtracked Tuesday, and affirmed Russia did actually meddle in the election, though it "could be other people also."

But just in case that wasn't enough, Trump on Thursday tweeted video proof of him holding Russia accountable for hacking "MANY TIMES."

Approximately half of the Fox News video comes from a single press conference, held before Trump was even inaugurated. During that event, held Jan. 11, 2017, Trump suggested that the U.S. faced "much hacking" from Russia — as well as other countries. Likewise, Trump attributed meddling to Russia and "other countries" in the two other examples, dated July 6, 2017, and March 6, 2018.

Those few — er, "MANY" — examples are the same ones found in a set of White House talking points sent to Republicans on Tuesday. Those points also included one time Trump said he stands with U.S. intelligence, which has undeniably traced election interference back to Russia.

A quick look back finds Trump has questioned Russian meddling at least six times and flat out denied it once. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:13 a.m. ET

An 8-year-old with a robotic hand is close to realizing her dream of becoming the first person to throw out the first pitch at all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums. Hailey Dawson has Poland syndrome, a rare congenital disorder that caused her to be born without part of her right hand. But with a 3D-printed hand built by a team at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Dawson can do anything she wants — including toss balls at MLB batters. She notched her 21st stadium last week with a pitch at Fenway Park. "I want people to know that if I can do it you can do it," Dawson told ABC News. Christina Colizza

9:56 a.m. ET

President Trump on Thursday blamed "the real enemy of the people, the fake news media" for portraying his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin as a failure.

He insisted that the meeting, which was met with alarm by Republicans, Democrats, and national security experts, was a "great success," and additionally said that he looked forward to a "second meeting" to move forward on "stopping terrorism, security for Israel, nuclear proliferation," and more.

Intelligence officials have condemned Trump's apparent defense of Putin regarding Russia's interference in U.S. election systems. In a second tweet, Trump baselessly claimed that most media ignored his acknowledgement of Russian meddling out of a desire to "see a major confrontation with Russia." He did, however, praise Fox News for showing clips of him discussing Russia's interference, condemning the rest of the media for wanting "no part of that narrative." Summer Meza

9:50 a.m. ET
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Disney is very, very close to securing its purchase of 21st Century Fox.

Comcast and Disney have gone back and forth over purchasing Rupert Murdoch's empire since November, but Disney always appeared to have the lead. Now, Comcast is officially dropping its $65 billion bid, practically ensuring victory for Disney, The Associated Press reports.

Rumors of Disney purchasing Fox first sprouted in November, and Comcast joined the fray soon after. In December, Disney placed a $52.4 billion bid for Fox's TV and film studios, as well as its cable TV channels. Comcast countered with $65 billion in cash in June, but Disney posted a $71.3 billion offer in cash and stock later that month. Fox touted Disney's higher chance for U.S. regulatory approval at the time.

That big Disney deal appears to be the winner after Comcast dropped out of the running Thursday, CNN says. It helps that a Disney-Fox merger got U.S. Justice Department approval after the $71.3 billion offer, provided Disney doesn't keep Fox's sports networks. (Disney already owns the ESPN networks.)

A successful Comcast bid would have made it one of the most indebted companies in the world, per CNN. But that doesn't seem to bother the media giant, as it's still bidding against Fox for U.K.-based Sky News. Comcast seems more likely to win that battle, as British regulators hinted in February that a deal with Fox wouldn't get government approval.

Fox's shareholders officially vote to accept the Disney deal on July 27, which includes the 20th Century Fox film studio and cable channels such as FX, per AP. Fox News, Fox Sports, and local TV stations will be spun off into a new company. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:22 a.m. ET
YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images

Republican party leaders were by and large not impressed with how President Trump declined to side with the U.S. intelligence community regarding Russian election interference while in Helsinki on Monday. Republican party members, meanwhile, think the president did a great job.

An Axios and SurveyMonkey poll published Thursday found that 79 percent of Republicans approve of how Trump handled his joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Just 18 percent of Republicans said they did not approve.

In stark contrast, 91 percent of Democrats disapproved of Trump's performance, with 7 percent saying they approved. Among independents, 62 percent disapproved and 33 percent approved. Axios additionally noted that 85 percent of Republicans see the topic of Russian interference as "a distraction," while 85 percent of Democrats say it's a "serious issue." Overall, more than half of those polled said they don't trust the Trump administration to prevent foreign interference in the 2018 elections.

The Axios/SurveyMonkey poll was conducted online between July 16 and 17. A total of 2,100 adults were polled, with a margin of error of 3 percentage points. See more poll results here. Summer Meza

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