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October 11, 2018

Michael Cohen has found yet another way to stick it to President Trump.

The president's former attorney changed his party registration from Republican to Democrat in New York on Thursday, as reported by Axios and subsequently confirmed by Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis. This is just the latest instance of Cohen breaking from the man he once said he would take a bullet for, having earlier this year pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws and saying he did so at Trump's direction; Cohen said in court that he paid hush money to two women who claim to have had affairs with Trump.

The change in party is especially notable because Cohen was the deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee until just four months ago. However, Cohen was a Democrat in the past; in the 2016 presidential primaries, he admitted he couldn't vote for Trump, despite being a campaign surrogate, because he was still a registered Democrat, per The Washington Post. Cohen registered as a Republican in 2017 after having run for office as a Republican in the early 2000s.

On Twitter, Cohen's attorney said that changing parties is another step on his path towards "distancing himself from the values" of the White House. Cohen is awaiting a December sentencing hearing. Brendan Morrow

9:02a.m.

Ready to go through the 2016 election all over again?

Philippe Reines, who worked for Hillary Clinton going back to 2002 and was her senior adviser at the State Department, made the argument to Politico Friday that the former Democratic nominee might actually be the party's best hope for defeating Trump in 2020. He said no other Democrat has "anywhere near a base of 32 million people," especially not Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) or Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). The party, he feels, shouldn't dismiss her as a failed candidate because she's "smarter" and "tougher" than most, and she "could raise money easier than most."

But it doesn't sound like this is just wishful thinking on his part. He really thinks it could happen, saying the chances of Clinton running in 2020 are "not zero.”

Publicly, Clinton has said she will not run again, but Reines doesn't sound so sure she'll keep her word on that. Politico explored Clinton's careful re-entry into the political arena, noting that she's going on tour with former President Bill Clinton this fall and has reportedly even called up journalists who cover the White House to put out "the occasional feeler."

Despite her non-zero interest in public office, her favorability is even lower than it was in 2016. A recent Gallup poll found that Clinton is now polling at 36 percent — five points lower than President Trump. Read more about her political future at Politico. Brendan Morrow

8:04a.m.

Turnout for the last midterm elections was embarrassingly poor, but this year, things are looking different.

As early voting surges in some states, election expert Michael McDonald told Talking Points Memo Friday he's predicting a turnout of between 45 and 50 percent of eligible voters. That would be the highest figure since at least 1970, when turnout hit 47 percent, and could possibly be the highest since 1966, when turnout was 49 percent, NPR reports.

This is a significant turnaround from the 2014 midterms, when just 36 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, the worst showing since World War II, per PBS. The 2018 upswing isn't entirely surprising, though, considering turnout was also way up in primary elections earlier this year; about 37 million people participated in House primaries, compared to 24 million four years ago, Pew Research Center reports.

Early voting has already hit very high numbers in several states, from Georgia to Tennessee and Kansas. McDonald told TPM that the data he's seeing so far is "very unusual," especially in Georgia, where three times as many people have cast their ballots than did by this point in 2014. He added, "I've never seen anything like this." Brendan Morrow

7:35a.m.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia are progressing with their parallel investigations into the Oct. 2 disappearance of Saudi journalist and government critic Jamal Khashoggi, last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Turkey says it has evidence a 15-man Saudi death squad killed and dismembered Khashoggi inside the consulate, and a Turkish official told The Associated Press on Friday that authorities are looking into the possibility that the Saudis buried Khashoggi's remains in the nearby Belgrade Forest or the city of Yalova, where consulate vehicles traveled separately on Oct. 2. CNN reports that Turkish intelligence agents searched one of the two Saudi chartered jets that carried the 15 Saudis to and from Istanbul, and it did not appear to contain anything suspicious.

There's speculation that only a Saudi ruler could order a 15-man hit squad to murder a U.S. resident inside a Saudi consulate, but the Saudis "are considering blaming a top intelligence official close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi," The New York Times reported Thursday, citing three people with knowledge of the Saudi plans. "The plan to assign blame to Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, a high-ranking adviser to the crown prince, would be an extraordinary recognition of the magnitude of international backlash to hit the kingdom," and it would make it "technically plausible" that the crown prince didn't ordered the killing.

"The Saudi rulers are expected to say that General Assiri received oral authorization from Prince Mohammed to capture Mr. Khashoggi for an interrogation in Saudi Arabia, but either misunderstood his instructions or overstepped that authorization and took the dissident's life," two people told the Times. "People close to the White House have already been briefed and given General Assiri's name." Peter Weber

5:52a.m.

The presumed murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudis is probably the big story of the week, Stephen Colbert told MSNBC Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski on Thursday's Late Show. "What do you make of the president's response so far?" "Pathetic," said Brzezinski. "A complete embarrassment," Scarborough concurred. "We now are basically selling out our interests nationwide, our values, and who we are as a nation, for money."

"Listen, we need nothing from Saudi Arabia," Scarborough said, not their money, not their oil. "These people took a Washington Post columnist, a Virginia resident who has two American children, and sawed him up while he was alive for criticizing a Saudi leader in The Washington Post." The U.S. has aligned itself with some problematic regimes, and "we had to turn a blind eye to some things that we shouldn't have turned a blind eye to. It always catches up to us in the end," Scarborough said. "We can do better," and that requires voting. Regardless of your party affiliation, he argued, "you have to agree that Donald Trump needs to be checked."

Colbert switched to a different election. Scarborough and Brzezinski listed Joe Biden, John Kerry, and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as "reasonable" Democratic hopefuls for 2020, and when Colbert asked if any Republican will primary Trump, Scarborough said yes they would, but the won't have to. "I don't think Donald Trump's going to run for re-election," he predicted. "He's gonna cash out."

"I think that would be a smart thing for him to do," Colbert said, seriously, but "I don't want it to happen" because "it's important that the voters of America have an opportunity to say, 'Oops, my bad, we made a mistake there,' and correct themselves, and if Donald Trump doesn't run, he takes away that corrective action of history and therefore his presidency is whole and unjudged." Watch below. Peter Weber

4:22a.m.

Stephen Colbert spent a good two minutes discussing the new self-lubricating condoms on Thursday's Late Show before gracefully pivoting to the latest development with white supremacy. "White supremacists are chugging milk because they want to draw attention to a genetic trait known to be more common in white people than others — the ability to digest lactose as adults," he explained. "Because for white supremacists, lactose is their only form of tolerance."

"Now, I know what you're saying — you're saying, 'Stephen, no one is stupid enough to be proud of drinking milk,'" Colbert said, but the pictures don't lie. And yes, he had pictures. "Pretty exciting stuff, but please move over milk, because toxic masculinity has a new favorite drink, and it's grape juice," he said, drawing attention to Welch's new ad campaign. "That's right: Men! Grape juice is no longer just a reward for kids sitting through a religious ceremony," Colbert joked. "Well, Welch's isn't the only company looking to seem more macho. We also got a sneak peek at an ad campaign for another childhood favorite that just got manned up." The fake ad features a very manly Scott Adsit (30 Rock).

The Late Show also circled back to Colbert's mincing of televangelst Pat Robertson for saying one grisly murder by the Saudi government isn't worth blowing up lucrative American arms sales. And you can watch that update of The Ten Commandments below. Peter Weber

3:40a.m.

President Trump has landed on a familiar theme to try to rev up Republican enthusiasm heading into the final stretch of the 2018 campaign: Immigration. And specifically, Latin Americans crossing illegally into the U.S. via the U.S.-Mexico border. Immigration was in many ways the animating force of Trump's 2016 campaign, and while Republicans point to the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation battle as a boost to GOP energy, "the president realizes he needs to keep that momentum going," GOP strategist Matt Moore tells The Wall Street Journal. "Illegal immigration animates the Republican Party base like few other issues."

But, the Journal notes, "Democrats say the focus on immigration is backfiring by motivating progressives and independent voters," and the poll numbers, so far, are on their side. Trump's hardline immigration policies, including the separation of migrant families, are broadly unpopular, but they poll well among Republicans. "Despite Mr. Trump's focus on the issue, it is barely registering in political advertising by GOP candidates," the Journal reports. "Less than 11 percent of all ads in Senate, House, and governor races through Tuesday had an anti-immigration message, according to Kantar Media/CMAG."

Notably, the focus on Trump's immigration policies may hurt Republicans in the suburban House districts they need to win to keep control of Congress. Trump "clearly views it as one of the reasons for his political success," says GOP pollster David Winston. "But it's still all about the economy and jobs." You can read more immigration politics and the midterms at The Wall Street Journal. Peter Weber

2:52a.m.

In a particularly pungent case of victim-blaming, "hard-line Republicans and conservative commentators are mounting a whispering campaign against Jamal Khashoggi that is designed to protect President Trump from criticism of his handling of the dissident journalist's alleged murder by operatives of Saudi Arabia — and support Trump's continued aversion to a forceful response to the oil-rich desert kingdom," The Washington Post reports, citing four GOP officials involved in the discussions.

The campaign includes "a cadre of conservative House Republicans allied with Trump" who in recent days have been "privately exchanging articles from right-wing outlets that fuel suspicion of Khashoggi," a Post columnist and Saudi government critic, the Post says. Still, the murmurs have begun to "flare into public view" as conservative media organizations and personalities — Rush Limbaugh, Front Page, Donald Trump Jr., and a sanitized version on Fox News, to name a few — "have amplified the claims, which are aimed in part at protecting Trump as he works to preserve the U.S.-Saudi relationship and avoid confronting the Saudis on human rights."

The main lines of attack — pushed by pro-Saudi accounts on Twitter — focus on and distort Khashoggi's association with the Muslim Brotherhood in his young and interactions as a journalist with late Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the 1980s and '90s. "The GOP officials declined to share the names of the lawmakers and others who are circulating information critical of Khashoggi," the Post explains, "because they said doing so would risk exposing them as sources." It's a good bet Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is not among them.

According to Turkey, Khashoggi was tortured, murdered, and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. "Trump wants to take a soft line, so Trump supporters are finding excuses for him to take it," Weekly Standard editor William Kristol tells the Post. "One of those excuses is attacking the person who was murdered." Read more at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

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