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10 things you need to know today: January 18, 2019

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Harold Maass
Michael Cohen surrounded by reporters and photographers
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1.

Report: Trump told Cohen to lie to Congress about Moscow project

President Trump directed his then-attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the Moscow Trump Tower project, BuzzFeed News reported Thursday, citing two federal law enforcement officials. Cohen falsely told lawmakers negotiations ended in January 2016, when they really continued for several more months. Trump also reportedly supported a plan Cohen organized for a Russia visit during the presidential campaign to jump-start talks on the proposed tower. While campaigning, Trump said he had no business dealings with Russia, but BuzzFeed's sources said he had 10 meetings about the project with Cohen, who also regularly updated Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump. Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying to Congress about the Moscow proposal. Democrats responded to the report by demanding an investigation. [BuzzFeed News, The Washington Post]

2.

Trump cancels Pelosi trip after she calls for postponing State of the Union

President Trump on Thursday canceled a planned trip by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other lawmakers to Brussels, Egypt, and Afghanistan, a day after Pelosi sent Trump a letter calling for postponing Trump's State of the Union address. Trump, like Pelosi, cited the partial government shutdown as justification. "In light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay, I am sure you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally appropriate," Trump wrote in a letter to Pelosi denying her the use of military aircraft for her previously undisclosed travel plans. Trump told Pelosi she could "obviously" fly commercial. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Trump was acting "like he's in the fifth grade." [The Washington Post]

3.

Thousands more migrant kids separated from families than initially reported

A government watchdog said Thursday that the Trump administration likely had separated thousands more migrant children from their families than it previously acknowledged. One reason for the different figures was that the administration had increased family separations before implementing the border policy that prompted a backlash last spring. The total number of children split from their families was not clear, partly because Health and Human Services did not adequately track children in its care. Ann Maxwell, assistant inspector general for evaluations, said it was apparent that the number of children removed from their parents' care was greater than the 2,737 the government listed in court documents. [The Associated Press]

4.

House Republicans break with Trump over plan to lift Putin-ally sanctions

House Republican leaders, joined by most of their caucus, broke with President Trump and voted with Democrats to oppose a Treasury Department plan to lift sanctions against companies controlled by Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who has ties to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and who is allied with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The 362 to 53 vote won't stop the Trump administration from going through with the proposal to ease sanctions. Senate Republicans narrowly blocked similar legislation on Wednesday. Still, the House vote signaled opposition to Trump's effort to go easier on Deripaska. [The Washington Post]

5.

Federal judge strikes down Wisconsin early-voting restrictions

A federal judge on Thursday struck down early-voting restrictions passed by Wisconsin Republicans during a lame-duck legislative session in December. The measure limited early voting in Wisconsin to no more than two weeks before an election. It was signed into law by former Gov. Scott Walker (R), just a few weeks before he left office and was replaced by Gov. Tony Evers (D). Judge James Peterson on Thursday afternoon blocked the law, saying it was nearly identical to early-voting restrictions he struck down in 2016. He also blocked other laws passed during the lame-duck session, including one that bans voters from using expired student IDs as identification at the polls. [NPR]

6.

Judge acquits three police officers of Laquan McDonald cover-up

A Cook County, Illinois, judge acquitted three police officers Thursday of falsifying reports to justify the fatal 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald, an African-American teenager fatally shot when he ignored commands to drop a small knife. Associate Judge Domenica Stephenson rejected the prosecution's misconduct and obstruction of justice charges against retired Detective David March, ex-patrolman Joseph Walsh, and Officer Thomas Gaffney, dismissing witness testimony as unreliable and saying now-infamous police dashboard video of the shooting did not accurately show the perspective of officers. Officer Jason Van Dyke, who shot McDonald, is scheduled to be sentenced Friday for his conviction of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery. [Chicago Tribune]

7.

Cohen reportedly hired firm to rig early polls for Trump

President Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, hired an IT firm to rig online polls for Trump before he entered the 2016 race, The Wall Street Journal reports. John Gauger, owner of RedFinch Solutions LLC, says Cohen promised him $50,000 for work that included trying to manipulate a Drudge Report poll of possible Republican presidential candidates in 2015. Cohen also reportedly asked Gauger to tinker with a CNBC poll of America's top business leaders in 2014. The Journal notes Gauger was unsuccessful in his efforts to rig the polls. Gauger says Cohen gave him a Walmart bag full of roughly $12,500 but never gave him the rest of the money, even though Trump reimbursed Cohen for $50,000 in "tech services." [The Wall Street Journal]

8.

Tesla to cut 7 percent of workforce

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Friday that the electric-car maker is cutting its full-time staff by 7 percent as it struggles to cut prices and ramp up production of its Model 3 sedan, the company's first mass-market vehicle. The job reductions follow other cost-cutting measures as Tesla struggles to expand profitability. Musk wrote in an email to Tesla employees that the company is "up against massive, entrenched competitors" and has to work "much harder than other manufacturers to survive while building affordable, sustainable products." He added that building "affordable clean energy products at scale necessarily requires extreme effort and relentless creativity." Tesla shares fell on the news, declining by nearly 6 percent in premarket trading. [CNN, CNBC]

9.

Sears creditors challenge Lampert's winning bid

A group of Sears creditors on Thursday challenged chairman Eddie Lampert's winning $5.2 billion bid to buy the iconic retailer in a bankruptcy auction. Sears confirmed Thursday that it had tentatively accepted a sweetened offer from Lampert's hedge fund, ESL Investments, to buy 425 stores and the rest of Sears' assets, which could save 45,000 jobs if the bankruptcy court approves the deal. "ESL's bid to 'save the company' is nothing but the final fulfillment of a years-long scheme to deprive Sears and its creditors of assets and its employees of jobs while lining Lampert's and ESL's own pockets," the creditors said in their filing. The unsecured creditors have been pushing for liquidation so they can get paid. [The Associated Press]

10.

Poet Mary Oliver dies at 83

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver, whose work reflected reverence for nature and disdain for greed, died of lymphoma Thursday at her home in Florida, her literary executor, Bill Reichblum, said. She was 83. Oliver was prolific, and her lyrical descriptions of owls, bears, and other natural wonders earned her praise from critics and adoring readers alike. She made her literary debut in 1963, at age 28, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983 for her collection "American Primitive," then the 1992 National Book Award for poetry for "New and Selected Poems." Oliver escaped what she called a "dysfunctional" home in a Cleveland suburb by writing poems in the woods. She met her partner, the late photographer Molly Malone Cook, at the New York home of the late poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. [The Washington Post, The Associated Press]