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December 13, 2018

President Trump seems to have no idea how lawyers work.

In a series of tweets Thursday morning, Trump railed against his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who was sentenced to three years in prison Wednesday for what a judge called a "smorgasbord of criminal conduct." Among those crimes were campaign finance violations that Cohen said he committed on Trump's orders.

But Trump "never directed Michael Cohen to break the law," the president claimed in Thursday's tweets. Instead, Trump insinuated that if he suggested something illegal, Cohen should've known not to do it. Trump went on to claim Cohen's campaign finance charges "were not criminal," and that his ex-fixer "probably" wasn't guilty of them "even on a civil basis," which isn't exactly how the law works. Instead, Cohen pleaded guilty to these charges simply "to embarrass the president," Trump claimed.

Read Trump's haphazard explanation of what he claims is Cohen's elaborate prank below. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:41 a.m.

On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held an afternoon phone briefing on his trip to the Middle East and "international religious freedom." The one member of the State Department press corps invited to participate in the call was "un-invited after RSVPing," told the call was for "faith-based media only," CNN reports. The State Department said it won't release a transcript of the call or a list of participating outlets, and "officials would not answer questions about whether a range of faiths was included."

On Tuesday, Religion News Service listed some of the participants in the call: Jewish Telegraphic Agency (Jewish), Algemeiner (Jewish), World Magazine (evangelical Christian), America Magazine (Catholic), The Leaven (Catholic — Kansas City archdiocese), and Religion News Service ("a secular news service that covers religion, spirituality, and ethics").

A participant in the call shared a transcript with reporters on Tuesday evening, showing that "Pompeo faced questions about the Israeli election, terrorism, and the omission of the word 'occupied' when describing the Golan Heights and the West Bank," CNN reports. In a subsequent briefing with the traveling press corps, CNN says, Pompeo "was asked similar questions and provided similar responses."

Former State Department spokesman Jack Kirby told CNN it's "inappropriate and irresponsible" not to release the transcript of "any on-the-record interview in which a Cabinet official participates," and excluding "beat reporters from something as universally relevant as religious freedom in the Middle East strikes me as not only self-defeating but incredibly small-minded."

The Trump administration is expected to unveil its long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan after Israel's election, and earlier this month the White House hosted a group of evangelical Christian leaders "to reassure them about the plan," Axios reported. Pompeo declined to comment on the White House's outreach in Monday's call, RNS reports, but he said a "broad base of people" will be briefed, and "as an evangelical Christian myself, I've always understood the centrality of that place." Peter Weber

2:22 a.m.

President Trump is both modestly bragging about donating his $400,000 salary to the Homeland Security Department and proposing to strip $5 billion from the DHS budget, Stephen Colbert said on Tuesday's Late Show. "So Trump's paycheck donation is like robbing a restaurant then, on your way out, throwing a nickel in the tip jar."

Trump "gets paid nothing to be president, and today he earned every penny," Colbert said. On Tuesday, Trump hosted Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, "often called the 'Trump of the Tropics,' which is also what Trump will be called when his climate policies turn Ohio into a rain forest." Colbert scratched his head over Trump's ad-lib at a joint press conference about socialism's "twilight hour" and chucked at his suggestion that Brazil join NATO. Yes, "why isn't Brazil in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization?" Colbert pondered in Trump voice. "And, while I've got them on the phone, I'm going to ask why aren't I in the NAACP?" Watch below. Peter Weber

2:00 a.m.

The Killers, Miley Cyrus, Dead and Company, Chance the Rapper, Jay-Z, and Imagine Dragons are among the acts that will play Woodstock 50 this August in Watkins Glen, New York.

The three-day festival will take place Aug. 16-18, marking the 50th anniversary of the original. Tickets go on sale April 22. Prior to the lineup being announced on Tuesday, Woodstock co-founder Michael Lang told Rolling Stone the 50th celebration would feature "hip-hop and rock and some pop and some of the legacy bands from the original festival. ... I want it to be multi-generational."

Several acts that performed in 1969 are on the lineup, including Santana, John Fogerty, John Sebastian, Country Joe Mcdonald, Canned Heat, and Hot Tuna. "I don't expect it to be the same," Fogerty said Tuesday. "The mood in the country is different, similar in many respects, but different. I'm very glad that I'm able to be here 50 years later celebrating it." Catherine Garcia

1:31 a.m.

The people who know what's going on in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation are, as usual, not talking, so Mueller watchers are left digging for clues about when the special counsel's final report will be handed in, who will be able to view it, and whether any more indictments are coming. Another clue dropped Tuesday, in a court filing by two members of Mueller's shrinking staff, Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben and prosecutor Adam Jed.

The two-page filing requests more time to respond to a Washington Post filing seeking access to redacted portions of records in Paul Manafort's criminal case. "Counsel responsible for preparing the response face the press of other work and require additional time to consult within the government," Dreeben and Jed write, indicating that The Washington Post did not oppose pushing the date back to April 1, from March 21.

What does this tell us? "That the special counsel investigation may be wrapping up — or maybe it's not" — but "either way, they're very busy," CNN reports. More helpfully, CNN notes that "broadly throughout the Mueller probe, Dreeben's public court filings show he has dedicated his time to fighting defendants' attempts to dismiss indictments, media requests to unseal documents, and appeals including a mystery grand jury matter involving a foreign-owned company that's awaiting Supreme Court action."

There are lots of other signs that Mueller's investigation is winding down, including the departure of seven of 17 lawyers and expected imminent exit of senior prosecutor Andrew Weissmann. But "Dreeben, by all appearances, works long hours still," CNN reports. "He regularly arrives to the office minutes after the notoriously early Mueller," and "FBI agents and prosecutors continue to swarm in and out of Mueller's office daily — and even have visited the courthouse for non-public matters at least twice" since last week. Peter Weber

12:59 a.m.

Disney officially finalized its $71.3 billion purchase of 21st Century Fox early Wednesday morning.

The company's new assets include Twentieth Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Fox Family, Fox Animation, Twentieth Century Fox Television, the FX and National Geographic channels, Star India, and Fox's interest in Hulu, Variety reports. "This is an extraordinary and historic moment for us — one that will create significant long-term value for our company and our shareholders," Disney CEO Bob Iger said in a statement.

Disney has said that through the purchase, the company aims to "increase its international footprint" and "expand its direct-to-consumer offerings." With Iger at the helm, Disney purchased Pixar in 2006 for $7.4 billion, acquired Marvel Entertainment in 2010 for $4 billion, and bought Lucasfilm in 2012 for $4 billion. Catherine Garcia

12:10 a.m.

U.S. military officials are disputing a new Amnesty International report released Tuesday that states there is credible evidence U.S. airstrikes in Somalia have killed or injured almost two dozen civilians.

Amnesty International says it interviewed 65 witnesses and survivors of five airstrikes, and examined satellite images and additional data. The organization determined that there is "credible evidence" the U.S. was behind four of the five airstrikes, and it's plausible it was responsible for the fifth. The strikes killed 14 civilians and left eight injured.

The U.S. military is conducting operations against al-Shabaab, a terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda. In 2018, the U.S. was responsible for 47 airstrikes that killed 338 militants, and so far this year, more than 230 militants have been killed in 28 airstrikes. U.S. Africa Command officials said it's been concluded that there were no civilian deaths in the first four airstrikes reported by Amnesty International, and in the fifth case, the U.S. did not have any airstrikes in the vicinity on that day. Defense officials told The Associated Press that al-Shabaab lies about civilian deaths and threatens locals into doing the same. Catherine Garcia

12:05 a.m.

"Donald Trump's alliance with Fox News has been one of the few constants throughout his shambolic presidency," Gabriel Sherman writes at Vanity Fair. "But in recent days, that bond has shown signs of fraying."

Sherman pointed to Trump's tweeted salvos at Fox News and some news anchors Sunday, but said those attack have only "widened the chasm between the network's opinion hosts and the news division, which have been fighting a cold civil war since Roger Ailes was ousted in July 2016." One senior Fox staffer told Sherman, "Reporters are telling management that we're being defined by the worst people on our air," meaning pro-Trump opinion hosts like Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, Lou Dobbs, and the Fox & Friends gang. An anchor close to Hannity gave the rebuttal: "We make all the money."

The final arbiter of this "cold civil war" will be Lachlan Murdoch, the eldest son of media baron Rupert Murdoch and the chairman and CEO of Fox Corp., the downsized media company created when Fox sold its entertainment assets to Disney. Lachlan Murdoch — "a libertarian conservative, not a MAGA diehard," Sherman notes — isn't expected to make any editorial changes until after that deal closes Wednesday, "for fear of antagonizing Trump into opposing it," Sherman reports, citing two sources close to Lachlan. And any changes from Murdoch are expected to be modest, at least at first.

But Sean Hannity may not wait around. "Sources said Hannity is angry at the Murdochs' firing of Ailes and Bill Shine," believes "the Murdochs are out to get Trump," and may leave when his contract is up in 2021, Sherman reports. One source who heard the conversation tells Sherman, "Hannity told Trump last year that the Murdochs hate Trump, and Hannity is the only one holding Fox together." You can read more about the potential Fox-Trump breakup at Vanity Fair. Peter Weber

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