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December 13, 2018

President Trump on Thursday attempted to downplay the significance of his former lawyer and "fixer" Michael Cohen's three year prison sentence.

In an interview with Fox News, Trump claimed that Cohen only did "very low-level work" for him and that he did "more public relations than he did law." Trump also repeated the defense he mounted on Twitter earlier in the day: that he "never directed" Cohen "to do anything wrong" and that if Cohen violated the law, that's his fault. But Trump contends the campaign finance charges against Cohen were not criminal and that they were brought "to embarrass me."

Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday in part for violating campaign finance laws by arranging for the National Enquirer's publisher to "catch and kill" a woman's story about an alleged affair with Trump; the tabloid's publisher says this was done for the express purpose of protecting the Trump campaign. But Trump told Fox News that he doesn't "think" a payment was ever actually made to the National Enquirer; he can be heard in a recording discussing the payment with Cohen.

Trump's attempt to paint Cohen, who was his personal lawyer for over a decade, as a "low-level" employee brings to mind his similar dismissal of Paul Manafort after the former campaign chairman was convicted on eight counts of tax and bank fraud. "He worked for me for a very short period of time," Trump said of Manafort at the time, per Reuters.

Trump also said that he usually hires "very good people" but that in the case of Cohen, hiring him was a "mistake." Watch Trump's interview with Fox News below. Brendan Morrow

6:12 a.m.

Mozambique began three days of mourning on Wednesday for the hundreds killed by Cyclone Idai, which caused what emergency workers are calling the most destructive flooding in southern Africa in 20 years. The death toll stands at more than 200 in Mozambique, 98 in Zimbabwe, and 56 in Malawi, but the final number of dead is expected to top 1,000. "The full horror, the full impact is only going to emerge over coming days," Red Cross spokesman Matthew Cochrane said in Geneva.

The Red Cross says at least 400,000 people have likely lost their homes in central Mozambique, where flooding has covered an area of more than 150 square miles. The cyclone destroyed up to 90 percent of Mozambique's second-largest port, Beira, a city of 500,000 that also provides access to landlocked countries in the region.

The European Union and Britain have pledged financial and other aid, and the U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe said America was "mobilizing to provide support" to partners in the three affected nations, but provided no details. You can learn more and see images of the flooding in the CBS News report below. Peter Weber

5:07 a.m.

President Trump and George Conway are now in open warfare on Twitter, and Stephen Colbert not unhappily listed some of Conway's critiques of Trump that led to this point, including that Trump "administration is like a like a s--tshow in a dumpster fire." That's especially "awkward," Colbert said on Tuesday's Late Show, because Conway's wife, Kellyanne Conway, "is one of the flaming trash pile's star turd jugglers."

"But not everyone loves Twitter as much as the president," Colbert said, pointing at the $250 million lawsuit Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) filed against Twitter for allowing accounts to insult him. Nunes specifically complained about two parody accounts, @DevinNunesMom and @DevinCow, and he included some of the offending tweets. "The only time you can see jokes that crushing is every time you finish a popsicle," Colbert said. And trying to get in on that sweet parody-account action — @ColbertCow went from 1,200 followers to 154,000 and counting after the lawsuit — Colbert unveiled his own, @DevinNunesSkin. "Still thin," he said. "Devin, we look forward to your lawsuit."

Jimmy Kimmel called Nunes "captain of the Donald Trump Fan Club" and "that one zit on the end of your nose that keeps coming back," and he was similarly baffled at the lawsuit. "He is literally suing an imaginary cow," he said on Jimmy Kimmel Live. "And maybe the craziest part of all ... last Congress, Devin Nunes cosponsored a bill called the 'Discouraging Frivolous Lawsuits Act.' And now he's suing a cow. It's almost like he's a hypocrite." Kimmel insincerely begged people not to follow @DevinCow on Twitter.

The Daily Show's Trevor Noah made a show of following @NunesCow. "What a snowflake," he said. "Look, man, I think it's terrible when kids are bullied online, but as a grown man, this should not be a problem for you." He helpfully explained to Nunes how to block trolls and avoid clicking on his mentions. Watch that, and some jokes about Patriots owner Robert Kraft and pigeons, below. Peter Weber

3:41 a.m.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday held an afternoon phone briefing on his trip to the Middle East and "international religious freedom." But 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 "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 continued. 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 chuckled 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 completed, 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

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