January 22, 2019

Attempting to clarify conflicting statements he gave about a Trump Tower project in Moscow, Rudy Giuliani managed to make an already confusing situation even more baffling.

President Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, was in charge of the Moscow project. On Sunday, Giuliani — Trump's current lawyer — said project discussions were held as late as October or November 2016, almost to Election Day. On Monday, Giuliani released a statement saying his remarks were "hypothetical and not based on conversations I had with the president."

Late Monday, The New Yorker's Isaac Chotiner called Giuliani to discuss his shifting story. First, they discussed the BuzzFeed News report last week that Trump directed Cohen to lie about when the Moscow negotiations ended, as Cohen did. Giuliani said he knew the story was false because "I have been through all the tapes, I have been through all the texts, I have been through all the emails, and I knew none existed."

Wait, what tapes? Chotiner asked. "I shouldn't have said tapes," Giuliani said, backtracking. "They alleged there were texts and emails that corroborated that Cohen was saying the president told him to lie. There were no texts, there were no emails, and the president never told him to lie." Moving on, Giuliani said Trump "had no conversations" about the Moscow project, before reversing course and declaring, "I shouldn't say he had no conversations. He had a few conversations about this early-stage proposal that he ended somewhere in early 2016, and doesn't have a recollection of anything else, and there is nothing to support anything else."

Giuliani denied telling The New York Times that Trump said "discussions were going on from the day I announced to the day I won," but when asked if the Times made the quote up, Giuliani said he didn't know. None of this matters anyway, Giuliani said, because "even if it's true, it's not criminal." Read the entire bewildering interview at The New Yorker. Catherine Garcia

8:12 p.m.

President Trump will hold an outdoor rally in New Hampshire next Saturday, with his campaign saying on Sunday it will pass out face masks and hand sanitizer to attendees.

The rally will take place at Portsmouth International Airport. In June, Trump held his first campaign event in months at Tulsa's BOK Center. About 6,000 people showed up, a smaller-than-expected crowd. Hogan Gidley, Trump 2020's national press secretary, said in a statement the campaign is looking forward to "so many freedom-loving patriots" coming to the New Hampshire rally and "celebrating America."

The number of coronavirus cases continues to climb across the country, and Ray Buckley, chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, told Reuters the rally will "only further highlight the chaos" Trump has caused in his "woefully inadequate" handling of the pandemic. Catherine Garcia

7:28 p.m.

Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, the developers behind the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, announced on Sunday they are canceling the $8 billion project.

The natural gas pipeline was set to go from West Virginia through Virginia to North Carolina. The project was first announced in 2014, with the developers saying they wanted the pipeline operational by 2018, but it was delayed due to environmental groups filing several legal challenges over permits.

Supporters said the pipeline would create manufacturing and construction jobs, while environmentalists and land owners argued it would destroy Appalachian forests. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Forest Service did have the authority to give the developers a key permit, but in a statement on Sunday, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy said there is still an "unacceptable layer of uncertainty and anticipated delays," making the project "too uncertain to justify investing more shareholder capital." Catherine Garcia

1:55 p.m.

President Trump has a penchant for tagging his political opponents with simple, but biting nicknames. The one he chose for his presumptive Democratic presidential challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, doesn't seem to have landed like those in the past, however, Axios reports.

It's well-known Trump refers to Biden as "sleepy Joe," but so far, at least judging by Google search trends, voters apparently don't associate the moniker with Biden all that much. Trump dubbed his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, as "crooked" Hillary, which prompted far more searches than "sleepy Joe." As analysts noted, there are likely several reasons for this. Regardless, it could be a small, but telling data point that shows Trump's patented insults may not have the same affect in 2020 now that the novelty has worn off.

Of course, it could just be that "sleepy" isn't particularly evocative, which is perhaps why the Trump campaign has recently starting trying out "corrupt Joe Biden." Read more at Axios. Tim O'Donnell

1:18 p.m.

May and June unexpectedly produced strong jobs reports. The unemployment rate, while alarming, is much lower than it was in April after the first surge in coronavirus cases and appeared to skate around economists' most pessimistic projections. But Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody's Analytics, told CBS News' Margaret Brennan on Sunday that things are likely to take a turn for the worse.

Zandi said the return of millions of jobs over the last two months is at least in part the result of states reopening businesses too soon amid the pandemic. Now that infections are climbing in several states that mostly avoided the worst back in March and April, those places are "pulling back" their reopening efforts, which hasn't shown up in the data yet. "That's coming down the road," he said, predicting that June's progress is in the rearview mirror.

The most recent spike in states that play a driving role in the national economy, like Texas, California, and Florida, is "very disconcerting," Zandi said, adding that "the prospects of going back into a recession are pretty high." Tim O'Donnell

12:52 p.m.

Susan Rice, who has previously served as both the United States Ambassador to the United Nations and former President Barack Obama's national security adviser, is "very much in the mix" to be former Vice President Joe Biden's running mate as he tries to unseat President Trump in the 2020 election, a source close to the Biden campaign told The Hill.

Rice doesn't get as much attention as two other candidates for the job, Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), but she does appear to have a leg up on the lawmakers in one area. "I know [Biden and Rice] have a good relationship — perhaps the best relationship of anyone on the list," the same source said. "They've known each other for years, they've worked alongside each other and she's been tested in a way that a lot of folks on the list just haven't been."

Biden has gone on the record saying he wants his potential vice president to be someone who is "simpatico." That is, someone who agrees with him on both "philosophy of government" and "the systemic things you want to change." Rice seems to fit the bill in that case — a former Obama administration official said she "makes perfect sense."

On Sunday Rice continued to play it cool, telling NBC's Andrea Mitchell, "let's not get ahead of ourselves" when asked about the possibility, but she did address some skepticism about her lack of experience running for office by noting that not only did she serve in government for years, she's worked on multiple campaigns. Whether she's Biden's running mate or a "door knocker," though, Rice said she'll do whatever she can to get Biden elected. Tim O'Donnell

12:12 p.m.

President Trump on Saturday sounded optimistic about the United States' ability to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic sooner rather than later. During an Independence Day speech at the White House, the president predicted a vaccine would be available "long before the end of the year," and also downplayed the threat of the virus, describing 99 percent of COVID-19 cases as "harmless." Those words seemed to place Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn in a tough spot.

On Sunday, Hahn was diplomatic when asked by ABC News' Martha Raddatz and CNN's Dana Bash to respond to Trump's comments. He didn't directly refute his boss, but he did say "we don't want to have any" cases or deaths from the virus and urged people to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention so they can protect vulnerable people. "People need to take it seriously," Hahn said.

As for the vaccine, Hahn assured viewers that the FDA is moving at a rapid pace, but because the agency is committed to making sure any potential vaccine or treatment is safe for widespread public use, he can't make any predictions about when one would become available. Tim O'Donnell

11:27 a.m.

President Trump's re-election may depend on flipping blue states like Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, and New Hampshire, people close to or involved with his campaign told Politico.

The campaign has always remained determined to win over those four states, but they were once considered luxury add-ons. But now campaign aides, senior administration officials, and GOP donors are reportedly privately acknowledging that it's just as plausible Trump loses Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania to the presumptive Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, which would put Trump under the 270 electoral vote threshold required to win if everything else played out as it did in 2016. Wisconsin, in particular, is looking quite tenuous for Trump, NBC News reports. "Independents are walking away from Trump," said Charlie Sykes, a former conservative radio talk show host in Wisconsin. "That's a big deal."

One of Trump's advisers told Politico that even if the campaign loses two of the Rust Belt states, picking up New Hampshire and one of New Mexico and Nevada would help clinch a second-straight victory. But at the moment, polls show Biden ahead in all three of those states, as well as Minnesota, long considered another possible Trump pickup.

While Trump's team is coming up with ways to make sure they can get to 270, the Biden campaign says it's "playing offense" and looking to "get in front of a large volume" of voters who supported former President Barack Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016. Read more at Politico and NBC News. Tim O'Donnell

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