April 10, 2019

It looks like ex-lawyer Michael Cohen wasn't the only line of defense in President Trump's alleged hush money payment scheme.

Manhattan prosecutors have already charged Cohen after investigating payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, and Cohen has pleaded guilty to those crimes. But in the still-ongoing case, New York investigators also interviewed former aide Hope Hicks and others deeper in Trump's "inner circle" than previously disclosed, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Cohen has long cooperated with the Southern District of New York in this case, revealing he paid $130,000 to Daniels to suppress her account of an affair with Trump. The National Enquirer has also said it bought former Playboy model McDougal's story of an affair for $150,000 to preserve Trump's reputation, and previous reports indicated National Enquirer publisher David Pecker was talking to prosecutors about the payment.

Documents from the case obtained by the Journal show prosecutors talked with Hicks as well, asking if she "had coordinated with anyone" at Pecker's company to suppress the McDougal story. They reportedly found that she talked directly to Pecker after a Journal report threatened to expose the hush money payment to McDougal. Hicks also knew Pecker was "issuing a statement saying it had paid McDougal to contribute articles," the Journal writes.

Investigators also questioned Trump's former security chief, Keith Schiller, finding that he too talked to Pecker. But the Journal could not conclude if Schiller actually handed the phone to Trump during those conversations. When asked Wednesday if he knew prosecutors talked to Schiller, Trump said he has "no idea."

Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:23 p.m.

President Trump ignored every pressing topic Monday as he welcomed one of his favorite things to the White House.

The New York Times dropped a bombshell report Sunday evening revealing Trump leveraged business losses to avoid paying taxes for years, as well as used other dubious financial strategies to lower his tax bills. Trump denied the report in a Sunday press conference, and on Monday, avoided questions about his tax returns altogether as he praised an electric pick-up truck.

The White House unexpectedly called reporters to the South Lawn on Monday, where they found Trump inspecting a Lordstown Motors 2021 electric pick-up truck. "We've all done a good job," Trump said after praising the truck's manufacturers, and then, out of nowhere, said "it's hotter now than it was before, and that's something really different." But before he could get too close to acknowledge fossil fuels' roles in warming the Earth, he pivoted to call the truck "an incredible piece of science" and implied electrification is sure to "happen with more and more trucks and cars." He then walked away to reporters shouting "can you say anything about the tax returns?" and "when are you going to release them?"

It's far from the first time Trump has brought trucks to the White House, though they're usually a bit bigger than this one. And as The Washington Post has reported, it's something his advisers will do to cheer the president up when he's "inconsolable." Kathryn Krawczyk

12:22 p.m.

Andrew Weissman, a prosecutor who served as one of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's top lieutenants during the investigation into 2016 Russian election interference, on Monday connected revelations about President Trump's tax information to Moscow.

The tax information, obtained by The New York Times, has sparked speculation that Trump may owe an unknown funding source that kept his businesses alive over the years hundreds of millions dollars. Weissman suggested that Trump's son, Eric, may have provided the geographic location of the money, if not the exact source, all the way back in 2014, before the elder Trump had announced his 2016 presidential campaign. "We have all the funding we need out of Russia," Eric Trump said in 2014.

Weismann is just one of many wondering if there's a common thread between the tax information, the 2016 election, and the president's foreign policy strategy, but the Times notes its investigation was unable to reveal "any previously unreported connections to Russia," so the situation remains unclear. Tim O'Donnell

11:27 a.m.

Ballistics records in the shooting of Breonna Taylor by Louisville, Kentucky, police tell a different story than the one Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron presented last week, the Louisville Courier Journal reports.

Police shot and killed Taylor in her apartment while executing a no-knock warrant in March. A grand jury investigation concluded Taylor's boyfriend fired at officers when they entered, and they returned fire, Cameron announced Wednesday. But Cameron's assertion that the investigation ruled out "friendly fire" as the source of the 9mm shot that hit Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly's thigh isn't backed up by a Kentucky State Police ballistics report from the scene, Vice News first reported.

"Due to limited markings of comparative value" on the bullet that went through Mattingly's leg, it was neither "identified nor eliminated as having been fired" from Walker's gun, the report concluded. An LMPD record showed one officer at the scene was also issued a 9mm gun, making it impossible to draw a conclusion.

Vice News also reported that documents and body camera footage taken after Taylor's killing show "officers appearing to break multiple department policies," and "corroborate parts of Taylor's boyfriend's testimony." The LMPD requires all officers involved in a critical incident to be "paired with an escort officer at the scene and 'isolated from all non-essential individuals for the remainder of the initial investigation,'" Vice News writes.

But none of the seven officers in Taylor's case were seemingly paired with an escort, and four of them continued investigating the scene even after being told to clear out. "I've never seen anything like this,” a former LMPD narcotics officer who revealed the footage told Vice News. "This is not how it's supposed to work." Kathryn Krawczyk

11:09 a.m.

The New York Times' report on President Trump's tax info shed a significant amount of new light on his businesses and personal wealth, but there are still several questions left unanswered. Journalist Adam Davidson, who has reported on Trump's business dealings for The New Yorker, suggests people look to Trump's golf courses to find out more.

One of Davidson's big takeaways from the Times report is that Trump had a "new source of funds" beginning around 2011 after he had finished "blowing through" most of the money he received from his father, television producer Mark Burnett, and through loans. It's not clear who this alleged new source of money may be, but Davidson believes golf courses could be the key. In 2011, Davidson writes, Trump went into business with families from Azerbaijan, and was also "flirting" with Georgian and Kazakh businesses that have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Between 2011 and 2016, all of those groups were known to be laundering money through golf courses.

Trump, of course, has his own courses across the U.S., as well as in other countries, and those properties have cost him a lot of money. Davidson singled out his Scottish golf resorts, which have prompted investigation requests in the past, because that is where he, perhaps confoundingly, spent the post-2011 money.

But speculation is just that, and Davidson argues that little more can be known about who Trump "owes and what they know about him" until the alleged funding source is uncovered. Tim O'Donnell

10:49 a.m.

Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara have reportedly welcomed their first child, naming him River in a moving tribute to Phoenix's late brother.

Director Victor Kossakovsky, who worked with Phoenix on the documentary Gunda, recently revealed the news at the Zurich Film Festival, saying of the Joker star, "He just got a baby by the way," People reports. "A beautiful son called River."

Phoenix and Mara, who reportedly got engaged in 2019, have not confirmed the update. It was reported in May that they were expecting their first child together.

Phoenix's brother, River Phoenix, died at 23 of a drug overdose. When Phoenix took home the Academy Award for Best Actor earlier this year for his performance in Joker, he honored his late brother by quoting one of his lyrics in an emotional speech.

"When he was 17, my brother wrote this lyric," Phoenix said. "He said, 'run to the rescue with love, and peace will follow.'"

At the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival Tribute Gala, Phoenix also recalled his late brother showing him Raging Bull when he was a teenager and telling him, "You're going to start acting again, this is what you're going to do," reports Variety.

"He didn't ask me, he told me," Phoenix continued. "And I am indebted to him for that because acting has given me such an incredible life." Brendan Morrow

10:16 a.m.

The coronavirus appears to have "one big trick," Shane Crotty, a professor in the Center for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, told Bloomberg.

That trick — avoiding the human body's "initial innate immune response for a significant period of time," and, particularly, the response of a substance called interferon that typically helps orchestrate the defense against viral pathogens — is linked to more severe cases. Indeed, new studies published last week in Science found that an insufficient amount of interferon, the production of which may sometimes be inhibited in people with previously "silent" gene mutations, could signal a more dangerous infection because the lack of interferon can overstimulate the rest of the immune system.

The good news is that, because scientists are catching on to the virus' strategy, they have a better idea of how to prevent it from causing severe infections. Writes Bloomberg, the work highlights the potential for interferon-based therapies, which are typically used in in the early stages of a viral infection when it's easier to avoid life-threatening respiratory failure. Now, dozens of studies focusing on interferon treatments are recruiting COVID-19 patients. Read more at Bloomberg. Tim O'Donnell

10:07 a.m.

Amy Coney Barrett has a reasonably clear path to the Supreme Court, and top Republicans reportedly know it.

President Trump formally nominated the 7th Circuit Court judge to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Saturday. And with Republicans firmly in the Senate majority, Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are "so confident" in Barrett's confirmation that they're already dreaming up her appeals court replacement, Axios reports.

Republican senators nearly universally said they'd like to vote on Trump's Ginsburg replacement even before he announced it would be Barrett. Just Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) definitively said they would rather not consider a nominee, citing the 2016 precedent in which Republicans refused to consider former President Barack Obama's election year nominee. But two senators won't be enough to keep Barrett off the bench before Election Day.

If Barrett is quickly confirmed after her mid-October hearings, it's possible Republicans could quickly shove her 7th Circuit replacement through the Senate as well. That would be "the cherry on top" of conservatives' Supreme Court victory, and "one that McConnell won't pass up," a GOP Senate aide told Axios. McConnell and Republicans are reportedly considering nominating Kate Todd, a White House lawyer who was also on Trump's Supreme Court shortlist, to fill Barrett's slot. Todd is "a favorite of White House counsel Pat Cipollone," Axios writes, though an administration official said no one is formally in consideration for the appeals court yet. Kathryn Krawczyk

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