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Michael Cohen Secretly Taped Trump Discussing Payment to Playboy Model

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 President Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, secretly recorded a conversation with Mr. Trump two months before the presidential election in which they discussed payments to a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump, according to lawyers and others familiar with the recording.

The F.B.I. seized the recording this year during a raid on Mr. Cohen’s office. The Justice Department is investigating Mr. Cohen’s involvement in paying women to tamp down embarrassing news stories about Mr. Trump ahead of the 2016 election. Prosecutors want to know whether that violated federal campaign finance laws, and any conversation with Mr. Trump about those payments would be of keen interest to them.

The recording’s existence further draws Mr. Trump into questions about tactics he and his associates used to keep aspects of his personal and business life a secret. And it highlights the potential legal and political danger that Mr. Cohen represents to Mr. Trump. Once the keeper of many of Mr. Trump’s secrets, Mr. Cohen is now seen as increasingly willing to consider cooperating with prosecutors.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, confirmed in a telephone conversation on Friday that Mr. Trump had discussed the payments with Mr. Cohen on the tape but said the payment was ultimately never made. He said the recording was less than two minutes and demonstrated that the president had done nothing wrong.

“Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance,” Mr. Giuliani said, adding that Mr. Trump had directed Mr. Cohen that if he were to make a payment related to the woman, write a check, rather than sending cash, so it could be properly documented.

“In the big scheme of things, it’s powerful exculpatory evidence,” Mr. Giuliani.

Mr. Cohen’s lawyers discovered the recording as part of their review of the seized materials and shared it with Mr. Trump’s lawyers, according to three people briefed on the matter.

“We have nothing to say on this matter,” Mr. Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny J. Davis, said when asked about the tape.

(New York Times)

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U.S. Set To Announce New Sanctions On Six Individuals Linked To Hong Kong Mass Arrests

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WASHINGTON, Jan 15 (Reuters) – The United States is set to announce fresh sanctions on Friday on six individuals connected to the mass arrests earlier this month of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, two sources familiar with the matter said.

Hong Kong police on Jan. 5 arrested 53 people in dawn raids on democracy activists in the biggest crackdown since China last year imposed a security law which opponents say is aimed at quashing dissent in the former British colony.

U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo last week warned of fresh sanctions in response to the arrests of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. That warning came a day after supporters of Republican President Donald Trump on Jan. 6 stormed Congress in a bid to overturn his November election defeat, prompting China’s state media to accuse U.S. politicians of “double standards.”

Pompeo also said last week the United States would also explore restrictions against the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in the United States.

Action on Friday would come just days before Trump is due to leave office and be succeeded by Democrat Joe Biden next Wednesday and would be the latest in a series targeting China, which analysts see as a bid driven by Pompeo to lock in a tough approach to Beijing.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump has pursued hard-line policies toward China on issues ranging from trade to espionage and the coronavirus. Relations plummeted to their worst level in decades when he ramped up rhetoric in his unsuccessful November re-election campaign.

His administration has already imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for their actions involving the pro-democracy movement and other alleged rights abuses, and last July declared an end to the territory’s privileged economic status under U.S. law.

The Trump administration took another swipe at China and its biggest companies on Thursday, imposing sanctions on officials and companies for alleged misdeeds in the South China Sea and imposing an investment ban on nine more firms.

Last Saturday, Pompeo said he was lifting restrictions on contacts between U.S. officials and counterparts in Taiwan, a move that greatly angered Beijing, which considers the island a renegade province. (Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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2nd GOP Senator Urges Trump To Resign Over Capitol Riot

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Two Republican senators now say President Donald Trump should resign as support for the drive to impeach him a second time is gaining momentum in his final days in office after the deadly riot at the Capitol by a violent mob of Trump supporters.

Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania on Sunday joined Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski in calling for Trump to “resign and go away as soon as possible.” Murkowski, who has long voiced her exasperation with Trump’s conduct in office, told the Anchorage Daily News on Friday that Trump simply “needs to get out.”

Toomey said that even though he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses in encouraging loyalists in the Capitol siege on Wednesday, he did not think there was enough time for the impeachment process to play out. Toomey said that resignation was the “best path forward, the best way to get this person in the rear view mirror for us.” He was not optimistic that Trump would step down before his term ends on Jan. 20.

The White House had no immediate comment Sunday.

The House appears determined to act despite the short timeline.

Late Saturday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sent a letter to her colleagues reiterating that Trump must be held accountable. She told her caucus, now scattered across the country on a two-week recess, to “be prepared to return to Washington this week.”

“It is absolutely essential that those who perpetrated the assault on our democracy be held accountable,” Pelosi wrote. “There must be a recognition that this desecration was instigated by the President.”

Rep. Jim Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, said “it may be Tuesday, Wednesday before the action is taken, but I think it will be taken this week.” Clyburn, D-S.C., said he was concerned that a Senate trial could distract from the process of confirming President-elect Joe Biden’s nominees.

Clyburn said one option could be giving Biden the “100 days he needs to get his agenda off and running and maybe we’ll send the articles sometime after that” to the Senate for a trial.

He said lawmakers “will take the vote that we should take in the House” and that Pelosi “will make the determination as when is the best time” to send them to the Senate.

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, has said an impeachment trial could begin as early as Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.

The new Democratic effort to stamp Trump’s presidential record — for the second time and days before his term ends — with the indelible mark of impeachment is gaining supporters. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I, a leader of the House effort to draft impeachment articles — or charges — accusing Trump of inciting insurrection, said Saturday that his group had grown to include 185 co-sponsors.

Lawmakers planned to formally introduce the proposal on Monday in the House, where articles of impeachment must originate.

The articles, if passed by the House, could then be transmitted to the Senate for a trial, with senators acting as jurors who would ultimately vote on whether to acquit or convict Trump. If convicted, Trump would be removed from office and succeeded by the vice president.

Potentially complicating that decision about impeachment is what it means for Biden and the beginning of his presidency. While reiterating that he has long viewed Trump as unfit for office, Biden on Friday sidestepped a question about impeachment, saying what Congress does “is for them to decide.”

A violent and largely white mob of Trump supporters overpowered police, broke through security lines and rampaged through the Capitol on Wednesday, forcing lawmakers to scatter as they were putting the final, formal touches on Biden’s victory over Trump in the Electoral College.

The crowd surged to the domed symbol of American democracy following a rally near the White House, where Trump repeated his bogus claims that the election was stolen from him and urged his supporters to march in force toward the Capitol.

Five people, including a Capitol police officer, died as a result of the siege.

Outrage over the attack and Trump’s role in egging it on capped a divisive, chaotic presidency like few others in the nation’s history. There are less than two weeks until Trump is out of office but Democrats have made clear they don’t want to wait that long.

Trump, has few fellow Republicans speaking out in his defense. He’s become increasingly isolated, holed up in the White House as he has been abandoned in the aftermath of the riot by many aides, leading Republicans and, so far, two Cabinet members — both women.

Toomey appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Clyburn was on “Fox News Sunday” and CNN.

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Louisiana Congressman-Elect Luke Letlow Dead From COVID-19

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Luke Letlow, Louisiana’s incoming Republican member of the U.S. House, died Tuesday night from complications related to COVID-19 only days before being sworn into office. He was 41.

Letlow spokesman Andrew Bautsch confirmed the congressman-elect’s death at Ochsner-LSU Health Shreveport.

“The family appreciates the numerous prayers and support over the past days but asks for privacy during this difficult and unexpected time,” Bautsch said in a statement. “A statement from the family along with funeral arrangements will be announced at a later time.”

Louisiana’s eight-member congressional delegation called Letlow’s death devastating.

“Luke had such a positive spirit, and a tremendously bright future ahead of him. He was looking forward to serving the people of Louisiana in Congress, and we were excited to welcome him to our delegation where he was ready to make an even greater impact on our state and our nation,” they said in a statement.

The state’s newest congressman, set to take office in January, was admitted to a Monroe hospital on Dec. 19 after testing positive for the coronavirus disease. He was later transferred to the Shreveport facility and placed in intensive care.

Letlow, from the small town of Start in Richland Parish, was elected in a December runoff election for the 5th District U.S. House seat representing central and northeastern regions of the state, including the cities of Monroe and Alexandria.

He was to fill the seat being vacated by his boss, Republican Ralph Abraham. Letlow had been Abraham’s chief of staff and ran with Abraham’s backing for the job.

Gov. John Bel Edwards urged people to pray for Letlow’s family.

“COVID-19 has taken Congressman-elect Letlow from us far too soon,” the Democratic governor said in a statement. “I am heartbroken that he will not be able to serve our people as a U.S. representative, but I am even more devastated for his loving family.”

Before working for Abraham, Letlow had worked for former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. Jindal’s one-time chief of staff, Timmy Teepell, described Letlow on Twitter as “a good man with a kind heart and a passion to serve. He loved Louisiana and his family. He was a brother and I’m heart broken he’s gone.”

Letlow is survived by his wife, Julia Barnhill Letlow, and two children.

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican and doctor who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this year and has since recovered, posted in a Twitter video: “It just, just, just, just brings home COVID can kill. For most folks it doesn’t, but it truly can. So, as you remember Luke, his widow, his children in your prayers, remember as well to be careful with COVID.”

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