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Tapper calls out Trump 'bizarro-world' defense

CNN's Jake Tapper discusses President Trump's claim that he didn't direct his former personal attorney Michael Cohen to break the law.

Posted: Dec 14, 2018 1:47 PM
Updated: Dec 14, 2018 2:01 PM

President Donald Trump sought the open arms of Twitter and Fox News to creatively explain away inconvenient facts about his legal peril and his promised border wall before GOP senators dragged him back to reality with a rebuke from his own party for ignoring a cold-blooded murder OK'd by a foreign colleague.

In Trump's universe, Mexico is already paying for the wall. And the crimes for which Michael Cohen is going to jail aren't crimes after all; they were added to his rap sheet by prosecutors as a dig at Trump.

But alternative facts go only so far, as Trump learned Thursday afternoon when Republican senators lobbed at him a resolution condemning Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Trump had ignored the clear conclusion of the CIA that bin Salman was involved in the killing when he issued an exclamation point-laden official statement last month that it was unproven that Saudi Arabia and its crown prince were complicit. It wouldn't matter anyway, the President said, since Saudi Arabia is buying US military equipment.

Now senators have slapped him on the wrist with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker's resolution, passed by voice vote. They more narrowly voted to restricted US support for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen.

Meanwhile, he still has to deal with Congress over the federal budget.

And CNN reported late Thursday that Trump had been in the room when hush payments to women who claimed to have had affairs with him were discussed by Cohen and David Pecker, whose company publishes the National Enquirer.

A new way for Mexico to pay for the wall

Trump won't have much time to seethe at his allies in the Senate if he wants to keep the government up and running through the holidays.

After a televised chess match in which he had declared he'd be proud to shut down the government if Congress wouldn't give him funding for his border wall and border security left him in check, the President opened the door to a change of course Thursday when he argued Mexico was already paying for the wall through the trade agreement he's pushing to replace NAFTA.

"I often stated, 'One way or the other, Mexico is going to pay for the Wall,' " Trump said on Twitter. "This has never changed. Our new deal with Mexico (and Canada), the USMCA, is so much better than the old, very costly & anti-USA NAFTA deal, that just by the money we save, MEXICO IS PAYING FOR THE WALL!"

But the reality is far different.

The trade deal hasn't been ratified by Congress yet. And even if it is ratified, a trade deal doesn't necessarily flood the federal coffers with money.

Is the US going to be able to use the NAFTA replacement -- the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement -- to pay for the wall?

"We're not," said Phil Levy, a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He ticked through possible revenue from a trade deal -- either directly through higher tariffs or indirectly via tax revenue from increased economic activity. There's nothing to suggest the USMCA will land the government a windfall on either count.

Even if Mexico did start pumping money into the USMCA after it passes, Levy said, that doesn't mean it would go to the wall.

"There's nothing that earmarks this type of money for a wall," he said. "Your income taxes or corporate taxes -- they go into general revenue. But it's still the budget process that determines where those funds go."

And it's that budget process that has Trump stymied.

Someone in Washington will have to blink over the $5 billion the President has demanded and Republicans who control the House for less than a month can't deliver.

Democrats, measuring the drapes in House leadership offices they'll soon occupy, aren't in a giving mood since Trump wants the money to declare victory on a border wall they have vowed to fight.

The President drew the line in the middle of the Oval Office earlier this week when he all but dared soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer into shutdown mode by pointing out they had been blamed for a brief shutdown in January.

That's mostly true, but they had forced the shutdown over how to protect the children of undocumented immigrants raised in the US who Trump had stripped of a temporary protected status. Now, those people have been abandoned during the spending negotiations.

Instead, the issue is the $5 billion Trump wants to beef up border security and start building his long-promised wall on the Mexico border. His tweet that Mexico would pay through the USMCA wasn't an entirely new argument, but -- timed immediately after he promised a shutdown -- it felt like the beginning of an out before parts of the government run out of money December 21 -- the same day Trump could get out of the White House and travel down to Mar-a-Lago for Christmas.

The public largely takes the Democratic side on the wall, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS, in which 57% of Americans said they're against a wall, compared with 38% in favor. Those numbers are similar to where they were just after Trump took office in 2017. Most who favor the wall say they would continue to do so even if all the funding for it came from the US rather than from Mexico, according to Jennifer Agiesta, CNN's polling director.

Crimes that aren't crimes

Trump's view of the legal problems faced by former members of his inner circle is no less inventive.

Speaking to the Fox News host Harris Faulkner, Trump complained that the crimes his former lawyer pleaded guilty to weren't crimes after all.

"He made a deal to embarrass me," Trump said.

Waving printouts of conservative opinion pieces at Faulkner, he said the payment made by the National Enquirer's parent company, American Media Inc., to "catch and kill" a story about his alleged affair with Playboy model Karen McDougal didn't come from him or his company, so he couldn't have been involved.

That's beside the point that prosecutors say the payment to McDougal, which Michael Cohen and AMI both now say was made to influence the election, amounted to an illegal campaign donation. CNN reported later Thursday that Trump had been in the room when Cohen and Pecker discussed the hush payment.

Trump has denied having an affair with McDougal.

Cohen, his onetime fixer and lieutenant, is now -- in Trump's telling to Fox News -- a lawyer who "did very low-level work." According to Cohen's guilty pleas, that work included orchestrating the payoff. Separately, Cohen was working to get a Trump Tower built in Moscow and trading on Trump's cachet as a political figure to do it.

"I never instructed him to do anything wrong," Trump said in the Fox interview. "Whatever he did he did on his own. He's a lawyer."

Again, reality differs. Trump says the payments are not crimes, but Cohen is headed to prison. The President says Cohen was a low-level employee who once did him a favor. In truth, Cohen was a top lieutenant who spoke on behalf of his former boss and sought out business deals.

Another former aide who flipped on Trump, onetime national security adviser Michael Flynn, got better treatment from the President in the interview, in part, perhaps, because he thinks Flynn is stronger than Cohen but also because he doesn't know what Flynn told the special counsel's office.

"I don't even know what he said about me," Trump said of Flynn. "Maybe they scared him enough he'll make up a story."

If Flynn says the President did anything wrong, Trump will surely have his own story to explain it away.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1560117

Reported Deaths: 20796
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion2118112563
Lake1021301523
Allen964791027
Hamilton75541551
St. Joseph66476761
Elkhart51045634
Vanderburgh50511531
Tippecanoe45721338
Johnson39600527
Hendricks37933463
Porter35132476
Madison30330547
Clark27296331
Vigo26401347
Monroe24100249
LaPorte23921313
Howard23237381
Delaware22453370
Hancock19314220
Bartholomew18980216
Kosciusko18400204
Warrick17733216
Wayne16982303
Floyd16686257
Grant15966300
Morgan15091232
Boone13924138
Dearborn12235113
Shelby12225152
Noble12170142
Henry12027202
Dubois11696152
Marshall11625171
Jackson11111104
Cass10578143
Lawrence10529221
Huntington10523140
DeKalb10482132
Gibson10114127
Montgomery9671144
Harrison9471117
Knox9415125
Whitley902571
Steuben8934105
Putnam8542100
Miami8533135
Clinton849397
Jasper8462116
Jefferson8319127
Wabash8027140
Ripley7504117
Scott685787
Adams6829103
Daviess6825130
White638184
Greene6317112
Clay628975
Decatur6261121
Jennings619781
Wells6090121
Fayette6054122
Posey580148
LaGrange549097
Randolph5364129
Washington528071
Owen5211100
Fountain493681
Spencer467456
Sullivan462066
Fulton450993
Orange449784
Starke448887
Rush433941
Jay432564
Perry409155
Carroll394749
Franklin394650
Vermillion370762
Pike334246
Parke331239
Tipton330475
Blackford282255
Pulaski281775
Brown239856
Newton239761
Benton228921
Crawford224932
Switzerland207914
Martin196722
Warren183922
Union178119
Ohio129216
Unassigned0763

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 2515949

Reported Deaths: 31987
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin2719422100
Cuyahoga2606673087
Hamilton1758091756
Montgomery1177451651
Summit1089011418
Lucas935321193
Butler83907963
Stark771001431
Lorain64214809
Warren53428489
Mahoning51224930
Lake47591611
Clermont46928452
Delaware41107220
Trumbull39746790
Licking38790416
Medina38646427
Fairfield35828349
Greene34313435
Portage32429366
Clark32361453
Richland29653444
Wood29379301
Allen25875403
Miami24243408
Muskingum23564255
Columbiana23046409
Wayne22093365
Tuscarawas19637428
Marion18616235
Erie18608224
Ashtabula18569362
Scioto18159214
Ross17594260
Pickaway16419181
Hancock16115232
Geauga15511229
Lawrence15094186
Belmont14236248
Union1419584
Huron13908184
Jefferson13656261
Sandusky13268200
Athens12877107
Knox12160201
Seneca12055204
Darke11440202
Ashland11248184
Washington11152172
Auglaize10873147
Crawford10432178
Shelby10402160
Brown10094145
Highland9746151
Fulton9726154
Guernsey9683122
Defiance9567137
Logan9470147
Clinton9428132
Mercer9099112
Madison9032111
Preble8524170
Williams8305138
Putnam8069136
Champaign8040113
Ottawa7971123
Jackson7848121
Perry7514102
Coshocton7411136
Morrow729184
Fayette715992
Pike666689
Hardin6564133
Gallia638891
Adams6227127
Van Wert6065121
Henry602596
Hocking5918105
Wyandot503594
Carroll5009101
Holmes4880167
Paulding426465
Meigs400974
Monroe316468
Harrison299162
Noble296952
Morgan292748
Vinton258646
Unassigned08
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