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May 17, 2018
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President Trump's attorney Michael Cohen worked behind the scenes to negotiate a business venture in Moscow long after Trump denied financial involvement with Russia, BuzzFeed News reported Thursday, citing internal emails, text messages, and other documents. Cohen's machinations apparently included trying to arrange a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Cohen and Felix Sater, a developer who often worked with the Trump Organization, wanted to license the Trump name to a building that would be called Trump World Tower Moscow, which would have netted at least $100 million for both the Trump Organization and Cohen and Sater.

After several months of back-and-forth negotiations with Russian officials tied to the Kremlin, Sater, and Cohen thought they could pull off a lucrative deal, and wanted to arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin to finalize things. Sater, who was born in the Soviet Union and became a federal informant after escaping stock fraud charges, tried to secure funding and approval from Russian officials. In early 2016, Sater said that he had made plans to meet "with Putin's top administration people ... [t]o discuss goals, meeting agenda, and meeting time between Putin and Trump."

Cohen told the House Intelligence Committee in September that the project had been scrapped back in January 2016, but BuzzFeed News reports that he and Sater continued communicating via encrypted messages to work on Trump Tower Moscow. In June 2016, Cohen accepted an invitation to Russia, where he was told he would meet Putin or other top officials, but he reportedly eventually abandoned the plan. Soon afterward, Trump tweeted that he had "ZERO investments in Russia." Read more at BuzzFeed News. Summer Meza

8:02 a.m. ET
Molly Riley/AFP/Getty Images

Retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) says President Trump offered him, and he declined, the U.S. ambassadorship to Australia, lending some credence to a report Monday in the The Australian Financial Review that Trump was considering a high-profile senator to assuage the bruised feelings in Canberra that Trump had switched his nominee for ambassador to Australia, Adm. Harry Harris, to the South Korea portfolio. Along with Corker, the Financial Review named Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) as possible consolation prizes.

"I had a number of conversations with both President Trump and (Secretary of State Mike) Pompeo," Corker told The Tennessean. "At the end of the day though ... it just felt like it wasn't the right step." Hatch said through a spokesman that he isn't interested, either. The 84-year-old senator is looking forward to "a well-deserved retirement filled with early bird specials at all-you-can-eat buffets and long walks through Costco," Hatch spokesman Matt Whitlock said Tuesday. That leaves Flake — though given his frosty relationship with Trump, it seems unlikely Trump would offer him such a plum job. Peter Weber

7:15 a.m. ET

The Washington Post has documented more than 3,000 false or misleading claims President Trump has made during his time in office, but that hasn't stopped him from frequently attacking news organizations as "fake" and "failing," even as he apparently revels in their attention. 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl asked Trump about his frequent press-bashing before her interview with him right after the 2016 election, she explained at the Deadline Club Awards in New York on Monday. His answer stuck with her.

Stahl's 13 Emmys didn't prevent Trump from attacking the press, even though there were no cameras on and it was just Stahl and her boss in Trump's office, she explained to PBS NewsHour's Judy Woodruff and the audience. "I said, you know that is getting tired, why are you doing this? You're doing it over and over and it's boring. ... He said, 'You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.' He said that. So put that in your head for a minute." You can watch her comments and the rest of their conversation below. Peter Weber

6:27 a.m. ET

On Wednesday, after 13 hours of meeting behind closed doors, the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, removed prominent Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson as president "for the benefit of the future mission of the seminary." Patterson, 75, is at the center of what's being described as a #MeToo moment in the Southern Baptist Convention, America's largest Protestant body. Earlier this month, two recordings emerged of Patterson, one from 2000 in which he talked about counseling a woman being physically abused to stay in the relationship and pray for her "abusive husband," and another, from 2014, in which he discussed a 16-year-old girl in a biblically and morally questionable manner.

The recordings prompted more than 1,400 Southern Baptist women to call for Patterson's resignation, and on Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that Patterson had urged one woman in 2003 to forgive the man who raped her, a fellow student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and told her not to report the incident to police, before suspending her for two years.

Kevin Ueckert, chairman of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary board, said the trustees had decided to appoint D. Jeffrey Bingham, dean of the seminary's school of theology, as interim president and "appoint Dr. Patterson as president emeritus with compensation, effective immediately." Patters and his wife will also be allowed to retire on campus, on the grounds of the near-complete Baptist Heritage Library, as offered last September.

Washington University's R. Marie Griffith called Patterson's ouster a "turning point moment" for Southern Baptists. "The tide has shifted so strongly on these issues of sexual harassment and assault, all I can think is: Enough leaders knew they'd really be condemned and look terrible if they stood up for him at this point," she told the Post. Peter Weber

5:12 a.m. ET

On Tuesday, Stephen Colbert revealed that his autism research fundraising offer — spend one taping of The Late Show under his desk — had raised $451,000, and he introduced the raffle winner, Rachel Olmer, who was, in fact, under his desk. Colbert spent much of his monologue on an unfortunate bit of graduation cake censorship by a Publix grocery store, but he let Olmer tell the punch line to a joke about President Trump shunning "anti-virus protection" on his smartphones.

Olmer was joined under Colbert's desk by Jon Stewart, who described the shared quarters as "cozy." But the show had to go on, so Colbert tried to do a bit about Barack and Michelle Obama signing on as Netflix producers — "After the last year and a half I would totally binge-watch a show called A Single Still Image of the Obamas for an Hour," he joked — but finally gave up after Stewart continually upstaged him with apocryphal stories of the royal wedding, a shuriken, and a game of Twister. Watch below. Peter Weber

4:32 a.m. ET

Tuesday was another milestone "on Trump's highway to American greatness," because President Trump "has ordered the people investigating him to investigate their investigation of him," Stephen Colbert said on The Late Show. "Some people are calling this a constitutional crisis, but I don't know about that. A constitutional crisis technically requires that one branch of the government push back against another branch of the government. Everybody here is pushing in the same direction, and it's down — with a pillow over the Constitution's face, going 'Shhhhh, it'll be over soon.'"

Colbert ran the story back to May 2016, read Trump's recent tweets about a "spy" in his campaign, and returned to Monday's high-stakes White House meeting with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray, where Trump pushed them to divulge classified information about a covert U.S. intelligence asset. "And here's the thing: They're gonna do it. They're gonna show the evidence to congressional Republicans — and no Democrats — but it's not political, it's all perfectly innocent, according to Trump lawyer and man seeing the evidence against Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani."

Giuliani said Trump is acting not in his capacity as subject of the investigation but as president. "Yes, Donald Trump is kind of wearing two hats in this investigation," Colbert said. "One is president, the other is criminal." You can see an image of both hats below.

But The Late Show has one way to short-circuit this crisis — it has found Trump's "mole." Peter Weber

3:51 a.m. ET

Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy has subpoenaed The Associated Press over hacked emails it obtained about his apparently successful efforts to sour President Trump on Qatar while Broidy and a partner, George Nader, solicited business with Qatar's Gulf rivals Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. According to the emails, Broidy met with Trump about Qatar on Dec. 2, 2017, and a few days later, the UAE awarded Broidy a five-year, $600 million intelligence contract.

Oddly, on Nov. 30, 2017, as New York's Paul Campos points out, Broidy wired $200,000 to a law firm that transferred it to a lawyer representing former Playboy model Shera Bechard (and also Stormy Daniels), the first installment of a $1.6 million hush agreement he had reached with Bechard through his lawyer in this one case, Michael Cohen. When The Wall Street Journal confronted Broidy about the payment in April, he readily confessed to an extramarital affair with Bechard that ended in pregnancy and an abortion. On Tuesday night, MSNBC's Chris Hayes explained some other strange coincidences.

Two weeks ago, Campos laid out a detailed circumstantial case that it was Trump, not Broidy, who had an affair with Bechard. "If it's difficult to imagine Broidy being willing to take the fall for Trump's affair with Bechard and then paying her a seven-figure sum, it's much simpler to imagine it simply as a perfectly timed and fantastically profitable bribe," Campos wrote Tuesday.

"If I had to guess, I'd say that Cohen, as usual, got the job of dealing with Bechard's demands," Kevin Drum speculated at Mother Jones. "But he didn't want the money to come from Trump, even under a phony name, now that Robert Mueller was scouring every inch of Trump's business. Somehow this reached Broidy's ears — he and Cohen were both deputy finance chairs of the RNC at the time — and he offered to help." We may never know if this is true," he adds, "but it seems pretty plausible." Peter Weber

2:20 a.m. ET
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Texas Democrats narrowly chose former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez over Andrew White in Tuesday's gubernatorial primary runoff election, and in the state's highest-profile contest, attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher trounced liberal activist Laura Moser in the Democratic runoff in the Houston-area 7th congressional district. Fletcher, a former Planned Parenthood board member backed by the Democratic Party, will take on Rep. John Culberson (R) for a House seat Democrats hope to flip in November.

Valdez, the first openly gay gubernatorial nominee in Texas and the first Latina nominee, faces Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who has high approval ratings and a $41 million war chest. Only 430,000 Democrats voted in the gubernatorial runoff, compared with the 1 million who voted in the March Democratic primary, The Texas Tribune sighs, making it both "the largest primary-to-runoff decline — and the smallest number of ballots cast — in the 14 Democratic gubernatorial primary runoffs held since 1920."

In other notable races, Democratic former Air Force intelligence officer Gina Ortiz Jones beat former high school teacher Rick Treviño and will take on Rep. Will Hurd (R) in the fall. And in the race to replace Rep. Lamar Smith (R), Republican Chip Roy, a former chief of staff for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), will face Democrat Joseph Kopser, a tech entrepreneur. Peter Weber

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