Day 477: Big mistake.

1/ In 2014, the FBI warned that Viktor Vekselberg might be acting on behalf of Russia's intelligence services, saying a foundation he controlled "may be a means for the Russian government to access our nation's sensitive or classified research, development facilities and dual-use technologies with military and commercial applications." Earlier this week Michael Avenatti released a dossier that claims Columbus Nova, a Vekselberg company, made more than eight payments to Essential Consultants, totaling more than $1 million in payments between 2016 and 2017. Essential Consultants is owned by Michael Cohen, who is Trump's personal lawyer. Avenatti suggested that the Columbus Nova funds could have been used to reimburse Cohen for the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels in exchange for her silence about her alleged affair with Trump. (NPR)

2/ AT&T paid Michael Cohen $600,000 to provide advice about the company's proposed merger with Time Warner, which required the approval from antitrust regulators. Trump had voiced opposition to the $85 billion merger on the campaign trail, and his administration ultimately opposed the deal. In a memo to employees, AT&T's CEO said they made a "big mistake" hiring Cohen for advice on working with the Trump administration. (Washington Post / Reuters)

3/ A non-partisan Washington ethics group wants Congress and the Justice Department to investigate whether Michael Cohen should have registered as a lobbyist and disclosed his work with foreign clients. (ABC News)

4/ Robert Mueller's team is investigating several Trump inauguration donors, including Andrew Intrater and Leonard Blavatnik, a dual U.S. and British citizen with business ties to Russia. Intrater is the CEO of Columbus Nova, a U.S.-based affiliate of the the Renova Group, which is controlled by Viktor Vekselberg. In particular, Intrater made a $250,000 donation to the Trump inauguration committee in early January 2017, and later made two more donations: a $35,000 to the Trump Victory fundraising committee and $29,600 to the Republican National Committee. Blavatnik gave $1 million to Trump's inaugural fund through his company, Access Industries. Mueller's team also questioned Thomas Barrack, a longtime Trump friend and confidant who oversaw the $107 million inaugural fundraising effort. (ABC News)

5/ Congress is considering a "Plan B" to protect Mueller's work if Trump fires the special counsel or Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the probe. The discussions "involve assuring the evidence is preserved and reports are done if the special counsel is fired or other political interference is undertaken by the president," Senator Richard Blumenthal said. Mitch McConnell refused to bring a Senate Judiciary Committee bill up for a floor vote last month, and House Republicans have refused to consider any legislation to protect the Mueller probe. (NBC News)

6/ Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen drafted a resignation letter and nearly quit after Trump berated her for more than 30 minutes in front of his entire Cabinet. Trump singled Nielsen out for what he called her failure to secure the nation's borders after illegal crossings along the Mexico border topped 50,000 for the second consecutive month. Sarah Huckabee Sanders described Trump's tirade as his commitment "to fixing our broken immigration system and our porous borders." (New York Times / Washington Post / Politico)

7/ A White House official mocked John McCain's brain cancer diagnosis, saying his opposition to Trump's nominee for CIA director "doesn't matter, he's dying anyway." The White House didn't deny special assistant Kelly Sadler's comment about McCain's opposition to Gina Haspel. Meghan McCain called on the Trump administration to fire Sadler, saying "I don't understand what kind of environment you're working in when that would be acceptable and then you can come to work the next day and still have a job." (The Hill / CNN)

poll/ 44.7% of independent voters in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin believe Robert Mueller is more honest and trustworthy than Trump – up 4 points since February. Overall, 37.8% of voters in the four swing states say Trump is more honest and trustworthy, while 37.3% say Mueller is. (Axios / Firehouse Strategies)


Notables.

  1. John Kelly claims he's never seriously considered leaving his job as Trump's chief of staff. Kelly suggested that he is in lock-step with Trump and has a close relationship. "In retrospect, I wish I had been here from day one," Kelly said. "I think in some cases in terms of staffing or serving the president that first six months was pretty chaotic and there were people some people hired that maybe shouldn't have." (NPR)

  2. Kelly said undocumented immigrants coming to the U.S. "don't integrate well [because] they don't have skills" to assimilate into "our modern society." Kelly previously criticized undocumented immigrants as being "too afraid" or "too lazy" to sign up for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. (CNN)

  3. Trump's new national security adviser disbanded the global health security team a day after the World Health Organization declared a new Ebola outbreak in the Congo. John Bolton's restructuring of the team, intended to "streamline" the National Security Council and "combine a handful of offices with similar mission sets," caused Tim Ziemer, head of global health security and biodefense, to resign. Ziemer was responsible for leading the U.S. response to global pandemic diseases. Nobody is taking over his role. (Washington Post / The Atlantic / HuffPost)


Watching.

A list of stories I'm keeping an eye on.

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