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The Latest News about Government and Politics

    As President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday by a federal judge, prosecutors in New York revealed that the publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid, American Media Inc., had admitted paying $150,000 to a former Playboy model, in order to insure that her story of an affair with Mr. Trump would not become public before the 2016 election. “AMI admitted that it made the $150,000 payment in concert with a candidate’s presidential campaign, and in order to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York stated. The feds made clear the financial transaction was completed for only one reason: “AMI further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election,” read the “Statement of Admitted Facts” agreed to by the feds and AMI. The candidate involved in the story was President Trump – the person helping negotiate the deal was Cohen, and the head of AMI was Trump ally, David Pecker. In the ‘Admitted Facts’ laid out on Wednesday, Pecker acknowledged having a meeting around August of 2015 with Cohen – and one unidentified member of the Trump campaign – in which “Pecker offered to help deal with negative stories about that presidential candidate’s relationships with women, by among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided.” That’s what happened with the case of Karen McDougal, a Playboy model who has claimed she had an affair with the President. In June 2016, McDougal thought she was selling the rights to her story to be published in the National Enquirer – instead, AMI was looking out for the President. “Following the interview, AMI communicated to Cohen that it would acquire the story to prevent its publication,” the feds stipulated about AMI’s role. The U.S. Attorney’s office announced that officials had agreed not to prosecute AMI for that $150,000 transaction on behalf of Cohen and President Trump, even though it amounted to a violation of federal campaign finance laws. SDNY says it reached a non-prosecution agreement with AMI in connection with the $150k McDougal payment. 'AMI further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman’s story *so as to prevent it from influencing the election.'* pic.twitter.com/NpP1uGGyZC — Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) December 12, 2018 Pecker’s role in the McDougal story did not end with the $150,000 payment, as in the late stages of the 2016 campaign, Cohen moved to buy the ‘limited life rights’ to the McDougal story from AMI for $125,000. But in October of 2016, Pecker backed off – even after signing an agreement with Cohen which utilized a fake payment explanation through a shell company set up by the President’s personal lawyer. “At no time did AMI report to the Federal Election Commission that it had made the $150,000 payment to the model,” prosecutors wrote, saying that “AMI knew that corporations such as AMI are subject to federal campaign finance laws.” In other words – the feds saw this hush money transaction as a contribution to President Trump’s campaign – by keeping the women’s story out of the headlines. Reporters immediately went back to 2016 to dig up denials by AMI that it had been involved in these kinds of actions. American Media to WSJ in 2016: 'AMI has not paid people to kill damaging stories about Mr. Trump.' Fed prosecutors in 2018: 'AMI admitted that it made the $150,000 payment…in order to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate.' — Joe Palazzolo (@joe_palazzolo) December 12, 2018 The process is known as “catch and kill” – and was documented just before the election by the Wall Street Journal, and then in recent months by the New Yorker magazine. It was not immediately clear if AMI – and Pecker – were in a position to offer other important information to investigators about President Trump and/or his campaign. “The writing’s on the wall,” said Rep. Denny Heck (D-NV) of the President’s legal situation on CNN. “The walls are closing in.”
  • Senators are expected to vote Thursday on a resolution that would call on the U.S. to pull assistance from the Saudi-led war in Yemen, a measure that would rebuke Saudi Arabia after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Senate may also consider a separate resolution condemning the journalist's killing as senators have wrestled with how to respond to the Saudi journalist's murder. U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman must have at least known of the plot, but President Donald Trump has been reluctant to pin the blame. Senators voted 60-39 on Wednesday to open debate on the Yemen resolution, signaling there is enough support to win the 50 votes needed. But it's unclear how amendments to the measure could affect the final vote, which is expected to come Thursday. While enough Republicans support the resolution, which was sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and most other Republicans oppose it. 'I think every single member of this body shares grave concerns about the murder of Khashoggi and wants accountability,' McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor Wednesday morning. 'We also want to preserve a 70-year partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and we want to ensure it continues to serve American interests and stabilizes a dangerous and critical region.' Senators have been enraged by Khashoggi's October killing and the White House response, and that outrage prompted several Republicans to support the Yemen resolution because it would be seen as a rebuke to the longtime ally. Others already had concerns about the war in Yemen, which human rights groups say is wreaking havoc on the country and subjecting civilians, many of them children, to indiscriminate bombing and disease. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, is preparing the separate, alternate resolution condemning the journalist's killing. McConnell urged senators to vote for Corker's measure, which he said 'does a good job capturing bipartisan concerns about both the war in Yemen and the behavior of our Saudi partners more broadly.' Corker has not released the full text of that resolution. It appears unlikely that the House would be willing to consider either measure. House leaders added a provision to an unrelated House rule that would make it harder for lawmakers there to call up a Yemen resolution if the Senate passes it. The rule barely passed, 206-203, after Democrats railed against the Yemen provision. CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed House leaders on the Khashoggi slaying on Wednesday, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis are scheduled to brief the full House on Thursday. Pompeo and Mattis briefed the Senate last month and told senators that there was 'no direct reporting' or 'smoking gun' to connect the crown prince to Khashoggi's death at a Saudi consulate in Turkey. But a smaller group of senators leaving a separate briefing with Haspel days later said there was 'zero chance' the crown prince wasn't involved. Khashoggi, who had lived in the U.S. and wrote for The Washington Post, had been critical of the Saudi regime. He was killed in what U.S. officials have described as an elaborate plot as he visited the consulate in Istanbul for marriage paperwork. Pressed on a response to the slaying, Trump has been reluctant to condemn the crown prince. He said the United States 'intends to remain a steadfast partner' of the country, touted Saudi arms deals worth billions of dollars to the U.S. and thanked the country for plunging oil prices. Saudi prosecutors have said a 15-man team sent to Istanbul killed Khashoggi with tranquilizers and then dismembered his body, which has not been found. Those findings came after Saudi authorities spent weeks denying Khashoggi had been killed in the consulate. Whatever is passed this month, lawmakers in both chambers have signaled that they will continue to press Saudi Arabia next year. The top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, is pushing tough legislation with a growing bipartisan group of senators that would halt arms sales and impose sanctions, to send what he called a 'global message' to not just the Saudis but also to other regimes. 'Just because you're our ally, you can't kill with impunity,' Menendez said. 'The current relationship with Saudi Arabia is not working,' said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who supports Menendez's measure and is expected to become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2019. 'You're never going to have a relationship with the United States Senate unless things change.' House Democrats are also expected to keep the issue alive when they take the majority in January. The top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, California Rep. Adam Schiff, said he intends to lead a 'deep dive' into Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the likely incoming chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he would hold hearings on Saudi Arabia early next year. ___ Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Kevin Freking and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.
  • The Trump administration wants to see an increase in U.S. investment and trade in Africa as part of a new strategy aimed at countering China's growing influence on the continent National security adviser John Bolton is expected to lay out priorities Thursday for what the administration calls 'the continent of the future' during remarks at the Heritage Foundation. Critics are skeptical because it has taken so long into the presidency to announce the initiative and Trump has made disparaging remarks about a region that is home to 1.2 billion people. Addressing members of Congress on Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State Tibor Nagy warned of China's increasing economic, military and political influence in Africa, a continent with some of the world's fastest-growing economies and trillions of dollars' worth of natural resources. 'One of the things that really, really irritated me during my trips to Africa is you go to an African city and there is a stadium invariably built by the Chinese,' Nagy told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He said African countries will benefit from increased investment by U.S. companies and projects that will create jobs and bring higher environmental and business standards. 'We must remain a positive alternative and make clear that engaging with the United States will mean greater prosperity and security for Africa,' Nagy said. 'Our potential in Africa is limitless.' Africa is facing a 'demographic tsunami,' he said, with the continent's population expected to double by 2050 to some 2.5 billion people, half under the age of 24. That is why, he said, it was important to create jobs and opportunities for them. Any renewed U.S. effort to counter China in Africa, however, will face some obstacles. 'The Trump administration has shown little or no serious interest in Africa and has gotten off to a rocky start in its relations,' Johnnie Carson, a former assistant secretary for African affairs during the Obama presidency, told The Associated Press. 'Unveiling a new strategy may give the administration an opportunity for a course correction, but only if it begins to take Africa seriously.' Congress passed legislation earlier this year creating a $60 billion international development agency, widely viewed as a response to Chinese overseas development programs. China opened its first overseas military base last year in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti, the site of the only permanent U.S. military base on the continent. As Beijing and others seek to grow their military presence, the U.S. is pulling back. The Pentagon in November said it planned a 10 percent cut in the U.S. Africa Command's total force of 7,200 troops, to be carried out over several years, as its global focus shifts from counterterrorism to perceived threats from Russia and China. Whatever the Trump administration's new Africa strategy, perceptions are an immediate hurdle. The president is known for his reported unflattering remarks: comparing some countries to a filthy toilet, referring to the nonexistent nation of 'Nambia' and saying Nigerians — from Africa's biggest economy and a top oil producer — would never return to their 'huts' once they saw the U.S. His first tweet as president that mentioned Africa was an inaccurate claim about alleged white-owned farm seizures in South Africa. His only other tweet mentioning Africa praised his wife during her multination visit this year. While Congress has restrained some of his administration's proposed deep cuts in foreign aid, Trump has put forth no signature Africa project and there is no sign he intends to visit. In the meantime, 'China has been doubling down on Africa across the board with a dramatic commercial strategy combined with increased arms sales, linkages to political parties and cultural exchanges,' said Grant Harris, former senior director for African affairs at the White House during the Obama administration. 'The U.S. needs to show itself to be the better long-term partner to African states.' Jennifer Cooke, director of the Institute for African Studies at George Washington University, said the U.S. should avoid trying to be too transactional. 'We are not going to beat China at its own game, which is massive investments and in infrastructure and roads, ports, railroads and vanity projects,' Cooke said. 'What sets the U.S. apart has been a broader engagement, beyond government, looking at development, civil society and, frankly, serving as something of a moral authority on human rights, democracy and governance issues.' ___ Anna reported from Johannesburg.
  • The sentencing of Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, brought a perilous investigation into the president's campaign one step closer to the Oval Office. Though Cohen broke down during his sentencing hearing Wednesday, Trump remained uncharacteristically quiet, his Twitter feed still while he ignored shouted questions about his former attorney at a White House event. But Trump has been far from silent during the monthslong Cohen saga, with the president's explanations frequently shifting as his legal exposure grew. Since the spring, Trump has gone from denying knowledge of any payments to women who claim to have been mistresses to apparent acknowledgement of those hush money settlements - though he claims they wouldn't be illegal in any case. But both Cohen and federal prosecutors said the payments were made at Trump's direction to fend off damage to his White House bid, an apparent campaign finance violation. Though prosecutors have implicated Trump in a crime, they haven't directly accused him of one, and it's hardly clear that they could bring charges even if they want to because of Justice Department protocol. Nonetheless, Trump's evolving explanations have clouded the public understanding of what occurred and are running head-on into a problematic set of facts agreed to by prosecutors, Cohen and a media company that has acknowledged participating in the hush money scheme to aid the president's campaign. 'You now have a second defendant or group of defendants saying that these payments were made for the primary purpose of influencing the election, and that it was done in coordination with Trump and his campaign,' said Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine. Trump's first explanation of the payment that would eventually help lead Cohen to a three-year prison sentence came at 35,000 feet over West Virginia. Returning to Washington on Air Force One, Trump on April 6 for the first time answered questions about the reports of $130,000 in hush money given to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, issuing a blanket denial to reporters while saying they would 'have to ask Michael Cohen.' Three days later, the FBI raided Cohen's office, seizing records on topics including a $130,000 payment to Daniels. Furious, Trump called the raid a 'disgrace' and said the FBI 'broke into' his lawyer's office. He also tweeted that 'Attorney-client privilege is dead!' The raid was overseen by the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan and arose from a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian election interference. At the time, Cohen had said he took out a personal line of credit on his home to pay Daniels days before the 2016 election without Trump's knowledge. Later that month in a free-wheeling 'Fox & Friends' interview, Trump acknowledged that Cohen represented him in the 'crazy Stormy Daniels deal.' In May, Trump and his attorneys began saying Cohen received a monthly retainer from which he made payments for nondisclosure agreements like the one with Daniels. In a series of tweets, Trump said those agreements are 'very common among celebrities and people of wealth' and 'this was a private agreement.' People familiar with the investigation say Cohen secretly recorded Trump discussing a potential payment for Karen McDougal, another woman who alleged an affair with the president, two months before the election. On the tape, Cohen is heard saying that he needed to start a company 'for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David,' a possible reference to David Pecker, Trump's friend and president of American Media Inc., the parent company of the National Enquirer. When Cohen began to discuss financing, Trump interrupted him and asked, 'What financing?' 'We'll have to pay,' Cohen responded. Prosecutors announced Wednesday that AMI acknowledged making one of those payments 'in concert' with the Trump campaign to protect him from a story that could have hurt his candidacy. The company avoided prosecution under a deal with prosecutors. In August, Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign-finance violations and other charges, saying he and Trump arranged the payment of hush money to Daniels and McDougal to influence the election. That next day, Trump argued that making the payments wasn't a crime and that the matter was a civil dispute, then took a swipe at his former employee. 'If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don't retain the services of Michael Cohen!' he tweeted. Earlier this week, Trump compared his situation to one involving President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. The Federal Election Commission, which typically handles smaller campaign-finance violations, where the actions aren't willful, with civil penalties that are typically fines, docked the Obama campaign $375,000 for regulatory civil violations. But legal analysts said the accusations against Trump could amount to a felony because they revolve around an alleged conspiracy to conceal payments from campaign contribution reports - and from voters. It remains unclear what federal prosecutors in New York will decide to do if they conclude that there is evidence that Trump himself committed a crime. The Justice Department, in opinions issued by its Office of Legal Counsel, has said a sitting president cannot be indicted because a criminal case would interfere with the duties of the commander in chief. Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, and with Mueller's office, would presumably be bound by that legal guidance unless the Justice Department were to somehow nullify the opinions. Politically, Trump's shifting claims could harm his credibility with voters, but legally they may not make much of a difference. 'It's not clear to me that he's made any false statements in legal documents that could open him to liability for perjury,' Hasen said. For the payments themselves to be a crime rather than a civil infraction, prosecutors would need to show that Trump knew that what he was doing was wrong when he directed Cohen to pay the women and that he did so with the goal of benefiting his campaign. Trump has not yet laid out a fulsome defense, though he could conceivably argue that the payments were made not for the purposes of advancing his campaign but rather to prevent sex stories from emerging that would be personally humiliating to him and harm his marriage. That argument was advanced by former Sen. John Edwards, a North Carolina Democrat, in a similar campaign finance case that went to trial. But that may be tougher for Trump than it was for Edwards given the proximity of the president's payment to the election — timing that, on its face, suggests a link between the money and his political ambitions. Still, the cases aren't always easy, as proven by the 2012 trial of Edwards. Jurors acquitted Edwards on one charge of accepting illegal campaign contributions, but couldn't reach a verdict on the five remaining counts including conspiracy and making false statements. Prosecutors elected not to retry Edwards, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004 and a candidate for president in 2004 and 2008. ___ Tucker reported from Washington. ___ Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire and Tucker at http://twitter.com/@etuckerAP
  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi all but ensured that she will become House speaker next month, quelling a revolt by disgruntled younger Democrats by agreeing to limit her tenure to no more than four additional years in the chamber's top post. Within moments of announcing Wednesday she would restrict her time in the job, seven of her critics distributed a statement promising to back the California Democrat. Democrats widely agreed that the pledge meant Pelosi had clinched a comeback to the post she held from 2007 until January 2011, the last time her party ran the House and the first time the speaker was a woman. Wednesday's accord gives Pelosi a clear path to becoming the most powerful Democrat in government and a leading role in confronting President Donald Trump during the upcoming 2020 presidential and congressional campaigns. It moves a 78-year-old white woman to the cusp of steering next year's diverse crop of House Democrats, with its large number of female, minority and younger members. The agreement also ends what's been a distracting, harsh leadership fight among Democrats that has been waged since Election Day, when they gained at least 39 seats and grabbed House control for the next Congress. It was their biggest gain of House seats since the 1974 post-Watergate election. Democrats have been hoping to train public attention on their 2019 agenda focusing on health care, jobs and wages, and building infrastructure projects. They also envision investigations of Trump, his 2016 presidential campaign and his administration. To line up support, Pelosi initially resorted to full-court lobbying by congressional allies, outside Democratic luminaries, and liberal and labor organizations. She cut deals with individual lawmakers for committee assignments and roles leading legislative efforts. But in the end, she had to make concessions about her tenure to make sure she'll win a majority — likely 218 votes — when the new House convenes Jan. 3. Democrats are likely to have 235 seats, meaning she could spare only 17 defections and still prevail if, as expected, Republicans all oppose her. Pelosi had described herself as a transitional leader over the last several weeks. But she'd resisted defining how long she would serve as speaker, saying it would lessen her negotiating leverage to declare herself a lame duck. On Wednesday, she gave in to her opponents' demands that she limit her service. Under the deal, House Democrats will vote by Feb. 15 to change party rules to limit their top three leaders to no more than four two-year terms, including time they've already spent in those jobs. 'I am comfortable with the proposal and it is my intention to abide by it whether it passes or not,' Pelosi said in her statement. Pelosi's opponents have argued it was time for younger leaders to command the party. They also said her demonization as an out-of-touch radical in tens of millions of dollars' worth of Republican television ads was costing Democrats seats. While some Democrats are still certain to vote against Pelosi — especially incoming freshmen who promised to do so during their campaigns — most Democrats have remained solidly behind her. She's been a strong fundraiser and unrelenting liberal who doesn't shy from political combat, and her backers complained that her opponents were mostly white men who were largely more moderate than most House Democrats. Pressure to back Pelosi seemed to grow after she calmly went toe-to-toe with Trump at a nationally televised verbal brawl in the Oval Office on Tuesday over his demands for congressional approval of $5 billion for his proposed border wall with Mexico. 'We are proud that our agreement will make lasting institutional change that will strengthen our caucus and will help develop the next generation of Democratic leaders,' the rebellious lawmakers said in a written statement. To be nominated to a fourth term under the agreement, Pelosi would need to garner a two-thirds majority of House Democrats. Several aides said they believed restlessness by younger members to move up in leadership would make that difficult for her to achieve. The limits would also apply to Pelosi's top lieutenants, No. 2 leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and No. 3 leader James Clyburn of South Carolina. Both are also in their late 70s. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., was among 16 Democrats who had signed a letter demanding new leadership but who ultimately helped negotiate the deal with Pelosi. Joining Perlmutter in saying they would now back her were Democratic Reps. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts; Tim Ryan of Ohio; Bill Foster of Illinois; Linda Sanchez and Rep.-elect Gil Cisernos, both of California; and Filemon Vela of Texas.
  • A California lawmaker arrested on suspicion of child cruelty said Wednesday the allegation stemmed from spanking his 7-year-old daughter. Democratic Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula said he spanked his daughter Sunday night and it's a punishment tool he rarely uses, the Fresno Bee newspaper reported . He said he has no plans to resign. 'Everyone who knows us in the community and has seen us in the community knows that I'm a loving father,' Arambula said while standing next to his wife, Elizabeth. 'I care about my daughters deeply. And I'm just going through a process and trying the best I can to be a husband and father who's putting us back together again.' Arambula is a former emergency room doctor who was elected in 2016 to represents parts of Fresno County. He has three daughters, ages 3, 6 and 7. He was arrested Monday after officials at Dailey Elementary Charter School reported a child with an injury, Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer said. Arambula said he believes his daughter went to school angry and told a teacher about what had happened. He thanked the school, child protective services and the police for doing their jobs. Arambula was released shortly after his arrest and has not been formally charged. His daughters stayed with his parents for two nights until child protective services said they could go back home Wednesday, the newspaper reported. 'There's a process to be played out, and this process played out, and they determined that the kids should go back home,' Arambula said. 'I'm excited about that. But we have a job and a responsibility to continue to be good parents, and that's what I want to work on and will strive to do.' Authorities will check in on the Arambulas in 30 days and suggested the family seek therapy, he said. Arambula's arrest was for a misdemeanor not a felony because the injury did not require medical attention, Dyer said, according to the Bee. Spanking a child is generally legal if it's in a fleshy area such as the buttocks but not if it's in a place likely to cause injury like the face, he said. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon hasn't commented on the arrest. ___ Information from: The Fresno Bee, http://www.fresnobee.com
  • With more evidence of election fraud still surfacing in the race for North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District, the legislature in the Tar Heel State voted on Wednesday to give new powers to the state elections board, allowing the panel to call for an entirely new election – including a new primary – possibly allowing Republicans to field a new candidate for the seat in 2019. No action on the race – in which Republican Mark Harris defeated Democrat Dan McCready by just 905 votes – has yet been taken by the North Carolina State Board of Elections, which is set to hold a new hearing before December 21; the Governor must decide whether to sign this new bill by December 22. The actions by the state legislature came as new evidence has emerged of possible absentee ballot fraud, including charges that a GOP operative may have been in possession of hundreds of ballots, and that preliminary totals of absentees in one county were tallied before Election Day, a violation of state law. Well, looks like there will be a primary in the #nc09 after all #StayTuned pic.twitter.com/aDJXnURV1I — Michael Bitzer (@BowTiePolitics) December 12, 2018 Under North Carolina law as currently written, the board of elections can only order a new election with the same candidates involved – but Republicans are worried that Harris – who also faces questions about possible fraud in the GOP primary – might be too tainted because of his ties to McRae Dowless, who was running some kind of absentee ballot operation in rural Bladen County for the Harris campaign. While Harris lost the absentee-by-mail votes across the Ninth District to Democrat Dan McCready, Harris on 61 percent of those votes in Bladen County – even though registered Republicans cast only 19 percent of those specific ballots. Stories have also emerged in recent days from people who did work for Dowless, saying that he had hundreds of absentee ballots in his possession, something which is illegal under North Carolina law. Dowless has been accused of not only collecting ballots, but also possibly tampering with, and discarding them. While Harris has denied knowledge of any absentee ballot operation, the GOP winner has been quiet about the almost daily drumbeat of new information, save for a video statement made several days ago. BREAKING: We have obtained a photo of Mark Harris and McCrae Dowless together. The picture was taken in March at a political event in Bladen County. The person who took the photo has asked us to not identify them. #NC09 #ncpol @wsoctv pic.twitter.com/v4w9L6GwAa — Joe Bruno (@JoeBrunoWSOC9) December 12, 2018 If the North Carolina elections board decides to hold a new election, it would probably take months for the primary and general election – leaving that seat vacant as the 116th Congress convenes in January. So far, Democrats have not indicated whether they will investigate the election fraud questions from the November election, along with questions about possible absentee ballot fraud in the GOP primary, which saw Harris win an astounding 95 percent of the absentee-by-mail ballots in Bladen County, as he defeated incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC). Pittenger has not said if he will run again, but has raised questions about Dowless and possible fraud.
  • Winning over the votes of a last rebel group of House Democrats, Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday evening that she would agree to serve no more than four years as Speaker of the House, accepting a plan from younger lawmakers in her party which would limit senior House leadership to a maximum of eight years in those high profile positions. “I am comfortable with the proposal and it is my intention to abide by it whether it passes or not,” Pelosi said in a statement, as Democrats planned a vote by mid-February on the term limit plan. Pelosi’s agreement seems to pave the way for her to bring on board a final group of Democrats who had demanded an overhaul of their party’s leadership in the House, which is dominated by lawmakers – like Pelosi – who are in their 70’s. “I firmly believe that the reforms we have advocated for will create advancement opportunities for the next generation of Democratic leaders and will strengthen our Caucus,” said Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA). “I have pushed for new leadership because I want to see generational change in the Democratic Caucus,” said Rep. Earl Perlmutter (D-CO). “We will support and vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House in the 116th Congress,” a group including Perlmutter and six other Democratic holdouts said in a statement. BREAKING: Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, a Democrat, says she'll serve no more than four years as House speaker, all but ensuring she'll be elected to the post in January. — AP Politics (@AP_Politics) December 12, 2018 While Pelosi had easily won a vote of House Democrats after Thanksgiving to be the next Speaker, there were still questions about whether she could secure 218 votes on the floor of the House in January. This agreement will seal the deal, as Pelosi said she would serve no more than four more years as Speaker. Pelosi is the first House member to serve as Speaker – then see her party lose the minority, and return as Speaker – since Sam Rayburn did that in the mid-1950’s. While Republicans in the House had embraced term limits for committee chairs, the GOP had not applied those limits to the Speaker. Pelosi had expressed confidence that she would be able to grind out enough votes to win a floor showdown as Speaker, but in the end, she decided to cut a deal to end any suspense. “Over the summer, I made it clear that I see myself as a bridge to the next generation of leaders,” Pelosi said in a statement, “a recognition of my continuing responsibility to mentor and advance new Members into positions of power and responsibility in the House Democratic Caucus.”
  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi all but ensured Wednesday that she will become House speaker next month, quelling a revolt by disgruntled younger Democrats by agreeing to limit her tenure to no more than four additional years in the chamber's top post. Within moments of announcing she would restrict her time in the job, seven of her critics distributed a statement promising to back the California Democrat. Democrats widely agreed that the pledge meant Pelosi had clinched a comeback to the post she held from 2007 until January 2011, the last time her party ran the House and the first time the speaker was a woman. Wednesday's accord gives Pelosi a clear path to becoming the most powerful Democrat in government and a leading role in confronting President Donald Trump during the upcoming 2020 presidential and congressional campaigns. It moves a 78-year-old white woman to the cusp of steering next year's diverse crop of House Democrats, with its large number of female, minority and younger members. The agreement also ends what's been a distracting, harsh leadership fight among Democrats that has been waged since Election Day, when they gained at least 39 seats and grabbed House control for the next Congress. It was their biggest gain of House seats since the 1974 post-Watergate election. Democrats have been hoping to train public attention on their 2019 agenda focusing on health care, jobs and wages, and building infrastructure projects. They also envision investigations of Trump, his 2016 presidential campaign and his administration. To line up support, Pelosi initially resorted to full-court lobbying by congressional allies, outside Democratic luminaries, and liberal and labor organizations. She cut deals with individual lawmakers for committee assignments and roles leading legislative efforts. But in the end, she had to make concessions about her tenure to make sure she'll win a majority — likely 218 votes — when the new House convenes Jan. 3. Democrats are likely to have 235 seats, meaning she could spare only 17 defections and still prevail if, as expected, Republicans all oppose her. Pelosi had described herself as a transitional leader over the last several weeks. But she'd resisted defining how long she would serve as speaker, saying it would lessen her negotiating leverage to declare herself a lame duck. On Wednesday, she gave in to her opponents' demands that she limit her service. Under the deal, House Democrats will vote by Feb. 15 to change party rules to limit their top three leaders to no more than four two-year terms, including time they've already spent in those jobs. 'I am comfortable with the proposal and it is my intention to abide by it whether it passes or not,' Pelosi said in her statement. Pelosi's opponents have argued it was time for younger leaders to command the party. They also said her demonization as an out-of-touch radical in tens of millions of dollars' worth of Republican television ads was costing Democrats seats. While some Democrats are still certain to vote against Pelosi — especially incoming freshmen who promised to do so during their campaigns — most Democrats have remained solidly behind her. She's been a strong fundraiser and unrelenting liberal who doesn't shy from political combat, and her backers complained that her opponents were mostly white men who were largely more moderate than most House Democrats. Pressure to back Pelosi seemed to grow after she calmly went toe-to-toe with Trump at a nationally televised verbal brawl in the Oval Office on Tuesday over his demands for congressional approval of $5 billion for his proposed border wall with Mexico. 'We are proud that our agreement will make lasting institutional change that will strengthen our caucus and will help develop the next generation of Democratic leaders,' the rebellious lawmakers said in a written statement. To be nominated to a fourth term under the agreement, Pelosi would need to garner a two-thirds majority of House Democrats. Several aides said they believed restlessness by younger members to move up in leadership would make that difficult for her to achieve. The limits would also apply to Pelosi's top lieutenants, No. 2 leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and No. 3 leader James Clyburn of South Carolina. Both are also in their late 70s. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., was among 16 Democrats who had signed a letter demanding new leadership but who ultimately helped negotiate the deal with Pelosi. Joining Perlmutter in saying they would now back her were Democratic Reps. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts; Tim Ryan of Ohio; Bill Foster of Illinois; Linda Sanchez and Rep.-elect Gil Cisernos, both of California; and Filemon Vela of Texas.
  • House and Senate negotiators have reached an agreement on a bill to overhaul the process for handling sexual misconduct allegations in Congress. The bill updates the decades-old Congressional Accountability Act, which governs how lawmakers and aides report sexual misconduct claims. The law has been widely criticized as confusing, cumbersome and unfair to victims of harassment and abuse. The push for the legislation took on new urgency in the past year, as more than a half-dozen lawmakers resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct and Capitol Hill found itself squarely at the center of the growing #MeToo movement. Both chambers passed their own versions of the bill earlier in the year. But negotiations dragged on for more than six months as lawmakers tried to reconcile them. The sticking points included a $300,000 cap for lawmaker liability in the Senate's version. The language of the bill had not been released as of Wednesday evening. But according to the Senate Rules Committee, it holds lawmakers, including those who leave office, financially liable for settlements resulting from all types of harassment and retaliation, but doesn't cover discrimination claims. It also eliminates mandatory counseling, mediation and the 'cooling off' period victims are currently required to wait before filing a lawsuit or requesting an administrative hearing. The bill requires public reporting of settlements, including identifying lawmakers who are personally liable, and extends protections to include interns, fellows and other staff. House staffers will have access to legal representation, while Senate staffers will be given access to a confidential advocate able to offer legal advice but not act as a representative. The deal was announced just days before the end of the legislative calendar. 'A lot of this was our belief that we had an obligation to fix this ourselves, and while I have no doubt a new Congress could have gotten it done I think we needed to fix the mess,' said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., the Senate bill's sponsor. 'The focus was to make sure we had a system that protected victims and not politicians.' The final bill doesn't include some House measures, including making lawmakers liable for discrimination settlements and requiring an independent investigation into harassment complaints at the beginning of the process. But Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., says she's working with House Democrats and Republicans to introduce a separate bill next Congress to address those issues. Speier became a poster child for the #MeToo movement and champion of anti-harassment legislation on Capitol Hill after sharing her own story of being sexually assaulted by a high-ranking aide when she was a young staffer. 'Having spoken with many survivors, the process of going up against a lawyer for the institution and the harasser was as traumatic, if not more traumatic, than the abuse they suffered,' Speier said. 'The House has remained focused on taking a system rigged in favor of the harassers and making it more victim-centric. We are committed to offering victims the tools they need to pursue justice. We will address these issues in the next Congress.' House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., along with Committee on House Administration leadership, released a joint statement Wednesday praising the bill but acknowledging that more work lies ahead. 'The agreement reflects the first set of comprehensive reforms that have been made to the Congressional Accountability Act since 1995,' it reads. 'We believe this is a strong step toward creating a new standard in Congress that will set a positive example in our nation, but there is still more work to be done.' The statement says members of both caucuses 'remain committed to working in a bipartisan manner to address outstanding issues.

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  • As President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday by a federal judge, prosecutors in New York revealed that the publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid, American Media Inc., had admitted paying $150,000 to a former Playboy model, in order to insure that her story of an affair with Mr. Trump would not become public before the 2016 election. “AMI admitted that it made the $150,000 payment in concert with a candidate’s presidential campaign, and in order to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York stated. The feds made clear the financial transaction was completed for only one reason: “AMI further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election,” read the “Statement of Admitted Facts” agreed to by the feds and AMI. The candidate involved in the story was President Trump – the person helping negotiate the deal was Cohen, and the head of AMI was Trump ally, David Pecker. In the ‘Admitted Facts’ laid out on Wednesday, Pecker acknowledged having a meeting around August of 2015 with Cohen – and one unidentified member of the Trump campaign – in which “Pecker offered to help deal with negative stories about that presidential candidate’s relationships with women, by among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided.” That’s what happened with the case of Karen McDougal, a Playboy model who has claimed she had an affair with the President. In June 2016, McDougal thought she was selling the rights to her story to be published in the National Enquirer – instead, AMI was looking out for the President. “Following the interview, AMI communicated to Cohen that it would acquire the story to prevent its publication,” the feds stipulated about AMI’s role. The U.S. Attorney’s office announced that officials had agreed not to prosecute AMI for that $150,000 transaction on behalf of Cohen and President Trump, even though it amounted to a violation of federal campaign finance laws. SDNY says it reached a non-prosecution agreement with AMI in connection with the $150k McDougal payment. 'AMI further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman’s story *so as to prevent it from influencing the election.'* pic.twitter.com/NpP1uGGyZC — Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) December 12, 2018 Pecker’s role in the McDougal story did not end with the $150,000 payment, as in the late stages of the 2016 campaign, Cohen moved to buy the ‘limited life rights’ to the McDougal story from AMI for $125,000. But in October of 2016, Pecker backed off – even after signing an agreement with Cohen which utilized a fake payment explanation through a shell company set up by the President’s personal lawyer. “At no time did AMI report to the Federal Election Commission that it had made the $150,000 payment to the model,” prosecutors wrote, saying that “AMI knew that corporations such as AMI are subject to federal campaign finance laws.” In other words – the feds saw this hush money transaction as a contribution to President Trump’s campaign – by keeping the women’s story out of the headlines. Reporters immediately went back to 2016 to dig up denials by AMI that it had been involved in these kinds of actions. American Media to WSJ in 2016: 'AMI has not paid people to kill damaging stories about Mr. Trump.' Fed prosecutors in 2018: 'AMI admitted that it made the $150,000 payment…in order to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate.' — Joe Palazzolo (@joe_palazzolo) December 12, 2018 The process is known as “catch and kill” – and was documented just before the election by the Wall Street Journal, and then in recent months by the New Yorker magazine. It was not immediately clear if AMI – and Pecker – were in a position to offer other important information to investigators about President Trump and/or his campaign. “The writing’s on the wall,” said Rep. Denny Heck (D-NV) of the President’s legal situation on CNN. “The walls are closing in.”
  • A Kentucky woman is behind bars after police say she killed her newborn baby. According to WKYT, Amber Bowling, 21, of Manchester, has been charged with murder after police say she hid the infant in a garbage bag, then threw the child 'over the upstairs banister' of an apartment building. Police said the baby, born Sunday, was found dead Tuesday morning, WAVE reported. According to the autopsy, the newborn suffered fractures to the cranium and ribs, as well as brain bleeding, WLEX reported. >> Read more trending news  Bowling, who was arrested Wednesday, is being held in the Clay County Detention Center, according to WAVE. Read more here or here.
  • With more evidence of election fraud still surfacing in the race for North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District, the legislature in the Tar Heel State voted on Wednesday to give new powers to the state elections board, allowing the panel to call for an entirely new election – including a new primary – possibly allowing Republicans to field a new candidate for the seat in 2019. No action on the race – in which Republican Mark Harris defeated Democrat Dan McCready by just 905 votes – has yet been taken by the North Carolina State Board of Elections, which is set to hold a new hearing before December 21; the Governor must decide whether to sign this new bill by December 22. The actions by the state legislature came as new evidence has emerged of possible absentee ballot fraud, including charges that a GOP operative may have been in possession of hundreds of ballots, and that preliminary totals of absentees in one county were tallied before Election Day, a violation of state law. Well, looks like there will be a primary in the #nc09 after all #StayTuned pic.twitter.com/aDJXnURV1I — Michael Bitzer (@BowTiePolitics) December 12, 2018 Under North Carolina law as currently written, the board of elections can only order a new election with the same candidates involved – but Republicans are worried that Harris – who also faces questions about possible fraud in the GOP primary – might be too tainted because of his ties to McRae Dowless, who was running some kind of absentee ballot operation in rural Bladen County for the Harris campaign. While Harris lost the absentee-by-mail votes across the Ninth District to Democrat Dan McCready, Harris on 61 percent of those votes in Bladen County – even though registered Republicans cast only 19 percent of those specific ballots. Stories have also emerged in recent days from people who did work for Dowless, saying that he had hundreds of absentee ballots in his possession, something which is illegal under North Carolina law. Dowless has been accused of not only collecting ballots, but also possibly tampering with, and discarding them. While Harris has denied knowledge of any absentee ballot operation, the GOP winner has been quiet about the almost daily drumbeat of new information, save for a video statement made several days ago. BREAKING: We have obtained a photo of Mark Harris and McCrae Dowless together. The picture was taken in March at a political event in Bladen County. The person who took the photo has asked us to not identify them. #NC09 #ncpol @wsoctv pic.twitter.com/v4w9L6GwAa — Joe Bruno (@JoeBrunoWSOC9) December 12, 2018 If the North Carolina elections board decides to hold a new election, it would probably take months for the primary and general election – leaving that seat vacant as the 116th Congress convenes in January. So far, Democrats have not indicated whether they will investigate the election fraud questions from the November election, along with questions about possible absentee ballot fraud in the GOP primary, which saw Harris win an astounding 95 percent of the absentee-by-mail ballots in Bladen County, as he defeated incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC). Pittenger has not said if he will run again, but has raised questions about Dowless and possible fraud.
  • Winning over the votes of a last rebel group of House Democrats, Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday evening that she would agree to serve no more than four years as Speaker of the House, accepting a plan from younger lawmakers in her party which would limit senior House leadership to a maximum of eight years in those high profile positions. “I am comfortable with the proposal and it is my intention to abide by it whether it passes or not,” Pelosi said in a statement, as Democrats planned a vote by mid-February on the term limit plan. Pelosi’s agreement seems to pave the way for her to bring on board a final group of Democrats who had demanded an overhaul of their party’s leadership in the House, which is dominated by lawmakers – like Pelosi – who are in their 70’s. “I firmly believe that the reforms we have advocated for will create advancement opportunities for the next generation of Democratic leaders and will strengthen our Caucus,” said Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA). “I have pushed for new leadership because I want to see generational change in the Democratic Caucus,” said Rep. Earl Perlmutter (D-CO). “We will support and vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House in the 116th Congress,” a group including Perlmutter and six other Democratic holdouts said in a statement. BREAKING: Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, a Democrat, says she'll serve no more than four years as House speaker, all but ensuring she'll be elected to the post in January. — AP Politics (@AP_Politics) December 12, 2018 While Pelosi had easily won a vote of House Democrats after Thanksgiving to be the next Speaker, there were still questions about whether she could secure 218 votes on the floor of the House in January. This agreement will seal the deal, as Pelosi said she would serve no more than four more years as Speaker. Pelosi is the first House member to serve as Speaker – then see her party lose the minority, and return as Speaker – since Sam Rayburn did that in the mid-1950’s. While Republicans in the House had embraced term limits for committee chairs, the GOP had not applied those limits to the Speaker. Pelosi had expressed confidence that she would be able to grind out enough votes to win a floor showdown as Speaker, but in the end, she decided to cut a deal to end any suspense. “Over the summer, I made it clear that I see myself as a bridge to the next generation of leaders,” Pelosi said in a statement, “a recognition of my continuing responsibility to mentor and advance new Members into positions of power and responsibility in the House Democratic Caucus.”
  • A federal judge in New York sentenced President Donald Trump’s former long-time attorney Michael Cohen to 36 months in prison on Wednesday after he pleaded guilty to several charges earlier this year. >> Read more trending news Cohen, 52, admitted to lying last year to Congress in connection to a Trump Tower deal in Moscow after prosecutors with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team charged him with making false statements. >> Michael Cohen pleads guilty to making false statements to Congress He also pleaded guilty in August to eight charges including multiple counts of tax evasion and arranging illicit payments to silence women who posed a risk to Trump's presidential campaign. >> Trump was implicated in two felonies: What does that mean? Update 6:00 p.m. EST: President Donald Trump refused to answers questions about his former attorney Michael Cohen Wednesday after signing an executive order in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. CNN is reporting Trump ignored reporters’ questions about Cohen’s three year prison sentence handed down Wednesday in New York. CNN also reported, citing inside sources, that Trump is “seething” over the Cohen case and, again, called him “a liar.” Update 1:55 p.m. EST: Cohen prompted American Media Inc. to purchase the rights to Karen McDougal’s story about an affair she claims she had with Trump years before the 2016 presidential election, federal prosecutors with the Southern District of New York confirmed Wednesday. McDougal claimed she had a nearly year-long affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007. The rights to her story were bought in August 2016 by American Media, the publisher of the National Enquirer, the Wall Street Journal reported in July, McDougal’s story was never published. Prosecutors said Wednesday that officials previously reached a non-prosecution agreement with American Media Inc. Company officials admitted to making the $150,000 payment “in concert with a candidate’s presidential campaign and in order to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election. Cohen also paid adult film star $130,000 in exchange for her silence about an alleged sexual encounter she says she had with Trump in 2006. Prosecutors said Cohen was reimbursed for his payment to Daniels in monthly installments “disguised as payments for legal services pursuant to a retainer, when in fact no such retainer existed.” “Cohen made or caused both of these payments in order to influence  the 2016 election and did so in coordination with one or more members of the campaign,” prosecutors said in a news release. Update 12:45 p.m. EST: U.S. District Judge William Pauley said Wednesday that Cohen’s cooperation with prosecutors 'does not wipe the slate clean' of his crimes. Pauley sentenced Cohen to serve three years in prison for crimes including tax evasion, lying to Congress and arranging illicit payments to silence Daniels and McDougal. Cohen’s former attorney, Lanny Davis, said in a statement released Wednesday that Cohen “continues to tell the truth about Donald Trump’s misconduct over the years.” “Mr. Trump’s repeated lies cannot contradict stubborn facts,” Davis said. “Michael has owned up to his mistakes and fully cooperated with Special Counsel Mueller in his investigation over possible Trump campaign collusion with Russian meddling in the 2016 election.” Trump has accused Cohen of lying to authorities in order to get a lighter sentence and denied any wrongdoing. >> Cohen pleads guilty to 8 charges, says Trump told him to pay off Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal Update 12:15 p.m. EST: Cohen will be required to surrender to authorities on March 6 to serve the 36-month sentence handed down Wednesday, Bloomberg News reported. U.S. District Judge William Pauley III also required Cohen forfeit $500,000 and pay $1.4 million in restitution and $50,000 in fines, the news site reported. >> More on Robert Mueller's investigation  Update 12:05 p.m EST: U.S. District Judge William Pauley III sentenced Cohen to 36 months imprisonment and three years of supervised release after he pleaded guilty to eight charges in New York over the summer, Newsday reported. He was sentenced to two months for lying to Congress. The sentence will run concurrent with the New York sentence. “Cohen pled guilt to a veritable smorgasbord of fraudulent conduct,' Pauley said before handing down the sentence Wednesday, according to CNN.  Pauley credited Cohen for his cooperation with Mueller's team, however, he added that as an attorney, 'Mr. Cohen should have known better,' Newsday reported. Update 11:50 a.m. EST: Cohen said he takes “full responsibility” for the charges he's pleaded guilty to while addressing the court Wednesday. “This may seem hard to believe but today is one of the most meaningful days of my life,” he said, according to CNN. “I have been living in a personal and mental incarceration ever since the day that I accepted the offer to work for a real estate mogul whose business acumen that I deeply admired.' Update 11:45 a.m. EST: Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Nicolas Roos said Wednesday that Cohen's crimes carried a 'tremendous societal cost,' CNN reported. “In committing these crimes, Mr. Cohen has eroded faith in the electoral process and compromised the rule of law,” Roos said. Update 11:35 a.m. EST: Jeannie Rhee, an attorney for special counsel Robert Mueller's team, said in brief comments in court Wednesday that Cohen provided investigators with 'credible information' related to the investigation into Russian election meddling, Newsday reported. 'Mr. Cohen has sought to tell us the truth, and that is of utmost value to us,' Rhee said. Update 11:15 a.m. EST: Cohen's attorney, Guy Petrillo, said in court Wednesday that Cohen cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office 'knowing that he'd face a barrage of attack by the president,' according to the Courthouse News Service. Petrillo said Cohen “offered evidence against the most powerful person in our country,” CNN reported. Update 10:55 a.m. EST: Cohen arrived at the federal courthouse in Manhattan early Wednesday ahead of an 11 a.m. sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge William Pauley III. Original report: Federal prosecutors in New York have asked that Cohen receive a “substantial prison term” of around four years, saying in a court filing last week that he'd failed to fully cooperate with investigators and overstated his helpfulness. Cohen’s attorneys have argued for leniency, arguing that some of Cohen's crimes were motivated by overenthusiasm for Trump, rather than any nefarious intent. >> From Cox Media Group's Jamie Dupree: Feds: Manafort lied to prosecutors, Cohen should get jail time  The president has denied that he had affairs with either McDougal or Daniels, but prosecutors said Cohen orchestrated payments to the women at Trump’s direction. On Monday, the president wrote in a tweet that the payments were “a simple private transaction,” and not a campaign contribution. Trump said that “even if it was” a campaign contribution, Cohen should be held responsible. “Lawyer’s liability if he made a mistake, not me,” Trump wrote. “Cohen (is) just trying to get his sentenced reduced. WITCH HUNT!”  >> From Cox Media Group's Jamie Dupree: Denouncing Cohen, Trump disputes campaign link to payoff of women A sentence of hard time would leave Cohen with little to show for his decision to plead guilty, though experts told The Associated Press that Wednesday's hearing might not be the last word on his punishment. Cohen could have his sentence revisited if he strikes a deal with prosecutors in which he provides additional cooperation within a year of his sentence, said Michael J. Stern, a former federal prosecutor in Detroit and Los Angeles. 'Few things spark a defendant's renewed interest in cooperating faster than trading in a pair of custom Italian trousers for an off-the-rack orange jump suit,' he said. The Associated Press contributed to this report.