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Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen, once foes, talk Trump

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Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen, once foes, talk Trump

“My battle is just now starting,” Daniels tells Cohen in their first ever conversation, referring to litigation she said had been in a holding pattern before Trump left office. “People are really upset, and they’re just going to get more pissed off at me.”

Cohen, in keeping with the title of his program, apologizes for “the needless pain” he put Daniels through when he arranged a $130,000 payment during the 2016 presidential campaign to keep her quiet about an alleged dalliance with Trump a decade earlier. Trump has denied the affair.

“Both of our stories will be forever linked with Donald Trump, but also with one another,” Cohen tells her. “Thanks for giving me a second chance.”

The scandal turned Stormy Daniels into a household name, and critics accused her of capitalizing on her newfound fame, including crisscrossing the country on a “Make America Horny Again” strip tour.

Federal prosecutors charged Cohen with skirting campaign contribution rules by arranging the hush-money payment to Daniels and a similar payment to Playboy model Karen McDougal. He pleaded guilty to those counts — as well as lying to Congress and tax evasion — and was sentenced to three years in federal prison.

Cohen has been producing his podcast from his Manhattan apartment, where he is serving the remainder of his sentence after he was released for a second time in July as part of an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 in federal prisons. The podcast is distributed by LiveXLive’s PodcastOne and produced by Audio Up.

Cohen and Daniels are united not only in infamy but deep regret over Trump. Despite the publicity boom — a windfall that included a bestselling book — Daniels said she longs for life before her allegations launched her into the zeitgeist.

“I got to go places I would never get to go,” she tells Cohen. “But overall, if I could just wave a magic wand and make everything go back to the way it was before, I would absolutely do that.”

Daniels said the waning weeks of Trump’s presidency felt like the “eye of the storm.” The death threats — and headlines — had subsided as she remained in a sort of legal limbo.

But now she’s braced for a “second wave” of controversy, including a defamation lawsuit she brought against Trump that she has taken all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Daniels sued Trump for defamation after the then-president commented on Twitter that a man she said had threatened her was “nonexistent.” She appealed a lower court’s decision to dismiss the case and an order to pay Trump nearly $300,000 in attorneys’ fees.

The lawsuit is among a minefield of legal issues Trump faces after leaving the White House, including state investigations in New York of his business dealings.

“I’ve already lost everything,” she said, referring to her prior way of life, “so I’m taking it all the way.”

Daniels also remains a witness in a federal criminal case against her own former attorney, Michael Avenatti, who is charged with cheating her out of $300,000 in proceeds from her 2018 book, “Full Disclosure.” Avenatti has pleaded not guilty.

The hourlong interview also includes graphic descriptions of Daniels’ 2006 sexual encounter with Trump — details she said supports the veracity of her claims. She calls the encounter “the worst 90 seconds of my life, for sure, because it just made me hate myself.”

While she did not feel “physically threatened,” she said she had not expected to have sex with Trump and, at one point, thought about how to escape the room, thinking “I could definitely outrun him.”

She repressed details of the rendezvous for years, she said, adding the dynamics only came into focus after she saw the movie “Bombshell” about the sexual harassment women underwent in meetings with former Fox News executive Roger Ailes.

“I didn’t say anything for years because I didn’t remember,” she said.

For Daniels, life after Trump has also included a new passion for ghost hunting and a related show, “Spooky Babes,” inspired by the “extremely haunted” house that bedeviled her in New Orleans’ Garden District.

“I’ve been face to face with evil in the most intimate way,” Daniels said. “Demons don’t scare me anymore.”

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Your All-Purpose Wonk’s Guide to Why D.C. Statehood Is So Hard

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D.C. Guy going into the cavern

But as the New York Times reported Thursday, the Biden White House is now looking at S. 51 much as a parent, working to put a holiday toy together, who discovers that there are missing nuts, screws that don’t fit the holes and pieces of the gift that simply do no align with each other.

If you want to know why statehood for the District of Columbia isn’t going to happen anytime soon, think of an old children’s board game called “Chutes and Ladders”—except the board is only chutes. Because of its peculiar status, turning D.C. into a state is technically much harder than admitting the previous 37—and each problem solved presents a new obstacle, either legal or political.

What do those obstacles look like? To understand, follow me down the path to a brick wall.

The federal district was established in 1790 in accordance with the constitutional imperative that the seat of the federal government be under the control of the Congress, rather than any other entity. (It’s right there in Article I, Section 8.) The reason, as James Madison explained in Federalist 43, was that the federal government had to be independent of any one state’s supervision. The district—to be no more than 10 square miles—was situated on its spot on the Potomac River as a compromise between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, with George Washington himself surveying the territory.

Over the years, D.C. has been given dollops of political power in the form of its own mayor and City Council. Most significantly, in 1961, the ratification of the 23rd Amendment granted the district votes in the Electoral College, equal to the number accorded the least populous state. But the idea of simply turning the District of Columbia into a state by statute, the way every other new state joined, has often been seen as a constitutional impossibility. Attorneys general ranging ideologically from Robert F. Kennedy to Ed Meese have weighed in on the same side of this argument: Because the federal district was created by the Constitution, only an amendment to the Constitution could turn it into a state; and only an amendment could grant D.C. votes in the House and Senate. (That latter idea was proposed in 1978 but fell short of state ratification.)

“Aha!” proponents said. “We’ve figured out how to remove this obstacle.” The idea, which seems to have emerged around 1980, was to create a new “federal enclave” by carving out a tiny portion of the city—Capitol Hill, the Supreme Court, the National Mall, the White House—to remain as the constitutional capital. There have long been arguments to make the federal district smaller, dating as far back as 1803, through “retrocession,” the returning of parts of Washington to Virginia (which happened in 1847) and to Maryland (which Sen. Mitt Romney is currently proposing as an alternative to statehood). But rather than be absorbed by a neighboring state, the rest of D.C., the residential and commercial swaths of a big and vibrant city, would become a new state, renamed “Washington, Douglass Commonwealth,” keeping its acronym but replacing the name of a European explorer with that of a famed abolitionist whose house still sits within the city limits.

That’s what the House of Representative approved on a party-line vote last month.

As this nifty solution was moving through the House, a number of people began to notice a pesky complication. The 23rd Amendment says “the district constituting the seat of government of the United States shall appoint” presidential electors in a manner requiring ultimate congressional approval. Under the statehood bill just passed, the new city of “Washington, Douglass Commonwealth” would get three electors, just like the other low-population states—but according to the 23rd Amendment, that tiny strip of land designated as the new “federal district” would also have three electoral votes. And depending on how specifically the lines of this remnant are drawn, it’s possible that the only residents of that zone would be the First Family. By tradition, the presidential family votes back home, so these electors would either be chosen personally by the president, or perhaps the homeless people claiming this zone as their residence, or perhaps by opportunistic partisans camping on the mall simply to pull the electors one way or the other.

Depending how the lines were drawn, it’s possible that a few current Washingtonians would find themselves living in this new district, in which case three electors would be chosen by the residents of a handful of apartment buildings. But the essential point is that these electoral votes would be cast by more or less nobody. It would turn the federal district into a modern-day equivalent of the old “rotten boroughs” of British Parliamentary infamy, with so few voters that the seat was effectively filled at the pleasure of the local lord.

For Democrats who have long fumed at the way the Constitution gives outsize power to smaller states, this would be the ultimate irony: They’d be creating the single most outrageous case in the country. It’s one thing to point out that Wyoming has one elector for every 150,000 voters, while California has one for every 540,000. But the idea that three people, or 20, or a few hundred, would control three electoral votes is absurd.

It also raises one of the many political friction points around D.C. statehood. Small-state Republicans already hate the idea of giving any electoral power to such a Democratic-leaning city. Would you like to be, say, Montana Sen. Jon Tester, facing a difficult reelection, defending a vote that would grant a new state of Washington, Douglas Commonwealth, plus the new sliver of a federal district a total of six electoral votes—twice the number of his own state?

“No problem!” say proponents like Eleanor Holmes Norton, who serves as D.C.’s nonvoting representative in the House. All you need to do is repeal the 23rd Amendment; state legislatures will be eager to eliminate those three (likely Democratic) electoral votes. A provision in the statehood bill includes “fast-tracking” repeal.

Let’s come back to planet Earth. Is it likely that three-fourths of the state legislatures—more than half of which are controlled by Republicans—would be eager to ease the way to statehood for the District of Columbia, with its virtually automatic two new Democratic senators? Or would Republicans be more likely to point to the 23rd Amendment as a powerful case against moving forward on the House-passed bill? (It’s a lot better argument than the spurious notions that D.C. can’t be a state because it doesn’t have farms or factories.)

As for the ideas floating around the White House—automatically delivering the new seat of government’s three votes to the national popular vote winner, or to the Electoral College winner—the courts might have something to say about constitutionally stripping even a handful of voters of the power to direct their electoral votes to the candidate of their choice.

Indeed, when I asked one strong advocates of statehood if there were serious constitutional roadblocks, he said, “Yes—but don’t tell anybody!”

It’s too late for that, of course. People know. And what it looks like is that any “solution” to D.C. statehood, like other progressive wishes (passing voting rights by killing the filibuster) requires the same kind of solution that economists use to fix a leak: “First, assume a wrench.”

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‘I have reassessed’: Former Pentagon official now says Trump may not have incited riot

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‘I have reassessed’: Former Pentagon official now says Trump may not have incited riot

Miller echoed the same message.

“I had all the authority I needed, and I knew what had to happen,” the former defense official said, adding that Trump had given him that authority in the days before the riot.

“I think that the lack of direct communication from President Trump speaks volumes,” Maloney said.

Sparks flew between Democrats on the panel and the Trump appointees as lawmakers accused Miller of changing his account to sound more favorable to Trump and faulted Rosen for refusing to discuss his conversations with the president, as well as for dramatic events at the Justice Department in the days leading up to the riot.

While Miller said in a media interview and in his prepared statement for Wednesday’s hearing that Trump encouraged the protesters on Jan. 6, he took a different tack in his live testimony.

“I think now I would say that is not the unitary factor at all…I have reassessed,” Miller said. “It seems clear there was an organized assault element in place that was going to assault regardless of what the president said.”

Miller also went further than Rosen, seemingly defending Trump by insisting that the former president fulfilled his constitutional duties in connection with the storming of the Capitol, which took place as Congress was scheduled to certify the electoral vote.

When asked to assess whether heated political rhetoric was to blame for the riot, Miller painted in very broad strokes and didn’t point a finger at Trump. “I think the entire entertainment, media, political complex is culpable in creating this environment that is just intolerable and needs to change,” the former defense chief said.

When Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) said Miller had reversed himself, Miller replied: “Absolutely not. That’s ridiculous.”

“You’re ridiculous,” Lynch shot back.

“Thank you for your thoughts,” Miller responded.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) also lambasted Miller over his claims that he is proud of “every decision” he made on Jan. 6.

“I have never been more offended on this committee by a witness statement than yours. You were more concerned about defending your own reputation and justifying your own actions than the sanctity of this Capitol and the sanctity of our democracy,” Khanna said.

When Miller began his answer by praising the service of the troops at the Capitol, Khanna cut him off: “Your pugnacious style is not going to override the democratic process. Learn to respect it.”

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) seemed angry about Miller‘s stance.

“It’s almost like the military saying, ‘Sure, we lost the battle, but we carried out our plan perfectly,’“ Quigley said. “I had colleagues saying, when does the f-ing cavalry get here? You lost and you don’t have the intestinal fortitude to own up to your part of the responsibility.“

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) suggested Miller was shifting his position to curry favor with Trump. “Maybe the wrath of Donald Trump came down upon you,” she said. “That is disgusting.“

Rosen, who has been publicly silent since Jan. 6 except for a couple of written statements and a prerecorded Justice Department video released a week after the riot, said Justice officials he did not name had instructed him not to speak about his conversations with Trump.

“I cannot tell you, consistent with my obligations today, about private conversations with the president one way or another,” Rosen said in response to a question from Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) about whether Trump had pressed him to take action on election fraud claims.

“We had an unprecedented insurrection that led to seven deaths. Five here and two suicides, and you are saying this is a privileged communication?” Connolly replied. “I think the American people are entitled to answer, Mr. Rosen.”

Rosen suggested he might relay his conversations with Trump if he had permission to do so. A Justice Department spokesperson had no immediate comment on what instructions the agency gave to Rosen, who was deputy attorney general in the last two years of the Trump administration and became acting head of the department when Attorney General Bill Barr resigned on Dec. 24, 2020.

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) pressed Rosen on whether Black protesters would’ve been treated similarly by law enforcement as the predominantly white crowd that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6

“I think our preparation and our responses would’ve been the same,” Rosen said.

“I’m going to have to disagree with you,” declared Bush, who was a Black Lives Matter organizer before winning election to the House last year. “The contrast is stark.”

The lawmakers who led off questioning for Republicans at the hearing seemed intent on minimizing the gravity of the events at the Capitol. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) argued that the shooting of protester Ashli Babbitt as she sought to breach a lobby outside the House chamber was unwarranted.

“Who executed Ashli Babbitt?” Gosar asked. “The truth is being censored and covered up. As a result, the DOJ is harassing peaceful patriots across the country.”

Gosar argued that the massive Justice Department effort to prosecute those who breached the Capitol and fought with police amounted to overkill aimed at persecuting “Trump voters.”

“The FBI is fishing through the homes of veterans and citizens with no criminal record and restricting the liberties of individuals that have never been accused of a crime,” Gosar said. “The government even enlisted Americans to turn in their own neighbors.”

Gosar also suggested that none of the protesters who entered the Capitol had a weapon. Prosecutors have claimed that firearms were brought into the Capitol, but they have not said that guns were actually seized in the building.

Video of the riot shows some who battled with police wore trademark Trump campaign Make America Great Again caps and waved huge pro-Trump flags. However, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) disputed press reports that those who sought to breach the Capitol were backers of Trump.

“I don’t know who did the poll to say they were Trump supporters,” Norman said.

Several Democrats tried to rebut the Republican stance by citing then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s pointed rebuke of Trump in January for fueling the attack on the Capitol.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said Trump’s culpability for the assault was indisputable.

“He pointed them like a loaded pistol at the capitol. Now, we’re getting this outrageous Orwellian revisionist history,” Raskin said.

Despite the sharp criticism Miller took from Democrats, he did seem to break with Republicans seeking to minimize the events of Jan. 6. “I agree it was an act of terrorism,” he said.

Lara Seligman contributed to this report.

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Dozens killed in Mideast conflict that recalls 2014 Gaza war

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Dozens killed in Mideast conflict that recalls 2014 Gaza war

Palls of gray smoke rose in Gaza, as Israeli airstrikes struck apartment towers and blasted multiple Hamas security installations. In Israel, hundreds of rockets fired by Gaza’s Hamas rulers and other militants at times overwhelmed missile defenses and sent air-raid sirens and explosions echoing across Tel Aviv, Israel’s biggest metropolitan area, and other cities.

The death toll in Gaza rose to 53 Palestinians, including 14 children and three women, according to the Health Ministry. At least 320 have been wounded, including 86 children and 39 women. Seven have been killed on the Israeli side by rocket fire, including the first death of an Israeli soldier in this round of conflict. The other deaths have been civilians, including three women and two children, one of them a 6-year-old killed in a rocket strike on an apartment building in city of Sderot. Dozens in Israel have been wounded.

There was no sign that either side is willing to back down. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to expand the offensive, saying it “will take time.” Hamas has called for a full-scale intifada, or uprising. The last such uprising began in 2000 and lasted more than five years.

The latest eruption of violence began a month ago in Jerusalem, where heavy-handed police tactics during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers ignited protests and clashes with police. A focal point was the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a site sacred to Jews and Muslims.

Hamas, claiming to be defending Jerusalem, launched a barrage of rockets at the city late Monday, escalating the ground tensions into a new Israel-Hamas punching match.

Since then, militants have fired more 1,050 rockets from Gaza, according to the Israeli military, and Israel has conducted hundreds of strikes in the tiny territory where 2 million Palestinians have lived under a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas took power in 2007. Two infantry brigades were sent to the area, indicating preparations for a possible ground invasion.

On Wednesday, Israel stepped up its targeting of Hamas’ military wing. The military and internal security agency said they carried out a “complex and first-of-its-kind operation” that killed the Hamas commander in charge of Gaza City, the highest-ranking Hamas military figure killed by Israel since 2014, and several other senior militants involved in rocket production.

Israel has struck 350 targets and killed at least 30 militants since Monday night, 14 of them on Wednesday, Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said.

In one of the fiercest attacks, Israeli fighter jets dropped two bombs on a 14-story building in Gaza City, collapsing it. The building, located on the busiest shopping street in the Roman neighborhood, housed businesses in addition to offices for Hamas’ Al-Aqsa satellite channel.

Airstrikes also brought down a 12-story office building that housed Hamas offices as well as other businesses, and heavily damaged a nine-story building with residential apartments, medical companies, a dental clinic and, Israel said, Hamas intelligence offices. In both cases, Israel fired warning shots, allowing people to flee.

Soon after, Hamas fired 100 rockets at the Israeli desert town of Beersheba in what it said was retaliation.

Samah Haboub, a mother of four in Gaza, said she was thrown across her bedroom in a “moment of horror” by an airstrike on an apartment tower next door. She and her children, ages 3 to 14, ran down the stairway of their apartment block along with other residents, many of them screaming and crying.

“There is almost no safe place in Gaza,” she said.

One strike hit a taxi in Gaza City, killing a man, woman and driver insider, and a second strike killed two men nearby on the street, witnesses who brought the bodies told The Associated Press at the hospital. Several other bystanders were wounded.

In the Israeli city of Lod, a 52-year-old Arab Israeli citizen and his 16-year-old daughter were killed when a rocket from Gaza hit the courtyard of their home. An Israeli soldier was killed in a strike by an anti-tank missile from Gaza.

The Jerusalem turmoil and the ensuing battle come at a time when the long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process is virtually non-existent, fueling Palestinian frustration.

It has been seven years since the two sides held formal negotiations. Israel’s political scene pays little attention, and the peace process was hardly an issue in the country’s recent elections. Arab nations, including several that recently reached normalization deals with Israel, rarely push for any resolution.

The result has left the nearly 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem living in a limbo.

Now the recent fighting has unleashed protests in Arab communities in Israel.

“An intifada erupted in Lod, you have to bring in the army,” the central Israeli city’s mayor, Yair Revivo, said. Lod saw heavy clashes after thousands of mourners joined a funeral for an Arab man killed the previous night, the suspect a Jewish gunman.

With the deployment of border guards in Lod and the coastal city of Acre, Netanyahu warned that he was prepared to use “an iron fist if necessary,” and urged Arab Israeli leaders to bring calm.

Still unclear is how this new outburst of fighting will effect Netanyahu’s political future. He failed to form a government coalition after inconclusive parliamentary elections in March, and now his political rivals have three weeks to try to form one.

The longer the fighting drags on, the more it could hamper their attempts at a coalition. It could also boost Netanyahu if yet another election is held, since security is his strong suit with the public.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since the Islamic militant group seized power in Gaza from rival Palestinian forces. The conflicts ended after regional and international powers persuaded both sides to accept an informal truce.

Israel faced heavy criticism over the bombing of residential buildings in Gaza during the 2014 war, one of several tactics that are now the subject of an investigation by the International Criminal Court into possible war crimes. Israel is not a member of the court and has rejected the probe.

In a brief statement, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she had noted “with great concern” the escalation of violence and “the possible commission of crimes under the Rome Statute” that established the court.

Conricus, the military spokesman, said Israeli forces have strict rules of engagement, follow international laws on armed conflict and are trying to minimize civilian casualties.

But Israel has said it has no choice because Hamas fires rockets from residential areas. Hamas has also come under international criticism over its indiscriminate rocket fire at Israeli population centers.

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