Why the Cohen hearing was so jaw-dropping

Image: Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal attorney, te
Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal attorney, testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Feb. 27, 2019. Copyright Andrew Caballero-Edwards AFP - Getty Images
Copyright Andrew Caballero-Edwards AFP - Getty Images
By Chuck Todd and Mark Murray and Carrie Dann with NBC News Politics
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First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.


WASHINGTON — What was extraordinary about former Trump lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen's public testimony before Congress Wednesday was his revelation that the president of the United States potentially committed illegal acts.

And that's BEFORE we even get to Robert Mueller's upcoming findings.

One Cohen bombshell from yesterday: Evidence of Trump reimbursing him (after becoming president) for a hush payment made during the 2016 campaign.

Another: Cohen admitting that Trump's lawyers helped shape his earlier false testimony to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project. (Trump's lawyers released a statement saying the allegation that they edited or changed Cohen's original statement to Congress "is completely false.")

And then there was Cohen revealing that New York prosecutors are looking at OTHERS potential wrongdoing by president, as NBC's Ken Dilanian writes.

REP. RAJA RKISHNAMOORTHI: "Is there any other wrongdoing or illegal act that you are aware of regarding Donald Trump that we haven't yet discussed today?"

COHEN: "Yes and again those are a part of the investigation that's currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York."

Talk about a "wow" moment.

But what also was extraordinary yesterday was the power that President Trump continues to hold over his party, with GOP members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee attacking Cohen as an unreliable witness (though not really attacking the evidence or allegations he presented).

The one exception was Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., who appeared to have an open mind in questioning Cohen.

The other GOP members had their minds made up - no matter what Cohen revealed (or even knocked down).

Two haunting quotes from Cohen

One was his warning to GOP lawmakers:

"I did the same thing you're doing now for 10 years. ... protecting Mr. Trump ... The more people that follow Mr. Trump blindly are going to suffer the same consequences I'm suffering."

The other was Cohen saying there won't be a peaceful transition of power if Trump loses in 2020.

"Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear if he loses the election in 2020, that there will never be a peaceful transition of power."

No deal is better than a bad deal

It was a rough 24 hours for President Trump - Cohen's testimony, no deal with North Korea. But it could have been A LOT worse.

Victor Cha, the Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and an NBC contributor, said the summit in Vietnam was "an outright failure," but he also added, per NBC's Jon Allen:

"Trump made the right decision to push for more than minimal steps and take no deal over a bad deal."


But also remember the NBC story that came out BEFORE Trump walked away: U.S. negotiators were no longer demanding that North Korea agree to disclose a full accounting of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

That would have been a disaster of a deal…

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision

Beto has made up his mind: Well, it sure sounds like Beto O'Rourke is on the cusp of announcing a presidential bid soon.

"Amy and I have made a decision about how we can best serve our country," O'Rourke said in a statement to the Dallas Morning News. "We are excited to share it with everyone soon."

Two sources familiar with O'Rourke's thinking tell NBC's Garrett Haake that the former Texas congressman will NOT be running for Senate again in 2020 (against GOP Sen. John Cornyn).


So that decision, presumably, is a White House bid.

On the trail today: Joe Biden, in Omaha, Neb., attends the Chuck Hagel Forum in Global Leadership… Kamala Harris visits Nevada.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 6 percent

That's the response rate that the Pew Research Center experienced for its telephone polls in 2018, meaning that just 6 percent of calls made to potential poll respondents yielded actual responses.

And it's down. The overall response rate for Pew was 9 percent in 2016. And back in 1997, it was a now-unthinkable 36 percent.

Pew attributes the falling rates to a series of factors, including the surge in telemarketing robocalls, caller ID and "spam"-flagging technology.


Do low response rates make polls less accurate? Not necessarily, although it often means that adjustments have to be made to the data. But the bigger issue may be that it's making telephone polling more and more expensive — which is prompting many outlets, including Pew, to move to more online polling instead.

The Lid: Lawyers, guns and money

Don't miss the pod from yesterday, which will get you all caught up with the mess in NC-9 — including an indictment for the figure at the center of it all.

ICYMI: Arrest in that NC-9 fraud story

Leslie McCrae Dowless, the GOP political operative at the center of the NC-9 election fraud scandal, has been arrested.

Jared Kushner met with Mohammed bin Salman for the first time since Jamal Khashoggi's murder.

Virginia First Lady Pam Northam is apologizing for handing out cotton to black children at the governors' mansion.


Um, Roy Moore may be thinking about running for Senate again

Other news today you shouldn't miss…

Trump agenda: Defending Kim

Trump is defending Kim Jong Un over the death of Otto Warmbier, saying "he tells me he didn't know."

NBC's Jonathan Allen on the North Korea summit: Trump lost big, but it could have been worse.

NBC's Ken Dilanian writes that Michael Cohen's testimony suggests prosecutors in New York might be the greatest danger to Trump.


The Washington Post points out that both Democrats and Republicans see Cohen as a liar — who proves their point.

Dem agenda: Back to the drawing board?

Some Democrats are hoping to change the rules after am embarrassing tactical win for the GOP on the latest gun bill.

Dems are having trouble coming up with a unified message on Venezuela.

Transgender troops were on the Hill yesterday to press their case.

2020: Office Space

Is Bloomberg checking out office space for a presidential campaign?


Jay Inslee is hiring.

POLITICO takes a deep dive into Chuck Schumer's Senate recruiting efforts.

Amy Klobuchar is facing questions about her record on regulating medical devices.

Eric Swalwell says he won't run for reelection to the House if he runs for president.

Some political observers think Kamala Harris's performance so far has been a little uneven when it comes to policy specifics.


Democrats are still asking if Joe Biden "meets the moment," Reuters writes.

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