The Note: A bad week for Trump clarifies the stakes

A week with so many game-changers didn’t actually change the game much at all.

August 24, 2018, 6:00 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

A week with so many game-changers didn’t actually appear to change the game very much at all.

It did clarify the stakes – with President Donald Trump capable of raising them dramatically at any moment.

Republicans have mostly ducked questions, but haven’t abandoned or denounced the president in the days since his former longtime lawyer implicated him in a crime for which he pleaded guilty. Democrats haven’t strayed from their reticence surrounding impeachment talk, either.

Instead, the most dangerous of weeks for the president ends with the potential for more tabloid turns, owing to the long relationship between Trump and the National Enquirer’s David Pecker that’s now under potential prosecutorial scrutiny.

It also ends with Trump insulting Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who finds himself defending himself with fewer defenders among his old Senate colleagues. All the while Trump is considering – according to his own lawyer – the possibility of pardoning Paul Manafort, just days after his conviction.

At this point, it’s probably a mistake to look for political tipping points. This is a long march toward unknowable destinations.

PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks during a news conference on Aug. 22, 2018, in Cleveland.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks during a news conference on Aug. 22, 2018, in Cleveland.
Tony Dejak/AP

The RUNDOWN with MaryAlice Parks

The president appears to be openly encouraging a now-convicted felon to not cooperate with authorities.

This week, not only has he flirted with the possibility of pardoning his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, whom he describes as "brave," but he added that "flipping" or cooperating with authorities ought to be illegal.

Illegal? That's a head-scratcher and would seem to set a dangerous precedent.

Cooperation with authorities is normally encouraged by government officials and our political leaders, in order to -- you know -- help with law and order, fact-finding and fair adjudication.

Then again, normally illegally activity is frowned upon, too, or at least talked about with some regret and remorse.

So, does the president think tax evasion, to the tune of millions of dollars, is just OK? Not a big deal and second-fiddle compared to loyalty to him?

Surely, his statements could be scaring off other potential witnesses. Is it witness tampering out in the open?

The TIP with Benjamin Siegel

As President Trump does battle with his own attorney general, and grapples with the implications of the Paul Manafort verdict and Michael Cohen's guilty plea, House Speaker Paul Ryan has kept his head down, raising money and traveling the country for House Republicans hoping to maintain their majority in Congress this fall.

At a retreat with donors in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, earlier this week, Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy touted the accomplishments of the GOP-led Congress and noted the challenges facing Republicans in November, according to someone in the room for the presentation.

"Our job is to make sure that constituents in swing districts and the swing voters know that we're focusing on their problems. That our agenda is improving their lives. That this unified government, if taken away, will roll back this progress. And that this is a historic achievement that this unified government has created," Ryan said.

PHOTO: House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., attends a news conference following a GOP caucus meeting, July 24, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., attends a news conference following a GOP caucus meeting, July 24, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

He'll be in Wisconsin at a tax event on Friday, and has campaign swings planned in California, Texas, New York and Florida, according to his political team.

By the end of the 2018 cycle, Ryan will have visited 40 different states and nearly every battleground House district, campaigning for GOP candidates and incumbents. He's also on track, over his nearly three years as speaker, to have raised $200 million for GOP candidates and campaigns.


  • President Trump and first lady Melania Trump visit Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, at 4 p.m.
  • The president delivers remarks at the Ohio Republican Party State Dinner at 6 p.m.
  • Vice President Mike Pence delivers remarks on Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh at a luncheon for Republican lawyers at noon.
  • Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler speaks to reporters at 1 p.m. about a new proposed rule that would walk back Obama-era climate policy.

    "While I am Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations." – Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in his strongest public pushback yet to President Trump, who said in an interview Thursday that Sessions "never took control" of the Justice Department.


    ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast. Friday morning's episode features ABC News Senior National correspondent Terry Moran discussing the latest war of words between President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. "It was a real brushback from a guy who's been the ultimate loyalist up until now," Terry says of Sessions' response. And, ABC News Senior Producer Jim Hill discusses why the immunity deal struck by American Media Incorporated chairman David Pecker could be troublesome for Trump.


    He went around his DOJ bosses, but Bruce Ohr offered little to Russia probe, sources say. By the time Ohr provided the so-called "dossier" to the FBI in late 2016, counterintelligence agents had already received a copy of it, and they were already investigating alleged ties between Trump's campaign staff and the Russian government, according to congressional testimony. (Mike Levine)

    National Enquirer's chief David Pecker granted immunity by federal prosecutors in Michael Cohen case. After securing immunity, Pecker told prosecutors in the Southern District of New York that he worked with Cohen on the McDougal and Daniels hush-money agreements and that Trump knew about the deals, a source told ABC News. (Lucien Bruggeman and Aaron Katersky)

    Trump warns of stock market crash if he's ever impeached: 'I think everybody would be very poor.' Two days after President Trump's former personal attorney pleaded guilty to illegal campaign contributions, the president ripped Michael Cohen for "flipping" to accept a plea deal, while also warning that the stock market would tank if the Democrats win control of Congress and move to impeach him. (Nataly Pak and Jordyn Phelps)

    Trump warns against impeachment, but Democrats aren't pushing it. Impeachment is in the air on Capitol Hill, too, but so far, few lawmakers are saying the word out loud. "I don't think that we should be talking about impeachment," said Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. (Devin Dwyer, Benjamin Siegel and Ali Rogin)

    Sessions hits back at Trump: Won't be influenced by 'political considerations.' "I said 'What kind of a man is this?'" Trump said during the interview. The president also said Sessions failed to take control of the DOJ. (Mike Levine and Ali Rogin)

    Yes, Trump can pardon Manafort and Cohen but would be a 'legal and a strategic error,' expert says. President Trump hasn't directly addressed the prospect of his pardoning either his former campaign chairman or former personal lawyer, but the U.S. Constitution does give him the power to do so. (Meghan Keneally)

    White House tabling criminal justice reform until after election, sources say. A Republican-led effort to overhaul the nation's criminal justice system is being put on hold ahead of the midterm elections over fears it could be politically "problematic." (Jordyn Phelps)

    Explaining the 'shift' in Arizona's Republican party that may keep McCain supporters away from polls. There's a blank wall on the side of a building in Scottsdale that could, pending an ongoing Kickstarter campaign, soon be covered with a mural dedicated to Sen. John McCain. The so-called "Maverick Mural" is just one way that some Arizonans are showing respect and admiration for the six-term senator. (Meghan Keneally)

    Trump's nominee for science advisor pledges to protect scientists from political meddling. President Trump's nominee to lead the office that advises the president on science said he agrees that the administration has shown a "lack of appreciation" for keeping science independent from politics and that, if confirmed, he will lobby the administration to reverse some of its policies. (Stephanie Ebbs)

    As midterms approach, new tool helps track political advertising on Facebook. In order to better understand the tactics and strategies of all political actors on Facebook, ABC News is partnering with ProPublica, a nonprofit, award-winning news organization that has built a tool to collect information and data on political ads that are being targeted to users of the social media giant. (John Verhovek)

    Trump orders 'study' of South African land seizures, alleged murders of white farmers. President Trump asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to "closely study" South Africa land seizures, citing what he referred to as the "large scale" killings of farmers there despite little evidence that is happening. (Karma Allen)

    Manafort juror blames 1 holdout for derailing conviction on 10 of 18 counts. A single juror prevented President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort from being convicted this week on all 18 counts of tax evasion and bank fraud, according to fellow juror Paula Duncan, who offered insight into the four days of their deliberations. (Katherine Faulders)

    The New York Times reports that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is considering allowing states to access federal funding to purchase guns for educators.

    Trump has fought the Department of Justice before, beginning in 1973, when the federal government sued Trump and his father, and he used the same unapologetic, counterpunching playbook, writes Michael Kruse in POLITICO Magazine.

    The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the key political moments of the day ahead. Please check back next week for the latest.

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