Tabloid says it worked with Trump campaign to pay 2016 hush money: prosecutors

Tabloid says it worked with Trump campaign to pay 2016 hush money: prosecutors


NEW YORK (Reuters) – The publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid newspaper has admitted it paid hush money to a former Playboy magazine model to prevent her from going public ahead of the 2016 election with claims that she had an affair with President Donald Trump.

Playboy Playmate of the Year Karen McDougal poses at the Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills in 1998. REUTERS/Files

Federal prosecutors in New York said on Wednesday that American Media Inc (AMI) [AMRCM.UL], as part of a deal to cooperate with prosecutors and avoid charges, admitted it made a $150,000 payment to Karen McDougal “in concert” with Trump’s presidential campaign.

AMI said Chief Executive David Pecker met with Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and at least one other member of the campaign in August 2015 and offered to help with negative stories about Trump’s relationships with women by buying the rights to those stories, according to a document made public by prosecutors.

AMI’s admission may support statements made by Cohen, who was sentenced on Wednesday to three years in prison for his role in the payments, that they were made to influence the election in violation of campaign finance law, legal experts said.

Federal law requires that the contribution of “anything of value” to a campaign must be disclosed, and an individual donation cannot exceed $2,700.

Trump and his lawyers have argued the payments were a personal matter unrelated to the election.

The charges on which Cohen was sentenced include campaign finance law violations relating to his negotiation of payments to McDougal and another woman, adult film star Stormy Daniels. Cohen has said both payments were directed by Trump.

A spokesman for AMI declined to comment.

Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, stuck to Trump’s position on Wednesday, asserting to Reuters that the president never reimbursed AMI for its payment to McDougal.

Legal experts said the deal with AMI strengthened prosecutors’ position in any potential case against Trump, however.

Jens Ohlin, a professor at Cornell Law School, said the details about AMI’s intentions undermined Trump’s claim.

A New York-based appellate lawyer, Mark Zauderer, said the deal with AMI was “another arrow in the prosecutors’ quiver”.

Before the AMI deal was revealed, he said, the only known source of information about the payment was Cohen, whom the president has dismissed as a liar.

“Now it seems clear that a second source of evidence would be available to the prosecution,” he said.

McDougal has said she had a months-long sexual affair with Trump years before he took office, and that she sold her story for $150,000 to AMI, but it was never published.

Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York and Susan Heavey and Karen Freifeld in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham and Sonya Hepinstall



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May battles confidence vote, warning Brexit is in peril

PM May survives party confidence vote but Brexit deal still teetering


LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May survived a confidence vote by the Conservative Party on Wednesday, but a mutiny by more than a third of her lawmakers indicated parliament was heading towards deadlock over Brexit.

While 200 Conservative lawmakers voted in support of May as leader, 117 dissented, indicating opposition not only from several dozen supporters of a hard Brexit but also from many more pragmatic lawmakers – and signalling that she was no nearer to passing her EU divorce agreement.

It was not the robust affirmation she needed as she heads to Brussels on Thursday to ask the other 27 EU leaders, who have made room for her at a summit, for clarification of the deal to reassure the doubters.

On Monday, May had cancelled a parliamentary vote on her deal, struck after two years of negotiations and designed to maintain close future ties with the bloc, after admitting it would be heavily defeated.

With Britain due to leave the EU on March 29, parliament’s opposition has suddenly opened up possibilities including a potentially disorderly exit with no deal or even another referendum on membership.

Speaking in Downing Street after the vote, May said she would listen to those who had voted against her and seek legal assurances on the most controversial part of her deal – an insurance policy to prevent a hard border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland. Many in her party fear that these “backstop” measures could last indefinitely.

“I’VE LISTENED”

“A significant number of colleagues did cast a vote against me and I’ve listened to what they said,” May said. “We now have to get on with the job of delivering Brexit for the British people.”

However, EU leaders have lined up to say they have no intention of changing the agreement.

And diplomatic sources in Brussels told Reuters the draft of a document being prepared for May included only the possibility that the bloc would look into giving Britain more assurances over the Irish backstop, without offering any immediately.

Eurosceptic critics of the deal within May’s party triggered the no-confidence vote hours after she returned from a whistle-stop tour to meet European leaders at the start of the week.

Supporters said the result showed the party should now get behind her. But the eurosceptics who see her deal as a betrayal of the 2016 referendum said she should now quit.

“It is a terrible result for the prime minister,” Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of a hard Brexit faction, told BBC Television. “The prime minister must realise that, under all constitutional norms, she ought to go and see the queen urgently and resign.”

May, who voted to remain in the EU in the referendum, had warned opponents of her withdrawal deal that if they toppled her, Brexit would be delayed or stopped.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, London, Britain, December 12, 2018. Parliament TV handout via REUTERS

Shortly before the vote, May sought to win over wavering lawmakers by promising to step down before the 2022 election. But the confidence vote was also a proxy for the party’s divisions over Europe.

“If you’re a PM and a third of your MPs vote against you, that is very bad news,” eurosceptic lawmaker Mark Francois told Reuters.

ARITHMETIC UNCHANGED

The Northern Irish party that props up her government – and strongly opposes her withdrawal deal – said the fundamental arithmetic in parliament was unchanged. The opposition Labour Party said she must now bring the agreement back to parliament.

Brexit is Britain’s most significant political and economic decision since World War Two. Pro-Europeans fear the departure will weaken the West as it grapples with the U.S. presidency of Donald Trump and growing assertiveness from Russia and China.

The outcome will shape Britain’s $2.8 trillion economy, have far-reaching consequences for the unity of the kingdom and determine whether London keeps its place as one of the top two global financial centres.

Supporters of Brexit admit there may be some short-term pain for the economy, but say it will prosper in the long term when cut free from the EU, which they cast as a failing German-dominated experiment in European integration.

May, 62, won the top job in the turmoil that followed the 2016 EU referendum, where Britons decided by 52 percent to 48 to leave the EU. She promised to implement Brexit while keeping close ties to the bloc, to heal a divided nation.

Slideshow (10 Images)

Sterling jumped as high as $1.2672 GBP=D3 as the result came in but then fell to $1.2605, still up 1 percent on the day, after it emerged that the number of lawmakers who had voted against May was higher than many in the markets had expected.

“It is right at the top end of the number of people who were expected to be against her,” said John Curtice, one of Britain’s leading polling experts. “It is not unlikely that she will go by some point in April-May time.”

Additional reporting by Andy Bruce, Kate Holton, Andy MacAskill, Ben Martin, David Milliken, William Schomberg and Paul Sandle in London and Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; Writing by Michael Holden and Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Mark John and Kevin Liffey



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U.S. Rep. Meadows out of running for White House chief of staff -officials

Rep. Meadows out of running for White House chief of staff: officials


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump told Republican U.S. Representative Mark Meadows that he wants him to stay in Congress rather than take the White House chief of staff job the president is seeking to fill, three senior White House officials said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), member of the House Judiciary Committee, takes questions from the press as FBI agent Peter Strzok meets with the House Judiciary Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, U.S., June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Toya Sarno Jordan

Meadows had been among 10 or 12 people that Trump is considering for the post that retired General John Kelly is leaving early in 2019. Kelly, Trump’s second chief of staff, after Reince Priebus, had tried to bring more discipline to the chaotic Trump White House and frequently found himself at odds with the president.

Trump and Meadows, a North Carolina lawmaker who heads the conservative House Freedom Caucus, had a phone conversation to discuss the job, one White House official said.

“Congressman Mark Meadows is a great friend to President Trump and is doing an incredible job in Congress. “The president told him we need him in Congress so he can continue the great work he is doing there,” the official said.

Meadows said in a tweeted statement that he was committed to staying in Congress.

“I know the president has a long list of tremendous candidates for his next chief of staff, and whomever it is will have my total support going forward,” he said.

The search to fill the top administrative post in the West Wing comes as Democrats prepare to take control of the House of Representatives in January and begin investigating Trump’s businesses and some of his most contentious policies.

Trump told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday that he was having no trouble recruiting people for one of the most powerful jobs in Washington. Some potential candidates like Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have offered polite no-thank-yous.

“I have so many people, I cannot interview them all,” Trump told Reuters.

Trump said last Saturday that Kelly would be departing the job. But he was left without a clear replacement for Kelly after Nick Ayers, currently chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, declined the job and said on Sunday he was returning to Georgia with his family at the end of the year.

Trump is also considering former campaign adviser Dave Bossier, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Light, sources said.

Reporting by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; Editing by Peter Cooney



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House approves farm bill without tightened food stamps criteria

House approves farm bill without tightened food stamps criteria


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives passed the farm bill on Wednesday, capping months of acrimonious debate to finalize the legislation funding the nation’s $867 billion food and agriculture programs.

FILE PHOTO: A farmer drives tractor along a road in Pearl City, Illinois, U.S., July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Lott/File Photo

The bill, which passed by a vote of 369 to 47, will be submitted to President Donald Trump for his signature into law following its approval in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday.

The final agreement on the bill came after Republicans in the lame duck Congress walked back some of their demands, including a proposal to tighten criteria for receiving food stamps that had been championed by Trump. Democrats will take control of the House in January.

Some provisions regarding forestry management, backed by Trump’s Agriculture and Interior Secretaries have also been largely excluded from the final legislation.

“While I feel there were missed opportunities in forest management and in improving work requirements for certain SNAP recipients, this bill does include several helpful provisions,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement, referring to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“I commend Congress for bringing the farm bill across the finish line and am encouraging President Trump to sign it.”

Passage of the bill has been hailed in a largely bipartisan manner as it provides some financial certainty for farmers, a key Trump constituency that has been hurt by the U.S. trade war with China, a key buyer of U.S. soy beans and other farm produce.

On Tuesday Trump, who had previously accused Democrats of stalling the bill, said the progress on it was bipartisan and that “farmers were well taken care of.”

More than 40 million Americans, or about 12 percent of the U.S. population, depend on the SNAP food stamps program to keep from going hungry.

The Republican-led move to tighten eligibility for food stamps triggered a bitter partisan debate, delaying the bill beyond the most recent version’s expiration in September. It was finalized only after Democrats won a majority in the House of Representatives in the November elections.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Bill Berkrot



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No immediate new assurances for Britain in EU Brexit draft: sources

No immediate new assurances for Britain in EU Brexit draft: sources


Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May speaks outside 10 Downing Street after a confidence vote by Conservative Party Members of Parliament (MPs), in London, Britain December 12, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A draft European Union document on Brexit being prepared for British Prime Minister Theresa May includes only the possibility the bloc would look into giving more assurances to Britain over the Irish backstop, diplomatic sources said.

While mentioning the possibility it would look into giving such reassurances, it did not go as far as actually offering any immediately, they said.

They stressed Ireland was still opposed to such a wording in the draft document, which contained six paragraphs in total.

The draft could change depending on what exactly May asks of the other 27 national EU leaders when she sees them in Brussels on Thursday, the sources said.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; editing by Mark John



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U.S. Rep. Meadows out of running for White House chief of staff -officials

U.S. Rep. Meadows out of running for White House chief of staff -officials


FILE PHOTO: Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), member of the House Judiciary Committee, takes questions from the press as FBI agent Peter Strzok meets with the House Judiciary Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, U.S., June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Toya Sarno Jordan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump told Republican U.S. Representative Mark Meadows that he wants him to stay in Congress rather than take the White House chief of staff job the president is seeking to fill, three senior White House officials said on Wednesday.

Meadows had been among 10 or 12 people that Trump is considering for the post that retired General John Kelly is leaving early in 2019. Kelly, Trump’s second chief of staff after Reince Priebus, had tried to bring more discipline to the chaotic Trump White House and frequently found himself at odds with the president.

Trump and Meadows had a phone conversation to discuss the job, one White House official said.

“Congressman Mark Meadows is a great friend to President Trump and is doing an incredible job in Congress. “The president told him we need him in Congress so he can continue the great work he is doing there,” the official said.

Trump told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday that he was having no trouble recruiting people for one of the most powerful jobs in Washington. Some potential candidates like Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have offered polite no-thank-yous.

“I have so many people, I cannot interview them all,” he told Reuters.

Reporting by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; Editing by Peter Cooney



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National Enquirer publisher AMI gets no charges in Cohen probe

National Enquirer publisher AMI gets no charges in Cohen probe


As part of the agreement, AMI admitted to making a payment of $150,000 in cooperation with members of Trump’s presidential campaign in order to prevent former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s claims of an affair with Trump from being made public during the 2016 race.
AMI chairman David Pecker is a longtime friend of Trump’s, and the Enquirer was one of Trump’s most reliable and enthusiastic media boosters during the campaign.

Pecker met with Cohen “and at least one other member of the campaign” in August of 2015, according to the non-prosecution agreement, which was struck with prosecutors from the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

“At the meeting, 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,” the agreement read. “Pecker agreed to keep Cohen apprised of any such negative stories.”

Details of the payment to McDougal emerged in 2016, mere days before the election, when the Wall Street Journal reported about her agreement with the Enquirer. At the time, AMI insisted that it “has not paid people to kill damaging stories about Mr. Trump.” The reported agreement drew wider attention earlier this year following a story published by The New Yorker, which shed light on the tabloid practice of “catch and kill,” wherein a publication purchases a story purely so it won’t run. McDougal signed a contract worth $150,000, granting AMI “exclusive ownership of her account of any romantic, personal, or physical relationship she has ever had with any ‘then-married man,'” the New Yorker reported.

The news of the non-prosecution agreement comes the same day that Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in the matter.

In a statement, the SDNY said, “Assuming AMI’s continued compliance with the agreement, the Office has agreed not to prosecute AMI for its role in that payment.”

A spokesperson for AMI declined to comment.



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May's confidence vote win doesn't change Brexit arithmetic: DUP

May’s confidence vote win doesn’t change Brexit arithmetic: DUP


FILE PHOTO: Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds speaks at the DUP annual party conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland November 24, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

LONDON (Reuters) – A senior member of a Northern Irish political party that props up British Prime Minister Theresa May said her survival in a vote of confidence on Wednesday did not change the situation in parliament where her Brexit plan faces stiff opposition.

“I don’t think this vote really changes very much in terms of the arithmetic on that and that’s our concern,” Nigel Dodds, deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party told BBC television.

Earlier, May won a confidence vote from her Conservative Party but more than a third of her lawmakers said she was no longer the right leader to implement Britain’s exit from the European Union.

The DUP has an agreement to support May’s Conservatives in parliament but it is deeply opposed to a key part of the Brexit deal she agreed with other EU leaders last month — the so-called backstop arrangement for the border between EU member state Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.

Dodds said he held a “good meeting” with May before the confidence vote in the Conservative Party’s 1922 Committee.

“She understands what, I think, our concerns are about the legally binding nature of the indefinite arrangements that we would be tied into and the difficulties that would pose for Northern Ireland,” he said.

“Whether or not she delivers anything that changes that remains to be seen,” Dodds said.

“We will wait and see. The noises coming out of Europe from some of the member state governments don’t sound too promising but on the other hand she has made commitments tonight to the 1922 Committee and to us, so we will wait and see.”

May said she would seek legal and political assurances from EU leaders on Thursday on the backstop arrangement.

Reporting by Costas Pitas and Andrew MacAskill; writing by William Schomberg; editing by Stephen Addison



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Defying Trump, U.S. Senate advances resolution to end support for Saudis in Yemen war

Defying Trump, U.S. Senate advances resolution to end support for Saudis in Yemen war


FILE PHOTO: Smoke rises from a military base after it was hit by Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen’s capital Sanaa, September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In a rare break with President Donald Trump, the U.S. Senate voted on Wednesday to move ahead with a resolution that would end U.S. military support for the Saudi Arabian-led coalition in the war in Yemen.

Eleven of Trump’s fellow Republicans voted with Democrats to provide the 60 votes needed to move ahead with the war powers resolution.

The vote was largely symbolic because the House of Representatives is not expected to take the matter up this year, and Trump has threatened a veto. But backers of the resolution said it sent an important message that lawmakers are unhappy with the humanitarian disaster in Yemen, and angry about the lack of a strong U.S. response to the killing of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

The Trump administration had urged lawmakers not to oppose U.S. fueling and other support for the Saudi-led coalition as it battles the Houthis, Shi’ite Muslim fighters Yemen’s neighbors view as agents of Iran.

Many Republicans also have urged that lawmakers keep the Yemen conflict separate from anger over the murder of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident who was a columnist for the Washington Post.

Earlier on Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the Trump administration’s handling of Khashoggi’s killing, stressing Saudi Arabia’s importance as a U.S. ally against Iran.

Pompeo repeated his assertion that there was no direct evidence linking Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the Oct. 2 murder of Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, despite a CIA assessment it was likely he ordered the killing.

Central Intelligence Agency Director Gina Haspel briefed leaders of the House of Representatives behind closed doors about the killing. After the classified briefing, House members declined to comment beyond saying they had not heard anything that had changed their minds about Khashoggi’s death.

Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; editing by David Gregorio and Jonathan Oatis



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Wall Street climbs 1 percent on trade optimism

Wall Street closes up, investors optimistic on China trade


NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. stocks closed up on Wednesday afternoon, though well below their session highs as investors pulled back in the last few minutes of trading despite optimism about U.S.-China trade relations and some reassuring signs in British politics.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

U.S. President Donald Trump, in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, said trade talks were under way with China. Traders said China made the first major purchase of U.S. soybeans since Washington and Beijing agreed to a temporary trade truce this month.

Also, Trump said he would intervene in a case against a top executive at Huawei Technologies if it would help secure a trade deal.

While investors were still wary of market volatility between now and a March 1 deadline for a trade agreement, they sounded optimistic about the latest news.

“Everything Trump says is a negotiating posture … You’d want statements that are more data and fact driven from the president. However this approach is making China think twice about their hard stance,” said Ernesto Ramos, Managing Director of Active equities for BMO Global Asset Management in Chicago.

“This relentless pushing by Trump is making China give up some ground. That’s what’s cheering up the market.”

Equities trading has been especially choppy in the past few days amid headlines on topics ranging from China trade and a potential U.S. government shutdown to Brexit uncertainty.

And a rapid paring of gains in the last 20 minutes of Wednesday’s session pointed to a decline on Thursday, according to Ramos.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI rose 157.03 points, or 0.64 percent, to 24,527.27, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 14.29 points, or 0.54 percent, to 2,651.07 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 66.48 points, or 0.95 percent, to 7,098.31.

While he expects the market to stay above the 2018 lows it has tested multiple times recently, Robert Phipps, director at Per Stirling in Austin, Texas expects volatility to continue.

“Not only is Trump unlikely to seal a deal until the end of February but the rhetoric gets more abrasive the closer he gets to the deadline,” Phipps said. “There’s a lot of political issues that are going to keep pressure on the market from now to the end of February.”

Investors seemed to shrug after British Prime Minister Theresa May won a confidence vote from her Conservative party as 117 of her lawmakers said she was no longer the right leader to implement Britain’s exit from the European Union.

May had failed to reach a Brexit deal this week, creating uncertainty for investors as it opened up the possibility for a delay to Brexit or even another referendum on membership.

With the confidence vote over BMO’s Ramos said “she still has to sell the deal to Parliament.”

Of the S&P’s 11 major sectors 8 showed gains but only one, consumer discretionary .SPLRCD increased more than 1 percent on the day. The real estate sector .SPLRCR was the biggest loser with a 1.9 percent drop while utilities .SPLRCU followed with a 0.6 percent decline and consumer staples nudged 0.2 percent lower, showing a lack of appetite for defensive sectors.

The S&P technology sector .SPLRCT, which is heavily exposed to China trade, gained 0.8 percent but well below its session low.

On the bright side, China-based music streaming company Tencent Music Entertainment (TME.N) gained 7.7 percent in its New York Stock Exchange debut on Wednesday.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 2.02-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.09-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 14 new 52-week highs and 8 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 21 new highs and 169 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 8.13 billion shares, compared to the 8.06 billion average for the last 20 trading days.

Additional reporting by Charles Mikolajczak in New York, Medha Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Alistair Bell



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