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February 14, 2018

On Tuesday night, Michael Cohen, a longtime personal lawyer for President Trump, made the startling admission that he had, after all, paid $130,000 to adult film actress Stephanie "Stormy Daniels" Clifford right before the 2016 election. The Wall Street Journal reported in January that Cohen had paid Daniels $130,000, through a company set up for that purpose, to stay quiet about an extramarital affair she was telling reporters she had with Trump in 2006.

"Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly," Cohen said, not ruling out that Trump himself had reimbursed him. On Tuesday night, Fox News national correspondent Ed Henry tackled the big question: "This might raise more questions about possible hush money, since the president and the porn star have insisted nothing happened, so why pay her? Well Cohen just told me in a phone call, 'Even if something is untrue, it can be damaging.' His goal all along was to protect the president."

On MSNBC, Brian Williams asked legal analyst Jill Wine-Banks why this would "be important and germane enough to re-inject the porn star story back into the news cycle?" Using campaign money "would have been an improper use of campaign funding," Wine-Banks said. "But, first of all, all of Michael Cohen's money comes from the Trump Organization, so it's basically Trump money no matter what. And the admission that they're paying a porn star says something: Why would they pay her? It's because she could have possibly blackmailed the president." Blackmail from a former paramour or Russians would be "a serious problem," she added.

Even if Cohen used his own money, campaign finance experts tell the Journal, he "likely violated election rules because it wasn't reported to the Federal Election Commission." And Cohen's admission that he made the payment to protect Trump suggests he was aiding the Trump campaign. Peter Weber

2:43 p.m. ET
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A Pennsylvania jury on Thursday found comedian Bill Cosby guilty on three counts of indecent aggravated assault.

Cosby had been charged with drugging and sexually assaulting plaintiff Andrea Constand in 2004. The verdict resulted from a retrial, after Cosby's original trial ended in a mistrial last June. Cosby, 80, faces up to 30 years in prison — 10 years per count — and a fine of up to $25,000 for each of the charges, though CNN reports that he could instead see a probationary sentence.

Five additional women besides Constand testified against Cosby during the trial, and dozens more have publicly claimed sexual misconduct by the comedian. Cosby has denied all allegations against him, and CNN reports that he will likely seek to appeal the verdict. Cosby shouted at a prosecutor after the verdict was announced, The Associated Press reports, lashing out during a discussion about whether he should be granted bail. When the district attorney pointed out that Cosby may be a flight risk because he owns his own plane, Cosby yelled, "He doesn't have a plane, you a--hole!"

Cosby's sentencing date has not been set. He will reportedly be out on bail until he is sentenced, but will be required to wear a GPS tracker to ensure that he remains in the state. Summer Meza

2:36 p.m. ET
Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Singer Janelle Monáe confirmed long-swirling rumors about her sexuality in a Rolling Stone interview published Thursday. Fans of the singer and actress have long suspected that she might not be straight, based on her presentation as an androgynous "cybergirl" in many of her performances, public appearances, and creative work. But the singer herself was "loath to say" anything definitive about her sexuality, Rolling Stone reported — until now.

In the interview, Monáe acknowledged "being a queer black woman in America, someone who has been in relationships with both men and women." She confirmed that she identifies with parts of the bisexual and pansexual identities, saying, "I'm open to learning more about who I am." Ultimately, she said, she feels like "a free-ass motherf---er."

Monáe stopped short of addressing rumors revolving around her relationship with fellow actress Tessa Thompson, but expressed broader support for the queer community. "Through my experiences, I hope people are seen and heard," she said.

Monáe's third album, Dirty Computer, will be released Friday. Read more of her interview at Rolling Stone. Shivani Ishwar

2:27 p.m. ET
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Americans don't like James Comey, per se, but they still trust him more than President Trump.

A Quinnipiac poll released Thursday found that 54 percent of Americans think Comey is more likely to tell them the truth about important issues than Trump. Only 35 percent think the president is more trustworthy.

The results were surprisingly stable from previous surveys, despite Comey's high-profile book release and tour, and the president's corresponding attacks on him. In December, the breakdown was 56 percent to 32 percent in Comey's favor; last June, it was 56-36.

But Americans don't trust Comey because they like him. Forty-one percent view Comey unfavorably, while just 30 percent have a favorable view of the former FBI director.

The poll also pit Trump against his other public enemy: the media. Similarly, 53 percent of Americans said they trust news media to tell them the truth more than Trump, while 37 percent prefer to believe Trump. Twenty-two percent of respondents went so far as to call the news media the "enemy of the people."

Quinnipiac surveyed 1,193 voters via landline and cell phone from April 20-24, with a 3.4 percent margin of error. Read the full results here. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:34 a.m. ET
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CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who will likely be confirmed as secretary of state by the Senate this afternoon, has failed to disclose extensive business ties to China, HuffPost reports.

This isn't the first time Pompeo's China relationships have come under scrutiny. Previously, Pompeo was criticized for leaving out information about his Chinese business dealings on a mandatory Senate confirmation questionnaire, after a McClatchy report found that his Kansas company imported equipment from China. And now, newly unearthed documents viewed by HuffPost found that his ties are even deeper. He apparently has four undisclosed business ties with China. Pompeo's company reportedly imported oil and gas equipment from two subsidiaries of a Chinese state-owned oil company, China National Petroleum Corporation, in addition to the previously reported imports from two China Petrochemical Corporation subsidiaries.

For his part, Pompeo isn't backing down from his assertion that he has no relationships with foreign firms, reportedly insisting earlier this week in response to a question from Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) that he has no foreign business ties. Read more at HuffPost. Summer Meza

10:54 a.m. ET
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Two journalists and a comedian walk into a TV studio. Somehow, none of them say, "Maybe this is a bad idea."

Page Six reported late Wednesday that disgraced CBS News anchor Charlie Rose is in talks to host a show where he interviews men who have similarly been confronted by credible accusations of sexual harassment, including former Today host Matt Lauer and comedian Louis C.K. Rose was suspended by CBS last November after eight women spoke to The Washington Post accusing him of sexual harassment in the workplace, including walking around nude and making inappropriate comments.

Tina Brown, journalist and former editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast, revealed Tuesday at a women's event in New York City that Rose is in talks to headline a "#MeToo atonement series," Page Six reports, which would feature Rose sitting down with "others embroiled in sexual harassment scandals." Brown said she was approached to co-host the show with Rose, per Page Six, but turned the offer down.

Vanity Fair notes that the whispers of comeback tours for men hit with #MeToo allegations have been steadily amplifying in recent weeks, with rumors about a return for Louis C.K. — one of the few men to outright acknowledge that specific allegations made against him were true — specifically swirling of late. Read more about the rumored show at Page Six. Kimberly Alters

10:21 a.m. ET

President Trump started his Thursday morning with a wide-ranging phone interview on Fox & Friends, in which he returned to old favorite talking points and revealed new tidbits of information. Here are the highlights. Summer Meza

On first lady Melania Trump: Trump began his meandering monologue by telling the show hosts that he was joining them in honor of Melania's birthday. So what did he buy his wife for her 48th birthday? "Maybe I didn't get her so much. I got her a beautiful card. You know, I'm very busy."

On attorney Michael Cohen: The president distanced himself from his longtime attorney by characterizing Cohen's legal practice as second to his business interests. "I don't know his business," said Trump. "This doesn't have to do with me." Even though Cohen apparently only handles "a tiny, tiny little fraction" of Trump's legal work, Trump admitted that "he represents me, like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal."

On former FBI Director James Comey: Trump denied telling Comey that he didn't stay overnight during a trip to Moscow in 2013. Comey has said Trump claimed he didn't stay the night in Russia as part of his explanation as to why an unverified intelligence dossier that alleges Trump spent the night with prostitutes is false. "He said I didn't stay there the night — of course I stayed there," said Trump. "I never said I left immediately."

On White House physician Ronny Jackson: Trump energetically defended Jackson, who on Thursday dropped out of consideration to run the Department of Veterans Affairs following days of allegations of workplace misconduct. Jackson has an "unblemished" record, Trump said, and was up against "obstructionist" Democrats who wanted to block his nomination for no reason.

On pop culture: Trump praised rapper Kanye West for supporting him on Twitter, saying that West likely appreciated that black unemployment is at its "lowest" in history. The president also complimented Canadian singer Shania Twain, who came under fire for saying she would have voted for Trump. Twain is "terrific," Trump said, but she shouldn't have apologized for her comments.

10:20 a.m. ET
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At 95 years old, Canada's oldest blood donor is happy to keep on giving. Beatrice "Granny Bea" Janyk has been donating blood ever since her husband nearly died from a sawmill accident in the 1940s. She's given blood more than 200 times to no fanfare, but last week Canadian blood services honored her with a special ceremony and pin. "Knowing that I can save someone's life, that's so important," says the great-grandmother, who takes no medications so her O-positive blood can be used for children and infant transfusions.

Janyk's message to anyone who's afraid of giving blood is simple: "No pain, 20 minutes, then you'll gain." Christina Colizza

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