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May 17, 2018

President Trump's attorney Michael Cohen worked behind the scenes to negotiate a business venture in Moscow long after Trump denied financial involvement with Russia, BuzzFeed News reported Thursday, citing internal emails, text messages, and other documents. Cohen's machinations apparently included trying to arrange a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Cohen and Felix Sater, a developer who often worked with the Trump Organization, wanted to license the Trump name to a building that would be called Trump World Tower Moscow, which would have netted at least $100 million for both the Trump Organization and Cohen and Sater.

After several months of back-and-forth negotiations with Russian officials tied to the Kremlin, Sater, and Cohen thought they could pull off a lucrative deal, and wanted to arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin to finalize things. Sater, who was born in the Soviet Union and became a federal informant after escaping stock fraud charges, tried to secure funding and approval from Russian officials. In early 2016, Sater said that he had made plans to meet "with Putin's top administration people ... [t]o discuss goals, meeting agenda, and meeting time between Putin and Trump."

Cohen told the House Intelligence Committee in September that the project had been scrapped back in January 2016, but BuzzFeed News reports that he and Sater continued communicating via encrypted messages to work on Trump Tower Moscow. In June 2016, Cohen accepted an invitation to Russia, where he was told he would meet Putin or other top officials, but he reportedly eventually abandoned the plan. Soon afterward, Trump tweeted that he had "ZERO investments in Russia." Read more at BuzzFeed News. Summer Meza

1:33a.m.

It will be called the Harmony Playground, where all children will be free to play in their own way.

The town of Clayton, North Carolina, is planning on breaking ground for this inclusive project in 2019. The inspiration came after planners heard about the difficulties some families face when it comes to finding places where their children feel welcome. "You know, it really broke my heart when I started talking to parents that when they have children with special needs, that they avoid playgrounds," Dean Penny of the Clayton Recreational Foundation told WRAL.

Harmony Playground's design takes into account all kinds of special needs and disabilities; for example, the sidewalks will be at different elevations, so a child in a wheelchair will be able to wheel down to the lower level. Several businesses in the area are supporting the effort and helping raise funds, and the town is about halfway to its goal of $800,000. Catherine Garcia

12:55a.m.

Dennis Hof, a Republican candidate for the Nevada state legislature, died on Tuesday, but that might help him get even more votes, his campaign manager said Wednesday.

Hof, 72, owned five legal brothels and a strip club, wrote the book The Art of the Pimp, and appeared on the HBO show Cathouse. His name will stay on the ballot, campaign manager Chuck Muth told Reuters, and he has several things going for him — not only are there more registered Republicans than Democrats in his state Assembly district, but "there are a lot of Republicans who were uncomfortable voting for Dennis because of the nature of his business and they now know that he is not the one who will be serving. They will feel much more comfortable casting the ballot for him knowing there will be another Republican to replace him."

Assembly District 36 covers three counties, and if Hof wins, each county's board of commissioners would nominate a candidate to fill the vacancy, then hold a joint meeting to discuss the nominees and pick one to replace Hof before the 2019 legislative session starts, The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. Catherine Garcia

12:37a.m.

President Trump gave quite the interview to The Associated Press on Tuesday, and Stephen Colbert ran through some of the highlights on Wednesday's Late Show: Whether it was appropriate to call Stormy Daniels "Horseface," Don Jr.'s meeting with Russian officials in Trump Tower, and, especially, Trump's continued ambivalence over climate change. Trump said he felt comfortable disagreeing with 97 percent of the world's scientists because he has an inherent, inherited knack for science, thanks to an uncle who was a professor at MIT. Colbert had some questions.

"First of all, why did you bring up your science uncle if you never talked to him about science?" Colbert asked. "And second, you have a 'natural instinct for science'? That's not how knowledge works. You don't inherit it from your uncle! The most you ever get from your uncle is your own nose back." Of course, Trump "and his petrochemical pals would like you to ignore global warming altogether, but that may not be possible soon," he said, "because a new study says that beer prices could double because of climate change. Or as the brothers at Sigma Phi Epsilon put it, 'Climate change just got real.'" And yes, there is a shout out to Brett Kavanaugh. Watch below. Peter Weber

12:10a.m.

The Washington Post published Jamal Khashoggi's presumptive final column on Wednesday, with a somber note from Global Opinions editor Karen Attiah.

Attiah wrote that she received the column, titled "What the Arab World Needs Most is Free Expression," from Khashoggi's translator and assistant one day after he was reported missing in Istanbul earlier this month. The Post didn't publish it right away, Attiah explained, hoping she and Khashoggi could edit the column together, but "now I have to accept: That is not going to happen. This is the last piece of his I will edit for the Post. This column perfectly captures his commitment and passion for freedom in the Arab world. A freedom he apparently gave his life for."

In the column, Khashoggi discusses the 2018 Freedom of the World report, which declares that just one country in the Arab world, Tunisia, can be classified as "free." Three other countries are "partly free" and the rest are "not free," which Khashoggi found unacceptable. "Arabs living in these countries are either uninformed or misinformed," he said, leaving them "unable to adequately address, much less publicly discuss, matters that affect the region and their day-to-day lives."

He wrote about the crackdown on writers and newspapers in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and the importance of providing a "platform for Arab voices." People are facing poverty, poor education, and mismanagement, he concluded, and if there could be a forum "isolated from the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda, ordinary people in the Arab world would be able to address the structural problems their societies face." Read the entire column at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

October 17, 2018

With the midterms only 20 days away, President Trump has been "sharing his thoughts on a variety of topics," Trevor Noah said on Wednesday's Daily Show, "including his favorite Chinese hoax, climate change." He recapped Trump's argument: "Trump says he doesn't believe in manmade climate change because his uncle was a scientist, and that means Trump has a 'natural instinct' for science. ... That's not how it works. If a pilot has a heart attack, they're never like: 'Is anyone on this plane related to a pilot?!?'"

But the question everyone really wants the answer to, Noah said, is this: "Does Trump believe Saudi Arabia was behind the disappearance and likely murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi?" Trump's critics say he's ignoring coldblooded murder by the Saudis because of money, and Trump seems to agree. "Say what you want about Trump, but he wears his moral bankruptcy on his sleeve," Noah marveled.

"President Trump is so eager to protect his possible weapons order that not only has he said, despite evidence, that he believes Saudi Arabia's side of the story, he's also said that they're the real victims here," Noah said — just as he had with a certain Supreme Court justice. "You're going to bring Brett Kavanaugh into this?" he gawked. "I like how Trump's way of dealing with an extremely sensitive issue is to bring in another extremely sensitive issue. He's like, 'Here to discuss school shootings, special guest speaker Bill Cosby!'"

"But you know what's funny?" Noah said. "In many ways, this is like the Kavanaugh situation. Trump says he wants to find out what happened, but in reality, he's already made up his mind. And you might be saying, 'Oh but Trevor, how do you know that the Saudi Arabians killed him? You're not a detective.' And that's true. But my uncle was a detective, so I've got it in my blood." Watch below. Peter Weber

October 17, 2018

In an interview Wednesday with The Wall Street Journal, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election is "appropriate and independent," and when everything is over, "the public will have confidence that the cases we brought were warranted by the evidence, and that it was an appropriate use of resources."

Rosenstein would not speculate on when the investigation might be finished, but he did note that it has already uncovered a massive effort by Russians to interfere in the election. "I have a solemn responsibility to make sure that cases like that are pursued and prosecuted, and I'm pleased the president has been supportive of that," he said. Rosenstein appointed Mueller in May 2017 after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation.

Rosenstein also would not comment on reports that he suggested secretly recording President Trump, an allegation he has denied, or how that affected their relationship. "The president knows that I am prepared to do this job as long as he wants me to do this job," he said. "You serve at the pleasure of the president, and there's never been any ambiguity about that in my mind." Catherine Garcia

October 17, 2018

Wednesday was Don McGahn's last day as White House counsel, The Associated Press reports.

A person inside the White House confirmed that McGahn has officially stepped down, after a 21-month tenure. During an interview with AP on Tuesday, President Trump said Washington lawyer Pat Cipollone would replace McGahn, and the president reportedly had a 20-minute farewell meeting with McGahn on Wednesday. McGahn served as the Trump campaign's general counsel, and in August, Trump announced McGahn would leave after Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court.

During his time in the White House, McGahn pushed for young conservatives to fill the Supreme Court, and reportedly threatened to quit in 2017 when Trump ordered the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He also cooperated with the Mueller investigation, sitting for about 30 hours of interviews. Catherine Garcia

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