Analysis: Cohen hearing stokes touchy topic of impeachment

WASHINGTON (AP) — Michael Cohen’s testimony is just the beginning.
The House oversight hearing with President Donald Trump’s former attorney, coming in advance of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, heralds what Democrats in Congress view as the long days ahead providing checks and balances on the Oval Office.
For some, the outcome may — or may not — lead to grounds for impeachment. For others, impeachment cannot come fast enough.
What is certain, though, is the mounting tension. As the hearings and investigations unfold, Democrats, particularly those running for the White House, may be speeding toward a moment when they have no choice but to consider the I-word.
Newly elected Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, among the most outspoken lawmakers on impeachment, says that as the 2020 presidential candidates visit her Detroit-area district, “most residents are going to ask where they stand on this issue.”
Voters are less concerned with Mueller’s Russia investigation, Tlaib said, than with the day-to-day White House operations and “whether or not there’s a crooked CEO in the Oval Office.”
Hours into Cohen’s testimony Wednesday, New Hampshire’s statehouse Speaker Steve Shurtleff, a Democrat, said that impeaching the president was becoming a realistic option.
“They’re putting a lot of meat on the bone,” Shurtleff said in an interview. “It could be a one-two punch,” he said of the Cohen hearing and Mueller report. “I think it’ll connect a lot of dots.”
Trump allies have tried to use the prospect of impeachment as a political weapon. The president’s former chief counselor, Steve Bannon, had warned before the 2018 elections that Democrats would impeach the president if they won control of Congress.
Republicans are taking up that mantle. At the start of the Cohen hearing, the top Republican on the panel, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, said the only reason for the session was so Democrats could pursue impeachment. Another committee Republican, Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, called the hearing a “circus” not worth Americans’ time. And newly elected Republican Rep. Carol Miller of West Virginia said the sole purpose was “discrediting the president.”
“If it was not already obvious,” Miller said, “there are members here with a singular goal in Congress to impeach President Trump.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has kept calls for impeachment at bay by insisting that Mueller first must be allowed to finish his work, which reports suggest could happen in the coming weeks, and present his findings publicly — though it’s unclear whether the White House will allow its full release.
“Impeachment is a divisive issue in our country and let us see what the facts are,” Pelosi said Thursday. “When the facts are known, we’ll make a judgment then.”
Pelosi says the House shouldn’t pursue impeachment for political reasons, nor should it hold back for political reasons. Instead, she says lawmakers need to do their jobs as a co-equal branch of government and go wherever the facts lead.
“The American people expect us to hold the administration accountable,” said Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I, a member of House leadership. “And if during the course of that we come upon sufficient evidence that warrants his removal, I think they expect us to do that.”
But Democrats are not there yet, at all.
So far, the Democratic Party’s potential 2020 class has tried to avoid the impeachment question altogether, fearful that calling for impeachment before the Mueller report is out could undermine the process and trigger a voter backlash.
Among them, only former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke has directly called for Trump’s impeachment. Others approached the Cohen hearing in more cautious and creative ways.
Sen. Kamala Harris of California, used the hearings as a fundraising opportunity. “Are you watching Michael Cohen testify before Congress today?” campaign manager Juan Rodriguez wrote. “There’s a lot to unpack, but it’s abundantly clear: if we are finally going to get to the truth, Congress must act to protect Robert Mueller from being fired before his findings in the Russia investigation are made public.” He asked for donations of between $10 and $250.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts sent an email during the hearing promising, if she becomes president, not to pardon anyone implicated in the Trump investigations. She set down a challenge for others running to do same.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota tweeted that Cohen’s testimony “is a big deal.” Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey said in a brief chat that he wasn’t watching the hearing but was “looking to digest it.”
And Howard Schultz, the former Starbucks CEO considering an independent bid, said the testimony is “another stark reminder of President Trump’s utter disregard for honesty and decency.”
The liberal base is restive, though. A new group, By the People, launched a pledge drive urging members of both parties in Congress to show leadership by extending the legislative branch’s oversight to the next step of impeachment.
“We already know Donald Trump has committed impeachable offenses,” said Alexandra Flores-Quilty, a spokesperson for the group. “We can’t wait any longer and want our representatives to move forward now.”
So far only Tlaib and fellow newly elected Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota have signed on.
Another new Democrat, Rep. Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, said impeachment was not central to his campaign for office. “Our constituents back home sent me up here to do a job and focus on certain issues and that’s not something I’m focused on right now,” he said.
Surveys show impeachment has merit for some voters. In a January Washington Post-ABC News poll, about as many Americans said Congress should begin impeachment proceedings (40 percent) as said they approved of the job Trump is doing as president (37 percent).
Billionaire liberal activist Tom Steyer, who has poured millions of dollars into a campaign calling for Trump’s impeachment, said Cohen’s testimony marked a turning point in the debate because it’s clear Trump broke the law. His group is launching a TV ad over the next week to highlight that point.
“It ended the argument. It didn’t end the fight,” Steyer said in an interview.
Steyer says Democrats can only wait on the Mueller report for so long before they have to make their own decisions. His group is hosting town halls in the hometown districts of key House chairmen — including Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, who presided over the Wednesday’s hearing.
But as the Oversight Committee chairman exited the hourslong sessions, Cummings told reporters the only people using the I-word were the Republicans.
“Not one person on our side mentioned the word impeachment,” the chairman said.
EDITOR’S NOTE — AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro has covered Congress since 2010. AP National Political Writer Steve Peoples has covered presidential politics for The Associated Press since 2011.
Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor and Emily Swanson contributed to this report.

Federal jury deliberates at NY corruption retrial

CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (AP) — A federal jury is deliberating at the corruption retrial of former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and his wife.
Newsday says the deliberations began on Thursday afternoon in Central Islip.
Mangano is accused of helping Long Island businessman Harendra Singh obtain guaranteed loans in exchange for lavish gifts.
Prosecutors say the Republican politician’s wife, Linda Mangano, was given a $100,000-a-year, no-show job at one of Singh’s restaurants.
On Wednesday, Linda Mangano’s attorney described Singh as a “treacherous person” and a liar who betrayed a family friend.
The Manganos say that any favors were because of their personal ties with Singh. Their first trial ended in a mistrial in May.
Information from: Newsday,

Feds: Portions of Cohen search warrants should remain secret

NEW YORK (AP) — A court in New York is a step closer to releasing documents relating to the law enforcement raids last year of Michael Cohen’s home and office.
Federal prosecutors filed court papers Thursday identifying portions of search warrants they say should be blacked out when they are made public.
Media organizations requested access to the search warrants citing high public interest in the case.
Prosecutors opposed releasing the records. They said disclosing them could jeopardize an investigation of the hush-money payments Cohen arranged for two women who claimed they had affairs with Donald Trump before he became president. Trump denies the affairs. Cohen is President Donald Trump’s former lawyer.
U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III agreed to release redacted versions of the materials related to Cohen’s tax evasion and false statements to financial institutions, among other misconduct.

Funeral held for New York mom killed in family mow-down

NYACK, N.Y. (AP) — A pregnant mother of six who police say was killed when a driver intentionally hit her family outside a convenience store was mourned and celebrated Thursday for her kindness and generous spirit.
Melissa DeLoatch’s children sat in a pew with her husband during her funeral at St. Ann’s Church in suburban Nyack, according to the Journal News .
The Rev. Roman Palecko told Shawn DeLoatch that the children can learn and grow spiritually despite their loss.
“I know this is not easy,” he said, “but it is your mission.”
“They were good kids, and she was a good mother,” said Brent Newbury, a neighbor and retired South Nyack-Grand View police chief.
DeLoatch, 32, shielded her youngest child, a girl in a stroller, on Feb. 20 when a driver mowed down the family outside a 7-Eleven store in Haverstraw, police said. Her husband and the children, ages 11 months to 10 years, required hospital treatment.
Sean DeLoatch had argued with Jason Mendez after telling him not to smoke in front of the children as the family entered the store, police said.
Mendez then “intentionally drove his vehicle across the parking lot of the 7-Eleven store … into a family of eight persons standing on the sidewalk out front,” according to the felony complaint. “After striking this family with his vehicle, Mendez reversed backwards approximately 20 feet (six meters), put his car into drive, and drove forward over the members of the family a second time.”
The defendant then tried to flee. When two police officers stopped him, he got out and menaced them with a razor blade, the complaint said. They repeatedly ordered him to drop it then used a stun gun on him.
An email requesting comment was sent to Mendez’s attorney on Thursday.
The family has ties to Nyack and Newburgh and recently had moved in with Shawn DeLoatch’s parents in Stony Point.
“She would give you the shirt off her back; she would give you her last piece of bread,” Melissa DeLoatch’s mother, Joan Christopher, previously told the Journal News. “When it came to her children, she protected them and did everything for them.”

Feds seek multiyear sentences in college basketball case

NEW YORK (AP) — Federal prosecutors have recommended multiyear prison sentences for three men convicted of fraud for channeling secret payments to the families of top-tier basketball recruits to influence where the players went to school.
Former Adidas executive James Gatto, business manager Christian Dawkins and amateur league director Merl Code were convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in October for funneling recruits to Louisville, Kansas and North Carolina State.
On Wednesday, prosecutors in the Southern District of New York recommended a sentence of 46 to 57 months for Gatto and 30 to 37 months in prison for Code and Dawkins. They are scheduled to be sentenced next week.
The schools submitted victim impact statements seeking restitutions from those convicted. Kansas asked for more than $1.1 million from Gatto and his co-conspirators.
Kansas says it has “suffered considerable financial harm,” citing losses of scholarships and financial aid to athletes and legal expenses tied to the government and NCAA investigations.
“The damage done by Mr. Gatto’s and his co-conspirators’ greed cannot be overstated,” university counsel William Sullivan wrote.
Louisville is seeking about $32,000 in connection with Brian Bowen Jr., who was supposed to play for the Cardinals but was suspended by the school amid the corruption scandal. He also, unsuccessfully, tried to play for South Carolina
“It impacted every employee who worked with young Brian Bowen during the summer and fall of 2017,” the school said.
Amy Elizabeth Shoemaker, deputy counsel for Louisville, described Bowen as an 18-year-old who “by all appearances had no idea that a handful of deceitful individuals were conspiring with his father to buy and sell his choice of school.”
North Carolina State is seeking $258,585, the value of the one year of tuition for Dennis Smith Jr., who played one season at the school before being an NBA lotter pick in 2017, plus attorney’s fees.

City Ballet names its #MeToo-era leaders: a man-woman team

By JOCELYN NOVECK, AP National Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — It’s a pas de deux: New York City Ballet has chosen two former dancers — a man and a woman — to lead the company in the #MeToo era, following the scandal that ended with the retirement of longtime artistic director Peter Martins.
Former ballerina Wendy Whelan, beloved by fans and dancers alike, is the new associate artistic director, joining artistic director Jonathan Stafford, who led an interim management team following Martins’ departure last year amid allegations — which Martins denied — that he physically and emotionally abused dancers.
In an interview Thursday following the announcement at a company meeting, Whelan, 51, said she was clearly aware of the broader meaning of her elevation to one of the top positions in all of ballet.
“It’s a cultural moment right now,” said Whelan, who has been experimenting with modern dance since her emotional City Ballet farewell more than four years ago. “And there’s no better time to really seize that moment.”
Whelan noted the rarity of women in top positions at the most prominent ballet companies. “It’s time for that progress,” she said. “The culture is ready for it, and the art form is definitely ready for it.”
The 38-year-old Stafford will also lead the School of American Ballet, affiliated with the company. He and Whelan said they planned to work as a team, and promised above all a “safe space” for dancers at the company, co-founded by iconic choreographer George Balanchine in 1948.
“We’re definitely looking to provide a space that’s safe and nurturing and will allow the great artists that we have here to be able to thrive, to continue to develop, and to be able to heal from the episodes of the past 14 months,” Stafford said.
Martins succeeded Balanchine in 1983. He retired early last year amid the allegations — by both male and female dancers — that he physically or emotionally abused them. The company later said that a two-month investigation had failed to corroborate those allegations. Some dancers at the company continued to express support for him, while others did not.
Later, three male principal dancers were forced out of the company after they were accused of sharing explicit photos of female dancers in text messages.
Whelan said among her goals for the organization was to bring “a really nice level of communication and empowerment to the dancers, to really think about them as human beings and individuals as well as artists.”
The former dancer, whose struggle back to form from a devastating injury was chronicled in the 2017 documentary “Restless Creature,” said she’d be focusing on programming and new commissions, as well as working in the studio coaching dancers. “At 51 I’m taking on a debut role,” she quipped. “Being in front of this number of dancers and musicians and administrative people is something new for me, to this degree.”
Stafford, also a former principal dancer, noted that Whelan “has danced most of the ballets in our repertory, and had so many roles created for her, so we’re really excited to have her in that (coaching) role as well as a kind of mentor for our dancers.”
Critics have noted that the company has still been performing at a top level. “This company is known for really banding together and lifting each other up,” Stafford said. “And it’s been an exciting place to work, despite all the challenges that we’ve had.”
The announcement Thursday, after an extensive search, appeared well received both inside and outside the company.
“The wait is over,” wrote NYCB ballerina Ashley Bouder on Instagram. “It was a long and often difficult road, but finally NYCB has a solid direction. I cannot express how THRILLED I am to have such a strong woman, Wendy Whelan, as part of the new era.”

NY poised to join 41 states in criminalizing revenge porn

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Lawmakers in New York voted to join 41 other states in criminalizing revenge porn Thursday, passing legislation that would make it a misdemeanor to disseminate explicit photos of a person without their consent.
The measure would also allow victims to file lawsuits against the person responsible for distributing their photos. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports the bill and is expected to sign it into law.
During debate in the state Assembly and Senate, supporters argued that criminal penalties are warranted due to the deeply personally and emotionally injurious nature of the offense.
“This violence seeks to cripple the soul,” said Sen. James Sanders, D-Queens.
Often, revenge porn involves images originally meant to remain private between two people in a relationship that are disseminated by one partner once the couple splits.
Under the proposed change, someone guilty of the crime could face up to a year in prison.
Debated for years, the bill had been held up over concerns that internet companies could be held legally responsible for inadvertently allowing revenge porn photos online. The bill was tweaked this year to address that concern, easing the way for passage in both legislative chambers.
Backers of the bill bemoaned the delay, saying revenge porn has only proliferated as texting and social media have grown in use and popularity.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports the bill and is expected to sign it once it reaches his desk.
“This disgusting and insidious behavior, which can follow victims around their entire lives, has no place in New York,” Cuomo said in a statement Thursday.

Police: Man faked abduction to avoid Super Bowl payouts

NEWFANE, N.Y. (AP) — State police say a western New York man faked his own abduction and robbery because he was short of cash owed in a Super Bowl pool.
Troopers found 60-year-old Robert Brandel of North Tonawanda tied up in his pickup truck Monday in a parking lot in Newfane, 30 miles north of Buffalo.
Brandel told troopers two men involved in his Super Bowl squares robbed him of $16,000, drove him around for two days and left him tied up in his pickup.
Investigators determined Brandel had entered some fake names in his $50,000 squares pool hoping to take most of the winnings, but instead ended up short for the payouts.
Brandel was charged with fraud and falsely reporting an incident.
It couldn’t be determined if he has a lawyer to comment.

4th child dies due to fire

IMLAY CITY, Mich. (AP) — Police say a fourth child has died after a fire at a mobile home in Michigan’s Thumb region.
Imlay City police say Keyairah Kelley was just a month old. She and three other children died as a result of the fire early Tuesday, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of Detroit.
Keith Kelley, wife Krystal Whitney and a 19-month-old boy are in a hospital with severe burns. It’s a tough time for the small community. Police Chief Scott Pike says, “We’re not faring well right now.”
Pike says it could take weeks to determine the cause of the fire. He says investigators have found no evidence of smoke detectors.
Fire Chief Rick Horton says he recognized the children because he had read Christmas stories to them during a community event.

US pedestrian deaths hit highest number since 1990

DETROIT (AP) — The number of pedestrians killed on U.S. roads last year was the highest in 28 years, according to a report from a safety organization. Using data reported by states, the Governors Highway Safety Association estimates that 6,227 pedestrians were killed last year. That’s up 4 percent from 2017 and 35 percent since 2008.
The association blames the increase on factors that include distracted or impaired drivers, more people walking to work, and more SUVs on the road, which cause more severe injuries in collisions with people on foot. It also says most deaths happen on local roads at night and away from intersections, and it called for safer road crossings. Night crashes accounted for more than 90 percent of the increase.
“While we have made progress reducing fatalities among many other road users in the past decade, pedestrian deaths have risen 35 percent,” Jonathan Adkins, association’s executive director, said. “The alarm bells continue to sound on this issue.”