Peter Overby

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Updated at 2:19 p.m. ET

The Foreign Emoluments Clause of the Constitution will be rendered meaningless if Democrats in Congress aren't allowed to sue President Trump for violating it, a lawyer for nearly 200 Democratic senators and representatives told a federal judge today.

"There's simply nothing Congress can do to stop the president's actions, no matter who's in control of the body," said Brianne Gorod, chief counsel of the Constitution Accountability Center, representing the Democratic lawmakers.

Updated at 5:30 p.m. ET

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, already battling roughly a dozen ethics investigations, allegedly asked a top aide to obtain a used mattress from President Trump's Washington, D.C., hotel.

Millan Hupp, Pruitt's director of scheduling and advance, told House investigators last month that she couldn't track down the mattress, and didn't know if Pruitt ultimately got one.

A spokeswoman for the Trump International Hotel had no comment on any aspect of the story.

As tech companies and government agencies prepare to defend against possible Russian interference in the midterm elections, the Federal Election Commission has a different response: too soon.

The four commissioners on Thursday deadlocked, again, on proposals to consider new rules, for example, for foreign-influenced U.S. corporations and for politically active entities that don't disclose their donors.

Updated at 5:15 p.m. ET

Emory Rounds III, President Trump's nominee to lead the Office of Government Ethics, got a warm if brief welcome Wednesday from a Senate committee.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., summed up senators' concerns about OGE, which has gone toe-to-toe with the Trump White House several times. Carper asked Rounds, "Are you confident you can maintain independence from this White House, and when necessary hold it accountable?"

Rounds replied, "I certainly intend to do so, yes sir."

Federal prosecutors have gone where the Federal Election Commission can't find its way, charging two Arizona brothers with using bogus political action committees to scam gullible small-dollar donors.

A criminal complaint alleges that William and Robert Tierney raised more than $23 million between 2014 and 2017. It says William Tierney's share was more than $3 million; Robert Tierney's was more than $600,000; the candidates they claimed to be supporting got about $109,000.

Updated at 5:40 p.m. ET

In his annual disclosure of personal finances, President Trump acknowledged that he paid lawyer Michael Cohen between $100,000 and $250,000 last year.

Both Cohen and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani have said some of that money was to reimburse Cohen for a $130,000 hush money settlement with adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who says she had an affair with Trump.

Michael Cohen — variously described as President Trump's lawyer, fixer or, in his words, "pit bull" — has emerged as a would-be Washington influence peddler.

AT&T, Korean Aerospace Industries, a branch of the Swiss drugmaker Novartis and an American company linked to a Russian oligarch all acknowledged they had hired Cohen after Trump's surprise victory in 2016. It appears that between January 2017 and January 2018 about $1.25 million flowed from the four companies into Cohen's Essential Consultants LLC.

As with most Trump-related controversies, it leaves questions.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Did President Trump break campaign finance laws when his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid $130,000 to an adult film actress as part of a nondisclosure agreement? Or was Trump hoping the payment would smooth out his personal life?

That's still the fundamental question regarding Stormy Daniels' alleged encounter with Trump. But after a few volleys of contradictory accounts on TV and Twitter, the details are becoming clearer.

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