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August 19, 2016
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Paul Manafort, Donald Trump's campaign chairman, made a fortune and revived his political consultant career in Ukraine beginning with a 2005 contract with steel magnate Rinat Akhmetov, The Washington Post details, but Manafort's subsequent work for Ukraine's ruling party and since-ousted Moscow-aligned president, Viktor Yanukovych, might send him to jail, according to newly uncovered documents and emails.

The most serious legal problem for Manafort is that he and his Trump campaign deputy, Rick Gates, did not register as foreign agents for their covert work directly running a lobbying operation in Washington on behalf of Ukraine's government, The Associated Press reports, citing emails it has obtained. The emails show Gates' direct management of a lobbying effort via two lobbying firms, Mercury and the Podesta Group (run by Tony Podesta, brother of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta), and former employees at both firms say Manafort — Gates' boss at DMP International — personally oversaw the campaign and spoke with them on the phone.

Also on Thursday, Ukraine's National Anti-Corruption Bureau posted on Facebook 22 instances where Yanukovych's Party of Regions earmarked $12.7 million in "under the table" payments to Manafort, though there is no proof Manafort ever received that money. "Under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, people who lobby on behalf of foreign political leaders or political parties must provide detailed reports about their actions to the Justice Department," AP says. "A violation is a felony and can result in up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000."

Politically, AP adds, "Manafort and Gates' activities carry outsized importance, since they have steered Trump's campaign since April. The pair also played a formative role building out Trump's campaign operation after pushing out an early rival." Manafort's relationship with Konstantin Kilimnik, a protégé who rose from interpreter to head of Manafort's Ukraine office, is also under scrutiny, given Kilimnik's well-known background with Russia's military intelligence, as detailed by Politico. Kilimnik says he traveled to the U.S. and met with Manafort as recently as this past spring.

Manafort said earlier this week that he had not personally received "any such cash payments" from the Party of Regions (though Manafort's statement "left open the possibility that cash payments had been made to his firm or associates," The New York Times notes), and he and Gates have maintained that they did no work for Ukraine that required registering as foreign agents. Neither had anything to add to those statements on Thursday. You can read more about Manafort's business in Ukraine and ties to its pro-Russian political and business class at AP, The Washington Post, Politico, and The New York Times. Peter Weber

9:43 a.m. ET

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is one of five Republican senators who have publicly opposed the GOP Senate health-care bill since its introduction last week, and in an op-ed published Monday in The New York Times, Johnson detailed exactly why he thinks the Better Care Reconciliation Act "fails."

Johnson argued that a plan replacing ObamaCare ought to "bring relief, and better, less expensive care, to millions of working men and women." "Unfortunately, the Senate Republican alternative, unveiled last week, doesn't appear to come close to addressing their plight," Johnson wrote.

Instead, just "like ObamaCare, it relies too heavily on government spending, and ignores the role that the private sector can and should play," Johnson wrote. Rather than embracing the "simple solution" of rolling back "regulations and mandates" that Johnson said he and other senators pushed for, the bill retains the health-care system's characteristic complexity:

We're disappointed that the discussion draft turns its back on this simple solution, and goes with something far too familiar: throwing money at the problem.

The bill's defenders will say it repeals Obamacare's taxes and reduces Medicaid spending growth. That's true. But it also boosts spending on subsidies, and it leaves in place the pre-existing-condition rules that drive up the cost of insurance for everyone. [Sen. Ron Johnson, via The New York Times]

Johnson proposed returning "flexibility to states, to give individuals the freedom and choice to buy plans they want without ObamaCare's 'reforms'" and building off of "successful models for protecting individuals with pre-existing conditions." "Only then can the market begin to rein in the underlying cost of health care itself and reduce the cost of taxpayer subsidies," Johnson wrote.

Read the op-ed in full at The New York Times. Becca Stanek

9:38 a.m. ET
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A surreal paternity case in Madrid has led to a Spanish judge demanding that the body of Salvador Dali be dug up to test a woman's claims that the painter is her father, the BBC reports. Maria Pilar Abel Martinez, a tarot card reader, alleges Dali had an affair with her mother, a maid, in 1955. At the time, Dali was married to Gala Dali; the couple do not have any children.

It is necessary for Dali to be exhumed to test the paternity claims because there are no known biological remains of the artist. Dali died in 1989, at the age of 85, and is buried in his hometown of Figueres. Jeva Lange

9:20 a.m. ET

President Trump resumed a rant about Russia, former President Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton on Monday morning, an apparent continuation of his reaction to a damning Washington Post story from last week that painted Obama as having done too little too late to pinch off the Kremlin's influence over the 2016 election:

Trump — who has been accused of "collusion" and "obstruction" himself — turned the allegations on their head to baselessly accuse his predecessor of colluding with Russia or obstructing justice instead. It is not entirely clear from Trump's tweets what he means, though The Washington Post reported that part of Obama's unwillingness to act on Russia was due to Trump's rhetoric. Administration officials "worried that any action they took [over the Russia hacking] would be perceived as political interference in an already volatile campaign," the Post writes. "By August, Trump was predicting that the election would be rigged. Obama officials feared providing fuel to such claims, playing into Russia's efforts to discredit the outcome and potentially contaminating the expected Clinton triumph."

Last week, Trump also tried to pin the scrutiny his team is receiving on the previous administration. "Since the Obama administration was told way before the 2016 election that the Russians were meddling, why no action?" he tweeted. "Focus on them, not T!" Jeva Lange

8:46 a.m. ET

Long before President Trump blasted anonymous sources from the Oval Office, he was reportedly an anonymous source himself — for the National Enquirer. While Trump had been a subject of the Enquirer's coverage in the early 1990s, embarrassed by such headlines as "Trump's mistress cheats on Donald with Tom Cruise," all that changed when Trump's friend, David Pecker, became the publisher of the notorious tabloid in 1999, The New Yorker reports.

…Once Pecker took over [the National Enquirer], critical coverage of Trump vanished. "They have an agreement where David would not write anything that damages Donald," a senior [American Media, Inc.] official from this period told me.

One employee said that Trump was also a frequent source for Enquirer stories. "When there was something going on in New York, David would talk with Trump about it. Trump provided David with stories directly," the employee said. "And, if Donald didn't want a story to run, it wouldn't run. You can put that in stone." Indeed, early in the 2016 campaign Pecker simply turned over the pages of the Enquirer to Trump, allowing the candidate to write columns under his own byline. [The New Yorker]

In fact, Pecker is so loyal to Trump these days that he has reportedly personally killed or squashed stories that would be embarrassing or damaging to the president. Read more about the tight ties between the commander-in-chief and the National Enquirer at The New Yorker. Jeva Lange

7:54 a.m. ET
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signs a 2014 bill increasing the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour.

A 2014 law designed to incrementally raise the minimum wage of Seattle's low-income workers up to $15 an hour has apparently backfired, a study conducted by University of Washington economists concluded. The findings show that low-wage employees actually lost an average of $125 a month under the new model, or about $1,500 a year, due to employers' reduced payrolls and hours.

Most alarmingly, "the paper's conclusions contradict years of research on the minimum wage," The Washington Post reports. "Many past studies, by contrast, have found that the benefits of increases for low-wage workers exceed the costs in terms of reduced employment — often by a factor of four or five to one."

Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist David Autor, who reviewed the paper, said the study strikes him as "likely to influence people" and called the work "very credible." "If I were a Seattle lawmaker, I would be thinking hard about the $15 an hour phase-in," said Autor.

Still, the research is in its early stages and has not yet been tested by peer review. But based on the preliminary findings, FiveThirtyEight suggests the Seattle experiment — with the highest minimum wage in the nation, at $13 an hour in 2016 — was possibly a case of being too extreme too quickly.

"The literature shows that moderate minimum wage increases seem to consistently have their intended effects, [but] you have to admit that the increases that we're now contemplating go beyond moderate," said economist Jared Bernstein, of the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "That doesn't mean, however, that you know what the outcome is going to be. You have to test it, you have to scrutinize it, which is why Seattle is a great test case." Jeva Lange

7:44 a.m. ET
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President Trump is eager to hold a formal bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a G20 summit in Germany next month, to the dismay of top advisers at the State Department and National Security Council, The Associated Press reports. And Trump's refusal to acknowledge that Russia interfered in the 2016 election is causing consternation in Congress, among government officials, and even some Trump supporters, Maggie Haberman says at The New York Times. All 17 U.S. intelligence agencies concur that Russia hacked and released Democratic emails to help Trump win, and there is a growing body of reporting on the other ways Russia tried to interfere in the election.

Trump and some of his advisers want a full meeting with Putin, with all the diplomatic trappings and photos, while many other advisers would prefer a more informal chat between the two leaders, given the ongoing investigation into possible Trump team collusion with Russia and other sensitive global issues. Part of the issue is that Trump prefers strategic ambiguity, and wants to makes deals. "He doesn't want to be set by this narrative that the Russians hacked the election when he has to negotiate with Russia, who, by the way, sits on China's border," Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign aide, tells The New York Times. "If Putin adamantly denies that he did it, it's frankly not an issue to the president."

His refusal to publicly make it an issue, or deal with the vulnerabilities in the U.S. electoral system the Russian hacking exposed, isn't quite so easy to explain, Haberman reports, "but aides and friends say the matter hits him where he is most vulnerable. Mr. Trump, who often conflates himself with the institutions he serves, sees questions about Russia as an effort by Democrats and stragglers from the 'Never Trump' movement to delegitimize his election victory." You can read more about Trump, Russia, and Trump's flummoxed advisers at AP and The New York Times. Peter Weber

7:26 a.m. ET

White House employee Ivanka Trump apparently has a rather curious understanding of what it means to be a senior adviser to the president. On Monday, she informed Fox & Friends that despite having an office in the West Wing, "I try to stay out of politics."

Trump went on to say: "I instead like to focus on areas where I can add positive value, where I can contribute to the agenda. Policies around workforce development, about ensuring that barriers are removed for the American working family … focusing on how we can help our veterans and how we can really deliver them the care that they so need."

But "I don't profess to be a political savant," Trump attempted to clarify. "So I leave the politics to other people and really lean into the issues that I care deeply about." Jeva Lange

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