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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

1:16 p.m. ET
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Billionaire Warren Buffett published his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders on Saturday, predicting investors "will almost certainly do well" if they stick with a "collection of large, conservatively financed American businesses." The American economy "is virtually certain to be worth far more in the years ahead," he wrote, enthusing about American "economic dynamism":

One word sums up our country’s achievements: miraculous. From a standing start 240 years ago — a span of time less than triple my days on earth — Americans have combined human ingenuity, a market system, a tide of talented and ambitious immigrants, and the rule of law to deliver abundance beyond any dreams of our forefathers. You need not be an economist to understand how well our system has worked. Just look around you. [Berkshire Hathaway]

Buffett devoted a large portion of his letter to decrying Wall Street fees that aren't worth it for investors:

The bottom line: When trillions of dollars are managed by Wall Streeters charging high fees, it will usually be the managers who reap outsized profits, not the clients. Both large and small investors should stick with low-cost index funds. ... My calculation, admittedly very rough, is that the search by the elite for superior investment advice has caused it, in aggregate, to waste more than $100 billion over the past decade. Figure it out: Even a 1% fee on a few trillion dollars adds up. Of course, not every investor who put money in hedge funds ten years ago lagged S&P returns. But I believe my calculation of the aggregate shortfall is conservative. [Berkshire Hathaway]

Read Buffett's full letter here, or see Forbes' selection of its seven best quotes if you just want the highlights. Bonnie Kristian

12:18 p.m. ET

The Democratic National Committee on Saturday voted down a resolution that would have revived a ban on corporate lobbyist donations first instituted by President Obama. The corporate lobbyist donation ban was lifted by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former DNC chair who resigned last summer amid allegations of primary contest favoritism.

Saturday's vote produced outrage on social media, particularly in the party's progressive wing.

The main item on the DNC meeting agenda in Atlanta Saturday is the selection of a new DNC chair. The top two contenders are Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and former Labor Secretary Tom Perez. Bonnie Kristian

11:57 a.m. ET
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Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, President Trump told the story of his "very, very substantial" friend Jim, who used to be very fond of vacationing in Paris but no longer visits because "Paris is no longer Paris."

French President Francois Hollande on Saturday took issue with the anecdote, which Trump shared in service to a point about fighting terrorism. "There is terrorism and we must fight it together," Hollande said. "I think that it is never good to show the smallest defiance toward an allied country. I wouldn't do it with the United States and I'm urging the U.S. president not to do it with France."

Parisian Mayor Anne Hidalgo previously responded Friday on Twitter, telling Trump she "celebrate[s] the dynamism and the spirit of openness of #Paris." Bonnie Kristian

10:54 a.m. ET

After sweeping the Golden Globes, La La Land is the heavy favorite for Best Picture — not to mention its 13 other nominations, the most for any film this year — at Sunday's 2017 Academy Awards ceremony. Still, there are seven other Best Picture nominees, and an intriguing analysis by The New York Times finds their support is far from uniform across the United States.


(The New York Times)

The rationale behind some of the movies' geographic popularity — which the Times mapped using location data on each film's Facebook likes — is more obvious than others. For example, Hidden Figures, which tells the true story of black women's oft-ignored contributions to the space race, was most popular in the Black Belt region of the South, which has a large African-American population. Likewise, Hacksaw Ridge, another true story, was a big hit in the Appalachian area from which its main character hails.

Other connections aren't so simple. For example, Arrival, a science-fiction film about alien contact, was popular in Maine, which the Times notes "has a lot of U.F.O. sightings."

See the Times' full breakdown here, or, if you prefer to accept the (probably) inevitable, check out this review of La La Land by The Week's Lili Loofbourow. Bonnie Kristian

10:13 a.m. ET

President Trump took to Twitter Saturday morning to reiterate his disdain for the media and suggest a gathering of his own supporters would be the "biggest [rally] of them all," after which he turned to economic matters.

Trump's tweet about the debt appears to reference the U.S. Treasury's daily history of the national debt. The debt presently sits at nearly $20 trillion, of which the $12 billion for which Trump takes credit is 0.06 percent.

As The Hill notes, the national debt spiked in February of 2009 mostly because the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the stimulus bill, which cost $831 billion and remains controversial eight years later. Both President George W. Bush and President Obama doubled the national debt during their time in office, from about $5.6 to $9.9 trillion and $9.9 to $19.9 trillion, respectively.

Economic optimism has been a favorite theme of Trump's of late, appearing in his CPAC speech Friday and at his campaign-style rally in Florida last Saturday. Bonnie Kristian

9:48 a.m. ET
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Scheduled back-channel conversations between representatives of the United States and North Korea have been canceled, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday, as the State Department retracted visa approval for the ranking foreign ministry envoy from Pyongyang, Choe Son Hui.

The reason for the visa withdrawal is unknown, though it may be tied to North Korea's ballistic missile test earlier this month. "The U.S government had no plans to engage in track 2 talks in New York," said a State Department representative who would not comment on the specifics of the visa revocation.

The talks were due to take place March 1 and 2 in New York City and were reportedly arranged at North Korea's instigation after President Trump's election. This would have been the first meeting between the two nations on U.S. soil in about six years. Bonnie Kristian

9:31 a.m. ET
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A security breech dubbed "CloudBleed" because of its link to cybersecurity company Cloudflare compromised some 3,400 websites, including popular services like Uber, FitBit, and OKCupid. News of the bug broke Thursday and Friday after it was discovered by a Google researcher named Tavis Ormandy, and users are encouraged to change their passwords on affected sites even though the problem has now been fixed.

Ormandy's report indicated he was able to find "private messages from major dating sites, full messages from a well-known chat service, online password manager data, frames from adult video sites, hotel bookings," though Cloudflare says it has "not discovered any evidence of malicious exploits of the bug or other reports of its existence."

For now, most potentially affected "users are probably fine," explained Adam Clark Estes at Gizmodo Saturday. "Then again," he adds, "Cloudbleed illustrates a larger problem with internet security. If one major player gets pwned, the consequences can be catastrophic." Bonnie Kristian

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