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April 21, 2017
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An investigation by USA Today has documented more than 400 previously undisclosed properties across the U.S. owned by President Trump's business trust and companies. The properties are worth an estimated $250 million and include "at least 422 luxury condos and penthouses from New York City to Las Vegas, 12 mansion lots on bluffs overlooking his golf course on the Pacific Ocean, and dozens more smaller pieces of real estate," USA Today reported.

The properties present "an extraordinary and unprecedented potential for people, corporations, or foreign interests to try to influence the president," USA Today wrote. Because the properties in question are owned directly by Trump's companies and not licensed through a separate development company, any sales would directly augment Trump's wealth. Already, there are some murky deals: USA Today found that of the 14 luxury condos and home-building lots Trump companies have sold since Election Day, "half were sold to limited liability companies" and "no names were listed in deeds, obscuring buyers' identities."

Now that Trump has assumed office, a lot more people are apparently inquiring about buying real estate owned by the president. While Trump isn't legally obligated to offer a complete inventory of every property he owns, nor is he required to disclose when he makes a sale, he is constitutionally prohibited from accepting gifts from foreign officials. But because real estate laws allow shell companies to be set up so that a person can make a purchase without revealing his or her identity, USA Today noted it could be "impossible for the public to know" who purchases a Trump property in this manner.

"Anyone seeking to influence the president could set up an anonymous company and purchase his property," said Heather Lowe, director of government affairs at Global Financial Integrity, a group focused on stopping illegal financial transactions. "It's a big black box, and the system is failing as a check for conflicts of interest."

Read the full product of USA Today's four-month-long investigation here. Becca Stanek

9:29 a.m. ET
MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images

A new ABC News/Washington Post poll released Wednesday revealed just how radically different Democrats' and Republicans' perceptions of Russia's election meddling are. On the whole, 56 percent of Americans believe Russia tried to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election, an allegation that bipartisan leaders of Congress have said there is evidence to support. But when broken down by party, the numbers diverge drastically: Just 32 percent of strong conservatives believe Russia meddled, while 77 percent of liberals believe the Kremlin tried to play a hand in the election's results.

That split deepens even further when the question of possible foul play by U.S. presidents arises. A majority of leaned Republicans (55 percent) think former President Barack Obama spied on President Trump during the election. A majority of leaned Democrats (60 percent) think Trump's campaign tried to help Russia to influence the election. Just 14 percent of Democrats believe Obama spied on Trump, and a slim 18 percent of Republicans think Trump had anything to do with Russia's meddling.

To further complicate matters, neither party is particularly confident Congress can get to the bottom of this. Fifty-five percent of Democrats aren't confident Congress will lead a fair investigation, and Republicans are evenly split (46 percent to 46 percent) on whether or not Congress' investigation will be fair.

The poll was conducted by phone from April 17-20 among 1,004 adults. Its overall margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Becca Stanek

9:12 a.m. ET
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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson infuriated the leader of the 55-nation African Union after backing out of their scheduled meeting at the last minute, Foreign Policy reports. Experts on African diplomacy say the snub could result in "lasting consequences and potentially burn bridges that took decades to build."

People familiar with the snafu told Foreign Policy that Tillerson had invited Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki from talks at the United Nations in New York to a meeting in Washington, D.C., the week of April 17. But after Faki scheduled his trip, Tillerson "went radio silent for several days."

"Tillerson's team eventually got back to Faki's entourage as he was about to depart New York and offered a meeting with lower-level State Department officials, but Faki cancelled his Washington visit entirely," Foreign Policy writes.

"This is ridiculous, particularly at a time when Africans are increasingly becoming more and more aware of their choices in partners around the world," explained Reuben Brigety, the former U.S. ambassador to the African Union. He told Foreign Policy that canceling a meeting and not informing the dignitary until the last minute is "just the dumbest thing in the world."

Faki has the potential to be a valuable ally to the Trump administration as he has worked extensively to fight terrorism in Africa and is also leading a war against the Boko Haram extremists as minister of foreign affairs for Chad. "This was going to be a courtesy visit, an easy win [for Tillerson]," said Melvin Foote, the president and chief executive of the nonprofit Constituency for Africa. "Why would you not want this meeting to happen?" Jeva Lange

8:38 a.m. ET
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The fine print of a new Republican health-care amendment apparently indicates that members of Congress want to keep Affordable Care Act provisions for themselves while repealing them for the rest of the country, Vox reports. Introduced Tuesday night, the amendment would allow states to waive the ObamaCare ban on charging people with pre-existing conditions higher premiums or the requirement to cover essential health benefits like maternity care, mental health services, or emergency room visits — except it would not apply to members of Congress or their staffs.

"A spokesperson for Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) who authored this amendment confirmed this was the case," Vox writes. "Members of Congress and their staff would get the guarantee of keeping these ObamaCare regulations."

In other words:

If Congressional aides lived in a state that decided to waive these protections, the aides who were sick could be vulnerable to higher premiums than the aides that are healthy. Their benefits package could get skimpier as ObamaCare's essential health benefits requirement may no longer apply either.

This apparently does not sound appealing because the Republican amendment includes the members of Congress and their staff as a protected group who cannot be affected by this amendment. [Vox]

Read more about the potential loophole for lawmakers at Vox. Jeva Lange

8:07 a.m. ET

There is actually a red button on the president's Oval Office desk, but contrary to any Cold War movie you've ever seen, it does not immediately launch America's arsenal of nukes. In fact, President Trump presses it all the time — whenever he wants a Coke.

A man accustomed to wealth and its trappings, Trump has embraced life in the Executive Mansion, often regaling guests with trivia about the historic decor. With the push of a red button placed on the Resolute Desk that presidents have used for decades, a White House butler soon arrived with a Coke for the president. [The Associated Press]

Bloomberg Businessweek's Joshua Green points out that this is, at least, more polite than the alternative:

Besides being a big fan of Coke (but not Diet Coke!), Trump has a few similarities with the bubbly beverage himself. Read about how Trump could wind up the "New Coke" of presidents here at The Week. Jeva Lange

7:27 a.m. ET
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The White House released a blistering statement Tuesday in response to a federal judge's decision to temporarily block President Trump's executive order that threatens to cut off government funding for sanctuary cities. "Today, the rule of law suffered another blow, as an unelected judge unilaterally rewrote immigration policy for our nation," it began.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick in San Francisco ruled that the plaintiffs, San Francisco and Santa Clara County, would likely be able to prove Trump's order unconstitutional. Orrick wrote in the preliminary injunction that the president "has no authority to attach new conditions to federal immigration spending."

The White House doesn't see it that way, though. Arguing the illegality of cities refusing to send relevant information to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the statement claimed "these cities are engaged in the dangerous and unlawful nullification of federal law in an attempt to erase our borders."

Aware of his looming 100-day symbolic deadline, President Trump is now facing his second bruising defeat by a federal judge as his immigration ban on several majority-Muslim countries was also repeatedly blocked for being unconstitutional. The president responded by lashing out at the order on Twitter, going as far as to criticize the U.S. legal system as "messy." "First the Ninth Circuit rules against the ban [and] now it hits again on sanctuary cities — both ridiculous rulings. See you in the Supreme Court!" he said. Orrick does not sit on the 9th circuit.

The White House added: "San Francisco, and cities like it, are putting the well-being of criminal aliens before the safety of our citizens, and those city officials who authored these policies have the blood of dead Americans on their hands. This San Francisco judge's erroneous ruling is a gift to the criminal gang and cartel element in our country, empowering the worst kind of human trafficking and sex trafficking, and putting thousands of innocent lives at risk." Read the full statement at BuzzFeed News. Jeva Lange

7:24 a.m. ET

Amid U.S.-North Korean tensions so high that defense analysts warn one misstep could lead to war, all 100 senators are meeting at the White House Wednesday afternoon for a special, unusual briefing on North Korea from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, intelligence chief Dan Coats, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It isn't clear if President Trump will attend at all, though a senior administration official told CNN "if he attends — which is not determined — it will just be a brief drop-by."

The briefing was arranged by the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and several senators seem unclear why they are traveling down the street on a fleet of buses instead of meeting at the Capitol. "That meeting is a Senate meeting led by Leader McConnell, just utilizing our space," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday. "We're not there to talk strategy." A McConnell spokesman said President Trump offered the auditorium at the Eisenhower Office Building when McConnell requested a briefing. "I, frankly, don't understand why it's not easier to bring four people here than it is to take 100 there," said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine).

A U.S. nuclear submarine docked in South Korea on Tuesday, the same day North Korea conducted its largest-ever live-fire military exercises to mark the anniversary of its military founding. The USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group is headed toward the Korean peninsula, and on Wednesday, the U.S. began setting up the U.S. Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system in South Korea, and is conducting a previously scheduled Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile test from California. "The real question now is somebody going to make a stupid mistake, because some kind of minor escalation could get out of hand," Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, told CNN. You can watch part of the North Korean exercises and a live report from CNN's Will Ripley in Pyongyang below. Peter Weber

6:16 a.m. ET
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A day before Ivanka Trump flew to Berlin to talk about empowering women economically, the Fair Labor Association apparel industry monitoring group released an audit of a Chinese clothing factory used by the exclusive maker of Trump's clothing line. The report found that the factory's 80 workers were regularly required to work 57 hours a week, earning between $63 and $70 a week to knit clothes for Trump's contractor, G-III Apparel Group. That wages are low and overtime requirements too high for Chinese law. The audit also found 24 violations of international labor standards at the factory. G-III has held the exclusive license to make Trump's clothes — $158 dresses, $79 blouses — since 1992, The Washington Post reports.

An independent monitoring group, SMT-Global, conducted the two-day audit of the unidentified Chinese G-III factory in October, and the report did not say if the factory was making Ivanka Trump clothes at the time; G-III also makes apparel for Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, and other brands, at factories throughout Asia and South America. Most of Ivanka Trump's clothes are made in China. Since October, G-III factories have shipped more than 110 tons of Ivanka-brand clothes to the U.S. Trump — who has "sought to cast herself as both a champion of workplace issues and a defender of her father's 'buy American, hire American' agenda," The Washington Post says — gave up management in her company but retains sole ownership. Peter Weber

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