May 17, 2017

As news of President Trump's mounting scandals broke this week, many right-leaning media outlets chose to focus instead on the apparent revelation that murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was allegedly in touch with WikiLeaks before "mysteriously" being killed. There is no concrete evidence to indicate anything fishy about Rich's murder — Washington, D.C., police say it was likely a botched attempted robbery. Still, Fox News published a "scoop" citing a "federal investigator who reviewed an FBI forensic report … detailing the contents of Rich's computer" who claimed Rich had "made contact with WikiLeaks."

Almost immediately, Rich's family denied the story, blasting internet sleuths for unfounded conspiracy theories about Rich's death. Then Fox News' source, private investigator Rod Wheeler, told CNN that he actually had no evidence linking Rich to WikiLeaks:

Wheeler instead said he only learned about the possible existence of such evidence through the reporter he spoke to for the story. He explained that the comments he made to WTTG-TV were intended to simply preview Fox News' Tuesday story. The WTTG-TV news director did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

"I only got that [information] from the reporter at Fox News," Wheeler told CNN.

Asked about a quote attributed to him in the Fox News story in which he said his "investigation up to this point shows there was some degree of email exchange between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks," Wheeler said he was referring to information that had already been reported in the media. [CNN]

NBC News additionally reports that "local police in Washington, D.C., never even gave the FBI Rich's laptop to analyze after his murder," poking further holes in the Fox News report.

A spokesperson for Rich's family blamed outlets for publishing the unfounded rumor. Right-wing media has "shown over and over again that they are willing to lie and manipulate the facts" to further "their own political end," the spokesperson said. Jeva Lange

10:59 p.m.

Tax records obtained by The New York Times appear to show that President Trump reduced his taxable income by treating his eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, as a consultant, then deducting this as a business expense.

The Times reports that Trump Organization tax records show between 2010 and 2018, President Trump wrote off as business expenses $26 million in "consulting fees." The consultants are not listed by name, but the Times compared the tax records to financial disclosures Ivanka Trump filed when she started working at the White House in 2017 as a senior adviser to her father. Ivanka Trump reported receiving $747,622 in payments from a consulting company she co-owned — the same exact amount in consulting fees the Trump Organization claimed as tax deductions for hotel projects in Hawaii and Vancouver.

As an executive officer with the Trump Organization, Ivanka Trump managed the Hawaii and Vancouver hotel projects, "meaning she appears to have been treated as a consultant on the same hotel deals that she helped manage as part of her job at her father's business," the Times said. Ivanka Trump earned a salary of about $480,000 while serving as an executive with the Trump Organization, and the amount jumped up to $2 million after her father became president, the Times reports; since leaving to work in the White House, she has not received a salary from the company.

The tax filings also show that Trump collected $5 million for a hotel deal in Azerbaijan and reported $1.1 million in consulting fees and made $3 million in Dubai while reporting a $630,000 consulting fee. People with direct knowledge of the deals told the Times they were not aware of any consultants or third parties who would have been paid in connection with the projects. When asked about the matter, Alan Garten, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, did not comment.

The Internal Revenue Service said for consulting fees to be deducted as an expense, they must be an "ordinary and necessary" part of running a business, and the recipient must still pay income tax. Catherine Garcia

10:13 p.m.

President Trump on Sunday said The New York Times' report on his tax returns is "totally fake news."

The Times obtained tax return data extending for more than two decades, which shows Trump has largely avoided paying taxes because he reported losing substantially more than he made. Trump was asked about the Times' report during a press conference, and he responded, "Actually, I pay taxes. You'll see that as soon as my tax returns, they're under audit, they've been under audit for a long time." He went on to accuse the Internal Revenue Service of treating him "very, very badly," adding that he will be "proud to show" his returns once they are no longer being audited.

The IRS audits every sitting president's returns, and has said individuals are allowed to make their tax returns public while an audit is being conducted. Catherine Garcia

9:40 p.m.

The New York Times has obtained tax return data for President Trump covering more than two decades, which shows that Trump paid only $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 and paid no federal income taxes in 10 of the last 15 years, primarily because he reported losing more money than he made.

Trump has not made his tax filings public, and the information made its way to the Times via sources with legal access to it. The filings contain information Trump disclosed to the Internal Revenue Service, but do not reveal his net worth. Trump has said his tax returns aren't as important as the annual financial disclosures he must submit as president, and comparing the two, the Times found that in 2018, Trump put in his disclosure he made at least $434.9 million, while the tax records show he incurred $47.4 million in losses.

During Trump's first two years in the White House, he received $73 million from overseas operations. Most of this came from his golf properties in Ireland and Scotland, but it also included millions in licensing fees: $3 million from the Philippines, $2.3 million from India, and $1 million from Turkey. In 2017, the same year he paid $750 in U.S. income taxes, Trump paid $156,824 in taxes in the Philippines and $145,000 in taxes in India, the Times reports.

The tax returns show that since 2010, Trump has failed to pay back $287 million to lenders, and within the next four years, more than $300 million in loans that he is personally responsible for will come due. Trump Tower in Manhattan is what is helping keep Trump afloat, the Times reports — the retail and commercial space has delivered $336.3 million in profits since 2000.

Alan Garten, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, told the Times "most, if not all, of the facts appear to be inaccurate" in the newspaper's report, adding that over the last decade, Trump "has paid tens of millions of dollars in personal taxes to the federal government, including paying millions in personal taxes since announcing his candidacy in 2015." The Times notes when Garten says "personal taxes," he seems to be conflating income taxes with other federal taxes Trump has paid, like Medicare and Social Security. Read more at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

3:22 p.m.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on Sunday, during an appearance on CBS News' Face the Nation, addressed reports about how he demanded the Food and Drug Administration justify, in detail, its reasoning for preparing to unveil new standards for a coronavirus vaccine.

Meadows told host Margaret Brennan that he wants to know "why would that new guidance come out after we've already spent $30 billion" on vaccine development. "And my challenge to the FDA is just to make sure it's based on science," rather than politics, he said.

But former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who appeared on Face the Nation after Meadows, suggested the whole debate has been misinterpreted on all sides. Gottlieb said the agency's guidance as discussed in the press isn't technically new, but "an articulation of the principles and standards the FDA has been using for a long time." As Gottlieb put it, the companies involved with clinical trials weren't surprised by the standards, which are in line with what the FDA has communicated to them since the vaccine development process began earlier this year. Tim O'Donnell

2:31 p.m.

With former Vice President Joe Biden maintaining a steady lead in the polls, most of the pressure for the first presidential debate on Tuesday seems to be shifting to President Trump.

During Sunday's edition of This Week on ABC, panelists Rahm Emanuel and Sarah Isgur agreed that Trump has to do more on the debate stage Tuesday since he has to "change people's minds," which is a lot harder than Biden's job of reassuring voters. Isgur did note that the Trump campaign will likely be waiting to take advantage of any potential slip up from Biden, but, generally, the former vice president has a little more breathing room than Trump.

Plus, Trump may have a built-in disadvantage. The New York Times' Peter Baker told NBC's Chuck Todd that incumbents have historically struggled in the opening debate because of over-confidence, noting that Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan were among the former presidents who fell into the trap. The good news for Trump is that both Reagan and Obama went on to win re-election rather easily. While it seems unlikely Trump will cruise to a victory, it does suggest that the first debate is not make or break. Tim O'Donnell

1:57 p.m.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who sits on the upper chamber's judiciary committee, told NBC's Chuck Todd on Sunday that he does intend to meet with President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, in the lead up to her confirmation hearing, even as some of his Democratic colleagues consider skipping out on the standard courtesy visits. Booker added that he primarily plans to ask Barrett if, should she be confirmed, she will recuse herself from any election-related cases.

Booker's reasoning is that Trump has suggested he may not accept the results of the election, which could push it to the high court. Since Trump just nominated Barrett, Booker believes she could tilt the court toward an illegitimate decision.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) also said he wishes Barrett will recuse herself under such a scenario. On the other side of the aisle, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said that judges have a "well-defined set of rules that helps guide their determination in making recusal decisions." Lee said that if Barrett is confirmed, she'll be no less of a justice than any of her colleagues on the bench, so the decision will be "up to her." Tim O'Donnell

1:05 p.m.

It wasn't that long ago that it seemed like the 2020 Major League Baseball season might get cut short because of coronavirus outbreaks within the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals clubhouses. But now, about two months later, baseball is at the regular season finish line. Things are still a bit chaotic as teams prepare to play game 60, but in a much more positive way.

ESPN's Jeff Passan broke down how Sunday's results could affect the expanded postseason picture, and he discovered there are 44 different scenarios in play for the National League alone.

Ultimately, baseball fans will be better served simply by watching Sunday's slate of games, all of which — save for one meaningless game between the eliminated Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers — will start during the 3 p.m. ET hour to increase competitiveness and intrigue, rather than trying to decipher the math. But Passan did the dirty work for his readers, so anyone really curious about how things can shake out can check out his column at ESPN.

The easiest way to understand things, though, is that there are four teams fighting for two spots in the National League: the Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers, who will play each other, as well as the San Francisco Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies, who are facing the San Diego Padres and Tampa Bay Rays, respectively. The American League, on the other hand, is set in terms of qualified teams, but seeding can still vary wildly. Read more at ESPN. Tim O'Donnell

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