September 28, 2020

The New York Times' report on President Trump's tax info shed a significant amount of new light on his businesses and personal wealth, but there are still several questions left unanswered. Journalist Adam Davidson, who has reported on Trump's business dealings for The New Yorker, suggests people look to Trump's golf courses to find out more.

One of Davidson's big takeaways from the Times report is that Trump had a "new source of funds" beginning around 2011 after he had finished "blowing through" most of the money he received from his father, television producer Mark Burnett, and through loans. It's not clear who this alleged new source of money may be, but Davidson believes golf courses could be the key. In 2011, Davidson writes, Trump went into business with families from Azerbaijan, and was also "flirting" with Georgian and Kazakh businesses that have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Between 2011 and 2016, all of those groups were known to be laundering money through golf courses.

Trump, of course, has his own courses across the U.S., as well as in other countries, and those properties have cost him a lot of money. Davidson singled out his Scottish golf resorts, which have prompted investigation requests in the past, because that is where he, perhaps confoundingly, spent the post-2011 money.

But speculation is just that, and Davidson argues that little more can be known about who Trump "owes and what they know about him" until the alleged funding source is uncovered. Tim O'Donnell

2:40 p.m.

This year's election is looking familiar.

Polls have long given Democratic nominee Joe Biden a big advantage in this year's presidential race. And with more forecasting Democratic gains in the Senate as well, pollsters and analysts have started to compare 2020 to 1980. That's when former President Ronald Reagan swept the U.S. in a landslide, and Republicans ousted 12 Democrats in the Senate.

One of those pollsters estimating a blue wave is Charlie Cook, who runs The Cook Political Report. Cook noted in a Wednesday tweet that a big presidential win doesn't necessarily mean a complete wave — it didn't in 1972 and 1984. But he thinks this year's likely big win for Biden will be different, recalling how the losses trickled in for Democrats in 1980 and saying this year's Senate losses for Republicans "won't hit 12 but could get to be a pretty big number."

The idea's most ardent defender is Joe Trippi, who has been working on Democratic campaigns since 1980. He has repeated over and over that this year's election looks much more like 1980 than 2016, crediting the fatigue voters already feel after just four years of Trump.

Cook's insistence that just one Democratic-held Senate seat is in play this year versus nine Republican seats has only added to Trippi's evidence. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:06 p.m.

It looks like Sacha Baron Cohen's attempt to prank Rudy Giuliani for his new Borat film was a great success.

The comedian's sequel, in which Borat travels to America in hopes of gifting his daughter to someone close to the Trump administration, drops on Amazon this Friday. But spoiler-filled details emerged on Wednesday about a shocking scene in which Baron Cohen dupes President Trump's personal lawyer.

In the movie, The Guardian reveals, Giuliani speaks with the actress who portrays Borat's daughter for what he thinks is a conservative news show, after which "the pair retreat at her suggestion for a drink to the bedroom of a hotel suite, which is rigged with concealed cameras." From there, Giuliani "can be seen lying back on the bed, fiddling with his untucked shirt" and then "reaching into his trousers and apparently touching his genitals," The Guardian writes.

At that point, Borat reportedly interrupts the two, bursting in to say, "She's 15. She's too old for you."

In reviews for the film published on Wednesday, critics were naturally gobsmacked by the Giuliani moment, with the Los Angeles Times speaking of a "what-the-hell-am-I-seeing" sequence that will likely lead to "indignant lawsuits," while Deadline said that the "big Giuliani finale is a stunner" and Vanity Fair wrote that "you cannot help wondering exactly what Giuliani may have done next" had he not been interrupted.

Giuliani actually revealed earlier this year that he called the police on Baron Cohen over a prank interview, at the time telling Page Six, in a statement that didn't exactly age well, "I felt good about myself because he didn't get me." Perhaps he meant to conclude that sentence with a Borat-style "not!" Brendan Morrow

12:56 p.m.

Mel Brooks is ripping President Trump for his COVID-19 response and backing Democratic nominee Joe Biden for president in what is evidently his first political video ever.

The icon of comedy in a video shared Wednesday by his son Max endorsed the Democratic nominee for president, doing so while his son and grandson stood outside behind him.

"They can't be with me," Brooks explained. "Why? Because of this coronavirus, and Donald Trump's not doing a damn thing about it. So many people have died, and when you're dead, you can't do much!"

Brooks went on to endorse Biden, saying he's voting for the former vice president because "Joe likes facts, because Joe likes science" and because he "will keep us going."

Max Brooks previously shared a hilarious social distancing PSA in March featuring the Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles director in isolation, but he noted on Wednesday that at 94, his father "has never made a political video. Until now." Brendan Morrow

12:51 p.m.

Michael Bloomberg isn't just outspending President Trump in Florida. He's dragging the president into a "money pit," a former a former Florida Democratic Party spokesman tells Politico.

After his brief and pricey failed presidential run, the former New York City mayor threw his support and his billions behind Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Bloomberg has specifically focused on the critical swing state of Florida, pledging to spend at least $100 million there, mostly on TV ads, to boost Biden's candidacy. Both Republicans and Democrats aren't quite sure why Bloomberg is spending so much on TV versus social media and voter outreach. But Max Steele, a former Florida Democratic Party spokesman, tells Politico the point is rather to "keep [Trump] mired down" because "Florida is a money pit."

Steve Schale, who leads the pro-Biden Unite the Country super PAC, agreed. Because of Bloomberg and other PACs' overhwleming spending, "Trump has now been committed to the equivalent of land war in Asia by having to spend so much of his money in Florida," Schale told Politico. In turn, Trump hasn't had the money he needs to compete in the north and midwest, namely Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. And with Florida covered by Bloomberg, other Democratic PACs have been able to head for the northern battlegrounds where Trump is falling behind.

The idea that Trump is hemorrhaging money to keep up with Biden is boosted by the fact that his campaign reported having just $63 million in the bank at the end of September, even after raising $1.5 billion since the 2016 election. Read more at Politico. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:24 a.m.

The Department of Justice and Purdue Pharma have reached an $8.3 billion settlement regarding the OxyContin maker's role in the opioid crisis, the DOJ announced during a Wednesday press conference. In addition, Purdue will plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States and violating federal anti-kickback laws, The Associated Press reports.

Purdue will plead guilty to offering doctors kickback payments if they wrote more prescriptions for Purdue's painkillers, as well as using health record software to push for those prescriptions. The company will also have to admit it held up Drug Enforcement Administration investigations into the company as part of the settlement. It will forfeit at least $2 billion to the federal government, pay at least a $3.54 billion criminal fine, and fork over $2.8 billion in damages, among other charges. Purdue filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year, preventing it from paying the criminal fine right away.

The settlement doesn't absolve Purdue's owners and executives from criminal liability, as a criminal investigation into them and the company is still ongoing. It will turn Purdue into a public benefit company managed by a trust and remove its owners, the Sackler family, of any involvement. The company also still has to deal with thousands of claims from local and state officials over the opioid epidemic as they dealt with more than 450,000 overdose deaths in the past 20 years. Purdue has suggested paying $10 billion to settle them all. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:47 a.m.

Pope Francis has reportedly backed civil unions for same-sex couples in a "major step" for the Catholic Church.

The pope in a documentary that premiered on Wednesday at the Rome Film Festival expressed support for creating "a civil union law" for same-sex couples so that "they are legally covered," Catholic News Agency reported.

"Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family," Francis reportedly says in the film Francesco. "They're children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it."

The pope also reportedly says in the documentary, "What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered."

This, Catholic News Agency noted, was a significant departure from the Vatican's stance on the issue and from the position of Francis' predecessors. The remarks were confirmed by The Associated Press, which noted that Francis had supported civil unions for same-sex couples as archbishop of Buenos Aires but had never done so as pope.

Jesuit priest and America Magazine editor James Martin praised the pope's remarks, describing them as "a major step forward in the church's support for LGBTQ people."

David Gibson, director of Fordham University's Center on Religion and Culture, also told The Washington Post, "This is huge. Looking behind all this, he's basically saying, again, we're not out here to be culture warriors. We're not out here to pick fights. We are out here to build up the family." Brendan Morrow

10:14 a.m.

After months of fruitless negotiations to develop and pass a new COVID-19 stimulus bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reportedly told the White House on Tuesday to give up until after the election. But the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of House members, is still trying to talk McConnell out of it.

The caucus' 18 Republican and 25 Democratic members declared in a Wednesday statement that "it is critical Congress act immediately to pass bipartisan relief legislation," as "time is running out for the American people." If talks stop until after the election, it could be February until they begin again, the caucus noted. So it's encouraging the Trump administration to include a national testing strategy in the next relief bill, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pushed for. And it wants McConnell to take a vote on the House and White House's proposal. Without these measures, families and businesses "will continue to suffer needlessly as a result of Congress failing to do its job," the caucus said.

The last coronavirus relief package expired in July, ending boosted unemployment insurance for millions of Americans who remain without jobs. Kathryn Krawczyk

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