Alexi McCammond
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Paul Manafort's foreign agent saga continues

Carolyn Kaster / AP

Mercury LLC, a Washington-based lobbying firm under Paul Manafort's direction, registered as a foreign agent yesterday, per the AP. They lobbied for and set up meetings with Ukrainian political officials in an attempt to influence the campaign based on their pro-Russian interests, specifically for former Russian President Yanukovych.

Flashback: Earlier this month, Manafort was reportedly registering as a foreign agent, his spokesman James Maloni told AP. But yesterday, Maloni said that is no longer happening, despite what he said before.

Manafort's role: The registration revealed that he was involved with the firm's lobbying work, attending meetings and offering consulting. One meeting (of the four he attended) was with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California — in 2014, after the meeting, he voted against an aid package intended for the government that replaced Yanukovych's, per AP. Furthermore, Manafort and Rick Gates, another Trump campaign aide, directed certain tasks for Mercury, making their lobbyists set up meetings with various Ukrainian senators and political officials.

What's next: Manafort still needs to formally disclose his involvement with foreign, pro-Russian lobbying firms, so he's considering other options after receiving guidance from the federal authorities about that.

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Trump's bizarre obsession with the election map

Lee Jin-man / AP

President Trump wanted to celebrate his 100th day in office with an image of the 2016 electoral map displayed on the front page of the Washington Post. "He encouraged me to take it home to my colleagues at the Washington Post and try to run it on the front page of our newspaper," said WaPo's Washington Correspondent Philip Rucker during a MSNBC interview Friday.

Why it matters: It has been five months since the election and 100 days since Trump was sworn in as president, yet he continues to have a bizarre, never-ending obsession with how many electoral votes he received — with copies of the electoral map ready to present to anyone who will listen.

Trump in 2012: "The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy." And then in 2016:

The Electoral College is actually genius.
-Trump

Understanding the origin of his obsession

  • Exactly one week after the election, Trump tweeted: "The Electoral College is actually genius in that it brings all states, including the smaller ones, into play. Campaigning is much different!" (See GIF below for how that played out.)
  • This was seemingly the first time he recognized the EC as another intriguing layer to his hyper-competitive participation in the election — it became a challenge to overcome, something else to win.
  • "I did what was almost an impossible thing to do for a Republican-easily won the Electoral College!" He then considered his feat an even greater win, thus strengthening his obsession.
  • Big league accomplishment: "Campaigning to win the Electoral College is much more difficult & sophisticated than the popular vote. Hillary focused on the wrong states!"

Reddit/Giphy

One-track mind

For Trump, there's never a wrong time to cite his electoral college victory:

  • When asked about the rise of anti-Semitism during a February presser with Israeli PM: "Well, I just want to say that we are very honored by the victory we had. 306 Electoral College votes. We were not supposed to crack 220."
  • During a joint presser with Canadian PM Trudeau, he was asked about deporting Syrian refugees and said, "That's what I said I would do. I'm just doing what I said I would do, and we won by a very, very large electoral college vote."
  • In the middle of discussing Chinese President Xi Jinping with three Reuters reporters, Trump handed them three copies of the election map he had printed out that were sitting atop his desk in the Oval Office. "Here, you can take that, that's the final map of the numbers. It's pretty good, right? The red is obviously us."
  • He gave a speech to the NRA yesterday, the first POTUS to do so since Raegan, and spent the first portion of it talking about his electoral college victory. He listed the states he won, touted his 306 (actually 304) EC votes. "Big sports fans said [the election] was the single most exciting event they're ever seen."
  • 5 minutes into his speech at a Louisville rally in March, Trump called Nov. 8 "a beautiful day" adding "they weren't giving us a chance, saying, 'There is no way to 270.' ...And you remember for the Republicans, the Electoral College has been very, very hard to win."
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How Trump could pay more taxes under his plan

A new NYT analysis of Trump's tax reform plan found the proposed changes would likely benefit high-income earners and could save him tens of millions of dollars in taxes. But, their findings also revealed one way Trump could actually pay more taxes if his reform plan is approved.

More deductibles, more problems: Based on Trump's 2005 tax returns (the only documents available to the public), he could end up paying $3 to $5 million more in taxes for his deductions. That year he claimed more than $17 million in itemized deductibles — likely from his local and state income taxes while living in NYC, per the analysis — but only charity donations, mortgage interest, and retirement contributions would be deductible under his new plan.


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The EPA climate science website has been deleted

Susan Walsh / AP

The Trump administration just gave the Environmental Protection Agency's website a climate-change-skeptic makeover. Several agency websites including detailed information about climate change research and its causes have been deleted, the agency announced late last night.

Why it matters: It's the first time in 20 years these sites have been removed from public view. And it signals the agency's clear partisan shift as they only want to "reflect EPA's priorities under the leadership of President Trump and Administrator [Scott] Pruitt." This move provides a less comprehensive review of climate science information and how it is affecting the US — something past administrations have provided, even if skeptical of the data.

Why now: It was previously announced that the EPA climate change website would be taken down, but that didn't happen immediately. While it's unclear what inspired the move now, the decision came just hours before thousands participated in a climate march protest against the Trump administration's proposed changes to the EPA.

What they're saying: J.P. Freire, the agency's associate administrator for public affairs, said in a statement

to WaPo: "We want to eliminate confusion by removing outdated language first and making room to discuss how we're protecting the environment and human health by partnering with states and working within the law."

Don't forget: The EPA website experienced similar partisan pulling under George W. Bush, who ordered a temporary freeze on revisions to the climate science sites and asked that the White House review any proposed changes. However, Bush's revisions didn't result in significant changes to the scientific content listed on the sites.

The agency's future: It's led by Scott Pruitt, who made his career as Oklahoma's attorney general by suing the agency 13 times. Pruitt previously said the environment would be just "fine" without it and he approved removed the climate science websites.


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China remains firm on stopping N. Korea

Mary Altaffer / AP

Trump warned of an imminent "major, major conflict" with North Korea, despite wanting to handle the situation diplomatically. At today's UN Security Council ministerial meeting on the denuclearization of North Korea, the US will urge the council to lean on China for help dealing with their ally and to increase economic pressure over its nuclear weapons program.

What China says: China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the Korean peninsula "is under great tension and at a critical point" and reiterated their "sensible and reasonable" proposal: North Korea should halt nuclear and missile tests if the US and South Korea halt their military exercises.

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Trump tax plan leaves more questions than answers

Susan Walsh / AP

After Steve Mnuchin and Gary Cohn announced Trump's long-awaited tax reform plan today, Cowen and Company — a DC based consulting firm for investment banks — sent a document to Axios arguing that it left more questions than answers.

"What the Trump Administration has proposed is not permanent tax reform, but a ten-year tax cut and the creation of the most phenomenal fiscal cliff ever in 2028," read the company's statement.

Cowen pointed out some of the missing pieces from the plan, which they considered critical to understanding it:

  • Border Adjustment Tax (BAT) that would raise $1.1 trillion over 10 years.
  • Net Interest Deduction Elimination, raises $1.2 trillion over 10 years. "So without this or BAT, add $2.3T onto government credit card."
  • "President Trump's Personal Tax Returns. Democrats have said they will not even begin negotiating until his returns are made public."
Why 10 years? If the bill increases the deficit over the 10-year budget window — which it is almost certainly expected to considering the Trump admin hasn't put forth a clear way to pay for the plan — "the underlying section of the bill sunsets/expires after 10 years (just like the 2001 and 2003 Bush Tax Cuts that created the Fiscal Cliff in 2012)."
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Steve Mnuchin previews "largest tax reform" plan

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that President's Trump tax reform plan will be "the biggest tax cut and the largest tax reform in the history of our country," during an event hosted by The Hill on Wednesday. He also confirmed that the plan would include a 15 percent corporate tax rate.

Our thought bubble: Previous analyses estimated that the corporate tax cut (from 35 to 15 percent) would significantly increase the deficit. The administration has no real plan to pay for tax cuts beyond their belief that tax and regulatory reform will juice economic growth to 3 percent.

The details:

  • Mnuchin's comments suggested the administration doesn't support the "border adjustment" tax provision in its current form, which is one way they could pay for the 15 percent tax rate.
  • "We don't think it works in its current form and we're going to continue to have discussions with them about revisions," Mnuchin said.
  • The hike on import taxes, which would raise more than $1 trillion over 10 years, is the centerpiece of Paul Ryan's tax reform plan and the main way House Republican leadership plans to pay for massive tax cuts.
  • "The tax plan will pay for itself with economic growth," Mnuchin told reporters on Monday.
  • Mnuchin wants to make tax cuts permanent, but if they're not revenue neutral and can only be kept for 10 years (under budget rules) then that's better than nothing.
  • He's determined not to let the debt ceiling become a last-minute standoff crisis that would spook markets, but he wouldn't be drawn on congressional strategy to get it done.
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Trump’s approval rating is rising among grassroots activists

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Although Trump's approval rating has reached a historic low, his support among grassroots activists — and their view of how much he has accomplished in the first 100 days — is only getting better, according to a new survey.

The details: Mark Meckler, co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, Citizens for Self-Governance, and the Convention of States Project, surveyed 3,312 grassroots activists and leaders representing all 50 states between April 20-24.

What they're saying: Although Meckler tells Axios the activists "don't pay attention to arbitrary deadlines," 55% gave Trump an A and 32% a B when asked to grade how hard he has worked to fulfill his campaign promises in the first 100 days of his presidency. Furthermore, 34% surveyed gave Republican leaders a D when grading how well they worked with Trump to help him fulfill these promises — that increased from a mere 21% at the 50-day mark.

Why this matters: Meckler's findings reveal that these activists and leaders who are working at the grassroots level to create change feel "more frustration with Congress. ...Congress is seen as an impediment to Trump getting things done."

How that changes their activism: "They understand that electing a president whose party controls both the House and the Senate is not enough to fix the federal government and it never will be," Meckler says. "They've realized it's going to be up to them to restore the balance of power and that it's never going to come from Washington, D.C."

Losers:
  • 85% gave an F to the media for the way the cover the Trump administration — that increased from 79% at the 50-day mark
  • 31% gave Congressional Republicans a C for their ability to fulfill legislative actions — down from 37% at the 50-day mark
  • 76% said Democrats refuse to accept the results of the election — up significantly from 50% at the 50-day mark

What's next: The respondents also ranked the issues most important to them at the 100-day mark, which included: repealing and replacing Obamacare; appointing constitutionalists to the courts; making our military stronger; meaningful tax reform; and eliminating ISIS.

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Behind the James Comey NYT story

Cliff Owen / AP

A lengthy report from the New York Times details how James Comey tried to keep the FBI from being too political in its investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails, but how his handling — a mix of acting independently, against the bureau's policies, and other times working collaboratively — had a lasting, partisan impact on the 2016 election.

The money quote: An adviser asked Comey before his public announcement about investigating Clinton's emails:

Should you consider what you're about to do may help elect Donald Trump president?

Winners: "In the case of Mr. Trump, he conducted the investigation by the book, with the F.B.I.'s traditional secrecy."

Losers: "In the case of Mrs. Clinton, he rewrote the script, partly based on the F.B.I.'s expectation that she would win and fearing the bureau would be accused of helping her."

The takeaway: Despite the perceived partisanship in Comey's handling of these investigations, Trump decided to keep him as the FBI director — and he's now overseeing the continued investigation into Trump's ties to Russia. Comey's decision to act independently in the past came from a place of losing the public's trust, but now that it's clear the investigation into Russian meddling is more important to most than Clinton's emails, look out for a more collaborative handling of that matter moving forward.

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Trump PR power play

AP

As a former businessman, Donald Trump certainly understands PR power plays. His latest: announcing a rally in Pennsylvania next Saturday — the same night as the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

Don't forget: Trump said last month he wouldn't attend the WHCD.

Why this matters: Holding a newsworthy rally the same night as the WHCD essentially forces White House reporters to either skip the annual event for the rally, or attend the dinner and risk the backlash for wearing fancy clothes, rubbing elbows with celebs, and laughing along with a comedian who has a history of ridiculing Trump.