November begins on an unsettled front across the political universe — most immediately by serious questions after Tuesday’s deadly terror incident in New York City.
President Trump tweeted Tuesday that he was ordering increased homeland security efforts, and politicians nationwide expressed sympathy for the victims.
Beyond that, the forecast for the presidency is blustery over the coming days and weeks. This week marks a historic new chapter into an investigation that has dogged Trump for months.
The key question: How close will the special prosecutor get to the Oval Office?
MUELLER’S AGGRESSIVE APPROACH
With the initial charges now filed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, legal experts are expecting other indictments in the months ahead.
Monday’s indictments against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates on charges ranging from conspiracy to money laundering and beyond are part of the story. Then there’s the guilty plea of George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign advisor, for lying to the FBI.
In total, the charges filed by Mueller are classic calls from the playbook of white-collar prosecutions — reward defendants who cooperate, drop the hammer on those who won’t, and scare others into talking.
We’ve got a quick breakout of the key items from that federal indictment.
ABOUT PAPADOPOULOS …
A 30-year-old Chicago native, who had worked for failed presidential hopeful on Ben Carson’s campaign and then in the energy sector, Papadopoulos was not the obvious choice to join Trump’s effort in 2016. His rise through the ranks was sharp and fast.
But as David S. Cloud writes, he was “in some ways a perfect candidate for Russian efforts” to connect with the president’s team during the campaign.
Monday’s actions have set up a hugely important reality check for the American political system: whether both sides see the Russia investigation as a legitimate legal move or just another battle in nation’s partisan wars.
For his part, Trump has maintained a consistent sense of frustration with the new developments in the Mueller investigation, sending a second series of tweets Tuesday morning intended to deflect attention to Democrats.
And John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, is now making a public plea for a new independent prosecutor in a case involving questions about what role (if any) Hillary Clinton played in a 2010 deal in which the U.S. government signed off on the Russian nuclear authority taking over part of a Canadian company.
(We’ve got an explainer on that deal if you’re wondering about the details.)
NATIONAL POLITICS LIGHTNING ROUND
-- Republicans have delayed until Thursday the rollout of their long-awaited tax overhaul, as a number of key elements are still the subject of debates among GOP members and the president.
-- And speaking of that plan: It’s expected to keep the current top tax rate of 39.6% for the most affluent Americans but make that bracket apply only to “substantially” higher incomes than the current $470,700 for couples.
-- Californians are still looking like losers in the national GOP tax plan. While Republicans made a deal to keep property tax deduction for taxpayers, the existing write-off for state and local taxes will still hit hard here at home.
-- Facebook told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday that 126 million Americans may have seen content on its platform last year that was generated by the Russian government as part of its effort to influence the presidential election.
-- Open enrollment begins for Obamacare marketplaces this week amid widespread confusion and concerns that the Trump administration is trying to sabotage enrollment.
-- Trump boasted Tuesday of his relationship with the Philippines president -- a leader accused of human rights violations.
-- The White House says the president won’t make a “cliché" visit to the Korean Demilitarized Zone during his trip to South Korea.
-- The director of the nation’s consumer protection agency wants Trump to block congressional action weakening the power of Americans to file class-action lawsuits against financial firms.
THE BATTLE IN VIRGINIA
In six days, Virginia voters will choose a new governor and offer the next glimpse at the Trump effect nationally.
As Cathleen Decker writes, racial issues have dominated Virginia’s race for governor and likely will mark the 2018 elections as well.
And that’s included a new round of arguments about the legacy of the Civil War. Kelly, the president’s chief of staff, spoke sympathetically about the Confederacy this week. Will this governor’s race be a test of how it plays in the voting booth?
CALIFORNIA’S GAS TAX IS HIGHER TODAY
Here in the Golden State, the potency of anti-tax messaging heads to the streets — actually, the gas pumps — beginning today. California’s gas tax went up at midnight, an increase of 12 cents per gallon.
The question is whether there’s political fallout in 2018 -- as Republicans seek to make it an issue in congressional and legislative races, while a number of business groups support the tax hike approved by Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers back in April.
CAMPAIGN CASH: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE O.C.
More than half the money raised for the most contested House races in California is going to candidates in Orange County, yet another indication of its starring role in the Democratic effort to win back control of the House.
About $15 million of the nearly $28.5 million raised this year for 13 key races went to candidates in just four Orange County districts, concludes a Times analysis of this year’s campaign finance filings.
-- Brown heads to the Vatican and then several stops across Europe over the next two weeks to continue his effort on new ways to combat climate change.
-- Advocates for crime victims say they’re working to place a measure on California’s 2018 ballot to expand the number of violent crimes for which parole won’t be an option.
-- Billionaire Tom Steyer‘s impeachment petition got more than 1 million signatures in its first week of circulation.
-- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi endorsed fellow San Franciscan Sen. Dianne Feinstein for reelection on Monday.
-- Feinstein challenger and state Senate leader Kevin de León mischarachterized the senator’s environmental record in a fundraising plea.
-- A group of Bay Area legislators wants to prohibit electric utilities potentially at fault in the recent wildfires to recoup costs from ratepayers.
-- There’s a new twist in allegations against a Los Angeles school board member Ref Rodriguez, and officials say his former charter school network should have uncovered the problem three years ago.
-- The state’s nonpartisan legislative analyst’s office found no benefits to California’s business tax credit program and believes it should end.
Essential Politics is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Miss Monday’s newsletter? Here you go.
Please send thoughts, concerns and news tips to email@example.com.
Did someone forward you this? Sign up here to get Essential Politics in your inbox.