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Newsletter: All eyes on Paul Manafort’s trial this week

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Essential Politics
(LAT)

A major legal test for President Trump is now only hours away, but it’s not one that directly invokes the ongoing investigation into the 2016 election.

That’s not to say, of course, that the presidential contest and Russian interference won’t loom large over the proceedings.

THE COURT CLASH OVER CASH

Paul Manafort, who served as Trump’s campaign chairman in 2016, has pleaded not guilty to charges of bank fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy. His trial was delayed for a few days after some last-minute arrangements between witnesses and Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating the Russia allegations.

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A dozen charges center on his work as a highly paid advisor to the Russian-backed government in Ukraine, but the conspiracy continued through the Trump campaign, prosecutors allege.

The trial that begins on Tuesday is the first of two that Manafort faces this year. In September, he is set to appear in federal court in Washington on charges that include acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government.

Manafort had once bragged of his jail conditions, before being moved closer to the location of the trial in the Virginia suburbs outside Washington.

And yes, there was even a summertime hint that Trump might consider pardoning Manafort.

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Our team will be watching the trial with updates on our Essential Washington news feed and full stories online from what appears to be a big first test for the Mueller investigation.

COMING SOON: THE POLITICS OF FIRE

Meanwhile, several California communities have found panic creep in alongside a series of deadly wildfires over the past week.

It’s been especially tense in Redding, the biggest city in Shasta County and now the scene of a blaze that’s left hundreds of homes destroyed and thousands who were forced to evacuate with only minutes to gather belongings. I was in Redding on Friday in just such a neighborhood, where families were running back and forth between their homes and their cars to pack up for a quick retreat.

Fire season often leads to serious policy discussions. Starting next week, expect it to be especially tense in Sacramento. That’s because the dominant item on the California Legislature’s to-do list is an effort to overhaul wildfire prevention and liability rules.

An initial hearing on the topic last week lasted hours and saw a sharp debate over one question in particular: When a utility company’s equipment is found to be responsible, should investors or even ratepayers be the ones on the hook?

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Utility companies, led by Pacific Gas & Electric Co., are insisting they could face bankruptcy over the worst of the fires. PG&E has already warned as much in the face of expected costs from the 2017 fires that swept through Napa and Sonoma counties.

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The primary bill for the negotiations to come is being carried by state Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa). “If the Legislature fails to act, avoidable fires will continue to happen,” he said at last week’s hearing.

TODAY’S ESSENTIALS

-- The White House said Trump is “open to visiting Moscow” as Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested Friday.

-- The president celebrated strong economic numbers released on Friday. Yet his own numbers — for the public’s approval — remain unusually low for a leader presiding over good times.

-- In what has become a hallmark of Trump’s presidency, two very different versions emerged Sunday of a face-to-face discussion behind closed doors between the president and A.G. Sulzberger, the publisher of the New York Times.

-- A federal judge said Friday that he was inclined to deny the request by Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal lawyer, for a gag order to stop attorney Michael Avenatti from attacking him in the news media.

-- Millions of Californians are poor and they don’t always live where you’d expect, as a new report unveiled last week makes clear.

-- Gov. Jerry Brown will keep his imprint on the state’s powerful climate change agency beyond his time in office after an agency vote Thursday.

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-- It’s Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom by a wide margin in a new statewide poll. Newsom was supported by 55% of likely voters compared with 31% favoring GOP businessman John Cox.

-- Nor was the lead small for Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the poll’s survey of her race against state Sen. Kevin de León, a fellow Democrat.

-- After San Francisco’s decision to remove citizenship status as a requirement for those voting in school board elections, a former Sacramento congressman said last week that he wants voters to change state law in hopes of blocking such efforts.

-- Former state legislator David Hadley was unanimously appointed vice chairman of the California Republican Party last week by its board of directors.

LOGISTICS

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