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Essential Politics: Will this election's final focus be on the FBI?

Essential Politics: Will this election's final focus be on the FBI?
(Los Angeles Times)

There's perhaps no better quip from a television show about FBI agents than this one: "The truth is out there."

Sure, "The X-Files" was about mysteries of the paranormal. But at this point in a historically divisive and grueling election season, explaining the unexplainable kind of seems like an apt description of things.

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Good morning from the state capital. I'm Sacramento Bureau Chief John Myers, and we begin with what looks like a shift of the political spotlight toward, of all places, the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

QUESTIONS ABOUT MANAFORT, PRESSURE ON THE CLINTON-RELATED EMAIL PROBE

Just when it felt as if the focus couldn't get any sharper on the FBI, there was word late on Monday afternoon that the agency was taking a look at the Russian business ties of Paul Manafort, the former chairman of Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

If nothing else, the news may spark an effort by the Hillary Clinton campaign to try to divert some attention from the fact that FBI agents are assessing emails related to their investigation of her, discovered on the laptop of her close aide's estranged husband.

Even so, there was mounting pressure on Monday — from Democrats and some Republicans — for the law enforcement agency and its director, James B. Comey, to quickly offer more clarity on what's being looked for in the review of those communications.

Trump's current campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said Monday that the Republican nominee won't focus on the new email questions in the final days of the race. We'll see, of course, whether that position holds up if the GOP nominee feels any new headwinds in this final week of the campaign.

For its part, the Clinton campaign is accusing Comey of a "double standard" in revealing efforts on the email investigation but earlier refusing to take a similar stand on Russian hackers' interference with the presidential election.

NEW, LATE BUZZ ON TRUMP'S TAXES

There was also late word, a story broken by the New York Times, of more questions regarding Trump's tax record — specifically, that he appeared to use a "legally dubious" accounting maneuver in the 1990s to avoid reporting hundreds of millions of dollars in income.

IN OTHER PRESIDENTIAL RACE NEWS…

A series of robocalls being placed to Utah voters is focused on the family of Evan McMullin, the independent conservative candidate who's thought to be taking support away from Trump in an otherwise reliably Republican state. The calls reportedly attack McMullin's mother for marrying a woman after the divorce from her husband and suggest the candidate is a "closet homosexual."

Who's behind them? A Los Angeles attorney who leads the white nationalist American Freedom Party. He also happens to have been at one point identified this past summer as a Trump delegate from California to the Republican National Convention.

Meantime, more embarrassment for Team Clinton with the revelation that CNN has formally accepted the resignation of Donna Brazile as an on-air pundit. Brazile, the interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, has been accused through emails swiped by WikiLeaks of giving the Clinton campaign an advance look at one or more questions to be asked at a CNN town hall during the presidential primaries.

And in (gasp!) presidential policy news, some leading economists now say they believe Clinton's immigration reform ideas would be a bigger boost to the U.S. economy than those of Trump. One economist, reports Don Lee, calls the difference between the two candidates' plans a "game changer."

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Get the latest from the campaign trail on Trail Guide and follow @latimespolitics. Check our daily USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times tracking poll at the top of the politics page.

PETER THIEL TALKS POLITICS IN D.C.

The onetime media shy Peter Thiel is shy no longer. On Monday, the Silicon Valley tech billionaire spoke to the National Press Club to explain his thinking on what has drawn so many voters to Trump this year.

As Noah Bierman reports, Thiel saw no reason to remain quiet about his six-figure donation to the presidential nominee earlier this year.

"This is the first time I've done something that's actually conventional," Thiel said. "It didn't feel contrarian."

MORE FALLOUT ON NATIONAL GUARD REPAYMENTS

The commander of the California National Guard now says officials can't find 4,000 of the 9,700 soldiers caught up in an enlistment bonus scandal that has rocked the Pentagon and one of the nation's largest Guard organizations.

As David S. Cloud reports, Maj. Gen. David Baldwin also says the vast majority of the 9,700 soldiers who received improper payments did so "unknowingly" and enlisted "in good faith at a time of war," suggesting for the first time that most may be eligible to have their debts forgiven.

Since The Times' first story on the repayment demands, lawmakers across California and the nation have weighed in demanding the Department of Defense abandon the effort. The response so far has been to suspend it. And on Monday, the entire California State Senate asked congressional leaders to intervene.

PROP. 53 CHAMPION SAYS IT'S ALL ABOUT DEBT

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In an election cycle where total spending on statewide ballot measures is setting records, it's possible that few political players will have received as much bang for their buck as Dean Cortopassi.

He's the proponent of Proposition 53, asking voters to require that large revenue bonds used for public works projects be placed on future statewide ballots. Cortopassi is a wealthy Stockton agribusiness owner whose argument, laid out in my story on the ballot measure, is that there's too little transparency about the true costs of debt.

But it's also undeniable that voters approving his proposition could change the course of history on a landmark state water project and California's high-speed rail effort. And it's the appeal that Proposition 53 may have at first glance, which explains why Gov. Jerry Brown has launched a last-minute $15-million opposition campaign.

THE TOBACCO TAX MONEY RACE IS A LOT CLOSER THAN IT USED TO BE

Twice in the last decade, tobacco companies buried attempts to raise the cigarette tax in a pile of campaign cash, outspending those groups 4 to 1 as two tax-hiking ballot measures went down to narrow defeats.

But this year, the Proposition 56 bid to increase the cigarette tax by $2 a pack is seeing a lot more money pour in on the "yes" side. Now, Liam Dillon reports, tobacco companies are spending less than 2½ times backers.

The smaller spending gap could be one of the major reasons why Proposition 56 has maintained a lead in the polls despite heavy negative advertising against it.

VILLARAIGOSA IS FOR LEGALIZING POT

Count another potential 2018 gubernatorial hopeful in when it comes to next week's ballot measure to legalize marijuana. Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Monday became the latest high-profile politician to endorse Proposition 64, the effort to legalize the recreational use of pot in California.

Villaraigosa is considering whether to run for governor amid a field that already includes Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a leading proponent of Proposition 64.

Be sure to check out The Times' ballot box guide to California's 17 propositions. Learn our editorial board's positions on each measure, and get in-depth coverage on everything from school bonds to condoms.

And keep an eye on our Essential Politics news feed for late-breaking developments.

TODAY'S ESSENTIALS

— Everyone had a costume of some sort on but that one guy: Gov. Jerry Brown, First Lady Anne Gust Brown and their two dogs handed out candy Monday night in front of the historic governor's mansion in Sacramento.

— It looks like there was some amazing presidential pumpkin-carving going on this Halloween.

— And yes, Halloween was the perfect day to wear a costume to a campaign rally.

— U.S. Senate candidate Loretta Sanchez released her 2015 tax returns and the campaign of rival Kamala Harris immediately pounced on her for not including her husband's tax filing.

— The Congressional Leadership Fund is pouring another $1.5 million into the race between Rep. Jeff Denham and Democrat Michael Eggman, raising the amount they've spent in the once safe race to $3.5 million.

— Some well-known activists were on the campaign trail in support of Proposition 61 on Monday. Al Sharpton, Marc Morial of the National Urban League and other civil rights leaders appeared at a rally in support of the measure. Sharpton called prescription drug affordability a civil rights issue. Sharpton and Morial also spent the weekend stumping for the ballot measure, which seeks to lower the prices state agencies pay for prescription drugs, at primarily black churches in South Los Angeles and Oakland.

President Obama added another name to his list of California legislative candidates he's endorsing: Josh Newman, a Democrat running for state Senate against Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang (R-Diamond Bar), got the President's backing Monday. This follows last week's announcement that Obama was endorsing three Assembly candidates in California.

— Who will win the November election? Give our Electoral College map a spin.

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