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Trump’s onetime campaign manager Manafort faces 12 charges; another ex-aide pleads guilty to lying to FBI

Here’s our look at the Trump administration and the rest of Washington:

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Virginia tests a likely 2018 election strategy: racially fraught appeals

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie, right, debates Democratic rival Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie, right, debates Democratic rival Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam.
(Steve Helber / Associated Press)

Virginia has been swamped by fearful images as Tuesday’s state elections near: heavily tattooed and handcuffed Latinos staring balefully at the television camera, a mug shot of a convicted pedophile set loose on the state.

Versions of those ads may be headed to other states in the 2018 elections, as Republicans seek to maximize the turnout of the burgeoning Trump wing of the party with themes known to appeal to them.

The strategy in Virginia by Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie has played heavily on themes of race and crime — itself an issue that has historically conjured racial stereotypes — in the style employed by President Trump last year.

Both sides believe the outcome likely will turn on which candidate — Gillespie or Democrat Ralph Northam — can best deploy their base voters on Nov. 7. Democrats, who have won statewide in elections since 2009, are counting on Trump’s unpopularity to pull their voters to the polls. Republicans have sought to energize their voters with issues including gangs, sanctuary cities and Confederate monuments.

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Trump seizes on New York attack to sell immigration agenda, rile his political rival

President Trump quickly seized on Tuesday’s deadly attack in New York to promote immigration restrictions and to criticize his chief Democratic rival, New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer.

Trump’s immediate labeling of the attack as a terrorist act and his calls for policy actions contrasted with his responses to the violence and a killing by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., in August — Trump wouldn’t blame the neo-Nazis solely and said then he doesn’t rush to discuss incidents without the facts — and to the mass killings in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, after which he said it was too soon to discuss gun laws.

Trump’s Wednesday morning tweets followed a report from ABC News that the man apprehended in the New York attack, Sayfullo Saipov, came to the United States in 2010 through the diversity lottery program, which is designed to increase legal immigration from countries with lower numbers of migrants.

Trump is trying to end the program and many conservative outlets have seized on Tuesday’s attacks to criticize the program and Schumer.

Two of Trump’s Wednesday tweets referenced Fox News, an indication he was probably watching the cable news channel, his routine in the morning.

He first tweeted on Tuesday night, soon after the incident, saying he “ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program,” the subject of extensive litigation since Trump took office. Trump did not offer specifics and it is unclear how different vetting procedures would have affected Saipov’s case.

Schumer responded on Twitter hours later:

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House GOP tax plan will keep top 39.6% tax rate for rich, delay estate tax repeal for 2-3 years

The much-anticipated House GOP tax plan will keep the current top tax rate of 39.6% for the most affluent Americans but will make that bracket apply only to “substantially” higher incomes than the current $470,700 for couples, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan told a group of conservative interest groups Tuesday.

The plan will also delay any repeal of the estate tax for two to three years, the speaker told the group, according to participants in the private meeting.

Ryan said he wanted the House bill to immediately cut the corporate tax rate to 20% from the current 35%, but he acknowledged that the final version may be different. “I can’t speak to what the Senate’s going to do,” he told the group.

House leaders have been planning to introduce their bill on Wednesday, but GOP leaders indicated that may slip to Thursday amid continued negotiations over some parts of the measure.

Some Republicans are urging a gradual phase-down of the corporate rate as a way to reduce the costs of the sweeping GOP tax-cut package. In order to pass in the Senate, the tax plan may not add more than $1.5 trillion to the deficit over 10 years.

Many attendees were initially disappointed with the preservation of the top rate, but became more at ease as Ryan disclosed additional details, according to the person inside the room.

Other key elements remain under discussion, including how to limit state and local deductions and whether to impose caps on tax-deferred 401(k) retirement accounts.

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Trump won’t make a ‘cliche’ visit to DMZ during trip to South Korea, White House says

President Obama looks toward North Korea during a visit to the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea in 2012.
President Obama looks toward North Korea during a visit to the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea in 2012.
(Saul Loeb / Agence-France Presse)

President Trump won’t be going to the demilitarized zone on the border between North and South Korea during his 12-day tour of Asia, the White House confirmed on Tuesday.

“The president is not going to visit the DMZ. There is not enough time in the schedule,” said a senior administration official, who insisted on anonymity to brief reporters on the Asia trip.

Trump leaves on Friday and will stop first in Hawaii before visiting five Asian countries — Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines — at a time when tensions with North Korea have spiked over its advancing nuclear missile program and its threats to conduct an above-ground nuclear test. Those tensions were said to be a factor in the decision for Trump to skip a visit.

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence have all visited the DMZ, a 2.5-mile wide strip of land that has separated the two countries since 1953.

“It’s becoming a little bit of a cliché" for U.S. leaders to visit the zone, the official said.

The official said that since the end of the Korean War, “a minority” of American presidents have gone to the still-contested border. That has not been true in recent decades: Since Ronald Reagan made the first visit by a sitting president, each successor except George H.W. Bush has made a much-photographed stop; Jimmy Carter visited as a former president.

Trump instead will visit a joint U.S.-South Korean military base 55 miles south of Seoul along with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

“No president has visited Camp Humphreys and we thought that that made more sense in terms of its messaging, in terms of the chance to address families and troops there, and to highlight — really, at President Moon’s invitation — South Korea’s role in sharing the burden of supporting this critical alliance,” the official said.

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Republicans’ deal to keep property tax deduction leaves California lagging some other states

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

The decision by a key House Republican to maintain the deduction for property taxes but not for other state and local taxes is a victory for California but a bigger win for residents of other states.

While California has the highest state income tax rate in the nation, the state ranks in the bottom third by one measure for property taxes, which have been limited since voters passed Proposition 13 in 1978.

However, the deal to keep part of the state and local deduction in the Republican tax overhaul bill set to be unveiled Wednesday still would be a win for California.

It’s just not as big a victory as it is for New York, New Jersey and several other states, where property taxes make up a larger share of the overall tax burden, said Jared Walczak, a senior policy analyst at the nonpartisan Tax Foundation.

“California receives a substantially high benefit from the property tax deduction,” he said. “It’s just that California receives such a disproportionate benefit of the overall state and local tax deduction that this looks more modest by comparison.”

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Trump boasts of superior relationship with Philippines President Duterte, who is accused of human rights violations

(Associated Press)

President Trump’s planned meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines during a regional summit in Manila on Nov. 12-13 was already controversial.

Human rights groups have accused Duterte of allowing death squads to kill thousands of supposed drug users, and he has called former President Obama a “son of a whore” who can “go to hell.”

Trump, as he often does, turned it up a notch Tuesday as he seemed to brag that he would have a superior relationship with Duterte than his predecessor.

“We’re going to the Philippines,” he told reporters as he described his upcoming 12-day trip to five countries in Asia, taking a break during a meeting on tax reform. “Which is a strategically important location where the previous administration was not exactly welcome, as you may remember.”

That came after a senior White House official briefed reporters on the trip earlier Tuesday and emphasized that Trump and Duterte have exchanged letters and spoken by phone as part of a thawing of relations between the two countries.

“There’s a warm rapport there,” the official said.

The Philippines is a former U.S. colony and relations between Washington and Manila have long been fraught.

In 1991, the government there forced the Pentagon to abandon two major bases in the Philippines, but the two countries have cooperated closely in counter-terrorism operations since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

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President Trump tweets again, trying to turn spotlight on Democrats

President Trump continued broadcasting his frustration with Monday’s announcement of two indictments and one guilty plea of top figures in his campaign, sending a second series of tweets Tuesday morning intended to deflect attention to Democrats.

The presidential tweets, amid one of the most challenging weeks of his presidency, mark yet another precedent broken by Trump. Many legal analysts have advised him against making impromptu public statements on social media during the investigation.

It is unclear what he meant when he said that the Podesta brothers could “drain the swamp.” John Podesta served as Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. His brother Tony, who is also close to the Clintons, resigned from his Democratic lobbying firm amid the furor of the Russia probe on Monday.

Podesta’s firm is referenced, though not by name, in the indictment against Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager who was charged Monday. The firm worked on a contract with Manafort for a Ukrainian government political party.

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Trump aide who pleaded guilty went from an ‘excellent guy’ to a ‘low-level volunteer’

President Trump broke a nearly daylong Twitter silence Tuesday to characterize a former campaign aide who has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI as a “young low-level volunteer” who “few knew.”

That might come as a surprise to candidate Donald Trump, who in a March 2016 meeting with the editorial board of the Washington Post highlighted George Papadopoulos’ role in his campaign.

Asked about a pending announcement of his foreign policy team, Trump listed Papadopoulos as one of five advisors.

“He’s an energy and oil consultant, excellent guy,” Trump said.

The advisor also was present at a meeting of Trump’s foreign policy team; a picture shows him four seats from Trump.

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty early this month to lying to FBI agents about his contacts with Russia during the campaign. The plea was made public Monday.

Trump’s tweets also erred in their characterization of the timing of events listed in the indictment of his former campaign manager Paul Manafort and Manafort’s chief aide, Richard Gates. While the 12-count indictment on money laundering, conspiracy and other charges involved events before the campaign, prosecutors specified that the acts continued until 2017.

Trump had tweeted similar sentiments after the Manafort and Gates indictments were announced, but he had not commented since the Papadopoulos plea was made public.

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Chief of Staff John Kelly brushes aside Trump aide charges, endorses new Clinton inquiry

(Associated Press)

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly on Monday brushed aside charges leveled at three Trump campaign aides as part of the special counsel’s investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, but endorsed a new independent prosecutor to delve into a 2010 uranium company deal that has become a rallying cry for opponents of Hillary Clinton.

Kelly, speaking on Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle,” claimed that all the activities involving former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, his chief aide Richard W. Gates III and a foreign policy advisor, George Papadopoulos, occurred “long before they ever met Donald Trump or had any association with the campaign.”

In fact, the investigation, being directed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, covered the period in which all three served under Trump. Manafort and Gates were charged in a 12-count indictment that alleged money laundering, among other crimes. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians during the campaign.

Ingraham did not correct Kelly, who later went on to say that “the reaction of the administration is to let the legal system work. … Everyone is presumed innocent and we’ll see where it goes.”

Kelly also expressed confidence that the Mueller investigation was nearing its end.

“It should wrap up soon,” he said. “It would seem that they’re toward the end of the witness pile.”

“I don’t know how much longer it can possibly go on,” he said, adding that the president found the investigation “very distracting.”

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Manafort’s lawyer lashes out at special counsel

Paul Manafort’s attorney mocked the prosecution of his client Monday afternoon at the entrance of the federal courthouse in Washington, where Manafort and his longtime business associate had just been ordered by a judge to home confinement and to post millions of dollars in bail.

Kevin Downing, attorney for the former chairman of the Trump campaign, called the indictment “ridiculous.” He repeated President Trump’s assertion, posted on Twitter earlier in the day, that there was no evidence of collusion between the campaign and Russia. And he accused the special counsel’s office of pursuing a “novel” prosecution strategy that has only been attempted a half dozen times in the last 50 years, resulting in just one conviction.

Manafort “was seeking to further democracy and to help the Ukraine come closer to the United States and to the E.U.,” Downing said of the payments to his client from Ukrainian officials which are a focus of the indictment. “Those activities ended in 2014. Over two years before Mr. Manafort served in the Trump campaign.”

Downing labeled as “ridiculous” the prosecution’s argument that Manafort was concealing income from the government through a network of offshore accounts.

His comments came shortly after Manafort and his associate Rick Gates solemnly waked into the courtroom in dark suits to enter their pleas of not guilty. The men were ordered by a judge to home confinement with daily check-ins and electronic monitoring. Both men had already turned their passports over to federal law enforcement prior to the arraignment.

Manafort was ordered to post a $10-million unsecured bond after prosecutors warned his vast wealth and extensive network of contacts overseas make him a flight risk. They acknowledged that pinpointing exactly how much money Manafort had in the bank had proven difficult. The cache of loan applications and other documents prosecutors have in their possession suggested that Manafort’s net worth could be anywhere from $20 million to $100 million, they said.

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Ukrainian lawmaker happy about Paul Manafort’s indictment

A Ukrainian lawmaker said Monday he was glad to learn that former Donald Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had been indicted in the U.S. on charges largely stemming from his work as a consultant to a former Ukrainian president accused of bilking the country of billions of dollars.

Sergei Leshchenko, an Ukrainian lawmaker who spearheaded an investigation into allegations that Manafort received as much as $12.7 million in secret cash payments from a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine, said the indictment showed that the “bad guys will be punished.”

“I’m very happy,” Leshchenko said by phone from Kiev on Monday evening. “A corrupt American spin doctor helped [former Ukrainian President Viktor] Yanukovych win elections and push Ukraine toward a pro-Russia agenda. He was paid by corrupt people who stole Ukrainian taxpayers’ money.”

Manafort was indicted on several charges of money laundering and tax evasion. He pleaded not guilty to the charges. The charges are linked to Manafort’s work during 10 years for a Russia-leaning political party in Ukraine called the Party of Regions.

That party supported Yanukovych, who was ousted in February 2014 during mass street protests known as the Maidan revolution. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of the Ukrainian capital of Kiev to protest Yanukovych’s reversal on a promise to sign a trade and association agreement with the European Union. The street protests were followed by the Russian annexation of Crimea, and a military conflict in the east with Kremlin-backed separatist militias.

“I feel like I didn’t waste my time on this, even though there was a lot of skeptics when I first started,” Leshchenko said. “People said it wasn’t a good way to begin relations with the new administration. But it’s important to show that the bad guys will be punished.”

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White House: Charges against Manafort have ‘nothing to do with’ Trump

(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

The White House downplayed indictments on Monday against President Trump’s former campaign manager and two other aides, including one who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, as having “nothing to do” with the president or his election effort.

“Today’s announcement has nothing to do with the president, has nothing to do with the president’s campaign or campaign activity,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, and Rick Gates, whom the indictment called “Manafort’s right-hand man,” pleaded not guilty to 12 charges of money laundering and conspiracy, the first charges filed in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of connections between the Trump campaign and Russian efforts to influence last year’s presidential election.

The indictment alleges that for at least a decade, through 2016, Manafort and Gates failed to properly disclose more than $75 million in payments from Ukraine’s government, then pro-Moscow, for lobbying and public relations to influence U.S. policy in its favor.

“We’ve been saying from Day One there is no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion and nothing in the indictment today changes that at all,” Sanders said, echoing earlier tweets from Trump. Like him, she sought to deflect attention by saying that “the real collusion scandal” is related to the Clinton campaign efforts to collect opposition research on Trump.

Sanders’ dismissiveness was challenged, however, by the indictment and guilty plea of the third former aide, foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos, who confessed to making false statements about his contact with Russians during the campaign. He is cooperating with prosecutors.

Sanders sought to diminish Papadopoulos’ role in the campaign, describing him as a member of a “volunteer advisory council” that met perhaps once. If so, it put him near the right hand of Trump, as a photo Trump once tweeted shows.

George Papadopoulos is circled in this photo.

Sanders said Papadopoulos’s outreach to senior campaign officials to have Trump meet with Russian officials “was repeatedly denied.” He “reached out and nothing happened beyond that,” Sanders said.

“It has nothing to do with the activities of the campaign, it has to do with this failure to tell the truth,” she added.

When asked why Trump appears in the March 2016 campaign photograph with Papadopoulos, Sanders said Trump appears in “thousands of photographs with millions of people.”

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$10 million bond for ex-Trump chairman Paul Manafort after not guilty plea in Russia probe

Paul Manafort
(Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call/Newscom/Zuma Press)

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates were ordered to surrender their passports and remain in home confinement after pleading not guilty Monday in the first indictments from the special counsel investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Manafort was released on $10 million bond and Gates on $5 million.

The two, who were arrested earlier in the day, appeared before a federal judge here Monday afternoon.

They are charged with a total of 12 counts that include conspiracy to launder money, failing to registered as a foreign agent, false statements, and failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.

Federal prosecutors in the office of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, accused Manafort of hiding roughly $75 million he received in payment for lobbying he did for agents of the former President of Ukraine, Victor Yanukovych and his Party of Regions.

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Federal court bars Trump from reversing transgender troops policy

A federal court in Washington, D.C., is barring President Trump from changing the government’s policy on military service by transgender people.

Trump first announced in a July tweet and then in an August memo that he intended to reverse course on a 2016 policy that allowed troops to serve openly as transgender individuals. He said he would order a return to the policy prior to June 2016, under which service members could be discharged for being transgender.

U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly wrote Monday that transgender members of the military who had sued over the change were likely to win their lawsuit and barred the Trump administration from reversing course.

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Former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos pleads guilty to lying to the FBI agents in Mueller probe

(LinkedIn)

A former foreign policy advisor to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians who claimed to have “thousands of emails” on Hillary Clinton, in the latest charges filed in the investigation of the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia.

George Papadopoulos, 30, of Chicago, has agreed to cooperate with the investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, according to a plea agreement unsealed on Monday.

He pleaded guilty on Oct. 5 to making false statements to disguise his contacts with Russians whom he thought had “dirt” on Clinton, according to court papers. He was arrested in July as he got off a plane at Dulles International Airport.

After he was contacted by an unnamed Russian professor in March, Papadopoulos exchanged emails with an official in the Russian foreign ministry, court papers say. Among the topics he discussed was a possible visit by Trump to Russia.

“As mentioned we are all very excited by the possibility of a good relationship with Mr. Trump,” one Russian emailed him.

In April, after he had become an advisor to the campaign, Papadopoulos met with the Russian professor at a London hotel. The professor said he had just returned from a trip to Moscow, where he was told “the Russians had emails of Clinton.”

Papadopoulos told other leaders in the Trump campaign that he was in contact with Russians, and said there were some “interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip.”

An unnamed campaign official, described as a campaign “supervisor,” encouraged him to make the trip, a document reads.

Papadopoulos was one of several foreign policy advisors to Trump during his campaign.

Papadopoulos previously had served as a policy and economic advisor to Ben Carson, who notably struggled with domestic and foreign policy issues during his failed presidential run.

Before that, the 30-year-old was a consultant at a London-based oil and gas company. He’s a director at the London Centre of International Law Practice. He graduated from DePaul University in 2009.

UPDATES

7:55 a.m.: Adds additional details

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein on the Manafort charges: ‘The process is working’

(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the charges filed against President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Manafort’s former business associate showed the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III was “doing his job and the process is working.”

“I’ll continue to support Bob Mueller as he follows the facts — his independence must remain sacrosanct,” the California Democrat said in a statement.

On Friday, Feinstein sent letters requesting information from the White House, Michael Cohen, Facebook, Twitter and Cambridge Analytica on Russia’s use of technology to interfere with the election.

“Bob Mueller’s criminal investigation is important, but Congress has a responsibility to get to the bottom of this and work to make sure it never happens again. That’s why it’s so vital that the congressional investigations continue.”

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Trump responds to Paul Manafort charges: ‘There is NO COLLUSION!’

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Watch as Paul Manafort arrives at an FBI office to surrender

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Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort walks into an FBI field office in Washington on Monday after being indicted in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian meddling probe.

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GOP says lower-tax states are subsidizing California. It’s the other way around, and tax overhaul could make it worse

The Capitol building in Sacramento.
The Capitol building in Sacramento.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

The main Republican argument for killing the state and local tax deduction is that the break forces residents of low-tax states to subsidize those in California and other high-tax states.

But when it comes to federal taxes, the data show that it’s the other way around. And it could get worse for Californians if the deduction is eliminated as part of the GOP tax overhaul.

California is among 13 states that ship more tax money to Washington than they get back in federal spending, according to the Rockefeller Institute of Government, a public policy think tank in Albany, N.Y.

They’re known as donor states, a title California has held for years, mostly because of the state’s relatively younger population and large number of high-income earners.

Killing the state and local tax deduction, as President Trump and congressional Republican leaders have proposed, probably would tilt the equation even more against California.

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Trump campaign manager Manafort, ex-aide charged in Russia probe

Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign manager, has been indicted on 12 charges of money-laundering and conspiracy, the first charges filed in the investigation of possible connections between the Trump campaign and a Russian effort to influence last year’s presidential election.

Manafort, 68, turned himself in at FBI headquarters early Monday for his role in an alleged scheme to use offshore accounts to hide tens of millions of dollars in payments he received for representing a pro-Kremlin political faction in the Ukraine.

Manafort also was charged with filing false reports to conceal the fact that he was acting as an unregistered foreign agent. Also charged in the indictment was Richard W. Gates III, a top business aide to Manafort.

The charges state that Manafort and Gates were agents for former Ukraine President Victor Yanukovych and his Party of Regions.

Manafort and Gates used a variety of offshore accounts in Cyprus and other bank secrecy havens to hide $75 million in payments for the lobbying work, allowing them to avoid filing required registrations and to avoid paying taxes, according to the indictment.

“Manafort used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States, without paying taxes on that income,” the charges said.

The White House declined comment on the charges.

Former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III was named as special counsel in May to investigate the Russian attempts to influence the election, but the charges are not directly tied to that operation. Mueller also has authority to investigate any related crimes that his team uncovers.

Manafort worked for the Trump campaign from March until August, serving for several months as campaign chairman.

>> The charges against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates

UPDATES

6:19 a.m.: This post was updated with the addition of charges against Manafort and Gates

6:38 a.m.: This post was updated with additional details

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Puerto Rico says it’s scrapping $300-million Whitefish contract amid increased scrutiny

Whitefish Energy Holdings workers restore power lines damaged by Hurricane Maria in Barceloneta, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 15.
(Ramon Espinosa / Associated Press)

The head of Puerto Rico’s power company said Sunday the agency will cancel its $300-million contract with Whitefish Energy Holdings amid increased scrutiny of the tiny Montana company’s role in restoring the island’s power system following Hurricane Maria.

The announcement by Ricardo Ramos came hours after Gov. Ricardo Rossello urged the company to scrap the deal.

Ramos said that Whitefish will continue with current work, but the contract would then be scrapped — leading to delay of 10 to 12 weeks in completing the work.

It’s an enormous distraction,” he said on why he canceled the contract. “This was negatively impacting the work we’re already doing.”

Federal investigators have been trying to investigate the contract awarded to the small company from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s hometown. The deal, signed shortly before the hurricane hit, is being audited at the local and federal level.

Whitefish spokesman Chris Chiames told the Associated Press before the Ramos announcement that the company would soon issue a comment.

Rossello said earlier that nearly $8 million has been paid to Whitefish so far.

Rossello said he has requested that crews from New York and Florida come help restore power in Puerto Rico as he criticized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for not meeting its goals. The agency could not be immediately reached for comment.

The governor also announced the appointment of an outside coordinator to oversee the power company’s purchase and contracting division.

“If something illegal was done, once again, the officials involved in that process will feel the full weight of the law, and I will take administrative actions,” Rossello said.

Roughly 70% of the island remains without power more than a month after Hurricane Maria struck the U.S. territory on Sept. 20 as a Category 4 storm with winds of up to 154 mph.

Ramos has said that Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority reached a deal with Whitefish just days before the hurricane struck, saying that he spoke with at least five other companies that demanded similar rates, in addition to a down payment the agency did not have.

Ramos also has said the Federal Emergency Management Agency had approved of the deal, something the agency has denied.

FEMA said it has not approved any reimbursement requests from the power company for money to cover repairs to the island’s electrical system. The contract said the utility would not pay costs unallowable under FEMA grants, but it also said, “The federal government is not a party to this contract.”

FEMA has raised concerns about how Whitefish got the deal and whether the contracted prices were reasonable. The 2-year-old company had just two full-time employees when the storm hit, but it has since hired more than 300 workers.

A Whitefish contract obtained by the Associated Press found that the deal included $20,277 an hour for a heavy lift Chinook helicopter, $650 an hour for a large crane truck, $322 an hour for a foreman of a power line crew, $319 an hour for a journeyman lineman and $286 an hour for a mechanic. Each worker also gets a daily allowance of $80 for food, $332 for a hotel room and $1,000 for each flight to or from the mainland.

Whitefish Energy Holdings is based in Whitefish, Mont. Zinke, a former Montana congressman, knows Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski, and Zinke’s son also had a summer job at a Whitefish construction site.

“I had absolutely nothing to do with Whitefish Energy receiving a contract in Puerto Rico,” Zinke recently said in a statement linked to a tweet. “Any attempts by the dishonest media or political operatives to tie me to awarding or influencing any contract involving Whitefish are completely baseless.”

Democrats also have questioned the role of HBC Investments, a key financial backer of Whitefish Energy. The Dallas-based company’s founder and general partner, Joe Colonnetta, has contributed thousands of dollars to Trump and other Republicans. Chiames has said Colonnetta’s political donations were “irrelevant” and that the company would cooperate with any federal authorities.

This week, Rep. Rob Bishop, the Utah Republican who heads the House Natural Resources Committee, sent the power company director a letter demanding documents, including those related to the contract with Whitefish and others that show what authority the agency has to deviate from normal contracting processes.

“Transparent accountability at [the power company] is necessary for an effective and sustained recovery in Puerto Rico,” his office said in a statement.

A federal control board that oversees Puerto Rico’s finances announced this week that retired Air Force Col. Noel Zamot will be in charge of power reconstruction efforts. Rossello and other officials have rejected the appointment, saying the local government is in charge of a power company that is $9 billion in debt and that had struggled with ongoing outages before hurricanes Irma and Maria hit last month.

1:20 p.m.: This story has been updated with Puerto Rico saying it will cancel its contract with Whitefish.

This story originally published at 8:21 a.m.

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White House press secretary insists women accusing Trump of sexual assault are lying

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders appears at a briefing earlier this month.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

President Trump’s spokeswoman maintained Friday that all of the women who have accused him of unwanted touching or kissing were lying.

“Yeah, we’ve been clear on that from the beginning, and the president has spoken on it,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said when asked if Trump’s position on accusations against the president was that “all of these women are lying.”

Accusations against Trump arose during last year’s presidential campaign, when at least 11 women described physical actions by the president that they found offensive. Trump at the time called the women “horrible liars” and suggested in at least one case that he was not physically attracted to the woman making the accusation.

The president himself, however, was caught bragging in vulgar language, on a 2005 video made by the “Access Hollywood” show, about grabbing and kissing women without their permission.

Then the lead character on the “Apprentice” television show, Trump said on the video that he got away with the actions because he was “a star.”

Trump’s actions have received renewed interest since movie producer Harvey Weinstein has been accused by dozens of women of inappropriate sexual acts. Weinstein lost his post at his family company; the fallout also has tarnished journalist Mark Halperin, who was suspended from his MSNBC and NBC analyst roles after several women accused him of harrassment when he directed political coverage years ago at ABC News.

Trump has maintained his innocence during his presidency, as he did in the campaign.

Eleven days ago, during a press briefing with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Trump was asked about his campaign being subpoenaed by one of his accusers for documents related to the 2016 allegations.

“All I can say is it’s totally fake news. It’s just fake. It’s fake,” he said. “It’s made-up stuff, and it’s disgraceful what happens. But that’s [what] happens in the world of politics.”

Earlier, Trump told reporters that he was not taken aback by the alleged actions against Weinstein, a longtime Democratic donor.

“I’ve known Harvey Weinstein for a long time. I’m not all surprised to see it,” Trump said on Oct. 7.

Asked about the accusations leveled against him, Trump attempted to brush them aside.

“That’s locker room. That’s locker room,” he said, employing the same description he used when the “Access Hollywood” tape first surfaced a year ago.

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Watch live: Briefing with White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders

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Narrow House passage of GOP budget resolution suggests tax reform plan faces a tough road

President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at the Capitol.
(AP)

House Republicans’ narrow passage Thursday of a 2018 budget resolution points to how much work still lies ahead to push through President Trump’s tax cut package.

The largely partisan tax plan, aimed chiefly at lowering corporate tax rates, is set to be unveiled in a matter of days.

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Pentagon chief at Korea’s demilitarized zone: ‘Our goal is not war’

Days after North Korea threatened to test a nuclear weapon above ground, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis visited the Demilitarized Zone that divides that country from South Korea and declared: “Our goal is not war.”

On Friday, he visited the heavily fortified border area, where U.S. and South Korean troops maintain a constant presence opposite North Korean forces. Mattis stressed the need for a “diplomatic solution” to the tensions with Pyongyang, which have been building under President Trump, who has repeatedly sent more provocative signals, especially on Twitter.

“North Korean provocations continue to threaten regional and world peace, and despite unanimous condemnation by the United Nations’ Security Council, they still proceed,” Mattis said. “As Secretary of State [Rex] Tillerson has made clear, our goal is not war but rather the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

A senior North Korean official told CNN on Wednesday to take “literally” the isolated nation’s threats that it might conduct an atmospheric nuclear test over the Pacific.

That would be a major escalation. All six of North Korea’s previous nuclear tests have been underground. No nation has conducted an atmospheric nuclear test since China in 1980.

During his visit, Mattis was joined by South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo.

Song, acknowledging that North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons and missiles, added that the weapons “should never be used.”

“Should they ever use it, they will be faced with the strong might” of joint South Korean and American forces, Song said, “and they will be met with a proportional and firm response.”

Mattis also visited the Blue House, South Korea’s presidential residence, and met with President Moon Jae-in. His trip comes ahead of Trump’s visit to Asia next month, though the White House has said that the president will not visit the Demilitarized Zone, as past presidents have.

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Virginia governor’s race polls gyrate, an example of guesswork over who will show up to vote on Nov. 7

Vice President Mike Pence campaigned for Republican candidate Ed Gillespie earlier this month in southwest Virginia.
(Andre Teague / Associated Press)

Those looking at polls to find out who’s ahead in the hard-fought Virginia governor’s race have a case of whiplash.

The contest is the most-watched of the season, coming almost exactly a year after President Trump’s election in a place whose electorate resembles the United States writ small.

Democrats and Republicans consider the race a bellwether for views of Trump’s presidency, and the president’s antics in Washington have overshadowed the two candidates, Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie.

Those working on the campaigns consider the race to be close, making it all the weirder that recent polls have shown rather comfortable leads — for both candidates.

A Fox News poll released Oct. 17 gave Northam a seven-point advantage: 49%-42%. A survey by Hampton University, released Oct. 22, had Gillespie ahead by eight points, 41%-33%. A poll by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, released Friday, had Northam ahead by seven, 50%-43%.

The differences stem from the alchemy of polling, which combines research and other factors to come up with a reasonable expectation of which voters actually will show up on election day. As the 2016 presidential contest showed, variation in turnout — say a higher rural vote benefitting Donald Trump or a lower African American turnout hurting Hillary Clinton — can produce unforeseen results.

In Virginia, the latest three polls seemed to differ on the make-up of the electorate.

In the Fox poll, 45% of voters identified themselves as Democrats, to 42% Republican and 13% independents. In the Hampton poll, the proportion of Republicans rose, with 49% saying they leaned Republican, to 37% leaning Democratic. In the Wason Center survey, Democrats represented 36% of the sample and Republicans 33%.

It’s a pithy cliche of politics, most often uttered by the candidate trailing as voting nears: The only poll that counts is the one on election day.

In Virginia this year, that happens to be true.

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Trump administration belatedly takes step toward new Russia sanctions

(Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press))

The Trump administration belatedly has taken the first steps toward imposing new sanctions on Russian officials to punish Moscow for interfering in the 2016 election.

In early August, after considerable delay, Trump signed into law a measure that required the new sanctions, which target individuals with ties to Russian defense and intelligence agencies. Under the law, companies that do business with those individuals could be subject to U.S. sanctions.

The law gave the administration until Oct. 1 to produce a list. After the administration missed that deadline, members of Congress and others have stepped up criticism of Trump on the issue. Late Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson authorized officials to release the list to key members of Congress.

The names haven’t been made public yet, but that’s expected to happen in coming days. The idea is to give companies time to unwind any connections they may have with the named individuals before the new sanctions take effect in late January.

In a joint statement, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who have been among the leaders in Congress on the sanctions issue, praised the administration for taking a first step, but warned that recent cutbacks at the State Department could hamper the sanctions.

The State Department needs to “dedicate robust staffing and resources to the implementation effort,” they said, noting that Tillerson has downgraded the department’s sanctions office and “a number of its staff have resigned.”

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Trump’s push to revive coal mining puts Utah dinosaur discoveries in danger, scientists say

Kosmoceratops, one of more than two dozen new species of dinosaur discovered in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah.
(Illustration by Victor O. Leshyk)

The creature looked like a three-ton rhino crossed with a tropical lizard. Ten little horns dangled over its giant forehead like frills on a jester’s cap and two more perched over the eyes. Spikes poked out of each cheek. A blade jutted from its nose.

Paleontologists suspect this freakish beast, named kosmoceratops, was brightly colored to attract mates. It prowled the coastal swamps of southern Utah 79 million years ago.

It is one of more than two dozen new species of dinosaurs discovered in Grand Staircase-Escalante in the 21 years since President Clinton preserved it as a national monument.

The bounty has stunned scientists. Most of this 1.9 million acres of desert wilderness, one of the world’s richest fossil sites for studying the age of dinosaurs, remains unexplored.

But scientists now fear President Trump will soon spoil it.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, ordered by Trump to reassess the biggest national monuments named since 1996, has proposed shrinking Grand Staircase-Escalante. Whatever area is removed would be open to coal mining, oil drilling and mineral extraction.

The fossil beds here are scattered across land that also holds an estimated 62 billion tons of coal.

“My fear is that opening up the monument to energy extraction will threaten our ability to uncover the secrets that we know must still be buried in the monument,” said Scott Sampson, a Canadian paleontologist who oversaw much of the early dinosaur research in the monument.

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Here’s why Republicans could help send Dianne Feinstein back to Washington — even if they can’t stand her

Larry Ward is no fan of Dianne Feinstein.

“Time to retire,” he says of the Democratic senator from California. “Too old.”

Coming from a Republican such as Ward, that’s hardly surprising. He’d have gladly been rid of Feinstein a long time ago.

But it’s voters like Ward — conservatives who feel voiceless and adrift, bobbing like red specks in a blue sea — who could help usher the 84-year-old Feinstein back to Washington with a new lease on her Senate seat.

Like most voters here in El Dorado County, Ward supported President Trump. He can’t understand why Democrats and the media pile on and keep him from cutting taxes and fulfilling a campaign pledge to repeal Obamacare.

He certainly doesn’t think Feinstein’s been too kind to Trump — the argument made by her newly announced challenger, Kevin de León. The state senator from Los Angeles and others on the left were spitting fire a few weeks back when Feinstein allowed as how she hoped, given time and a radical transformation, Trump might end up being a good president.

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Pentagon chief Jim Mattis stresses diplomacy in Korean crisis

(STR / AFP/Getty Images)

On his first visit to the tense but eerily quiet frontier between North and South Korea as U.S. secretary of defense, Jim Mattis conveyed the message he hopes will win the day: Diplomacy is the answer to ending the nuclear crisis with the North, not war.

He made the point over and over - at the Panmunjom “truce village” where North literally meets South; at a military observation post inside the Demilitarized Zone, and in off-the cuff comments to U.S. and South Korean troops.

“We’re doing everything we can to solve this diplomatically - everything we can,” he told the troops after alighting from a Black Hawk helicopter that had ferried him to and from the border some 25 miles north of central Seoul.

“Ultimately, our diplomats have to be backed up by strong soldiers and sailors, airmen and Marines,” he added, “so they speak from a position of strength, of combined strength, of alliance strength, shoulder to shoulder.”

At Panmunjom, where the armistice ending the Korean War was signed in July 1953, Mattis quoted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as saying, “Our goal is not war.” The aim, he said, is to compel the North to completely and irreversibly eliminate a nuclear weapons program that has accelerated since President Trump took office.

Despite unanimous condemnation by the United Nations Security Council of the North’s missile launches and nuclear tests, “provocations continue,” Mattis said.

Mattis’ counterpart, South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo, gave the former four-star Marine general the lay of the land, noting that the North has 342 long-range artillery pieces aimed at Seoul, among other weapons. That’s a threat that cannot be defended against, Song said, so Washington and Seoul must come up with “new offensive concepts” to be able to eliminate the artillery before it can be used, should war break out.

On Saturday, Mattis will be joined by Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in annual consultations with South Korean defense officials. They are expected to admonish North Korea, vow to strengthen allied defenses, and discuss prospects for eventually giving South Korea wartime control of its own forces.

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Government watchdog to investigate Trump’s voter fraud commission

(David Goldman / Associated Press)

President Trump’s voter fraud commission, already facing several lawsuits, will now be investigated by a government watchdog.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office, an independent nonpartisan agency, announced Thursday that it has accepted a request by Democratic lawmakers to review the commission.

In an Oct. 18 letter requesting an investigation, Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota wrote that the manner in which the commission is conducting its work “will prevent the public from a full and transparent understanding of the commission’s conclusions and unnecessarily diminish confidence in our democratic process.”

Officials from the GAO wrote back that the review will begin when it has staff available in about five months.

In May, Trump established the commission to study registration and voting processes. Trump has alleged — without evidence — that 3 million to 5 million illegal votes were cast in last year’s presidential election, in which he lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots.

Critics have assailed the commission as both a sham created by an insecure president and a tool to justify measures that would make it harder for minorities to vote. Several groups have filed lawsuits against the commission — which to date has held two public meetings — over privacy concerns and the collection of voter data.

Two Democrats on the bipartisan commission sent letters to leaders of the panel last week condemning a lack of transparency.

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What’s behind the opioid crisis that prompted a declaration from Trump?

( Dreamstime)

The opioid epidemic has claimed more than 190,000 lives since 1999.

The Times investigated Oxycontin, a prescription drug widely blamed for setting off the epidemic. Over the last 20 years, more than 7 million Americans have abused OxyContin, according to the federal government’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

The drugmaker Purdue Pharma launched OxyContin two decades ago with a bold marketing claim: One dose relieves pain for 12 hours, more than twice as long as generic medications.

Patients would no longer have to wake up in the middle of the night to take their pills, Purdue told doctors. One OxyContin tablet in the morning and one before bed would provide “smooth and sustained pain control all day and all night.”

On the strength of that promise, OxyContin became America’s bestselling painkiller, and Purdue reaped $31 billion in revenue.

But OxyContin’s stunning success masked a fundamental problem: The drug wears off hours early in many people, a Los Angeles Times investigation found. OxyContin is a chemical cousin of heroin, and when it doesn’t last, patients can experience excruciating symptoms of withdrawal, including an intense craving for the drug.

The problem offers new insight into why so many people have become addicted to OxyContin, one of the most abused pharmaceuticals in U.S. history.

Our investigation:

“You want a description of hell?’ Oxycontin’s 12-hour problem

More than 1 million OxyContin pills ended up in the hands of criminals and addicts. What the drugmaker knew

How black-market OxyContin spurred a town’s descent into crime, addiction and heartbreak

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Watch live: President Trump delivers remarks on battling the opioid crisis

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The Trump wing of the GOP is winning battles. But will it lose the war to keep the Senate in Republican hands?

Sen. Jeff Flake’s surprise decision to not seek reelection marked a major victory for Stephen K. Bannon and his pirate band of Republicans. But the larger question Wednesday was whether the insurgency will cost the GOP its thin majority on Capitol Hill.

The fratricide that Bannon, a former White House advisor, is waging against President Trump’s critics threatens to undermine the party’s Senate hopefuls and has already lifted Democratic prospects, boosting the possibility of shaving the GOP’s 52-48 majority or eliminating it altogether.

“It’s causing Republicans to spend money defending their own rather than focusing on the big target, which should be expanding the size of their governing majority,” said Scott Reed, chief political strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the citadels targeted by Bannon and his anti-establishment forces.

The insurgency also runs the risk of putting forth candidates unable to broaden their support beyond a fervent but small wing of the GOP, repeating the failings of the tea party movement that cost Republicans winnable Senate seats in 2010 and 2012.

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