The connections between Donald Trump's presidential campaign and Vladimir Putin's government in Russia have raised far more questions than have been answered. From Trump's evasive rhetoric about his relationship with the autocratic leader, to the Trump campaign's efforts to change his party's platform to boost Putin's position, to Trump's antipathy towards the NATO alliance, the Republicans' 2016 nominee is the most pro-Russia candidate Americans have seen in generations.
But perhaps most striking of all is the degree to which Trump has surrounded himself with a team of advisers, led by lobbyist Paul Manafort, whose alliances with Putin's regime create the basis for an ongoing controversy. The latest New York Timesreport about Trump's campaign chairman is a doozy.
...Mr. Manafort's presence remains elsewhere here in the [Ukranian] capital, where government investigators examining secret records have found his name, as well as companies he sought business with, as they try to untangle a corrupt network they say was used to loot Ukrainian assets and influence elections during the administration of Mr. Manafort's main client, former President Viktor F. Yanukovych.
Handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych's pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine's newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials.
Manafort insistedthis morning that the Times' reporting is inaccurate.
While the questions linger, let's note that these new allegations don't exactly come out of the blue: Manafort's lobbying record is welldocumented, including his pro-Putin work.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* If you missed Friday night's show, note that the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls show Hillary Clinton with sizable leads over Donald Trump in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and Colorado.
* At a campaign event in Connecticut over the weekend, Trump said he's not running against Hillary Clinton, but rather, "I’m running against the crooked media."
* Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort told the AP, in reference to Trump, "For the last week or so, he’s been very focused and very much on his game.” Manafort did not appear to be kidding.
* An unflattering New York Timespiece over the weekend reported that Trump's advisers are, with increasing frequency, conceding that the Republican candidate "may be beyond coaching." The piece added, "In private, Mr. Trump’s mood is often sullen and erratic, his associates say. He veers from barking at members of his staff to grumbling about how he was better off following his own instincts during the primaries and suggesting he should not have heeded their calls for change."
* A new USA Today/Rock the Vote Poll found Clinton leading Trump, 56% to 20%, among voters under the age of 35.
* Trump had previously indicated his intention to compete in his home state of New York, but a new Siena Research Institute poll shows Clinton crushing the GOP nominee in the Empire State, 57% to 27%.
BuzzFeed published a pretty striking report over the weekend on Donald Trump's on-the-ground operation, noting in many key states, the Trump campaign hardly exists. In North Carolina, for example, no one seems to know where the campaign headquarters is located. In Florida, the campaign has been operating "a bare-bones operation, with one office in Sarasota and four staff."
The Republican nominee said late last week, "I don't know that we need to get out the vote." Evidently, he wasn't kidding.
But a closer look suggests Trump has some backup: his operation isn't taking issues like campaign infrastructure seriously, but the Republican National Committee is. In states where Team Trump is doing very little actual work, the RNC has a formidable on-the-ground operation, helping pick up the slack. In Florida, for example, BuzzFeed's report added that the RNC "currently has 75 staffers on the ground ... as well as 1,400 volunteers and fellows in charge of local organizing."
So, problem solved? Maybe, although there's an overarching problem: what happens if the Republican National Committee decides to give up on Trump? Politicoreported over the weekend that party leaders, "at the highest levels," have starting talking privately about "cutting off support to Trump in October and redirecting cash to save endangered congressional majorities."
According to sources close to [RNC Chairman Reince] Priebus, the chairman has warned that if Trump does not better heed this persistent advice to avoid dustups driven by his rhetoric, the RNC might not be able to help him as much -- suggesting that money and ground resources might be diverted.
To this point, [Sean Spicer, the RNC's top strategist] has suggested a mid-October deadline for turning around the presidential campaign, suggesting last week to reporters and in separate discussions with GOP operatives that it would cause serious concern inside the RNC if Trump were to remain in a weakened position by then.
Operatives close to the RNC leadership who have heard this argument from party leadership, say the committee might have to make a decision about pulling the plug on Trump before that.
Slateadded, "Word of cutting off Trump comes days after news that more than 70 high-profile Republicans signed an open letter calling on RNC Chairman Reince Priebus to stop funding Trump and use the money for Senate and House races instead."
Last year, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) ascended to the post he's sought for decades: Senate Majority Leader. The Republican senator noted in January 2015 that he believed he could keep that position for a while if his party could avoid being "scary" to the American mainstream.
"I don't want the American people to think that if they add a Republican president to a Republican Congress, that's going to be a scary outcome," McConnell told the Washington Post early last year. "I want the American people to be comfortable with the fact that the Republican House and Senate is a responsible, right-of-center, governing majority."
The GOP-led Congress has struggled mightily to demonstrate its "governing" abilities, and McConnell's concerns about appearing "scary" were confirmed when his party nominated Donald Trump.
And now, as Politiconoted, McConnell finds himself wondering whether his stint in the majority will be more than a two-year affair.
"I may or may not be calling the shots next year," McConnell told a civic group in Louisville, according to The Associated Press.
McConnell, in an apparent overture to donors, called Republicans' chances to retain the Senate "very dicey."
Some of this should probably be taken with a grain of salt. McConnell no doubt realizes that this cycle will be difficult, and the more he rings the alarm, the more likely it is that GOP donors will write generous checks to help the party hold onto its majority. Too much optimism is bad for fundraising.
But that doesn't necessarily mean McConnell's comments were insincere.
Given that it's the middle of August, the fall's presidential debates may seem like a distant dot on the horizon, but take another look at the calendar: the first showdown is scheduled for Sept. 26. That's exactly six weeks from today.
Whether that debate will actually happen, however, is still unclear.
When we last checked in on this story a couple of weeks ago, Donald Trump was asked whether he would accept the schedule adopted by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates. The Republican not only declined to answer, he also made a series of demonstrably false claims about the process.
Last week, Politicoreported that there is "increasing concern in news and political circles that Donald Trump will not agree to the three slated presidential debates this fall, a historic break with political norms in the lead-up to the election."
Debate moderators have not been announced, but Republican and Democratic sources, senior media executives and anchors in New York and Washington are casting serious doubt about whether Trump will agree to participate in the primetime events.
Multiple typically chatty Trump sources either passed the buck or did not respond to emails about whether the GOP presidential nominee is committed to participating.... During any other presidential cycle, attendance at the debates would never be in doubt.
Trump told Time magazine he's "absolutely" prepared to participate in the scheduled events, but note the caveat in his answer: "I want to debate very badly. But I have to see the conditions."
In the same interview, Trump said, "I renegotiated the debates in the primaries, remember? They were making a fortune on them and they had us in for three and a half hours and I said that's ridiculous. I'm sure they'll be open to any suggestions I have, because I think they'll be very fair suggestions. But I haven't [seen the conditions] yet."
The GOP nominee added, "I'll have to see who the moderators are. Yeah, I would say that certain moderators would be unacceptable, absolutely. I did very well in the debates on the primaries. According to the polls, I won all of them. So I look forward to the debates. But, yeah, I want to have fair moderators.... I will demand fair moderators."
To win the presidency, Donald Trump will need to win every state Mitt Romney carried four years ago, while also flipping 62 electoral votes that President Obama won. If recent polling is accurate, the Republican candidate has very few options to make that happen.
Almost any plausible scenario for Trump includes the great commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a battleground state with 20 electoral votes, which has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1992. Recent polling shows Hillary Clinton with a fairly comfortable lead in the Keystone State this year, further undermining the GOP candidate's odds of success.
Trump, however, believes the commonwealth is in his corner. Consider what he told a Pennsylvania audience on Friday night:
"We're gonna watch Pennsylvania. Go down to certain areas and watch and study and make sure other people don't come in and vote five times.... The only way we can lose, in my opinion -- and I really mean this, Pennsylvania -- is if cheating goes on. I really believe it. Because I looked at Erie and it was the same thing as this....
"[L]et me just tell you, I looked over Pennsylvania. And I'm studying it. And we have some great people here. Some great leaders here of the Republican Party, and they're very concerned about that. And that's the way we can lose the state. And we have to call up law enforcement. And we have to have the sheriffs and the police chiefs and everybody watching. Because if we get cheated out of this election, if we get cheated out of a win in Pennsylvania, which is such a vital state, especially when I know what's happening here, folks. I know. She can't beat what's happening here.
"The only way they can beat it in my opinion -- and I mean this 100 percent -- if in certain sections of the state they cheat, OK? So I hope you people can sort of not just vote on the 8th, go around and look and watch other polling places and make sure that it's 100 percent fine."
There's quite a bit to this. At face value, for example, it's striking when a presidential candidate speaks publicly about anticipating a loss in a key state, and begins making excuses for failure long before Election Day.
It's also worth noting that Trump's rhetoric about voter fraud in Pennsylvania -- an issue the candidate claims to have "studied" -- is plainly at odds with the facts.
But perhaps the most striking part of the Republican's comments was his call for supporters to not only vote, but also to "watch other polling places."
Donald Trump has been quite clear that he has no intention of releasing his tax returns, despite the norms established by presidential nominees in both parties over the last several decades. That does not, however, mean that the Republican candidate can make the issue go away through his obstinacy.
Late Friday, Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine both released their latest returns, adding to many years of disclosed tax documents. And while the materials themselves weren't especially noteworthy, their release renewed interest in the simmering controversy surrounding the GOP nominee's apparent need for secrecy.
Indeed, the Democratic ticket once again taunted Trump over his refusal to release his returns, asking anew, "What is he trying to hide?"
Team Trump may hope to avoid that question, but the Republican candidate's running mate may soon complicate matters.
Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence said on a radio program Saturday that he will release his tax returns soon, amid calls by critics for Donald Trump to do the same.
Pence said on WABC radio's "Election Central with Rita Cosby" that the public would not be surprised by the information in his tax records. "When my tax returns are released it's going to be a quick read ... the Pences have not become more wealthy as a result of 16 years in public service," Pence, the governor of Indiana, said.
Pence said he would release his tax records soon.
That'd be quite a wrinkle, wouldn't it? How would Trump explain why his running mate felt compelled to honor modern election norms, while he ignores them?
Will Trump now call Pence and urge him not to disclose? And how would that work after Pence's public vows over the weekend?
Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump, still looking for a solution to boost his struggling campaign, is scheduled to deliver a speech in Ohio today on foreign policy and national security. By all accounts, much of the remarks will be focused on the GOP candidate's views on combating ISIS.
If we're lucky, Trump might take a moment or two to clean up the ISIS-related mess he created last week.
To briefly recap, the Republican nominee told a Florida audience mid-week that he believes President Obama is the "founder" of ISIS. A day later, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt offered Trump an opportunity to walk that back, suggesting the candidate meant Obama's foreign policy created conditions that helped ISIS expand its reach, but Trump swatted that away.
When this sparked a controversy, the GOP presidential hopeful insisted news organizations misunderstood his "sarcasm." Late Friday, however, as the Washington Postreported, Trump reversed his reversal.
"So I said 'the founder of ISIS,' obviously I'm being sarcastic," Trump said at the afternoon rally in Erie, using an acronym for the Islamic State. He added: "But not that sarcastic, to be honest with you."
Around the same time, Trump campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson appeared on MSNBC and said that while the candidate does not believe that President Obama "personally went to the Middle East and filled out the paperwork that incorporated ISIS," Trump "was being very serious" when he accused the president of being ISIS's "founder."
Marine biologists around the world are a bit baffled by the behavior they've been observing between humpback whales and killer whales (aka orcas). It seems the humpbacks are purposefully interrupting the orcas hunting sessions.
Robert Pitman, a marine ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has been looking into this since 2009 (along with others). They presented their findings in the Journal of Marine Mammal Science. What they found was that this type of interaction between humpbacks and orcas happened at least 115 times (that were observed) over the last 50+ years. In 89% of those interactions, the humpbacks were seen to disrupt orcas who were actively engaged in a hunt. And these instances didn't seem to be prey dependent, as the humpbacks rescued a range of species: sea lions, harbor seals, and gray whales.
Steve Kornacki looks at the states where Democratic and Republican Senate candidates are vulnerable in the upcoming election to show why Democrats have an advantage in trying to re-take the Senate majority. watch
Robert Costa, national political reporter for The Washington Post, talks with Steve Kornacki about the relationship between Reince Priebus and Donald Trump, and by proxy, the RNC and the Trump campaign. watch
Steve Kornacki shares video of Donald Trump, who is down by double digits in polling in Pennsylvania, explaining to a Pennsylvania audience that the only way he'll lose the state is if "certain sections" of the state cheat. watch
Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, talks with Steve Kornacki about Hillary Clinton's lead over Donald Trump in the polls and Clinton is winning among some typically Republican voters, which is turning swing states in he... watch
Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.