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Vox Sentences: One Trump scandal that matters, and one that doesn’t

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People are beginning to lose perspective on the Trump/Russia conspiracy theories (but don't worry, there's another Trump tax scandal for you to follow instead).


The Russians are coming!

SERVERS Moment Mobile ED
  • On Monday night, Slate published an article purporting to show that Donald Trump had a secret server that communicated exclusively with a Russian bank — implying deliberate strategic communications or payments between the Republican nominee and Russia. [Slate / Franklin Foer]
  • The problem is that the piece didn't actually make the case that that's what was going on — in fact, some of the evidence it cited undermined that theory. [The Intercept / Sam Biddle, Lee Fang, Micah Lee, and Morgan Marquis-Boire]
  • (Indeed, if anything, the only misconduct the Slate piece identified was by the malware researchers who developed the server theory. Cybersecurity expert Rob Graham points out that they "exploited their privileged access for some purpose other than malware research" — and there's nothing limiting that exploitation to presidential candidates.) [Errata Security / Rob Graham]
  • The problem is that we're in the phase of the presidential election when major bombshells are still liable to drop — but also when harried editors rush pieces out the door even when reporters don't have the goods. And it's often hard to tell which is which.
  • This story from Mother Jones, for example, claims that Russian intelligence tried to cultivate Donald Trump as an asset. On one hand, it's by David Corn, a solid reporter who gave America the "47 percent" tape; on the other hand, it's a single unnamed source. [Mother Jones / David Corn]
  • Honestly, it's a little too easy to believe the Trump/Putin bromance hides a deeper conspiracy. (There is even a ridiculous rumor that there's a sex tape of Trump in a Russian orgy.) [NY Mag / Margaret Hartmann]
  • You don't need to believe any of this to believe that Trump and Russia have a weird relationship. It is known that the Russian government would prefer Trump win the election; it is known that Trump is much less hawkish about Eastern Europe than Hillary Clinton is. [Vox / Zack Beauchamp]
  • But the belief that Donald Trump is a Russian plant actively trying to undermine American sovereignty is hard to give up. The FBI may say there's nothing there, but it's unlikely it will be able to banish those doubts any more than it's banished doubts that Hillary Clinton broke the law with her emails. [CNN / Evan Perez, Tal Kopan, and Jim Sciutto]

A real Trump scandal

Man dressed as duck holding sign that says "Trump ducks releasing his tax returns" Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
  • Here's a Donald Trump investigation that really does have some meat to it: The New York Times reported Monday night that Trump avoided declaring millions of dollars' worth of taxable income during the 1990s. [NYT / David Barstow, Mike McIntire, Patricia Cohen, Susanne Craig, and Russ Buettner]
  • The tax dodge came during the early 1990s, when Trump was suffering financially and had to restructure his debts. Forgiven loans are typically recorded (and taxed) as income; Trump managed to avoid this. [Tax Policy Center]
  • The upshot, as explained by the Times in a series of GIFs, is that Trump hid his forgiven debt using a legally dubious "swap" maneuver. [Gabriel Dance via Twitter]
  • "Legally dubious" means it wasn't explicitly illegal (though a corporate tax version of the swap was outlawed later in the decade) but that Trump's own tax lawyers basically begged him not to do it. Not a good look. [Slate / Helaine Olen]
  • The upshot, according to an analysis by David Cay Johnston, is that Trump's 1990s losses could shield him from having to pay federal income tax until the mid-2040s: the sort of thing that Trump's allies call good business and that Democrats call a dodge of civic duty. [The Daily Beast / David Cay Johnston]

Then again, as Matt Yglesias points out for Vox, there's mounting evidence that Trump's use of the Trump Foundation constituted tax fraud. So he might owe back taxes on all that. [Vox / Matt Yglesias]


Sharif don't like it

Imran Khan Muhammed Reza/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
  • A planned protest to shut down the streets of Islamabad and demand the resignation of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was canceled Tuesday, hours before it was supposed to take place. [The Guardian / Jon Boone]
  • Opposition leader Imran Khan, who had called the protest, essentially declared victory after the country's Supreme Court announced it would form a judicial commission to look into the Sharif family's role in several offshore companies. [Reuters / Asad Hashim and Syed Raza Hassan]
  • (The offshore companies, which hold expensive London real estate, were revealed as part of the Panama Papers documents earlier this year.) [LAT / Shashank Bengali and Aoun Sahi]
  • Khan is a charismatic leader and something of a popular hero (he was a cricket superstar before entering politics). [NYT Magazine / Pankaj Mishra]
  • That meant his calls to "shut down" the capital were both effective and worrisome. In 2014, after Sharif's election (which Khan disputed), he led protests that hobbled Islamabad for months. [Reuters / Asad Hashim and Syed Raza Hassan]
  • As many as 1,800 of his supporters were arrested Tuesday, in clashes with police ahead of the scheduled protest. The Supreme Court stepped in at just the right time to keep the peace. [Al Jazeera]

Miscellaneous

  • Adam Crapser was adopted from South Korea at age 3. Now, at 41, he is about to be deported. [NYT / Liam Stack and Christine Hauser]
  • Two-thirds of books with "girl" in the title are actually about adult women. [FiveThirtyEight / Emily St. John Mandel]
  • The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the holiest site in Christianity — and its safety is secured by two Muslim families who have acted as gatekeepers since the 12th century. [Washington Post / Ishaan Tharoor]
  • The Southern Baptist Convention went from the growing bulwark of a growing religious right to a shrinking remnant of the same. Here's how it's adjusting to minority status. [New Yorker / Kelefa Sanneh]
  • This year, the Supreme Court will decide if Ehlena Fry's elementary school violated her rights by denying her use of a service dog. It is legally irrelevant but highly relevant on other grounds that her service dog is the cutest. [NPR / Nina Totenberg]

Verbatim

  • "Yeah, I punched a guy in the mouth for fucking my wife. But look at the city." [Buddy Cianci to New Yorker / Philip Gourevitch]
  • "Sipping a tasteful amount of wine will facilitate polite conversation about the opera and modern philosophy. Unleashing the gargoyles will cause death and terror to rain from the skies, bringing on a thousand-year period of darkness. Hot, right?!" [Reductress / Lisa Mongillo]
  • "In Dallas, for example, the median age of voters in mayoral elections is 62, even though the median age of the adult population is 41— a difference of an entire generation." [CityLab / Kriston Capps]
  • "On the set of that movie, Hedren says [Alfred Hitchcock] installed a secret door that connected his office with her dressing room and had the makeup department create a life mask of her face — not as a prop for the movie, but just for him to own." [NY Post / Raquel Laneri]
  • "Last month, the Trump campaign floated billionaire Forrest Lucas as the potential secretary of the interior in his administration, a position that oversees vital animal-related programs at the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management. Described as 'the leading anti-animal advocate in the United States' by the Humane Society Legislative Fund, Lucas has dedicated much of his time and fortune to defending some of the worst animal abuse industries in our country." [NY Daily News / Andrew Weinstein]


Watch this: How Donald Trump thinks about foreign policy

Trump actually has a philosophy on foreign policy, and it's terrifying. [YouTube / Johnny Harris, Sam Ellis, Yochi Dreazen, Zack Beauchamp, and Jennifer Williams]