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The Mystery of President Trump's Relationship With Putin

President Donald Trump's meeting on Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin shattered the established pattern in Russian-American relations. During the press conference that followed, Trump endorsed Putin's statement that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 U.S. election, contradicting the assessment of his own intelligence agencies. Trump has since walked back his remarks, but the summit is raising new questions about the nature of his relationship with Putin, and his business ties to Russia. As far back as 1987, Trump was entertaining the idea of building a Trump Tower in the country, when it was still the Soviet Union. His numerous attempts failed, including an effort in 2014 with Aras Agalarov, a Russian oligarch with close ties to Putin. Agalarov collaborated with Trump in 2013 to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Russia. Though he failed to build a skyscraper in Moscow, Trump relied on Russian money for his businesses. He sold countless apartments to wealthy Russians in places like Manhattan, and his Atlantic City casinos were popular were with Russian-Americans. "All that activity brought him into contact with a huge number of people from the former Soviet Union," said Ilya Marritz, co-host of the Trump Inc podcast from WNYC and ProPublica. Trump himself often toyed with the idea of meeting with Putin, including in a tweet about the 2013 Miss Universe pageant that the future president was hosting in Moscow. Although the Trump Organization now denies having any major business deals with Russia, rumors persist that Putin has some sort of financial leverage over, or compromising information on the president. "There's a theory that Trump owes the Russians because of their financial support," Trump Inc. co-host Andrea Bernstein told WNYC's Jami Floyd. "On the other hand, some people who have worked for him have told us the idea that Trump would feel a sense of obligation to anyone is preposterous." Listen above to hear the full interview with Marritz and Bernstein.

Most Cuomo Donations Are from Small Donors. (But Almost All of His Money Is from Large Ones.)

In releasing its latest financial disclosure, the Cuomo campaign boasted that his reelection bid is making inroads with small donors. In contrast with earlier cycles, a campaign statement said, 57 percent of the latest donations were for less than $250. That's a large proportion — but not of Cuomo's bottom line. The total value of those small contributions is $63,700, or about 1 percent of the $5.85 million Cuomo took in during the last six months. Most of his haul came from wealthy individuals, unions and limited liability corporations. Cuomo for years has been calling on the legislature to "close the LLC loophole" and ban contributions from the often untraceable limited liability corporations — as most states and the federal government do. But in the latest round of fundraising, LLCs gave Cuomo $1.1 million dollars. And even among those who did make small contributions, the numbers were misleading. The Cuomo campaign was speaking of individual donations, not individual donors. One contributor, a Long Island resident named Christopher Kim, made 69 donations worth a total of $77, making him single-handedly responsible for about one-tenth of the small donations. Kim resides at the same address as Julia Yang, whose LinkedIn profile says she is Cuomo's "Creative Director." "We appreciate his enthusiasm," campaign spokeswoman Abbey Collins said of Kim's donations. "Going forward, we'll put measures in place to count contributions like this differently." Cuomo currently has $31 million on hand, close to 50 times more than his Democratic primary rival, Cynthia Nixon. But his cash margin will soon be getting a little skinnier. He's giving away $534,000 contributed to several donors who have been convicted of government corruption in recent months in federal court. "Two years ago [when these donors were first indicted], the campaign removed these donations and segregated them into a separate account," Collins said. "The money is currently in the process of being donated and will be dispersed in the coming days to groups who do important work on behalf of vital causes: immigrant legal defense, women's reproductive health rights, and Puerto Rico recovery efforts." In the latest cycle, the Cuomo campaign spent about $5 million, mostly on staff, consultants and advertising.

Most Cuomo Donations Are from Small Donors. (But Almost All of His Money Is from Large Ones.)

When Humor and Horror Became Tools for Social Commentary


Trump's Russia Summit Puts Local Republicans In a Tough Position

President Trump decision to side with Russia rather than U.S. intelligence agencies' conclusions on Russian meddling in the 2016 election has put local Republican members of Congress in a tough position as they seek re-election But most members tread carefully in their criticism of the President.. Congressman Dan Donovan, running against a well-funded Democrat on Staten Island, said he trusts U.S. intelligence when they say Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections. But he doesn't think Congress has a responsibility to act as a check on the president. "I don't know exactly what checks you're talking about," Donovan said. He said special-counsel Robert Mueller's investigation hasn't proved collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia and that it's time to wrap it up. As for last week's indictments of a dozen Russian intelligence officers, Donavan, a former Staten Island district attorney, said the U.S. will never get to prosecute them because they live overseas. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wants the GOP to go further than tempered criticism. The New York Democrat said he wants more sanctions, hearings to question Trump's staff and election security legislation. "The bottom line — we need to act," Schumer said on the Senate floor. "A few statements will not change President Trump's behavior, will not stop President Putin from continuing to make a mess of our alliances around the world." In a conference call with reporters, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Republicans' response to the President's comments were unacceptable. "Are they going to pursue the President for possibly committing treason or not?" Cuomo asked. "And they'll be accountable to the people in November on that decision." But New Jersey Republican Tom MacArthur says statements are enough — because the president listens. "I don't think it's fair to say that we're not acting as a check and a redirect at times," MacArthur said. "We are." Republican criticism helped convinced Trump to change a policy separating immigrant children from their parents, MacArthur said. And MacArthur said Republicans have also talked Trump out of cutting the Office of National Drug Control Policy's budget while a national opioid epidemic continues. MacArthur, also facing a vigorous challenge, said he agrees with a lot of what Trump is trying to do, and that measured criticism is the best way to maintain a working relationship with the White House.

Ex-New York Senate Leader and Son Convicted of Bribery, Extortion

Former New York state Senate leader Dean Skelos and his son were convicted on Tuesday of extortion and bribery charges. They were accused of pressuring wealthy businessesmen to give Skelos's son, Adam, no-show jobs or else risk losing the Republican leader's political support for legislation favored by the businesses. A jury in Manhattan federal court deliberated over the course of four days before reaching the verdict in a case that cast a harsh light on corruption in Albany. Prosecutors had told jurors that the father and son were "partners in crime" who showed such blatant disregard for conflicts of interest that they broke the law. They accused the pair of extorting roughly $300,000 in payments from wealthy business executives who were dependent on the Long Island senator's backing on legislation benefiting their financial interests. The companies felt "constant pressure from Dean Skelos - the fear he would punish them by using his official power if they didn't pay up," Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas McKay said in closing arguments. "They were the targets of the Skelos family shakedown." The evidence included a wiretap recording of a phone call in 2014 in which Skelos boasted to his son that in his position as Senate leader he would "control everything," including which bills would come to the floor for a vote. "Everybody's going to know who calls the shots, Adam," he said. "Believe me." The defense sought to portray the elder Skelos as a doting father who was merely trying to look out for a son struggling to find employment and pay for a $675,000 home. His lawyers argued there was no evidence that the ex-senator took any official action for any of the businessmen. Skelos, 70, testified in his own defense, claiming there was never a quid-pro-quo expected when he reached out on behalf of Adam. "I didn't see a problem with it," he said. "I asked a lot of people to help my son."

Allegations Against Former Newark Archbishop Went Unexamined: Report

The Catholic Church suddenly removed Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from priestly duties last month, citing reports that he had molested a 16-year-old male nearly 50 years ago. But The New York Times reports in a recent story that the allegations against McCarrick go much deeper. Before serving as cardinal, McCarrick was a bishop in Central New Jersey, and then archbishop of Newark, with a pattern of allegedly troubling behavior. The Times reports that between 1994 and 2008, American bishops received multiple complaints about McCarrick acting inappropriately with adult seminary students. Those stories were shared with the Pope Benedict XVI's representative in Washington, D.C., and eventually with the pope himself. In addition, two New Jersey dioceses paid settlements to men who said he had abused them. But McCarrick not only remained employed in the church, but was able to continue climbing the ranks. "McCarrick was a very gregarious, charismatic priest," co-author Sharon Otterman told WNYC's Jami Floyd. "I'm sure that was an element of his rise." Accusations that priests have abused children have been coming out for at least two decades. The church has spent billions of dollars to settle claims, and has attempted to reform how it deals with the abuse of minors. But Otterman says there is still unfinished business. "This other category of vulnerable adults, which are priests and seminarians, have been left out of this pursuit for increased justice," she said. The 88-year-old cardinal is the highest-ranking Catholic official in the United States to be removed for sexual abuse of a minor. McCarrick says he has no memory of the alleged incident that led to his removal, and declined to comment to the Times on the other allegations. For the full interview with Sharon Otterman, press the "Listen" button.

Brian Lehrer Will Sell You on Baseball (and Cracker Jacks)

We've reached the halfway point in the Major League Baseball season. The All-Star break is a chance for fans and players to regroup and catch a breather. WNYC's Shumita Basu knows little to nothing about baseball. So to prepare for tonight's All-Star Game, she went to Yankee Stadium to learn a thing or two from baseball superfan Brian Lehrer. Listen above for Brian's best impression of the vendor who comes around selling "CRACKERRR JAAAACKS!" Below are a few bonus clips that didn't make it to air. Brian's moment of zen: What's the deal with "DAY-O": Why you should get into the Yankees in 2018: The Brian Lehrer Show team took the afternoon off for some ⚾️ and � and ☀️! A post shared by The Brian Lehrer Show (@brianlehrershow) on Jun 21, 2018 at 2:27pm PDT (And here's a tip: Yankee Stadium does NOT allow you to bring in selfie sticks. Shumita learned this the hard way two years ago when she went to a game with Brian and his team, and had to resort to strategic camera angles to fit the whole team in one picture.)

Gym Etiquette: Are Pointers or Pick-Ups Welcome?

For those of us who've kept up a gym membership well into July, getting in a workout can be anywhere from a purely self-disciplinary act to a welcome break in the day. And whether you work out solo or in a group, a shared gym is a community. But there are some interactions with fellow gym-goers that, instead of fostering that sense of community, can leave you feeling unsettled. Especially if you're a woman. WNYC's Alejandra Salazar and Shumita Basu speak to Richard Hake about their perspectives as twenty-something-year-old, gym-going women who are often on the receiving end of unwanted attention or condescending and unsolicited "workout tips." Gym-goers of all ages and genders, tell us: What are your expectations when it comes to interacting with fellow gym members? Is the gym a fair place for pick-ups? Tweet @WNYC or leave a voicemail at 855-869-9692.

Chants of "Vive la France!" Erupt around NYC after World Cup Victory

From all over the region, fans converged on New York City to watch the big game, clustering in bars and homes and other gathering spots. "It's more fun than sitting at home and watching it alone," said Mario Peruc, who drove from his house in Rockland County to Queens to join the scene at Rudar, a social and sporting club that once honored Croatians' mining heritage and is now a restaurant and cultural hub. In Astoria, at the Croatian restaurant Rudar, the mood was tense during the game . . . (Fred Mogul/WNYC) Meanwhile on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, many watched the game outside at a multi-block festival for Bastille Day, hosted by the Alliance Francaise. "To see so many French people in the street here, it makes me feel France is everywhere, in a way, and I feel very proud about that," said Paris native Damien Chenot. Peruc and Chenot were among the millions world-wide who watched France defeat Croatia 4-2 to win the 2018 FIFA World Cup Championship. Cheering on Les Bleus surrounded by her compatriots helped calm Grace Rabou's nerves. "It was exciting but very anxious," the visiting student at LaGuardia Community College said. Her friend, Aurelie Kouna, a student at Hofstra University and a native of the former French colony Gabon, in West Africa, was proud that the French team showcased the country's immigrant heritage. "It's nice for us, because we see how it's mixed now and how we can go forward together," she said Both sides said they were happy for the other country. The last time France won the World Cup was in 1998, beating Brazil after getting past Croatia in the semi-finals. For Croatia, making it that far was monumental, because it came just a few years after the country declared its independence from Yugoslavia. It took 20 years for the Croatians to match and exceed that mark, but Claudio Belucic, from Palisades Park, NJ, said he wasn't disappointed with the outcome. "France — they won," he said, stating the factual truth but not his deeper takeaway. "But in my heart, we still won." . . . but afterwards outside, the disappointment quickly dissipated, and fans reveled in how far their small nation had come. (Fred Mogul/WNYC)

This Week in Politics: Where are Jersey's Republicans?

It was a bad week for the Republican nominee in New Jersey's southernmost congressional district – the 2nd. On Monday, Media Matters reported that candidate Seth Grossman had posted on his social media links to racist commentaries from white nationalist web sites. It was the latest in a series of controversial episodes for the candidate. And later that day, the National Republican Congressional Committee withdrew their support for Grossman, saying, "Bigotry has no place in society — let alone the U.S. House of Representatives." So how did Grossman end up being the guy running for an open seat that has been held by a Republican for 23 years? And where are all the big name New Jersey Republicans this midterm election season? This week, we talk with Republican strategist Mike DuHaime. He directed Chris Christie's campaigns for governor and the White House, he managed Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign in 2008 and was a consultant to New Jersey Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen before he decided to retire this year. Speaking with David Furst, DuHaime says part of the reason why there are few big name Republicans running... is that the GOP doesn't have a big bench of candidates ready to compete on the state level. He says, "The nature of our state is we only have one state-wide elected official. In New Jersey, we elect a governor, and the governor appoints everything else... in New Jersey, if you're in the northern part of the state, the elected officials you hear most about are Mayor de Blasio, Andrew Cuomo and then maybe Governor Murphy. You just don't hear about your local congressman on the 11 o'clock news. And the same is really true in South Jersey as well with the Philadelphia media market. So, neither party (in the state) has big names."

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