The past 24 hours in Trump-Russia news, explained


There was a flurry of news developments on several Trump-Russia fronts Tuesday and Wednesday morning as we learned of new investigation details, a new indictment, a Supreme Court move, and a planned administration departure.

The biggest news was that a poorly redacted court filing from Paul Manafort revealed new details about what special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating — including that Manafort had shared polling data related to Trump’s presidential campaign with an associate tied to Russian intelligence.

Meanwhile, the Russian lawyer who met Don Jr. and Manafort at Trump Tower got indicted by federal prosecutors in New York on a matter unrelated to the Mueller investigation. The Supreme Court made its first significant move connected to the Mueller probe, in a suit involving a foreign govermment-owned company that remains largely secret. And reports claimed that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and supervised him for a year and a half, will soon step down.

Major questions about the Mueller investigation, such as what the special counsel has found out about President Trump and how much longer the probe will continue, remain unanswered. But here’s the significance of what we learned just over the past 24 hours.

Paul Manafort’s lawyers’ sloppy redaction revealed that he shared Trump campaign polling data with Russian
In a court filing this week, Paul Manafort’s lawyers responded to special counsel Robert Mueller’s claims that he violated his cooperation agreement by lying repeatedly. (After being convicted of financial crimes in Virginia in August, Manafort agreed to a plea deal to avert a second trial on separate charges in Washington, and committed to cooperating with investigators.)

But though parts of the public version of this filing appeared to be redacted by black bars, it quickly became apparent that the text underneath those redactions could be revealed by simply copying and pasting from the document.


The Russian lawyer who met Don Jr. at Trump Tower was indicted in a separate matter
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced the indictment of Natalia Veselnitskaya — the Russian lawyer who infamously met with Donald Trump Jr. and top Trump campaign officials at Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign and who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Now, the indictment (filed in December and newly unsealed) is unlikely to go anywhere. It’s highly improbable Veselnitskaya will come to the United States and face arrest. And it has no explicit link to the Trump-Russia investigation or the Mueller probe.

What it does do is provide context to that Trump Tower meeting — specifically, about what Veselnitskaya may have been up to and about her links to the Russian government.

The FDA is going after stem cell clinics that peddle unproven treatments

FDA is going after stem cell

Inside Mark Berman’s clinic in Rancho Mirage, California, is a sign he’s obliged by law to post. It reads “Not FDA Approved.”

Patients who come here to the California Stem Cell Treatment Center can get treatments for ailments ranging from sports injuries to muscular dystrophy. For upward of $5,000, Berman, a plastic surgeon by training, will remove a small portion of their fat, process it, and inject it back into them.

This is called “fat-derived stem cell therapy”; the premise is that the stem cells in your fat can jump-start the healing process. “The stem cells could be good for repairing everything from Alzheimer’s to paralysis to neurodegenerative conditions,” says Berman. “These cells are miraculous for helping heal. We don’t have a choice. We have to use them.”

The problem is there’s not much evidence to back up the claims Berman is making. And it’s not just him — there are more than 100 clinicians in the Cell Surgical Network, a group he co-founded in 2010 to promote the same kind of adult stem cell regenerative medicine he practices. According to a 2017 report by three Food and Drug Administration scientists in the New England Journal of Medicine looking at the benefits and risks of this kind of stem cell therapy, “This lack of evidence is worrisome.”

FDA is going after stem cell

Fat-derived stem cells “may have a positive effect,” says Brad Olwin, a professor of molecular cellular and developmental biology at the University of Colorado Boulder with more than 30 years of experience working with stem cells. “They may be beneficial; it’s clearly a possibility. The problem is the research hasn’t been done.”

So little evidence exists, in fact, that the Department of Justice, on behalf of the FDA, is suing Berman’s clinic as well as a clinic in Florida for experimenting on patients with misleading products. The complaint was filed in May 2018 and the investigation is ongoing, according to the DOJ.

Given the popularity and abundance of these clinics nationwide, the FDA is also taking steps to modernize regulation in the field. But despite these efforts to streamline a path to legitimacy for stem cell clinics, unregulated medical procedures persist, at times leading to patient harm.

The New York Times and AP bungled their fact checks of Trump’s speech — badly


Fact-checkers wandered into false equivalency territory Tuesday night after President Trump’s Oval Office address on immigration and Democrats’ response to it.

The Associated Press was clobbered on Twitter after it anointed the Democratic claim that Trump was at fault for the shutdown “false,” saying that the Democrats are at fault too. As the AP put it on Twitter: it takes “two to tango.”

The New York Times, meanwhile, attempted to fact-check a “should” claim made by Democrat Chuck Schumer — the kind of statement that doesn’t really lend itself to a fact check at all.

Fact-checking has evolved during Trump’s time in office — mainstream news outlets are far more likely to call a lie a lie than they used to. Even on Tuesday night, big outlets relied on policy expertise to clearly dispute Trump’s false claims.

But the night also revealed that outlets still feel the urge to find fault on both sides or assign neutral blame for political problems. The political press has long wanted to cover politics like a sport, to cover the plays of each party as if they are morally and ethically the same. On a night when the president looked the public in the eye and lied about why the government has been shut down for weeks, the press needs to not fall into the false equivalency trap.

The Associated Press tried to fact-check who is to blame
Following Trump’s speech, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer delivered a rebuttal in which they placed blame for the shutdown squarely at Trump’s feet.


“The fact is, on the very first day of this Congress, House Democrats passed Senate Republican legislation to reopen government and fund smart, effective border security solutions,” Pelosi said. “But the president is rejecting these bipartisan bills, which would reopen government over his obsession with forcing American taxpayers to waste billions of dollars on an expensive and ineffective wall — a wall he always promised Mexico would pay for.”

Blaming Trump is entirely reasonable. The shutdown began last month, when Republicans still controlled both the House and Senate, and after the Senate unanimously passed a funding bill that would’ve kept the government open but didn’t fund Trump’s wall.

But in response to criticism from his far-right supporters, Trump at the last minute decided not to support the Senate bill. During an Oval Office event with Pelosi and Schumer, Trump even said he was “proud to shut down the government” and vowed he wouldn’t blame Democrats for it.

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