Trump’s Russian roulette

The Hillary Clinton campaign is meeting with swing-state leaders of Eastern European descent, encouraging ethnic debate watch parties and phone banks, and scheduling conference calls with Clinton allies from her State Department days as part of an aggressive effort to capitalize on Donald Trump’s embrace of Russian leader Vladimir Putin and his equivocal support for NATO.

For years, voters with Eastern Bloc roots embraced the Republican Party, viewing the GOP as an anti-communist bulwark and a champion of strength in the face of Russian aggression.

But the Republican nominee’s frequent praise of Putin and talk of conditional American backing for NATO members under attack has alarmed voters with close family ties to Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and other Eastern European countries, raising the prospect that they’ll bolt the top of the GOP ticket in November.

“The Latvians are primarily Republicans, as are Lithuanians, Estonians, and many Ukrainians, but Trump has put them in a real bind,” said Maris Mantenieks, a Latvian leader in Ohio’s Eastern European ethnic community. “Because in all honesty they don’t want to vote for [Clinton], and yet again they can’t express their Republicanism due to Trump’s positions.”

These voters, many of whom live in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, are deeply worried by an emboldened Moscow, and anxious over the possibility that the Baltic nations might be the next target of Russian adventurism. Trump’s lavish praise of Putin has exacerbated those concerns — leaving an opening that Clinton’s campaign is leveraging by emphasizing her willingness to get tough with Putin, and her unwavering support for NATO. Earlier this month, Clinton met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in New York— and her allies made sure to publicize the message that Trump snubbed him.

“From a policy perspective, one of the things Trump really opened up is conversations with groups that tend to lean more conservative, because of his dangerously pro-Kremlin ties…and anti-NATO perspective,” said John McCarthy, Clinton’s “director of heritage community outreach,” who is focused in part on cultivating support for Clinton from Eastern European-American communities in battleground states.

In Pennsylvania, according to the most recent Census data available, there are more than 100,000 people of Ukrainian descent; 820,000 of Polish descent — a demographic that tends to be more Democratic-leaning, but that cares about strong support for NATO; 46,000 Croatians, and thousands of Lithuanians, Latvians, Albanians, Estonians and people of other Eastern European ethnicities. In Ohio, there are around 40,000 Ukrainians, more than 400,000 Poles, and thousands of Americans of other Eastern European heritage.

While these groups don’t necessarily vote as monolithic blocs — for many, their ties to Eastern Europe are attenuated — it could be enough to make a difference in a tightly contested race, Democrats say.

“I believe in our community, in many Eastern European communities, there is a high percentage of … voters that do still take foreign policy seriously because of our own immigrant story, or their strong support for NATO, that would lead one to be a supporter and vote for Hillary Clinton,” said Steve Rukavina, a leader in the national Croatian community based in Pennsylvania and helping to organize ethnic engagement efforts for Clinton in the state, in conjunction with the Democratic National Committee’s National Democratic Ethnic Coordinating Council. “We believe that can make a difference in this election, in any swing state that could be very close. So we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

In Ohio, engaging Eastern European ethnic communities is a campaign staple, particularly in northeastern Ohio, which is home to significant Polish and Ukrainian communities. George Voinovich, the late Republican governor, senator and Cleveland mayor — himself of Serbian and Slovenian descent — prioritized establishing strong relationships with ethnic communities in the state, and GOP Sen. Rob Portman, up for re-election this cycle, is taking the same approach.

Portman has met with ethnic leaders in the state as many as 14 times in the last three years, and is a champion of a strong Ukraine, a country at odds with Russia and pro-Russian forces. He still looks poised to net strong support from the Ukrainian and Eastern European voters but community leaders have made clear to him that this year, support for Trump at the top of the ticket is a bridge too far.

At a breakfast meeting with local ethnic leaders last month — the day after a bombshell report dropped revealing extensive ties between Trump’s then-campaign chair and pro-Russia forces — Portman couldn’t escape talk of the GOP nominee.

Over Ukrainian cheese blintzes, leaders assembled around the table in Parma, Ohio, laid into Trump, sketching out their concerns about Trump’s lavish praise of Putin, and his equivocal support for NATO.

“There was a very strong anti-Trump feeling there,” said Mantenieks, who attended the meeting and said he had an extended conversation with Portman after the breakfast.

Added Erika Puussaar, an Estonian-American leader from Cleveland, “I’m very supportive of Rob Portman, our senator, because that’s very important to him that he supports NATO. I don’t think Donald Trump has any idea about how these smaller countries depend on NATO. That’s the only defense against Russia. These countries were invaded during the Second World War, they lived under Russian rule for 50 years, NATO is the only military protection they have.”

Yet she harbors serious reservations about Clinton, too, and is considering voting for Libertarian Gary Johnson — playing into Democratic hopes that Republican-leaning voters from ethnic communities won’t turn out for Trump.

Andrew Futey, who advises Portman on ethnic outreach and is himself a leader in Cleveland’s Ukrainian community, cautiously gave the Clinton campaign credit for their attempts at engagement.

“I think there’s an effort by her team to reach out,” said Futey, who also worked for Voinovich and is undecided on whether he will vote for Trump. “I just hope it’s genuine and that it’s real, and not taking advantage of a political situation, but I think it’s pretty clear her team is trying to reach out.”

In a sign his campaign senses the risk, Trump has launched his own attempts to reach out to Americans of Eastern European descent, addressing Polish Americans in Chicago on Wednesday.

“We want to be strong, which means we want more countries to follow the example of Poland,” Trump said, attempting to soothe concerns about his position on NATO. “If every country in NATO made the same contribution as Poland, all of our allies would be more secure. And people would feel even better about NATO.”

Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and a prominent Trump surrogate who attended the event, added that while Trump may push other countries to contribute more to NATO, he understands the “solemn obligation” to defend NATO members from attack.

Asked what else his campaign was doing to court ethnic voters, spokeswoman Hope Hicks replied only that, “The event [Wednesday] was a tremendous success. Mr. Trump was met with great support by the Polish-American community. “

Ulana Mazurkevich, a Ukrainian-American activist who has been working with the Clinton campaign in Pennsylvania, said she has no doubt that some ethnic voters will still back Trump — a man whose name she can barely utter because “I get all upset,” she says.

An incredulous Mazurkevich is bursting with stories about disagreements she has had with other Ukrainian and Polish-American acquaintances. But through one-on-one meetings, roundtables, door-knocking, handing out flyers at Ukrainian schools and working the crowds at ethnic events, she and other Clinton supporters are expecting to curb Eastern European-American tendencies to vote Republican this year.

“Especially with the Ukrainian community, the message is very strong and clear,” she said. “You have a choice: Do you vote for Putin, basically, or there’s another choice: Do you vote for Hillary?”

Clinton says no to Trump’s sex talk

Donald Trump is itchy, scratchy, just dying to talk about Bill Clinton’s 1990s sex scandals – but Hillary Clinton just won’t play along.

Trump’s posse of oft-divorced surrogates spent much of the last 48 hours congratulating the thrice-married real estate developer for not bringing up the documented marital affairs and rumored indiscretions – less a dog whistle than a bullhorn blast intended to rattle a reenergized opponent and inject the issue into the campaign.

In the wake of Clinton’s strong showing at Hofstra on Monday night, the GOP nominee repeatedly patted himself on the back for having the self-restraint to eschew the scandals of decades past – a Trump classic stratagem to get everyone else – but, no, not him — to talk about the most humiliating chapter of the Clinton marriage and shift the narrative away from his shaky debate performance.

But when a New York Times reporter asked the first female major party nominee late Thursday on her campaign plane if it was her responsibility to “speak out on a spouse’s indiscretions or past,” Clinton icily answered with a single word.

“No,” was all she said.

Meanwhile, Trump – who spent much of his pre-political career boasting about his sexual prowess and commenting on the physical appearance of women – stoked a fire he himself had sparked. When a reporter asked him on Thursday if Bill Clinton’s affairs reflected on Hillary Clinton, he offered a verbal wink.

“You’ll have to figure that out,” he said. “I think it’s pretty simple to figure that out.”

That followed a day of Clinton scandal-stirring by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the man who brought impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton in 1998 – which turned out to be one of the most self-destructive boomerang attacks in recent political history, resulting in Gingrich’s own political ruin.

That didn’t stop him from jumping back into the fray with both tassled loafers. Trump, he said, was “a gentleman” for holding back a verbal onslaught on former President Bill Clinton’s extramarital affairs during the first prime-time showdown between Trump and Hillary Clinton.

“I’m very proud that at the very end when she attacked and went off on this whole rant about women — and you could see his face — in the Republican primary, he would have just smashed her,” Gingrich told Sean Hannity on Thursday on the Fox News commentator’s radio program, which was first reported by BuzzFeed.

“He thought about it, and I’m sure he said to himself, ‘a president of the United States shouldn’t attack somebody personally when their daughter is sitting in the audience,’” Gingrich said. “And he bit his tongue, and he was a gentleman, and I thought in many ways that was the most important moment of the whole evening. He proved that he had the discipline to remain as a decent guy even when she was disgusting.”

Gingrich is an odd messenger of marital fealty. He married one of his teachers in high school, then told her he wanted a divorce when she was recovering from cancer.

The twice-divorced former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, another high-profile Trump surrogate, didn’t let his own checkered personal past get in the way of whacking the Clintons.

“The president of the United States, her husband, disgraced this country with what he did in the Oval Office, and she didn’t just stand by him, she attacked Monica Lewinsky," Giuliani said on debate night in a video posted on Twitter. "And after being married to Bill Clinton for 20 years, if you didn’t know the moment Monica Lewinsky said that Bill Clinton violated her that she was telling the truth, then you’re too stupid to be president.”

Giuliani, according to numerous published reports, cheated on his second wife with his own press secretary at City Hall during his mayoralty – and was forced to move out of his official residence, Gracie Mansion, by his estranged wife, Donna Hanover.

If Hillary Clinton herself views the line of questioning as politically sleazy and personally painful, Clinton’s staff and allies said they relish the rehash. The former first lady’s dignified response in the late 1990s was, perversely, a rare interlude of sky-high personal popularity that contributed to her election to the Senate in 2000 as the first presidential spouse ever to make the transition to elected office.

“This is great, I can’t believe he’s going there – more, more, more!” said a former adviser to both Clintons.

“After his disastrous debate performance and his sexist attack on a former Miss Universe over her weight, Donald Trump is now trying to deflect by going after Hillary Clinton about her marriage,” Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement on Thursday. “While Trump and his lieutenants like Roger Stone and David Bossie may want to dredge up failed attacks from the 1990s, as many Republicans have warned, this is a mistake that is going to backfire.”

Gingrich himself has proven to be thin-skinned when confronted about his own private life. When confronted by fresh allegations from his ex-wife at the opening of a Republican primary debate in 2012, Gingrich went after the debate moderator, CNN’s John King, and the rest of the media. The explosive moment was met with a roar of approval from the South Carolina crowd.

Trump’s insistence on bringing the issue up seems curious, given his already low ratings among women – and a quarter of women polled after Monday’s debate said they viewed him less favorably after he repeatedly interrupted Clinton. Even more puzzling: Trump’s decision to jump into a trap set by Clinton, who brought up disparaging comments he made about Alicia Machado, the former Miss Universe winner who gained weight after winning the crown. Both Trump and Gingrich – overweight divorcees – defended the nominee’s past comments, even as advisers recommended they dodge the controversy.

The attacks – instead of shifting focus from the debate – seem to have highlighted divisions within Trump’s own ranks. The hosts of “The View” on Thursday tried to get Kellyanne Conway to articulate why the campaign thinks it’s fair game to dredge up Bill Clinton’s infidelities to attack Hillary Clinton.

“I’m not advising him to go there,” Conway said, while adding, “It’s fair game to think about how Hillary Clinton treated those women after the fact.”

Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie said that “clearly Mr. Trump held his tongue” at Monday night’s presidential debate when Hillary Clinton raised the Manhattan billionaire’s history of derogatory remarks about women.

Towards the end of the debate Monday night, Clinton managed to squeeze in a line of attack against Trump, labeling him as “a man who has called women pigs, slobs and dogs.” Almost immediately following the debate, Trump insinuated that he had considered responding by raising Bill Clinton’s history of marital infidelities but opted against it because the couple’s daughter, Chelsea Clinton, was in the debate hall.

That Trump had considered such an attack was more fully fleshed out by his surrogates and by the candidate himself in an array of TV news interviews Tuesday morning. The GOP nominee told Fox News that “I really eased up because I didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings” in Monday night’s debate, and that “I may hit her harder in certain ways” in future debates.

“I think that if you look at Hillary Clinton’s background and if you look at her being an enabler, really, in the ’90s and really attacking these women, it goes against everything that she now tries to spout as a candidate for president,” Bossie said on Fox News’s “Fox and Friends” Wednesday morning. “She’ll say and do anything. Those are Barack Obama’s words, not mine. She’ll say and do anything to become president of the United States. And I think we’re seeing that now.”

Politics aside, the Lewinsky scandal – and a host of other alleged instances of philandering by the ex-president stoked by conservative media – is one of the most sensitive topics inside the former first family, a wrenching trial that took years for the candidate and her daughter Chelsea, who was a teenager at the time, to get over.

“Well, my reaction to that is just what my reaction has been kind of every time Trump has gone after my mom or my family, which is that it’s a distraction from his inability to talk about what’s actually at stake in this election,” Chelsea Clinton told Salon this week.

“And candidly, I don’t remember a time in my life when my parents and my family weren’t being attacked, and so it just sort of seems to be in that tradition,” added the candidate’s daughter – who was friendly with Trump’s daughter Ivanka before the campaign. “What I find most troubling by far… are Trump’s continued, relentless attacks on whole swaths of our country and even our global community: women, Muslims, Americans with disabilities, a Gold Star family. I mean, that, to me, is far more troubling than whatever his most recent screed against my mom or my family [is].”

Chuck Todd to Trump spokesman: ‘Why are you creating a reality that does not exist?’

Chuck Todd tussled with Donald Trump’s campaign spokesman Thursday about the post-debate polls, with the host of Meet the Press ending the interview with a look of exasperation.

“Why do you think multiple polls, scientific polls have said Hillary Clinton won that debate by a 2-1 margin?” Todd asked Miller. “It’s not even been close.”

“I have to set you straight on that one,” Trump’s spokesman Jason Miller interjected when Todd asked about why his boss was lagging in legitimate scientific polls. “The polls that happened the night of the debate, the snap polls, the ones that happen online, those all showed Mr. Trump winning in a huge way. "

Todd tried to correct Miller and point out that the surveys he was clinging to had no relevance in reality.

“Those are fan polls, man,” Todd said. “Those are polls that computer programmers can mess with, those aren’t real.”

But Miller refused to budge. He said that a poll like the NBC News-SurveyMonkey survey was influenced by media bias. In Miller’s eyes, the mainstream media’s coverage of Clinton after the debate skewed any response that researchers might have received.

Their inability to agree on what was a real poll was just the beginning. Miller refused to accept the notion that his boss did not have a stellar performance on Monday night, despite Trump’s own advisers saying as much to the New York Times.

“I just don’t understand why we are creating a reality that does not exist,” Todd said in response to whether Trump missed a single opportunity in his showdown against Clinton at Hofstra University.

Towards the end, Todd followed up on suggestions by Trump that the search engine Google is rigged against him. “Do you have any evidence for that?” Todd asked.

Miller pointed to an article by Breitbart written earlier this summer. In August, long after the story in question, Trump appointed the website’s chairman Steve Bannon his campaign chief.

In swipe at Trump, Clinton names Merkel as her favorite world leader

Hillary Clinton trolled two White House opponents with a single response, dinging Gary Johnson and Donald Trump by naming Angela Merkel as her favorite world leader.

The Democratic presidential nominee on Thursday joined the discussion about politicians’ favorite world leaders, a topic that went viral when Johnson, the Libertarian nominee, drew a blank when asked Wednesday to name a world leader he looks up to and respects.

“Oh, let me think. Look, I like a lot of the world leaders,” Clinton said, bursting into laughter initially when asked about her favorite world leader during a gaggle with reporters aboard her campaign plane in Chicago. “One of my favorites is Angela Merkel because I think she’s been an extraordinary, strong leader during difficult times in Europe, which has obvious implications for the rest of the world and, most particularly, our country.”

Clinton praised the German chancellor’s “leadership and steadiness on the Euro crisis,” while adding that “her bravery in the face of the refugee crisis is something that I am impressed by.”

Clinton said she and Merkel have known each other since the 1990s and spent a lot of time together. “And I hope I’ll have the opportunity to work with her in the future, but we could talk about lots of different leaders if you want to sometime,” she quipped as she walked away with a smile.

Her seemingly innocuous response could be interpreted as a two-pronged attack against Johnson and Trump, though.

When first asked the question, Johnson admitted that he was having another “Aleppo moment,” a reference to an embarrassing interview with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” earlier this month in which he asked, “What is Aleppo?” in response to a question about the city that represents the center of Syria’s civil war and refugee crisis, prompting serious questions about his acumen to be commander in chief.

Trump has frequently attacked Merkel on the trail, panning her for Germany’s intake of refugees, and will likely use that line against Clinton in the final stages of the campaign.

“Hillary Clinton is running to be America’s Angela Merkel, and we’ve seen how much crime and how many problems that’s caused the German people,” Trump said in a speech he delivered last month in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Trump ignores advice and launches Bill Clinton attack

Everyone but Donald Trump and his most ardent supporters recognize that Donald Trump lost Monday night’s debate. And because of the candidate’s stubborn disbelief in his ability to do anything but win, Trump lost the post-debate period too.

Now he’s doubling down.

Despite warnings from fellow Republicans against insulting a beauty queen he disparaged for gaining weight and launching an attack on Hillary Clinton for her husband’s well-known infidelities, Trump is now directing his surrogates to do just that.

“Mr. Trump has never treated women the way Hillary Clinton and her husband did when they worked to destroy Bill Clinton’s accusers,” reads one of the talking points the campaign sent to surrogates on Thursday as the controversy surrounding the story of former Miss Universe Alicia Machado continued to dominate headlines of the race.

And during a rally Thursday afternoon in Bedford, N.H., Trump himself referenced the scandals of the 1990s that he’s been congratulating himself for not talking about all week. “The Clintons are the sordid past,” he said. “We will be the very bright and clean future.”

For three days since Clinton’s dominant debate performance, Trump and his team have been flailing wildly to change the meta-narrative coming out of the showdown. And they have yet to alight on anything to effectively spin the result, challenge the conventional wisdom that Clinton won or to change the subject to anything less damaging for the GOP nominee.

Inside Trump Tower, his inner circle of advisers has been in turmoil: while some have attempted to reach to the hard-headed candidate by suggesting to reporters that he must prepare more thoroughly for the second debate, others have spit-balled ideas aimed at changing the subject, including a last-minute trip to Israel that might replicate the more presidential optics and media saturation coverage they achieved with last month’s surprise summit with the Mexican president.

Trump himself has reportedly chided aides who have privately acknowledged to reporters that Clinton bested him on the debate stage.

But that private uncertainty and unease about what was so clearly a disappointing performance has oozed into public view. Since the debate Monday night, surrogates and Trump himself have both praised and criticized the moderator, Lester Holt. One of Trump’s closest confidants at the moment, Rudy Giuliani, said immediately after the debate that he’d advise Trump to skip the next two and on Wednesday indulged a conspiracy, propagated by a Russian state-controlled news site, that Clinton might have gotten the questions in advance. And on Thursday, campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said she had indeed told her candidate not to call women “fat pigs” but quickly tried to dismiss his insults as “beside the point” because he in fact supports women.

“With Trump, it’s always the tyranny of the urgent and right now it is he has to have people believe he won, or that if he didn’t it was rigged and unfair,” said Rick Tyler, a GOP operative who worked on Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign. “The purpose of having 84 million people watch is to get more people on his campaign; that’s winning. In his mind, it’s just about winning the debate. The objective is actually winning the election.”

Trump’s backers have been more consistent in their adherence to another fatuous talking point, stating that Trump deserved credit for being “gentlemanly” and even “courageous” for not bringing up the subject of Bill Clinton’s infidelities that they are themselves bringing up, increasingly in less uncertain, veiled terms.

And the candidate has compounded the damage by failing or refusing to recognize the damage done by his assertion that avoiding paying income taxes “makes me smart” and his repetition of comments about how a former Miss Universe “gained a massive amount of weight” after he awarded her crown was “a real problem.”

In reality, both Trump’s tacit references to the Lewinsky scandal and his explicit references to the Miss Universe story—something Clinton’s campaign used knowingly to bait Trump and has since pushed into the news cycle—are likely to prevent him from expanding support among undecided women voters, a bloc that may tip the balance of the election more than any other.

“What has been relatively true in the general [election] is that when the news is about Trump, his numbers stagnate and drop. And it’s been the same pattern with her. Right now the story is all about him,” said Sarah Isgur Flores, whose former boss, Carly Fiorina, was also criticized by Trump for her appearance. “After the Megyn Kelly thing, after Carly’s thing, his voters know him. That doesn’t mean they approve of it. They just think country has reached a point where they need big change. But holding his supporters is not enough heading into November. He had to build and this doesn’t help building.”

Tyler put it bluntly: “He needs more women supporters, and reminding people he called someone Miss Piggy or Miss Housekeeper is not helpful.”

Desperate to put any sort of positive gloss on a disappointing debate performance, Trump’s campaign claimed to have seen an $18 million windfall in small-dollar online donations in the 24 hours after the debate.However, it’s not yet clear if that money is all from online contributions or how much of it will be available to Trump, as POLITCO reported Thursday.

Clinton’s campaign, meanwhile, is starting to put the pedal down. Even before the candidate mentioned Machado, her communications and rapid response operations had laid the groundwork. Machado had already done a photo shoot and interview with Cosmopolitan that popped online less than 24 hours after the debate. The campaign quickly organized a press call with Machado. They cut a video encapsulating the debate exchange and Machado’s story, which has been a staple of cable news coverage for 48 hours now. In swing states, women surrogates have been amplifying Clinton’s argument.

And Democrats have said they would love to see Trump try to tar Clinton for her husband’s cheating past, something veteran Republican operatives and GOP lawmakers desperately want their candidate to avoid.

“What you’ve seen in the last 48 hours is that Clinton actually has a campaign,” said Stuart Stevens, the GOP strategist behind Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign. “What you see is the Clinton campaign has an extra gear they can go into, and the Trump campaign really doesn’t.”

FBI investigating hack of GOP operative’s email

The FBI is investigating the email hacking of a Republican operative who believes she was targeted by allies of Donald Trump in a bizarre online “cat-fishing” scheme.

Communications strategist Cheri Jacobus said agents from the bureau have contacted her twice since last week about the hack, in which she says thousands of incoming emails disappeared from her account, after POLITICO first reported on the breach last month.

Jacobus said the agents planned to contact her service provider for more information on the hack and confer with a Justice Department investigator in the Southern District of New York who is familiar with circumstances surrounding the incident. The FBI has a policy of neither confirming nor denying the existence of investigations.

The inquiry is the latest sign that law enforcement officials are taking election-related cyber-crime seriously. In July, the FBI announced it was investigating a hack of the Democratic National Committee that security analysts believe to be part of a broader cyber-campaign against the American political system being conducted by the Russian government. In August, the FBI announced that voting systems in Illinois and Arizona had been targeted by hackers, an incident also linked to Russia. This month, hackers have leaked emails from the accounts of Colin Powell and White House Staffers.

There is no evidence that those hacks are related to the hacking of Jacobus’ email.

Instead, Jacobus’ breach appears to be related to an online “cat-fishing” scheme — one that deceives people using fake online identities — that targeted her and other Republican operatives beginning late last year. Jacobus was initially contacted last October, via Twitter, by a person posing as a representative of wealthy conservative donors. Over several months, and using multiple identities, the scheme sought information from Jacobus and others about plans to defeat Trump in the Republican primary.

This spring, Jacobus and a lawyer discovered the deception and linked it to Steven Wessel, a New York con man out on bail as he awaited a prison sentence for another fraud. As a result of his apparent role in the cat-fishing scheme, a judge revoked Wessel’s bail in April.

But Jacobus did not believe Wessel had the motive or the resources to be acting alone. And, in August, Jacobus said that thousands of emails — some of which she had been using in attempts to trace other participants in the scheme — had disappeared from her account in the hours after POLITICO began informing people about the impending publication of an article about the cat-fishing scheme.

While cat-fishing schemes can fall into a legal gray area, hacking an email account is a crime.

Last spring, Jacobus had preliminary conversations with Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, about a communications role with the campaign, but did not end up working for Trump. In a separate matter, Jacobus is suing Trump and Lewandowski for defamation in New York over comments they made about her on television earlier this year.

Hill Republicans bet it all on Pence

John McCain pointed to the door of Senate subway train, telling a reporter recently to get out "if you’re going to ask about Trump.”

Informed instead the subject was Mike Pence, McCain relaxed, as the Arizona senator and 2008 GOP presidential invited the reporter to ride along.

McCain’s willingness to talk Pence but dodge on Trump is shared broadly among his fellow Capitol Hill Republicans and reflects a genuine excitement about the Indiana governor who could be vice president. Capitol Hill Republicans believe Pence could be their man in the White House, a liaison they’re hoping would bend the nominee toward the conservative agenda they’re hoping for — and make the pride-swallowing they’ve done to back a man who spent the primary belittling them worth it after all.

Ted Cruz, who endorsed Trump in September after the most public of snubs of him in August, cited Pence as a big reason for the turnaround. "I sat down with Mike Pence, and we had a conversation about what it would take for me to come on board, that was the major issue I stressed, was the Supreme Court," the Texas GOP senator told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.

Beyond Cruz, the running mate’s 12 years in Congress and his even-keel demeanor in both private and public have kept disgruntled congressional Republicans from abandoning the GOP ticket. Concerned as they still are over Trump’s smorgasbord of ever-changing policy prescriptions and bombastic comments, GOP lawmakers believe that if there’s trouble with the Trump administration, their first call will be Vice President Pence.

“He has already said that … he plans to have an active presence here,” said Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, who recommended that Trump select Pence as she bowed out of the veepstakes this summer. “That has traditionally been the vice president’s role in the past, so they want to pick up that tradition again.”

“He’ll be a great coach for Trump,” added Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina.

So far, however, there’s scant evidence that Pence has the pull to bring Trump in his direction. And while campaigning and governance are different, on the trail, at least, Pence has been the one bending to Trump.

Pence is a long-time advocate of free trade and Trans-Pacific Partnership booster and now opposes TPP with Trump, calling instead for only unilateral trade deals. Pence frequently says, a bit confusingly, that he and Trump both support free trade — even as they aim to renegotiate the nation’s existing free trade agreements and relentless attack Hillary Clinton over her support for them. And Pence now supports Trump’s calls for “extreme vetting” and a ban on immigration from some areas of the Middle East, even though he wrote on Twitter in December: “Calls to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. are offensive and unconstitutional.”

“Mike will be a very good ally on Capitol Hill and has really good relationships here,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “But Donald will have to decide.”

Lawmakers will get more clues on that Tuesday, when, in his lone debate with Clinton running mate Tim Kaine, Pence will undoubtedly be pressed to answer for his differences with Trump.

Thus far, Pence has not moved the bloc of anti-Trump or neutral Republicans in the House or Senate beyond the recent conversion of Cruz. But his presence has brought Republicans skeptical of Trump to more enthusiastically embrace the ticket. They swoon over Pence’s steady demeanor and strong grasp of congressional procedure and geniality. And they are noticeably more comfortable talking about Pence than whatever Trump news of the day is on the media’s mind.

For people like McCain, who has supported Trump’s candidacy with a clenched jaw, Pence gives them something to be excited about.

“My intersection with [Pence] was a lot on immigration reform. We talked a lot, years ago when he was in the house. He was interested in the issue and conversations about it … he came to see me a couple times,” McCain recounted fondly.

That’s a sharp contrast to McCain’s demeanor when talking Trump: “I’ve said everything I have to say about Trump. What more do you want me to say? You want me to repeat myself over and over again?”

In a closed-door meeting with Pence earlier this month, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) — a “yes, but” Trump supporter who loathes the nominee’s coarse language — stood up to single out Pence for not only making Lankford more comfortable with a Trump presidency, but for solidifying support for the ticket among Oklahoma conservatives as well. In an interview, Lankford recalled telling Pence that if Trump “fills the White House and agencies with people like you we’re in good shape.”

“For a lot of conservatives, they’ve heard Trump say for a year ‘I hire good people’ on the campaign trail,” Lankford said. “The first hire is the vice presidential pick.”

The Republican presidential ticket began with a major disadvantage on Hill relations given Trump’s antagonism of prominent Republicans like McCain and Hillary Clinton’s longstanding relations with lawmakers in both parties. The addition of Pence rather than someone like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie helped fill the void, but the Trump administration would start out in a major hole compared to how Clinton’s White House would run with Capitol Hill.

Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine has excellent relationships with senators in both parties; Pence, on the other hand, is more of a partisan governing presence, Democrats said. They widely said they have little experience working with him.

“The only thing I think about Pence is: Why did he do it?” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a moderate whose vote will be central to the success of any presidency next year.

For Trump’s administration, bipartisan appeal will have to come after getting Republicans on-board. And there are plenty of questions that Republicans have about Trump’s agenda: Will Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan press appropriators to cough up the billions necessary to build a wall along the southern border? Will a family leave package like the one crafted by Ivanka Trump make its way to the floor? Just how big of a tax cut can Trump push through?

The answers to these questions could rest largely on Pence’s ability to leverage the friendships he developed during more than a decade in Congress. Pence has already struggled to translate some of those relationships into support for Trump. Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, for example, is one of Pence’s closest friends, but has declined to support the ticket. Yet Flake has kept in contact with both Pence and Kaine during the campaign, and said that the importance of a prominent role for Pence “goes without saying.”

“He spent 12 years on Capitol Hill and he has relationships and knows how the place works,” Flake said. Clinton “certainly has better knowledge than Trump about how the Hill works.”

Pence has already played an important part in keeping the lines of communication open between Trump and congressional Republicans, making clear from the start his intention to build bridges to elements of the party at which Trump has been just as willing to throw bombs.

And Pence’s choice of Speaker Paul Ryan to introduce him at the Republican National Convention in August was part of this effort, too, with his ability to work with his old colleague a major determining factor in just how consequential a Trump presidency is.

"Speaker Ryan is somebody whose career has been advancing policy," said Marc Short, Pence’s communications chief. "There’s a natural connection that he and Mike have had working together, not just as friends but in advancing a common cause."

Pence will play a "very central role in working with the Congress in advancing a common agenda," Short said.

Still Pence isn’t getting ahead of himself, telling a crowd in Colorado that “There’s only one person that defines the role of the vice president."

However, Pence recently said Dick Cheney would be his vice presidential role model. The comparison is apt, Pence aides say, not because of policies, but because of Cheney’s expansive portfolio and consequence within the administration. Cheney, too, had a career in Congress on which to rely as he served a president with no legislative experience — he also was the only vice president to consistently cast tie-breaking votes in recent years.

“Trump has acknowledged that he doesn’t have the Capitol Hill experience and the governing experience that Mike Pence has,” said Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.). “He’s going to put Mike in a very key position in terms of dealing with Congress.”

Of course with Trump’s propensity to change his mind on a whim, Republicans also have to prepare for the possibility that Trump himself could begin to a take a keen interest in the Hill as a president. After all, he brags nonstop about what a good negotiator he is, and there’s no better place to test that thesis than in the Capitol.