Inside Politics: Alleged Russian spy's charm offensive

Alleged Russian spy Maria Butina revamps her image while awaiting trial, President Trump's strategy in Afghanistan, Independents look for an upswing in midterms, is Trump's rally material losing its ability to change headlines, and the Democrats' 2018 income inequality spotlight—it's all on Inside Politics.

Posted: Aug 20, 2018 11:22 AM
Updated: Aug 20, 2018 11:22 AM

Here are the stories our D.C. insiders are talking about in this week's "Inside Politics" forecast, where you get a glimpse of tomorrow's headlines today.

1. Alleged Russian spy's image rehabilitation

Alleged Russian spy Maria Butina and her lawyer are attempting something of an image makeover.

Butina, who was arrested in July on charges of conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent, allegedly worked to make inroads with the NRA and other conservative groups, all with the goal of pushing Russia's agenda in the US.

Her lawyer, however, is trying to change that narrative, launching an online legal defense fund and using sympathetic photos of Butina to reframe her as an innocent student wrongly accused.

"But those very glossy photos are going to be up against a very different image," CNN's Sara Murray said, "and that's going to be her mugshot as she was booked into the Alexandria Detention Center over the weekend."

2. Questions over Trump's Afghanistan strategy

One year ago this week, President Trump unveiled his strategy for the war in Afghanistan.

But with the war now in its 17th year, and the Taliban making strategic gains throughout the war-torn country, there are mounting questions over whether or not that strategy is actually working.

Military leaders are urging the President to be patient, but they are increasingly concerned that he may decide the current plan isn't working -- and order the military to pull out of the country altogether.

"His instinct has always been to withdraw," the New York Times' Julie Davis said. "And with a $4-billion-a-year price tag just for propping up those Afghan security forces, you're starting to hear more concern in the administration that he could just follow through on that instinct."

3. Are Trump rallies losing their headline-grabbing effect?

Once upon a time, Trump campaign rallies were must-see TV, driving the news cycle for days.

But more recently the President's rallies are not having the same effect, even as he ramps up his campaign schedule

For a President who sometimes struggles with staying on script, Trump's rallies largely follow a familiar pattern -- a rehashing of election night, slams against political opponents, and criticism of the ongoing investigation into Russia meddling in the 2016 election.

But as the Wall Street Journal's Michael Bender notes, that familiarity might lose its appeal to the President, who prides himself on his ability to upend a news cycle.

"This is a President who thrives on driving a news cycle in front of large crowds," Bender said. "The question is, how long will this be a release for the President as the top networks stop carrying these rallies?"

4. Will income inequality be an important part of the Dems' 2018 playbook?

As the stock market is set to hit its longest run of growth in US history, the President is touting the strength of the American economy.

But a report from the Labor Department shows that while Wall Street is doing well, it's an entirely different story for workers.

Wages for workers have remained essentially flat since the 2008 recession, and are actually down slightly when adjusted for inflation, despite Trump's recent tax cuts.

That's bad news for Republicans running on the tax cuts' success -- and Democrats are looking to drive that message home ahead of the November midterm elections.

"Corporate America is doing great, worker wages are flat," Bloomberg's Toluse Olorunnipa said. "That's going to be a theme on the campaign trail for a number of Democrats this fall."

5. Independents look to shake up 2018

There was a political convention of sorts in Denver this weekend. It was a gathering of independents who may face long odds in their efforts but are worth watching.

Unite America is the organization, and its leaders say their goal is to provide financial and organizational support to independent candidates -- not to organize as a third party.

There are a handful of statewide candidates that have the organization's backing. But a major immediate goal is focused on lower ballot races: Unite America is targeting state legislatures with chambers that are evenly or closely divided. The idea is that electing two, three, or four independents to such chambers could provide a centrist, pragmatic swing vote on major issues.

This is hardly the first group to come forward and offer itself up as the alternative to partisanship and polarization -- and most of those past efforts have fizzled. But it is no secret that displeasure and even disgust with the major political parties runs high, so tracking support for independent candidates running with Unite America's support is one good way to judge how high -- and how willing voters are to go outside of the usual choices.

Leaders of the effort say they understand the long odds and will target their energy and resources where they believe there are openings. The executive director of the organization, Nick Troiano, was an unsuccessful independent candidate for Congress in his home state of Pennsylvania.

Here is how he characterized the Unite America effort to the Denver Post: "We're not just independent voters coming together to complain about the system. We have a real strategy, real backing and real candidates to make a tangible difference on the system."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 253932

Reported Deaths: 5524
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17120175
Hinds16207322
Harrison13353193
Rankin10689211
Jackson10303183
Lee8796141
Madison8232162
Jones6288110
Forrest5949119
Lauderdale5847180
Lowndes5355116
Lafayette494292
Lamar484165
Washington4777123
Bolivar3966108
Oktibbeha392480
Panola368378
Pontotoc362853
Monroe3533105
Warren348498
Union343060
Marshall341665
Neshoba3370152
Pearl River327899
Leflore3002105
Lincoln297085
Sunflower282669
Tate270862
Hancock266559
Alcorn263253
Itawamba262459
Pike262077
Scott246245
Prentiss245052
Yazoo244355
Copiah240849
Tippah240450
Simpson234867
Leake230564
Coahoma230054
Grenada217770
Covington211371
Marion210672
Adams204670
Winston200164
Wayne199630
George199038
Attala193559
Newton191342
Tishomingo184459
Chickasaw183644
Jasper169735
Holmes168567
Clay159033
Stone142320
Tallahatchie140134
Clarke138660
Calhoun135721
Smith120123
Yalobusha116534
Walthall111836
Noxubee110322
Greene109729
Montgomery109434
Carroll104221
Lawrence102417
Perry101631
Amite97725
Webster92224
Tunica86321
Claiborne86125
Jefferson Davis84125
Humphreys82924
Benton81523
Kemper77120
Quitman6888
Franklin66415
Choctaw60313
Wilkinson58325
Jefferson53819
Sharkey42717
Issaquena1596
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 422598

Reported Deaths: 6120
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson62039921
Mobile30225548
Madison27052186
Tuscaloosa20728267
Montgomery18978305
Shelby18504114
Baldwin16251182
Lee12465101
Morgan12233113
Etowah11735168
Calhoun11122200
Marshall10191107
Houston8598148
Cullman8023105
Limestone800274
Elmore7836101
DeKalb768397
Lauderdale754683
St. Clair7535120
Talladega6166108
Walker5897174
Jackson580341
Colbert532073
Blount530483
Autauga518455
Coffee441056
Dale396181
Franklin366248
Chilton336165
Russell330310
Covington327268
Escambia316842
Dallas303196
Chambers282769
Clarke281433
Tallapoosa2616107
Pike248729
Marion245650
Lawrence243647
Winston226635
Bibb215147
Geneva201435
Marengo199029
Pickens196531
Hale175842
Barbour172936
Butler169658
Fayette168226
Cherokee160330
Henry153621
Monroe145217
Randolph139835
Washington137626
Clay126145
Crenshaw118744
Lamar118019
Cleburne117423
Macon114735
Lowndes110335
Wilcox103121
Bullock99028
Perry97419
Conecuh94420
Sumter89026
Greene76023
Coosa60515
Choctaw51224
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