The King of Trump TV Thinks You’re Dumb Enough to Buy It

Chris Ruddy, the C.E.O. of Newsmax, has found a business opportunity in feeding Trump supporters the fantasy that the president could still win the election.

In 2004, Hillary Clinton was in the Senate and Christopher Ruddy had some making up to do. He was, back then, best known as “the Inspector Clouseau” of the Vince Foster case — a New York Post reporter who had popularized the baseless theory that Mrs. Clinton’s friend, who committed suicide in 1993, had been murdered.

But it now seemed possible that Mrs. Clinton might run for president, and Mr. Ruddy laid it on pretty thick. Mrs. Clinton was doing “a remarkably and surprising good job for NY as Senator,” he wrote to a mutual friend, former Mayor Ed Koch of New York. “I might not like Hillary’s liberalism, but I don’t dislike her on a personal level — as I do Rudy. Rudy Giuliani is a bad person.”

I asked an amused former Clinton aide to dredge this correspondence out of an old box because Mr. Ruddy, a Long Island-born 55-year-old, has emerged as the most audacious media entrepreneur of the Trump election fantasy. The chief executive of Newsmax and part of President Trump’s South Florida social circle, Mr. Ruddy has capitalized on the anger of Mr. Trump’s supporters at Fox News for delivering the unwelcome news, first in Arizona and then nationally, that Mr. Trump had lost his re-election campaign. On Newsmax, however, the fight is still on, the imaginary election-altering Kraken is yet to be released, Mr. Trump is striving valiantly for four more years and the ratings are incredible.

Newsmax’s prime-time ratings, which averaged 58,000 before Election Day, soared to 1.1 million afterward for its top shows, with one host, Greg Kelly, cheerleading on Twitter and on the air for “the QUEST TO COUNT all the LEGAL VOTES.” The ratings even drew a congratulatory call from Mr. Trump himself, my colleagues Michael Grynbaum and John Koblin reported last week.

But Mr. Ruddy, as those Clinton messages show, is not the sort of true-believing ideologue his viewers may imagine in the foxhole alongside them. He is, rather, perhaps the purest embodiment of another classic television type, the revenue-minded cynic for whom the substance of programming is just a path to money and power.

All successful TV programmers have some mercenary in them, of course, but even by those standards, Mr. Ruddy is extreme. He has turned Newsmax into a pure vehicle for Trumpism, attacking Fox News from the right for including occasional dissenting voices. And when Trumpism turned this month from an electoral strategy into a hallucinatory attempt to overturn the election, Mr. Ruddy saw opportunity: Newsmax, available on cable in most American households and streaming online, became the home of alternate reality.

In this day and age, people want something that tends to affirm their views and opinions,” Mr. Ruddy told me in an interview.

He wasn’t hard to reach. Like many people who get generally, even inexplicably, friendly media coverage, the genial Mr. Ruddy is always willing to talk to the press. He is, in fact, a rare and valuable commodity: someone with real access to Mr. Trump who will tell the truth on the record. His insights — 62 quotes in The New York Times in the last four years, 61 in The Washington Post and 51 appearances on CNN — deliver what journalists crave: up-close insights about the president. He has even invited reporters to tag along to Mar-a-Lago as his guest at the president’s private club, which has been a minor irritant for President Trump’s staff, two former Trump aides told me. Not that he’s made any secret of his strategy. The fake crisis of the U.S. electoral system is “great for news,” he told The New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner last week.

Mr. Ruddy is hardly alone in the sudden scramble to convert Mr. Trump’s political profile into cash.

“There are a lot of well-capitalized people circling,” said Michael Clemente, a former executive at ABC News and Fox News and former chief executive of Newsmax, who has been part of conversations as a potential leader of a new venture. He describes the proposition as a question of math, and the dominance of liberal-leaning cable channels: “Fifty percent of the country has 90 percent of the news media speaking to them.”

The noisiest effort is led by Hicks Equity Partners, the family business of a Republican National Committee co-chairman and friend of Donald Trump Jr., Thomas Hicks Jr. The Hicks group has sought to lead buyouts of both Newsmax and its smaller and stranger rival, the One America News Network. The group is also pursuing a third strategy, according to a confidential investment proposal I obtained, which would focus on culture rather than news: building “a family-friendly programming destination of broad appeal based on traditional values” by buying and merging a small “equestrian sports and lifestyle” channel and a larger one, which a person briefed on the talks identified as the small, independent Ride-TV and Great American Country, which is owned by the cable behemoth Discovery. (A spokesman for Hicks Equity Partners didn’t respond to an inquiry about a potential deal.)

Other possibilities for the president to cash in on his stature include creating a new Trump TV network from scratch, either as a television broadcast channel, a package of online video or even a way to direct cash into the Trump family political operation.

Mr. Ruddy has a head start. His main commercial advantage is the network’s distribution, which the company says puts it in 70 million of the roughly 90 million American homes that have cable, thanks to deals with the largest distributors, Comcast and AT&T. It’s a laborious, and expensive, process to get onto the cable package — even if you are, as Newsmax currently is, way up the dial. The programming is also available through a livestream on its app and on a range of newer “over-the-top” TV platforms like Roku. (OAN claims to be available in about half as many cable homes.) The process of establishing a cable network is also deeply political, as things often are in monopolistic industries: Newsmax was dropped from AT&T’s DirectTV in 2016, and restored the next year after Senator Charles E. Grassley called the move “unfair” during hearings about AT&T’s attempt to acquire Time Warner. You could imagine executives at Comcast and AT&T taking their time to make a deal with Trump TV.

But Mr. Ruddy also has a problem. His TV business, a speculative bet that could be worth billions if it can cut deeply into Fox’s audience, currently loses money. The company invested $70 million from 2014 to 2017, according to a confidential overview produced for potential investors in 2018 that one of them shared with me. And Mr. Ruddy told me Newsmax is still investing.

Those costs are partly because new channels often pay cable companies to get on TV. Mr. Ruddy declined to describe his specific arrangements with the cable providers, but said, “It’s not unusual for companies to do that when they start out.” And it’s partly because big advertisers have fled right-wing talk shows, leaving even the widely viewed prime-time shows on Fox News with less lucrative “direct response” ads for pillows and medical devices.

Newsmax has inverted the usual media business dynamic. The company is losing money on television, and making it on the internet, though Mr. Ruddy told me he expects that “revenues on cable and OTT television will be more robust and consistent than the online business for the next 10 years.”

Newsmax has built a solid, and unusual, business by catering to the 50-and-older demographic it described in the document shared with investors as “Boomers and Beyond.” The website’s voice, its big and lucrative email lists, and its products, from books to magazines to vitamin supplements, have the tone of conservative direct mail. And it’s working: The company projected its 2018 revenues at more than $59 million, divided among advertising, subscriptions and e-commerce. (One sponsor on the app last week was selling health advice, asking “Is the ‘Pandemic’ a Lie?”)

Newsmax has been raising money to finance its TV ambitions. Private equity from “a couple of investors,” Mr. Ruddy said, has paid to upgrade studios and hire figures like Mr. Kelly and the former White House press secretary Sean Spicer as the hosts of shows that replaced hours of World War II documentaries, and carry conservative radio talkers including Howie Carr from Boston. The investors, he said, are domestic, despite a Politico report (picked up on Breitbart) indicating he was in talks to raise money from Qatar. Mr. Ruddy said he sent proposals to many sovereign wealth funds, among others, but has not taken foreign investment. He blames his former rival, Stephen Bannon, for pushing the Qatar story, but such grudges are fleeting in the often-shifting alliances of the new right: Mr. Bannon’s podcast, “War Room,” is now also broadcast on Newsmax late at night on weekdays.

Newsmax now needs to raise more money, or sell fast, if it’s going to keep upgrading its talent and production quality to press its advantage with Fox News — which has begun nervously trying to block guests from appearing on the network.

When I pressed Mr. Ruddy on why he was stringing along his audience with a story he can’t, really, himself believe — that Mr. Trump won the election — he didn’t really defend it. Instead, he countered that he wasn’t the only one. “For two years, the liberal media pushed this Russian hoax theory, and there didn’t seem to be any substantiation at the end of the day and it was a pretty compelling, gripping story — controversial personalities, things happened, sparks were flying,” he said.

Newsmax continues to tell a gripping story. On Friday night, Mr. Kelly referred to Joe Biden’s “alleged victory,” hosted a long interview with Rudy Giuliani and later turned to an analyst who gave Mr. Trump a “35 to 40 percent chance that he wins this.” The 8 p.m. host, Grant Stinchfield, announced that “the momentum seems to be shifting back to the president’s favor,” and interviewed a lawyer for Mr. Trump, Jenna Ellis, and a Pennsylvania state senator trying to take back the state’s election certification.

Mr. Ruddy’s cynicism brings me back to the most trenchant attack from conservative media on the mainstream media: that journalists think conservatives are stupid. Tucker Carlson regularly tells his audience that the college-educated snobs in New York who preside over the major outlets view conservatives as unsophisticated rubes, misled by misinformation, not as people who actually believe in the ideas pushed by Mr. Trump, like immigration should be sharply curtailed. Those attacks on the media are often false, but the coastal media sometimes does fail to understand people who aren’t like them, left and right, and sometimes they patronize their audiences.

But nobody I’ve ever covered treats an audience with the blithe disdain of Mr. Ruddy. He has them watching a great story — a thriller, a whodunit — about a stolen election. He thinks they’re stupid enough to fall for it, dumb enough to keep watching even after the fantasy inevitably dissolves, buying the supplements and the books and, crucially, tuning in to channel 1115 in large enough numbers that, eventually, the cable companies will pay him.

Perhaps he actually thinks his viewers are that dumb. Or maybe he just needs them to stick around long enough for him to find someone just as cynical, but with more cash on hand, to buy him out.

The Fast and Furious Michael Avenatti

Avenatti was in the best shape of his life: 185 pounds, 9 percent body fat.

.. he still has the bearing of a light-heavyweight brawler.

.. n 2017, a Russian oligarch named Viktor Vekselberg had deposited around $500,000 into the same bank account Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former fixer, used to pay off Avenatti’s client in October 2016.

.. Avenatti, whose ability to steer a news cycle is rivaled by only the president’s, initially hoped to distribute the file that morning, thus ensuring wall-to-wall coverage for the better part of the day.

.. Avenatti had immediately zeroed in on a potential weakness in his strategy: The document wouldn’t stand up for long without independent corroboration, especially not if he insisted on keeping the source of his information anonymous.

.. The Times published an article revealing that Vekselberg had been interviewed by Mueller, the special counsel

.. “He’s smart that way,” a reporter on the Mueller beat told me. “He needs the television for attention, but he leans on print publications to vet the information he uses on TV.”

.. Avenatti does not employ a public relations specialist, preferring to handle all media scheduling himself

.. he was slumped in the makeup chair at the CNN studios in Columbus Circle, where he seemed to know most of the staff by name.

.. Jeff Zucker, president of CNN, appeared in the doorway, grinning. The men exchanged greetings and retreated to a corner of the greenroom to speak privately.

.. Avenatti shot back. “Right before we went live, The Times issued an article where they verified the accuracy of what we’ve released based on an independent review of other documents. There’s no question this is accurate.”

.. Cooper continued to press his guest, pointing out that the payments the document attributed to Vekselberg had actually come from Columbus Nova, an investment firm whose biggest client is a company controlled by Vekselberg. “At the very least, there may be no nefarious reason here at all that this company would have given $500,000 to Michael Cohen,” Cooper said. “They could’ve been hiring him for any number of consulting work — ”

Avenatti cut him off: “For what? For his legal skill and acumen? I doubt that.”

.. Pat Sajak, the “Wheel of Fortune” host and a notable Republican donor, stopped by the table to pay his respects, as did Andrew Napolitano, the Fox News legal analyst, who grabbed Avenatti by the head with both hands and pulled him into an awkward embrace.

.. Several outlets, including The New York Times, had reported that Avenatti was exploring the possibility of hosting his own cable-news program.

According to Avenatti, since early March he has been interviewed more than 200 times on network and cable TV.

.. Avenatti, Comedy Central’s Jordan Klepper has joked, “is on every single network, every hour of the freakin’ day. He’s got a toothbrush at CNN, a cot at MSNBC and a locker at ‘Riverdale.’

.. He has visited the sets of “The View,” “Real Time With Bill Maher” and “Megyn Kelly Today”

he has made two separate trips to Stephen Colbert’s couch at CBS, most recently to spar with the former Trump communications director Anthony Scaramucci.

.. Two decades ago, a different Los Angeles lawyer, William Ginsburg, appeared on all five Sunday talk shows on a single morning, in an attempt to vindicate his client, Monica Lewinsky, in the court of public opinion. The feat is known today as “the Full Ginsburg.”

.. Avenatti has taken Ginsburg’s underlying approach — let the American people be the jury — and updated it for the social-media era.

He has learned, with practice, to leverage Twitter in much the same manner as the president:

  • as a place to goad (“This is the best Mr. Trump can do?”),
  • a venue for self-aggrandizement (“This is getting too easy”) and
  • a direct conduit to an adoring base of supporters.

.. we also have Avenatti because the left so desperately desires an anti-Trump: A person who can elicit the same dopamine reaction in his supporters that Trump can from his.”

.. Like Trump, Avenatti is all Freudian id, loudmouthed and cocky. “I’m a mercenary,” he acknowledged to me. “That’s what people hire me for, and I don’t apologize for it.”

.. He traffics primarily in a commodity in short supply among left-leaning voters: hope.

.. Nancy Pelosi, recently told The New Yorker that she doesn’t “like to talk about impeachment,” but Avenatti has gleefully predicted Trump will be out of the office before his term ends.

.. Robert Mueller, no matter the outcome of his investigation, is unlikely to ever call Rudolph Giuliani a “pig” or Michael Cohen a “moron”; Avenatti uses both insults so frequently that they have become a kind of refrain.

.. On paper, at least, Avenatti’s campaign against Trump and his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, is limited to three lawsuits.

  1. The oldest, from March, seeks to void the 2016 nondisclosure agreement prohibiting Daniels from discussing her supposed affair with Trump, on the grounds that Trump failed to sign the document ..
  2. .. accuses Trump of defamation for calling Daniels “a total con job” on Twitter, after Daniels said she had been threatened by someone who warned her to “leave Trump alone.”
  3. .. final suit claims that Daniels’s previous attorney, Keith Davidson, conspired with Michael Cohen and President Trump to keep Daniels quiet

.. the results of the raid have not been made public, the evidence is widely believed to contain files pertaining to the Daniels payout, which Cohen has admitted to orchestrating and which Trump had previously denied knowing anything about

.. Avenatti, for his part, claims to already have all the damning evidence he needs

.. Avenatti often describes his media omnipresence as integral to his long game: It rattles Trump’s defenders — as appeared to happen when the president’s lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, contradicted the White House and acknowledged payment to Daniels.

.. helped bring in almost $600,000 for a CrowdJustice account in Daniels’s name, which Avenatti says is his sole source of financing for the case. It has also generated leads for Avenatti, like the Vekselberg data. “None of this happens if we don’t have a high profile,” Avenatti said.

.. Daniels told me. “People forced to play defense tend to get sloppy, they tend to make mistakes. And look, if I didn’t think Michael was doing a good job, I would fire his ass.” But, she added, “every time I watch him work, I think, This is what it must have been like to see the Sistine Chapel being painted. But instead of paint, Michael uses the tears of his enemies.”

.. litigating a case in the press is not without risk. As one of Avenatti’s former colleagues, the lawyer Brian Panish, pointed out, “Michael is good with the media, but the media isn’t always going to do what he wants them to do.”

.. has seen his personal life and past investments raked over. Fox News tracked down his second wife, Lisa Storie, and elicited her opinions on their acrimonious divorce. (Storie recently told me that they were now on “really good terms.”)

.. CNN recently published a quadruple-bylined expose on bankruptcy proceedings against Eagan Avenatti

.. At times, he has seemed genuinely unsettled by the scrutiny

.. after The Daily Caller published a critical piece, he threatened to sue the conservative site for defamation. “If you think I’m kidding, you really don’t know anything about me,” he wrote to the reporter in a Twitter message, which was denounced by other journalists. “This is the last warning.” For many people, it was the first time Avenatti’s hardball tactics had spilled into public view.

.. the Texas trip bolstered his messianic standing among liberals, and invited claims, from detractors, that he is little more than a flagrant opportunist

.. to the people who know him best, the evolution into partisan firebrand is hardly surprising.

.. “Look, Michael has always been a hard-charging guy,”
.. And I think what we’re seeing now is that he’s a perfect foil for Trump, because he actually sees the world just like Trump does. He has that same faith in the spotlight,” Kabateck paused. “In a way, he is sort of is Trump.”
.. When Avenatti was 10 years old, his father, an executive at Anheuser-Busch, took him to an off-road car race
.. Avenatti was captivated. “The speed, the danger — I couldn’t look away,” he told me recently. “In retrospect, it was the feeling I’d get later on, working on a major legal case. You’re nervous, there’s a sense of fear, and also a sense of intense excitement.”
.. he was already incredibly driven, incredibly serious. I don’t think he ever relaxed.
.. To avoid going too deep into student-loan debt, Avenatti, who had long thought about going into politics, took a year and a half off from Penn and accepted a full-time job with Rahm Emanuel’s political-consulting firm, the Research Group.
.. the firm’s leadership soon promoted him to opposition researcher.
.. “This was before the days of the internet, so if you wanted to find clerk records or look up business disputes, you would have to go to the candidate’s jurisdiction,” Avenatti says. “I did a lot of flying around, a lot of gumshoeing.”
.. he says he participated in 150 campaigns in 42 states
..  It was an exceptionally demanding schedule for someone who had not yet finished his senior year in college, and by 1996, Avenatti was burned out on politics. 
.. Daniel Petrocelli. “Dan was the trial guru at O’Melveny,” Avenatti told me: He represented the family of Ron Goldman during the civil suit against O.J. Simpson and once went to battle for Disney over merchandising rights to Winnie the Pooh. “He was a street fighter,”
.. “But he was exceptional at speaking to juries, and I’d like to think he saw a little bit of him in me.”
.. A lot of what I absorbed from Dan involved his preparation,” Avenatti told me. “He was extremely diligent, and he was able to absorb a lot of information in a short period of time.”
.. He wasn’t going to stay at O’Melveny forever, no matter how high the pay. “The drafting, the redrafting of motions, the back and forth, he hated it,” Avenatti-Carlin told me. “He wanted to be more than a paper pusher. He wanted to be a change agent.”
.. In 2004, he sued the future president and the producer Mark Burnett for stealing the concept of “The Apprentice” from a client.
.. Avenatti was able to prove his client had pitched a pilot called “C.E.O.” to Burnett’s people. Trump and Burnett settled.
..  But such cases are expensive to litigate and can drag on for years, with little — or, in the event of an adverse verdict, nothing — to show for it. Still, the high-risk-high-reward aspect of the work appealed to Avenatti; it was a good fit, he thought, for his personality.
.. he defining case of his young career, suing the accounting giant KPMG for audit malpractice, for failing to notice or report the some $40 million the chief financial officer had embezzled
.. Michael was a force of nature. He was like a little computer: He’d sit there processing, synthesizing. Then he’d sit down with the witness, and you’d watch him set them up, listen to their answers, and set them up again. They didn’t know what hit them.
..  “Michael has lived large for as long as I’ve known him,”
.. “The thing with living large, though, is that the highs might be high, but the lows are going to be really low. You can crash hard.”
.. Avenatti was dealing with a potentially more costly legal matter, this one involving a former litigator at the firm, Jason Frank. In an arbitration case filed in California, Frank claimed that Avenatti had kept pertinent financial forms from him and generally misstated profits in order to avoid paying Frank millions.
.. A judge in Florida issued what’s called an automatic stay on Eagan Avenatti, a temporary form of bankruptcy that would remain in effect until the debt to Tobin was repaid.
.. which meant Frank could not move forward in his effort to recoup the millions he said he was owed
..  judge in charge of adjudicating the bankruptcy. Referring to what she described as a “stench of impropriety,” the judge said it was unclear whether “Tobin had some relationship with the firm that would have induced a collusive filing” or whether “Eagan Avenatti just got plain lucky.”
.. “At their root, the O’Malley thing and the Frank thing, they were both about Michael not playing nicely with others,”
..  “Michael has always been attack, attack, attack. That ability to sit down and calmly settle things behind closed doors, that’s the club missing from his bag. He has no reluctance about letting problems turn into public, very ugly brawls.”
.. “The kind of work I do,” Avenatti told me recently, “there’s usually a lot of money on the line, there are jobs on the line. It’s not a world that lends itself to everyone being friendly all the time. We’re certainly not sitting around holding hands, singing ‘Kumbaya.’ ”
.. Frank was approved by a bankruptcy judge: Eagan Avenatti was to pay Frank $4.85 million, with $2 million due in May. (That first payment was missed; the parties now dispute the terms of the settlement.)
.. Around the same time, Avenatti reached out to William Hearon, a lawyer friend, to talk about a new client he was considering representing in a civil suit.
.. Avenatti has taken great pains not to reveal how he was introduced to Stormy Daniels, possibly because he worries the story of their meeting could help fuel persistent suspicions that he is acting on behalf of a Democratic donor
.. The Times has reported that Avenatti reached out to major Democratic financial backers, including David Brock, to discuss funding for the lawsuit, but that no money changed hands.
.. “Michael never sought me out,” Daniels told me. “I hate it when people say Avenatti must have persuaded me to do this. I had the same conversation with him I had with other lawyers,” she went on. “Michael was the best choice. He never tried to discredit what I was saying. He believed me. He thought I was speaking the truth.”
.. And after Cohen subsequently produced a letter he said was signed by Daniels, denying an affair ever took place, she grew increasingly frustrated.
.. “Part of the reason that we went with a media-heavy strategy,” Avenatti told me, “was because we wanted to reset the narrative around my client. I wanted the American people to see what she’s all about. I wanted them to see her in the way that I had come to know her.”
.. Avenatti’s theatrics, and the often-intersecting paths of the Mueller probe and his own legal crusade, have left him vulnerable to the charge that he is merely piggybacking onto an investigation that would move forward with or without his participation. (The Wall Street Journal has reported that Avenatti has “frustrated” the efforts of Mueller’s team to investigate Cohen’s orchestration of the NDA — a charge Avenatti vociferously denies,
.. Should Avenatti, for instance, fail in his bid to invalidate the NDA, his client, who described on “60 Minutes” the details of her alleged affair with Trump — down to the precoital spanking and the claim that she could identify his genitals — could be liable for millions in damages.
.. by continuing to appear on television, Avenatti risks annoying jurists on his cases like Kimba Wood, the judge overseeing the federal Cohen probe
.. “I either want you to participate or not be in the matter at all,” the judge went on. “I don’t want you to have some existence in a limbo where you’re free to denigrate Mr. Cohen and, I believe, potentially deprive him of a fair trial by tainting a jury pool.”
.. “My own personal opinion is he’s getting too much exposure,” says Robert Bennett, President Clinton’s personal lawyer leading up to the 1999 impeachment hearings. “If you want to really win, and not just cause embarrassment to the White House, you should resist the urge to be in the spotlight all the time. You don’t want to overplay your hand.”
.. “Here’s the comment: Keith Davidson is a disgrace.”
..  I wondered if, given the intense highs of the Daniels case, he could envision himself going back to regular old corporate law in a full-time capacity. Wouldn’t politics be more appealing?
..  Using the car’s paddle shifters, Avenatti dropped the car into fifth, and we shot forward down the carpool lane until the surrounding scenery had been reduced to a nauseating blur.
.. “Pull over,” the police cruiser’s loudspeaker crackled.

I sneaked a look at Avenatti. He was smiling. He took the next exit, and drawing to a halt in a strip-mall parking lot, waited for the cop to reach his window. Instead of writing a ticket, the officer gave Avenatti a warning: “Sir, in the future, make sure to stay in your lane.”

Show Starring Avenatti and Scaramucci Is Being Pitched to Television Executives

A television show featuring Michael Avenatti, the lawyer who is suing President Trump on behalf of a pornographic film actress, and the former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci was pitched to two cable networks in recent weeks, people briefed on the matter said on Thursday.

.. Before becoming a fixture on cable news as counsel to Ms. Clifford, Mr. Avenatti had made a name for himself in California legal circles by mixing serious cases — like a $454 million verdict he won against Kimberly-Clark and Halyard Health for claims they were selling defective surgical gowns — with more tabloid-friendly suits against the celebrities Paris Hilton and Jim Carrey.

.. He had an early mentor in the aggressive use of media in Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, a veteran of the Clinton and Obama administrations. Mr. Avenatti worked during college and law school at Mr. Emanuel’s political communications firm, the Research Group. The firm specialized in so-called opposition research, or digging up potentially embarrassing information on opponents for future use in the press.