Week In The News: Acosta, Epstein, Census, U.S.-U.K. Tensions, More

Jul 12, 2019

With David Folkenflik

Acosta stepping down amid Epstein plea deal controversy. Trump’s census fight. The British Ambassador resigns. Pelosi scolds “the squad.” More tensions in the Strait of Hormuz. Immigration chief promises raids, soon. The roundtable weighs in on the week that was.

Guests

Steve Dorsey, CBS News correspondent. Washington Executive Editor for CBS News Radio. (@steve_dorsey)

Nancy Cordes, Chief Congressional Correspondent for CBS News. (@nancycordes)

Byron Tau, Reporter for the Wall Street Journal covering the Department of Justice and the FBI. (@byrontau)

 Jack Beatty, On Point news analyst. (@JackBeattyNPR)

From The Reading List

New York TimesAcosta Defends His Role in Brokering Jeffrey Epstein Plea Deal

“Labor Secretary R. Alexander Acosta on Wednesday defended his handling of the sex crimes prosecution of the financier Jeffrey Epstein in Florida more than a decade ago, bucking a growing chorus of Democratic resignation calls while effectively making the case to President Trump to keep his job.”

“At a televised news conference watched intently in the White House, Mr. Acosta offered a clinical explanation of the 2008 plea deal, arguing that he overrode state authorities to ensure that Mr. Epstein would face jail time and that holding out for a stiffer sentence by going to trial would have been ‘a roll of the dice.’”

“’I wanted to help them,’ Mr. Acosta, who was the top federal prosecutor in Miami at the time, said of the victims during an hourlong session with reporters at the Labor Department. ‘That is why we intervened. And that’s what the prosecutors of my office did — they insisted that he go to jail and put the world on notice that he was and is a sexual predator.’”

“His comments did little to quell the furor over the deal, which has come under renewed scrutiny since Mr. Epstein was charged on Monday in New York with running a sex-trafficking operation that lured dozens of girls, some as young as 14, to his Upper East Side home and to a mansion in Palm Beach, Fla. Lawyers for some of the victims and the former Palm Beach prosecutor accused Mr. Acosta of rewriting history.”

“While condemning Mr. Epstein’s ‘horrific’ crimes, Mr. Acosta offered no apologies, nor did he channel the visceral outrage over the deal felt by many critics. Instead, he offered a measured, nuanced defense unusual for an administration in which attack-the-attacker bombast is more common while suggesting that times had changed in a way that made his compromise a decade ago look different.”

“‘Today we know a lot more about how victims’ trauma impacts their testimony,’ he said. ‘Our juries are more accepting of contradictory statements, understand that trauma-impacted memories work differently. And today our judges do not allow victim shaming by defense attorneys.’”

PoliticoTrump expected to take executive action to add citizenship question to census

“The president has vowed to fight for the question after multiple legal setbacks.

President Donald Trump is expected to take an executive action to add a question about citizenship to the census, according to two people familiar with the situation.”

“Trump has been frustrated by the administration’s legal hurdles to add a question on the census, but it’s unclear how he could act alone without an immediate court challenge. His administration is already printing census questionnaires without the question.”

“In a tweet, Trump announced that he would hold a previously unscheduled news conference Thursday afternoon to discuss his latest efforts at including the citizenship question as part of the census.”

“‘The White House will be hosting a very big and very important Social Media Summit today,” Trump tweeted. “Would I have become President without Social Media? Yes (probably)! At its conclusion, we will all go to the beautiful Rose Garden for a News Conference on the Census and Citizenship.'”

“Trump told reporters last week that he was considering an executive order. ‘It’s one of the ways,’ he said. ‘We have four or five ways we can do it. It’s one of the ways and we’re thinking about doing it very seriously.'”

“The Supreme Court ruled in late June against Trump’s efforts to include the citizenship question, saying the administration’s stated rationale — to better protect minority voting rights — “seems to have been contrived” and was less an ‘explanation’ than a ‘distraction.’”

PoliticoSocial media gadflies gather for airing of grievances with Trump

“President Donald Trump is bringing some of social media’s most divisive right-wing personalities to the White House on Thursday to air their complaints against the same online platforms he wields so often.”

“Nobody from Facebook, Twitter or Google has been invited to attend the gathering— raising doubts that any serious change will result from what the White House has billed as a discussion of ‘opportunities and challenges of today’s online environment.’ Instead, the guests confirmed so far are prominent boosters of the allegation that social media platforms systematically blacklist and stifle conservative voices, a theme that Trump himself has increasingly sounded as the 2020 election has begun to heat up.”

“‘A big subject today at the White House Social Media Summit will be the tremendous dishonesty, bias, discrimination and suppression practiced by certain companies,’ Trump said Thursday morning — one of the Silicon Valley giants he has singled out for criticism. ‘We will not let them get away with it much longer.'”

“The invited guests include far-right activist Ali Alexander, who infamously claimed last month that Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who has Indian and Jamaican heritage, is “not an American Black” in a shared by Donald Trump Jr., as well as Your Voice America host Bill Mitchell, who has promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory alleging that Trump is waging a secret war against pedophiles and ‘deep state’ saboteurs.”

“Another expected attendee is James O’Keefe, whose undercover sting outfit Project Veritas has released what critics say are selectively edited videos depicting organizations ranging from Google to Planned Parenthood as biased and corrupt.”

“Pro-Trump political cartoonist Ben Garrison was also among those slated to attend, but the White House rescinded his invitation, POLITICO Playbook reported Wednesday, amid complaints that his work has promoted anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish financiers controlling world events.”

“The decision to extend invitations to such personalities has troubled some critics. ‘By hosting guests that include conspiracy theorists and extremists, President Trump continues to support and normalize hate speech targeting immigrants, Muslims, Jews, the LGBTQ+ community, and others,’ said Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project. ‘Bringing these groups together is beyond irresponsible; it is essentially conducting a hate summit at the White House.'”

Washington Post: ‘Outright disrespectful’: Four House women struggle as Pelosi isolates them

“House Speaker Nancy Pelosi admonished Democrats for personally attacking one another, warning in a closed-door meeting Wednesday that the party’s fracturing was jeopardizing its majority.

Without naming names, her target was clear: the four liberal freshmen known as ‘the Squad.’”

“’You got a complaint? You come and talk to me about it. But do not tweet about our members and expect us to think that that is just okay,’ Pelosi (D-Calif.) told Democrats.”

“But ‘the Squad’ — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) — is convinced it is Pelosi who is being the bully.”

“The four are struggling with the speaker’s moves to isolate them in recent weeks, according to interviews with the lawmakers, congressional aides and allies. Pelosi has made at least half a dozen remarks dismissing the group or their far-left proposals on the environment and health care. More recently she scorned their lonely opposition to the party’s emergency border bill last month.”

“And she defended those comments Wednesday, saying, ‘I have no regrets about anything. Regrets is not what I do,’ doubling down on her claim that the group has little power in the House.”

WSJHouse Democrats Seek Closed-Door Testimony of Mueller Deputies

“House Democrats are seeking to hear from two senior deputies to former special counsel Robert Mueller in closed-door testimony on Capitol Hill next week, the latest attempt to learn more about the Russia investigation in the face of Mr. Mueller’s vow to only discuss the facts laid out in his report.”

“Two former prosecutors on the special counsel’s team, James Quarles and Aaron Zebley, have been in negotiations to testify behind closed doors to the House Judiciary Committee on the same day that Mr. Mueller would appear in an open hearing before that panel and the House Intelligence Committee, according to people familiar with the matter.”

“Negotiations over Mr. Mueller’s appearance before the two panels—and the possible inclusion of Messrs. Quarles and Zebley—are fluid and ongoing, the people familiar with the matter said. The final format of the hearings haven’t been settled.”

“Should former special counsel Robert Mueller’s deputies testify privately before House Democrats? Why or why not? Join the conversation below.”

“Among the obstacles, the Justice Department doesn’t want either deputy to testify, one of the people said. The department’s stance could spark yet another fight between Democratic lawmakers and the administration that may result in a possible court fight. In an interview with the Associated Press this week, Attorney General William Barr threatened to resist any subpoena directed at Mr. Mueller’s deputies.”

“Mr. Mueller will be making his first appearance on Capitol Hill in the aftermath of his landmark investigation into Russian interference and whether President Trump obstructed justice, if all goes as planned.”

Anna Bauman produced this show for broadcast.

 

This article was originally published on WBUR.org. Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.