The cost of Acosta
As Democrats demanded Alex Acosta's ouster for his role 11 years ago in a sweetheart no-prosecution deal for sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein, Donald Trump stood by his labor secretary. The president also left himself an out in case the heat gets more intense.
Federal sex-trafficking charges announced Monday against Epstein renewed a focus on Acosta's negotiation with the billionaire's lawyers when Acosta was U.S. attorney for south Florida in 2008. Despite evidence that dozens of underage girls were abused, Acosta agreed to an arrangement for Epstein to plead guilty to reduced state charges and avoid federal prosecution. The victims were never given a chance to weigh in as federal rules require.
On Tuesday, when asked about Acosta’s future, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office: “I feel very badly, actually, for Secretary Acosta because I've known him as being somebody that works so hard and has done such a good job. I feel very badly about that whole situation.” Trump said nothing in sympathy with the girls who were preyed upon.
But Trump said the White House would revisit Acosta's handling of the case. “We'll have to look at it carefully,” he said.
Acosta came to his own defense in a short series of tweets, saying, “The crimes committed by Epstein are horrific, and I am pleased that NY prosecutors are moving forward with a case based on new evidence." It was far from a point-by-point explanation for his curious moves, which were exposed last fall by the Miami Herald. Those stories caught the attention of federal investigators based in New York who brought the new case.
Trump also sought to distance himself from his past social relationship with Epstein. In 2002, Trump told New York magazine: “He’s a lot of fun to be with … It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side."
On Tuesday, Trump said they haven't spoken in 15 years. I knew him like everybody in Palm Beach knew him,” the president said. “He was a fixture in Palm Beach. I had a falling out with him a long time ago." For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
With liberty and tweets for all
A federal appeals court in Manhattan held Tuesday that Trump can’t block Twitter users to retaliate when they criticize him on the social media platform.
In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agreed with a lower court's finding that since Trump uses tweets "for all manner of official purposes," he can't "selectively exclude those whose views he disagrees with," reports Newsday's John Riley. The judges also said shutting people out violated the spirit of the Constitution’s free-speech guarantee.
The plaintiffs included a woman who responded to a Trump tweet about winning the 2016 election by saying that "Russia won it for you."
Janison: Tact check, fact check
While the leak of its ambassador's memos on Trump has been embarrassing for the British, they can at least take consolation that his analysis was spot-on, as Newsday's Dan Janison sees it.
Under the awkward circumstances, however, ambassador Kim Darroch, who's been popular in Washington circles, announced overnight he will resign.
Still, in the realm of fact, Trump's two days of obsessive public reaction reinforced one of Darroch's points — that “for a man who has risen to the highest office on the planet, President Trump radiates insecurity.”
As Trump kept carrying on, calling Darroch a "very stupid guy" and a "pompous fool" and belittling Prime Minister Theresa May, London decided it was its turn to take offense. "These comments are disrespectful and wrong to our Prime Minister and my country," tweeted Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, a contender to succeed May. He also reminded Trump that he doesn't get to choose another country's ambassador.
"If I become PM our Ambassador stays," Hunt said. His rival, Trump ally Boris Johnson, wouldn't make that pledge — which but said in a TV debate that Trump's attacks on Darroch were “not necessarily the right thing to do.”
Judge accepts no substitutes
A federal judge in New York dealt a new setback to Trump's bid to revive a citizenship question on the 2020 census, which the Supreme Court disallowed.
The Justice Department earlier this week announced its intention to replace its legal team on the case — without saying exactly why. Judge Jesse M. Furman wasn't having it.
“Defendants provide no reasons, let alone ‘satisfactory reasons,’ for the substitution of counsel,” Furman wrote. He also noted that a filing in the case was due from the department in just three days, and that the department had previously pushed for the matter to be moved along quickly.
Furman’s move could force the Justice Department to expose more of its messy, internal debates over the census case, The Washington Post reported.
Bernie and the billionaires
Bernie Sanders is of at least two minds on billionaires who run for office.
As former hedge fund manager and impeachment advocate Tom Steyer joined the Democratic race Tuesday, Sanders said, "I'm a bit tired of seeing billionaires trying to buy political power.”
"Ross Perot was a champion for veterans' rights and ahead of his time on disastrous trade policies," Sanders said. "During his campaign, he explained, in depth, how he would address our national problems and spurred serious discussion. Ross Perot was a one-of-a kind American. He will be missed."
Sanders' tweet included a photo of a sword that Perot presented him as appreciation for his efforts to get medical treatment for veterans wounded by chemical weapons in the first Gulf War.
What else is happening:
- Steyer pledged to spend $100 million on his presidential campaign but faces an uphill struggle to qualify for the next two rounds of Democratic debates, CNBC reports.
- Tax returns released by Biden show he and his wife, Jill, made $15.6 million in the two years after he left office, largely from speaking fees and deals. They paid a federal income tax rate of roughly 33%.
- A three-judge federal appeals court panel in New Orleans sharply questioned attorneys defending Obamacare Tuesday, increasing the chances it may throw out at least part of the 2010 law. Whoever loses will almost certainly appeal to the Supreme Court.
- The House Judiciary Committee is moving to authorize subpoenas for several people for its follow-up on special counsel Robert Mueller's report, including Jared Kushner and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Lawmakers will also be voting on subpoenas for documents and testimony on the administration’s handling of immigration.
- It's a term that's out of favor with many women as sexist, but that didn't stop Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway from describing the sniping between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and four progressive congresswomen as a "huge catfight."
- Trump’s golf resort in Doral, Florida, is set to host a golf tournament Saturday put on by a Miami-area strip club, which will allow golfers to pay for a dancer in pink miniskirts to serve as their “caddie girl," The Washington Post reported.