For those on both the left and right who are inclined toward conspiracy theories, there is no lower-hanging fruit to feed on right now than the death of Jeffrey Epstein while in a federal jail cell. So as Donald Trump's attorney general, William Barr, ordered an investigation into the "serious questions" surrounding the "apparent suicide," the president grabbed a bowlful of bananas and shared it on Twitter.
The president retweeted a post from a conservative comedian, Terrence K. Williams, suggesting a link between the wealthy pedophile's demise and former President Bill Clinton. "Died of SUICIDE on 24/7 SUICIDE WATCH? Yeah right! How does that happen … Epstein had information on Bill Clinton & now he’s dead. I see #TrumpBodyCount trending but we know who did this!"
Both Clinton and Trump were among the rich, famous and powerful men who socialized with Epstein before he first ran afoul of the law in the 2000s. Both denied any contact with Epstein's sex trafficking of underage girls, and there is absolutely zero evidence to suggest either the former or current president is somehow behind his death. But conspiracy theories abound.
Even some mainstream voices aired vaguer suspicions, based in part on the mistaken belief after the news broke Saturday that Epstein had been on suicide watch before he was found hanged, Politico wrote. But it turns out he was taken off suicide watch 11 days earlier, despite a possible attempt to kill himself on July 23. Epstein was still supposed to be closely monitored after his transfer to a protective housing unit at Manhattan's Metropolitan Correctional Center, but officials and guards failed to follow required procedures, The New York Times reported.
Trump's retweet recalled his frequent forays on the fringe. During his 2016 campaign, Trump echoed debunked far-right claims about the 1993 suicide of Clinton White House aide Vince Foster, calling the death "very fishy," and he linked Sen. Ted Cruz's father to President John F. Kennedy's assassination. Trump promoted the birther fictions about President Barack Obama and claimed Obama tapped his phones at Trump Tower.
Asked to explain Trump's latest conspiracy-mongering on "Fox News Sunday," White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said, “I think the president just wants everything to be investigated." Then she tried to portray Trump's past association with Epstein as less nefarious than Clinton's. "They’re seen dancing in a video versus other people who were actively flying around with this monster, on his island, which was known as pedophilia island." Clinton has denied he ever visited Epstein's Virgin Islands retreat.
Conway's contrarian husband, George Conway, saw an alternative reality. "Let’s not mince words here: The President of the United States is a nut job," he tweeted. And if Epstein's death was a preventable suicide, early signs suggest some blame may fall on worsening staff shortages in a federal prison system overseen by the Justice Department under Trump. The Associated Press reports that one guard in the unit holding Epstein was working a fifth straight day of overtime.
2020 Democrats demand gun action
A half-dozen Democratic presidential contenders on the Sunday talk shows pressed for new gun legislation in the wake of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. They also cast Trump’s support for so-called “red flag laws” as falling short of what is needed, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
Sen. Bernie Sanders charged that Trump's "racist rhetoric" has created "a climate where we are seeing a significant increase in hate crimes in this country.”
In another story, Newsday's Emily Ngo explores in detail the variety of measures Democratic candidates are advocating to answer gun violence.
Janison: World apart from Trump
On many fronts, Trump's foreign policy goals remain works in progress without visible progress, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
Three months ago, Trump declared that the United States and China were "getting close to a very historic, monumental deal" on trade. Are we there yet? Nope. Tariffs, tensions and currency conflicts seem only to mount.
Peace talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan have produced hints of movement but no deal to end the bloodshed. While Trump is finding his letters from Kim Jong Un as "beautiful" as ever, North Korea is still testing ballistic missiles. Trump's pullout from the Iran nuclear deal has not brought Tehran to its knees begging for new negotiations. The status quo remains in Venezuela. Palestinians have shown no interest in Jared Kushner's bid to broker a deal with Israel.
None of which stopped Trump from tweeting Sunday: "After years of being ripped off by other nations on both Trade Deals and the Military, things are changing fast. Big progress is being made. America is respected again. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!"
Biden gaffes tough to laugh off
Joe Biden kept getting tripped up by his own words last week, and it has some Democrats worried about whether the 76-year-old front-runner can go the distance.
During an exchange with reporters on mass shootings, Biden said he said he “watched what happened when those kids from Parkland came up to see me when I was vice president.” The killings at the Florida high school happened in 2018, a year after Biden left office.
At the start of the week, Biden got the locations of the El Paso and Dayton shootings wrong. On Thursday night, he told voters in Des Moines that poor kids were as bright and talented as white children. He caught the flub and quickly added: “wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids.”
“He’s always been prone to gaffes. That was true when he was in his 40s, 50s and 60s,” David Axelrod, who was a political strategist for Obama, told The Associated Press. "The difference is because people are looking for signs of potential deterioration, gaffes that would be written off as 'Joe being Joe' can become much more damaging to him.”
Here's how Biden spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield tried to spin the Parkland flub: "Wouldn’t it be nice to have a president who consoles Americans in their time of need so often that he sometimes mistakes the timing?" she tweeted.
Payback for the Mooch
Anthony Scaramucci's feud with Trump already has outlasted his 11 days in July 2017 as White House communications director.
On July 16, Scaramucci denounced the president's attacks on four minority congresswomen as "racist and unacceptable." Last week, Scaramucci described Trump's self-absorbed visits to El Paso and Dayton as a "catastrophe."
The president responded late Saturday by ridiculing Scaramucci as someone who "now seems to do nothing but television as the all time expert on ‘President Trump’ ” when "he knows very little about me."
Scaramucci tweeted back Sunday: "For the last 3 years I have fully supported this President. Recently he has said things that divide the country in a way that is unacceptable … Eventually he turns on everyone and soon it will be you and then the entire country."
Different couch, same potato
Trump insists his 10-day retreat at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf resort is "not a vacation." As if to prove his point, he's sticking with part of his White House routine, which includes watching a lot of TV and tweeting about it.
He fired off a two-part tweet Sunday about an MSNBC host, Donny Deutsch, who has accused Trump of stirring hate. "So funny to watch Little Donny Deutsch on TV with his own failing show. When I did The Apprentice, Donny would call me (along with @ErinBurnett & others) and BEG to be on that VERY successful show," Trump said. (Erin Burnett, now a CNN anchor, was an occasional judge on Trump's show.)
What else is happening:
- For more on the investigations into Epstein's death, see Newsday's story by Matthew Chayes and Figueroa with David M. Schwartz and Rachelle Blidner.
- Acting Customs and Border Protection chief Mark Morgan had no direct answer when asked on CNN why Trump's businesses have never been raided despite employing undocumented workers. But he said he took "offense" at anybody saying agents had "turned a blind eye to someone that is violating the law."
- Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said he regretted the timing of the mass immigration raids in Mississippi just days after a gunman who told police he was targeting "Mexicans" killed 22 people at an El Paso Walmart. “The timing was unfortunate,” McAleenan said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
- Democratic 2020 candidate Andrew Yang broke down in tears during a discussion on gun violence when a woman told how her 4-year-old daughter was killed by a stray bullet.
- Advocates for Muslims said the 2020 Democratic candidates have said too little about the travel ban barring most people from several majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S., Politico reports.
- The Trump administration said its tightened restrictions on U.S. tourism in Cuba are meant to punish Cuba for supporting Venezuela's regime, but small businesses who served American visitors say they're paying the price, the Los Angeles Times reported.