×
November 28, 2018

Florida millionaire Jeffrey Epstein once faced life in prison on charges of trafficking dozens of underage girls for sex. He was indicted in a 53-page federal document, accused of building a "cult-like network" of girls coerced into sexual acts at Epstein's homes and at his "sex parties," the Miami Herald reports.

But in 2007, Epstein took a "secret" plea deal that blocked those accusations from the public eye and subjected him to just 13 months in prison, the Herald writes. Alex Acosta, then a federal prosecutor and now President Trump's Labor Secretary, was instrumental in making Epstein's deal happen, dozens of interviews and hundreds of court and FBI documents show.

Epstein's case was "not a 'he said, she said' situation," retired Palm Beach Police Chief Michael Reiter tells the Herald. "This was 50-something 'shes' and one 'he' — and the 'shes' all basically told the same story," he continued. Still, Epstein's alleged victims — about 80 women now in their 20s and 30s — "have all but been forgotten," the Herald writes.

That's because Epstein avoided any public scrutiny for his charges, agreeing to a plea deal that broke federal law by guaranteeing it wouldn't be revealed to Epstein's alleged victims or the public. And as a federal prosecutor in Epstein's case, Acosta "basically allow[ed]" Epstein's lawyers "to write up the agreement," a former state prosecutor representing Epstein's victims in a new suit told the Herald. The agreement also ended an FBI probe into Epstein's alleged trafficking ring, but two new suits brought by victims might uncover more details in the coming months.

Acosta now heads the federal department that oversees human trafficking laws, the Herald notes. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Read more of this massive investigation at the Miami Herald. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:16 p.m.

The Trump administration is preparing to bypass Congress in order to sell $7 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, current and former U.S. officials and lawmakers told The New York Times on Thursday.

Right now, Congress has the sale on hold, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other senior aides are urging Trump to invoke a provision in the Arms Export Control Act that would let him circumvent lawmakers, the Times reports. This is sure to stoke tensions between the U.S. and Iran, which considers Saudi Arabia its biggest rival, and anger Democratic and Republican lawmakers, who are already upset with Trump over his reaction to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year and his support of the Saudi-led coalition fighting in the Yemen war.

"It sets an incredibly dangerous precedent that future presidents can use to sell weapons without a check from Congress," Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Ct.) told the Times. "We have the constitutional duty to declare war and the responsibility to oversee arm sales that contravene our national security interests. If we don't stand up to this abuse of authority, we will permanently box ourselves out of deciding who we should sell weapons to." Read more about the broad implications of Trump sidestepping Congress at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

8:06 p.m.

President Trump is angry that John Walker Lindh walked out of an Indiana prison on Thursday, telling reporters he was ticked off when government lawyers told him there was nothing they could do to stop Lindh's release.

Lindh, 38, was captured in Afghanistan in 2001 after volunteering to fight with the Taliban. Dubbed the "American Taliban," Lindh converted from Catholicism to Islam at 16, and left his home in California to study Arabic in Yemen. He pleaded guilty in 2002 to supplying services to the Taliban, and during his sentencing, said he never planned on fighting U.S. forces and condemned "terrorism on every level."

Lindh served 17 years of a 20-year sentence, and as part of his release conditions, he cannot communicate with known extremists, have a passport, or use any device that can access the internet without permission from his probation officer. Leaked documents from 2016 show the government believes Lindh still holds "extremist views," and the Federal Bureau of Prisons said in a statement it does have policies in place for monitoring parolees with links to terrorism.

Trump said what bothers him the most is that Lindh "has not given up his proclamation of terror, and we have to let him out. Am I happy about it? Not even a little bit." Catherine Garcia

6:50 p.m.

President Trump announced on Thursday that the Department of Agriculture is creating a program that will give $16 billion in aid to farmers affected by the trade war with China.

"We will ensure that our farmers get the relief they need — and very, very quickly," Trump said. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue blamed China for the launch of the program, telling reporters that "all of this would have been moot if China had acted appropriately and fairly."

Soybean farmers in particular have been hit hard by the escalating U.S.-China trade war. Soybeans are the largest U.S. export to China, with a value of $12.4 billion in 2018, USA Today reports. After Trump put tariffs on Chinese goods last year, China retaliated by putting a 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybean imports, causing prices to drop.

Under the program, the Department of Agriculture will send payments to counties based on the number of crops planted and losses. The first payments will be sent in July or August, and Perdue said two additional payments will be made in the fall and early next year if the U.S. and China still have not reached a trade agreement. Most of the $16 billion package will go to pay farmers, while $1.4 billion will be used to purchase excess products, like milk and beef, which will be distributed to food banks. Catherine Garcia

5:24 p.m.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is chalking up a delay in putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill to bureaucracy. Her great-great-great-great niece isn't buying it.

In a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Wednesday, Mnuchin affirmed the long-awaited replacement of Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill wasn't coming until 2028. He went on to blame the setback on addressing "counterfeiting issues," but Tubman's descendant Ernestine Wyatt told CNN's Newsroom on Thursday that Mnuchin's excuse actually "smacks of racism."

With the redesign first being announced in 2015, Wyatt declared that Mnuchin has “had time for this to happen." His defense is "just a nice way of trying to say we don't want this, we're not going to have this, under any circumstances will we have this," she continued. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:42 p.m.

President Trump during a press conference on Thursday spent several minutes calling on numerous aides to explain to the press how calm he was while meeting with Democrats a day earlier.

During a press conference ostensibly about his $16 billion farm aid package, Trump talked about his decision on Wednesday to walk out of a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), which Pelosi characterized as a "temper tantrum."

Trump insisted on Thursday he walked out in a perfectly calm fashion and proceeded to pick out White House officials and ask them to back up his account. First up was White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, who insisted Trump was "very calm" and did not throw a "temper tantrum." Conway also seemed to suggest there exists a tape of the meeting.

Trump then asked the same of White House Director of Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp, Director of National Economic Council Larry Kudlow, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley, all of whom insisted Trump was calm in the meeting.

While describing his calm demeanor, Trump also repeatedly tore into Pelosi by saying she has "lost it" and describing her as "crazy," a "mess," and "not the same person." He also once again declared that he is an "extremely stable genius."Brendan Morrow

4:37 p.m.

The Espionage Act just became relevant again.

For the first time in the law's 100-year history, the Department of Justice has accused a journalist of violating it, charging Wikileaks founder Julian Assange with 16 counts of receiving or publishing classified information. Thursday's indictment also charges Assange with one count of conspiracy to receive the leaked documents from Chelsea Manning, and reinstates Assange's April charge of conspiring to violate computer hacking laws, The Daily Beast reports.

Assange's charges stem back to 2010, when then-Army intelligence analyst Manning allegedly leaked classified Department of Defense information to Assange for publication. Assange was charged in April with conspiring to help Manning hack those computers after London's Ecuadorian embassy revoked his asylum claim.

Thursday's charges immediately rang alarm bells for journalists, with The Daily Beast writing that it is a "stunning escalation of the Trump administration's war on the press." "Legal scholars believe that prosecuting reporters over their work would violate the First Amendment," The New York Times continues, which is partly why former President Barack Obama's administration never charged Assange under the Espionage Act. The DOJ's National Security Division head John Demers countered those concerns by saying "the department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy ... But Julian Assange is no journalist."

Assange was also sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for skipping bail in the U.K., and Sweden has reopened a 2010 rape investigation into him. Sweden and the U.S. have both moved to extradite Assange after his prison stay. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:01 p.m.

Kids who are the victims of racially-motivated bullying may be at risk in more ways than one, a new report has found.

The report analyzed data from the California Healthy Kids Survey, a voluntary survey administered to children through their schools. The results point to a worrying link between bullying and drugs and alcohol for children in California high schools from 2013 to 2018, U.S. News reported on Thursday. The data suggests that children who were bullied for their race, ethnicity, or origin were 11 percent more likely to drink alcohol, 9 percent more likely to use marijuana, and 8 percent more likely to use opioids or other medication not as prescribed.

The study found that black and Asian students were the most targeted for bullying, with 22 percent and 20 percent of each group reporting having been bullied at least once in the 2017-2018 school year. White students were the least affected by bullying, but that figure was still at 11 percent.

Being under stress can lead to risky or unhealthy habits even in adults. So the fact that it's affecting adolescents in schools is concerning, given that the still-developing brains of teenagers are already "more likely to engage in risky behavior," explained Virginia Huynh, a professor in child and adolescent development.

Read more about the survey and its results U.S. News. Shivani Ishwar

See More Speed Reads