February 4, 2019

Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) released a statement early Monday categorically denying a report published Sunday night accusing him of sexually assaulting a woman at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

The allegation was publicized by Big League Politics, the same conservative website which last week broke the story that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) placed a racist photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook page. Should Northam reverse course and resign over the revelation, Fairfax would be his successor.

Fairfax's denial says — and CBS affiliate WUSA9 in Washington, D.C., confirms — multiple outlets including The Washington Post previously investigated the allegation and elected not to run it, concluding there was not enough evidence to go to print.

Per Big League Politics, the woman accusing Fairfax is one Vanessa Tyson, an associate professor of politics at California's Scripps College and fellow at Stanford University. Tyson has yet to comment directly to the press; the initial report is based on a private message she wrote to a friend and reportedly gave permission to be shared. Details of the allegation have not been revealed. Bonnie Kristian

3:37 p.m.

Six months after airing the acclaimed documentary series Surviving R. Kelly, Lifetime is tackling the Jeffrey Epstein case.

The network on Tuesday announced its new documentary Surviving Jeffrey Epstein, which comes after the financier earlier this month was arrested and hit with sex trafficking charges as prosecutors say he sexually abused dozens of underage girls. The series will examine how Epstein "used his money and connections to wealthy and powerful people to allegedly shield predatory behavior with girls," reports The Hollywood Reporter.

Lifetime's Surviving R. Kelly, which delved into the years of sexual abuse allegations against the R&B singer and interviewed some of his alleged victims, brought renewed outrage to the case and was a ratings hit for the network. The month after it aired, Kelly was charged with aggravated criminal sexual abuse, and he was recently arrested on additional federal sex crime charges. Page Six recently reported that these federal charges came "after a Homeland Security Investigations agent watched the Lifetime series Surviving R. Kelly." Kelly has denied the allegations.

Prior to his recent arrest, Epstein previously pleaded guilty to prostitution charges in Florida but ultimately only served 13 months, during which time he was allowed to leave for hours a day. New criticism over the controversial plea deal offered to Epstein led to the recent resignation of President Trump's former Labor Secretary, Alex Acosta, a former Florida prosecutor.

The announcement of Surviving Jeffrey Epstein came during the Television Critics Association press tour, during which Lifetime also announced a film based on the college admissions scandal as well as a follow-up to Surviving R. Kelly itself called The Aftermath. A+E Networks President Rob Sharenow, Deadline reports, touted the network on Tuesday as providing a "platform for women to have their voices heard." Brendan Morrow

3:02 p.m.

The NAACP just gave a huge boost to the impeachment train.

On Tuesday at its annual convention, the NAACP announced its delegates had unanimously voted to call for the impeachment of President Trump. The vote comes a day after the convention heard from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and it clearly decided to follow Tlaib's point of view.

The NAACP is America's oldest and largest civil rights organization, and has 10 presidential candidates slated to speak at its annual convention tomorrow. But it has already heard from Tlaib, who insisted Monday that she's "not going nowhere, not until I impeach this president." Tlaib has long advocated for Trump's impeachment, including with some NSFW terms. Pelosi also spoke on Monday, but didn't touch the topic she's so far declined to endorse. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:16 p.m.

Lawyers for Cesar Sayoc, who pleaded guilty to mailing pipe bombs to critics of President Trump last year, characterized him in a new sentencing memo as a religious Fox News viewer whose views were influenced by the network.

Sayoc is described in the defense filing as someone with "severe learning disabilities" who was "abandoned by his father and sexually abused by a teacher" and "lost everything in the Great Recession," ABC News reports. "In this darkness, Mr. Sayoc found light in Donald J. Trump," Sayoc's lawyers said.

The filing goes on to detail Sayoc becoming obsessed with Trump on a personal level and beginning to watch Fox News — especially Fox & Friends and Hannity — "religiously," in addition to following pro-Trump Facebook groups, The Washington Post reports. These groups pushed "the idea that Trump's critics were dangerous, unpatriotic, and evil" and that Democrats are "murderous, terroristic, and violent," and "Fox News furthered these arguments," the lawyers say.

The lawyers go on to cite a specific segment from Hannity in which the Fox News host described prominent Democrats as "encouraging mob violence against their political opponents," which came in response to former Attorney General Eric Holder saying, "When they go low, we kick them."

Because Sayoc lived in isolation, the filing also says, he had no one to "puncture his alternative reality" and "truly believed wild conspiracy theories" that he heard not only online, but from Fox News and Trump himself. "He began to consider Democrats as not just dangerous in theory, but immediately and seriously dangerous to his personal safety," the filing says, per HuffPost. "President Trump did nothing to dissuade this message."

Sayoc's defense is asking for the minimum sentence of 121 months in prison. The Week Staff

2:06 p.m.

The Trump administration struck a deal with House Democrats on Monday that has drawn the ire of conservatives analysts.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), outlets like The National Review and The Washington Examiner, and think tanks like the Heritage Foundation have all lambasted the agreement because it would increase spending levels by $320 billion. Yet there is a sense that it represents the fall of a deficit-slashing Republican party.

The deal is a far cry from when the Tea Party dominated Republican budget rhetoric, writes Philip Klein of the Examiner. Klein argues that while Trump once vowed to drain the swamp, "he has merely drained it of the Tea Party," and, in the process, has "restored Washington to a much more conventional place in which both parties agree to ignore warnings of fiscal disaster."

National Review's Brian Riedl agrees, writing that the deal would essentially repeal the final two years of the 2011 Budget Control Act, the "crown jewel" of the "tea-party Congress." He argues the move "mirrors the shredding of the Republican credibility on fiscal responsibility." Klein echoed that sentiment, writing that Republicans, who have voted several times to "blow past" spending limits, decided "to stop pretending to care about the debt" and that the Freedom Caucus has "devolved into a PR shop for Trump."

It's worth noting that several members of the caucus have announced their opposition to the spending package. Of course, in this day and age, things can always change. Tim O'Donnell

1:19 p.m.

President Trump's defense secretary nominee has won over pretty much all of the Senate.

Current Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper was confirmed to lead the Pentagon on Tuesday with a 90-8 vote in the Senate. All eight opposing votes came from Democrats, and five of them came from Democrats running for president.

The defense secretary spot hasn't been permanently filled since James Mattis left the role in December, with the previous acting secretary and nominee Patrick Shanahan resigning amid reports of his family's history with domestic violence. Yet as tensions heightened with Iran, concern grew over the empty spot at the top of the Pentagon. That likely contributed to Esper's overwhelming support, with Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) the only ones voting against him.

Five of those Democrats are running for president, so their unabashed opposition to Trump isn't unexpected. After all, Gillibrand has voted against nearly every one of Trump's Cabinet nominees, while Warren grilled Esper during his confirmation hearing. Yet Klobuchar, with a far more moderate voting record and presidential platform, comes as more of a surprise. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:58 p.m.

It's a big day for incoming U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who officially won the race for Conservative party leadership over Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Tuesday.

But it looks like he has his work cut out for him — Brussels apparently isn't going to cave Johnson's demands, which include nixing the Irish border backstop.

Incoming European commission president Ursula von der Leyden warned him that "there are many difficult issues" ahead. Meanwhile, Michael Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, said he hopes to work "constructively" with Johnson on the basis that they stick with facilitating outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May's withdrawal agreement, which Johnson has described as "dead."

Johnson has said that he's prepared for a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31 if the sides can't reach an agreement before then, which seems like a tall order given how long previous negotiations have taken.

While some European leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron and Ireland's Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney expressed a willingness to get down to business with the polarizing Johnson, others were not so welcoming. One European commissioner from Lithuania, Vytenis Andriukaitis, compared Johnson to "a different Boris," the former Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Andriukaitis said he sees a lot of similarities between the two Borises, including their "unrealistic promises" and dismissals of "economic rationales and rational decisions."

That said, not everyone doubts Johnson can renegotiate a deal. Pieter Cleppe, who works at the Open Europe think-tank, told Forbes in June that if Johnson shows he's "serious" about a no-deal Brexit, while taking on the persona of a "friendly, funny Trump," he could have a shot at working something out with his continental counterparts. Read more about the at The Guardian and Forbes. Tim O'Donnell

12:37 p.m.

Doctors have found "significant differences" in the brains of the diplomats who experienced mysterious purported "health attacks" in Cuba, NBC News reports.

According to the University of Pennsylvania study, workers examined had "less white matter in their brains and less connectivity in the areas that control vision and hearing than similar healthy people," per NBC.

It's been nearly two years since the State Department said that U.S. workers in Cuba had experienced "health attacks," with diplomats beginning to suffer from health issues, including hearing loss and headaches, after hearing strange noises. President Trump said he believed Cuba was to blame, although Cuba has denied responsibility. Even all this time later, NBC reports that the government "still has not determined who or what is responsible" for the alleged attacks and at this point has "exhausted its leads in the case."

Dr. Randel Swanson told CNN that if any of these patients were examined in a brain injury clinic without context, "you would think that they had a traumatic brain injury from being in a car accident or a blast in the military." Swanson in the study compared the effects to a "concussion without a concussion."

Still, even as this new medical information is released, doctors could not make a determination about whether the "significant differences" were caused by the apparent attacks or can help explain them. But even as the case remains elusive as ever, Dr. Ragini Verma, lead researcher, described the new findings in an interview with Reuters as "pretty jaw-dropping." Brendan Morrow

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