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March 7, 2019

Prison has not changed Martin Shkreli one bit.

The so-called Pharma bro rose to fame after jacking up the price of an AIDS drug by 5,000 percent, then landed in prison on a securities fraud conviction in September 2017. Now, 16 months into a 7-year sentence, Shkreli is still running his business and palling around with prison friends who "affectionately call him 'asshole,'" The Wall Street Journal reports.

After his company Turing Pharmaceuticals earned international ire for doing some pretty crappy stuff, Shkreli rebranded it as "Phoenixus AG" and runs it via a contraband cell phone, "people familiar with his new life" tell the Journal. Shkreli also bypassed his ban from Twitter by using an anonymous account that was deleted Tuesday. Cell phones and running a business are banned in jail, but Shkreli still "plans to emerge from jail richer than he entered," the Journal writes.

Still, not everything is fun for Shkreli. He opted out of playing guitar in a prison band because, as his prison pals "Krispy" and "D-Block" reminded him, the band members were "locked up for child molestation," the Journal notes. Prison guards also mispronounce Shkreli's last name (the "h" is silent), and he thinks it's "on purpose," an author writing about Shkreli who's visited him tells the Journal.

But seeing as Shkreli "loved the controversy" that swirled around his price-jacking scheme — as one former investor told the Journal — prison just seems like his next step in achieving long-lasting notoriety. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:51 a.m.

In March 2018, the inspector general for the federal General Services Administration released its findings on a complaint that acting GSA chief of staff Brennan Hart and a White House official whose name is redacted had sex on the roof of the GSA headquarters, after having some vodka drinks in Hart's office, according to a copy of the report obtained by D.C. NBC affiliate WRC through a public records request.

Hart, who was also an associate GSA administrator, admitted to having sexual relations with the White House official on the roof just one time, in the summer of 2017, and his last day of employment was March 12, 2018, four days after the report was submitted. The GSA inspector general found several violations of federal policies, including drinking alcohol in the office without proper permission and improper use of government facilities. And the IG office's report included this explainer in its section on "Sexual Conduct on Government Property":

Per 5 C.F.R. § 2635.704(a) an employee has a duty to not allow the use of Government property for anything other than authorized purposes," the report states. "Having sex in the central office building is not an authorized purpose for use by the public. Further, there is no law or GSA regulation that allows an employee to have sex in the building. [GSA Inspector General report]

Now you know.

The GSA is an independent agency that oversees federal buildings and offices. The unidentified White House official refused to be interviewed. Peter Weber

1:41 a.m.

The Justice Department's daily briefing to all immigration court employees Monday contained a link to an article on a white nationalist site that "directly attacks sitting immigration judges with racial and ethnically tinged slurs," according to a letter sent Thursday by the National Association of Immigration Judges union. The linked post, from the website VDARE, detailed the Justice Department's efforts to strip immigration judges of their right to be represented by a union, BuzzFeed News reports.

Immigration judges are part of the Justice Department, and their union has pushed to make the immigration courts independent, The Associated Press reports. The judges say the DOJ push to strip them of union representation is an attempt to silence criticism.

The NAIJ supports VDARE's free speech rights, but "the publication and dissemination of a white supremacist, Anti-Semitic website ... is antithetical to the goals and ideals of the Department of Justice," union president Ashley Tabbador wrote to James McHenry, the director of the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). The union "received numerous complaints from judges across the nation who found the blog offensive," she added, requesting that the post be withdrawn and apologies issued to all EOIR employees, especially the judges mentioned in the post.

Late Thursday, EOIR Assistant Press Secretary Kathryn Mattingly said in a statement that the "morning news briefings are compiled by a contractor and the blog post should not have been included. The Department of Justice condemns Anti-Semitism in the strongest terms." Peter Weber

12:33 a.m.

President Trump's economic advisers notified him earlier this month that "some internal forecasts showed that the economy could slow markedly over the next year," The Washington Post reports. But even as warning signs mounted, Trump "has been portraying the economy to the public as 'phenomenal' and 'incredible.' He has told aides that he thinks he can convince Americans that the economy is vibrant and unrattled through a public messaging campaign."

But that messaging campaign has been "muddled and often contradictory" thanks to mixed economic data, Trump's erratic comments, and internal disagreements over how to shore up the economy, compounded by uncertainty among staffers about what Trump measures would support or what he's thinking at any given moment, the Post reports, citing interviews with more than 25 current and former administration officials, lawmakers, and external advisers who've spoken with Trump and his team throughout this tumultuous month.

"Everyone is nervous — everyone," a Republican with close ties to the White House told the Post. "It's not a panic, but they are nervous."

"Compounding Trump's situation, some of the economy's strains appear to be of his own making, as uncertainty surrounding his trade war with China has frozen much investment nationwide," and the White House is struggling with "how to handle that bracing reality — and Trump's own stubbornness on trade strategy and his anger about news coverage of the economy," the Post reports. "Trump, aides said, is obsessed with media coverage of the economy, and thinks Americans will believe negative news and stop spending money."

White House spokesman Judd Deere insisted "the fundamentals of the economy are strong because of this president's pro-growth policies," but former White House economic advisers disagree. "The irony here is that Trump's erratic, chaotic approach to the economy is probably the most significant economic risk factor in the world right now," said Gene Sperling, a veteran of the Clinton and Obama administrations. "Their response is just to show even more erratic behavior. It's economic narcissism." Read more about the economic tumult of August at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

August 22, 2019

Environmental groups and researchers say the fires destroying the Amazon were almost all set by humans, as cattle ranchers and loggers want to take over the land.

Brazil's National Institute for Space Research said that so far this year, there have been 72,843 fires in the country, an 80 percent increase compared to this same time period in 2018; more than half of those blazes have been in the Amazon. The Amazon is a humid rainforest, and it is difficult, even during dry spells, for it to catch on fire, Christian Poirier of the nonprofit group Amazon Watch told CNN.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro promised during his campaign that he would open the Amazon up to business, and he has since slashed the environmental enforcement agency's budget. Environmentalists say his policies encourage ranchers and loggers to burn down land, with no fear about getting in trouble. The government has said lightning strikes are one reason for the fires, and Bolsonaro has also claimed baselessly that the fires were started by environmentalists to make him look bad.

The Amazon forest produces roughly 20 percent of the world's oxygen, and the World Wildlife Fund said if it is damaged beyond repair, the Amazon could start emitting carbon, which would make climate change even worse. Catherine Garcia

August 22, 2019

President Trump will be missing what could have been a crucial trip to Denmark after postponing it due to some "very not nice" comments from its prime minister.

Trump earlier this week announced he wouldn't be going on his planned trip to Denmark over Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen's rejection of his interest in purchasing Greenland, a notion she called "absurd." On Wednesday, Trump made clear this "absurd" comment is the reason he canceled, telling reporters, "You don't talk to the United States that way."

But The Atlantic notes that Trump's visit would have come at a key time when the United States is looking for "concessions" from Denmark and as portions of Frederiksen's government have "indicated that they would reject U.S. requests for increased support in the Middle East." Kristian Søby Kristensen, deputy director of the University of Copenhagen's Centre for Military Studies, explained to The Atlantic that there's currently resistance in Denmark to U.S. requests for increased Danish troops in Syria, as well as naval support in the Strait of Hormuz.

With that in mind, Kristensen noted the importance of this now-axed trip, saying, "if you want to convince a country of something, a state visit can be a good way." Frederiksen on Wednesday, however, said that decisions about potential Danish contributions in Syria or the Strait of Hormuz would not be affected by this snafu, The New York Times reports. The Atlantic writes that the delicate diplomatic situation could be at play as Frederiksen says that the relationship between Denmark and the U.S. is not "in crisis." Trump after Frederiksen's Wednesday comments went on to complain on Twitter about Denmark's contribution to NATO. Brendan Morrow

August 22, 2019

The CEO of Overstock has resigned after divulging having been in a romantic relationship with convicted unregistered Russian agent Maria Butina and in a strange press release commenting on the "deep state."

Patrick Byrne in a letter to shareholders on Thursday said that he is in the "sad position of having to sever ties" with the company effective today, although he contends that "I did what was necessary for the good of the country," The New York Times reports.

Byrne referring to the fact that earlier this month, he said in a press release with the title "Overstock.com CEO Comments on Deep State, Withholds Further Comment" that he "assisted in what are now known as the 'Clinton Investigation' and the 'Russian Investigation,'" which "turned out to be ... political espionage conducted against
Hillary Clinton and
Donald Trump." In the bizarre statement, he also refers to FBI agents as the "Men in Black."

Byrne and his lawyer later spoke to The New York Times and clarified that he was talking about the fact that he dated Butina and spoke with the FBI during its investigation. He alleged in this interview that the investigation was mishandled and said that he is still "quite fond" of Butina, who pled guilty to acting as an unregistered foreign agent and is serving 18 months in prison. "Maria should go home and be president of Russia one day," Byrne told the Times.

In his Thursday announcement, Byrne says he spoke about this publicly after "I was reminded of the damage done to our nation for three years and felt my duty as a citizen precluded me from staying silent any longer." Now, he plans on "disappearing for some time." Following Byrne's announcement, CNN reports Overstock stock surged more than 10 percent. Brendan Morrow

August 22, 2019

Up to 20 subpoenas have been served to correctional officers as part of the investigation into Jeffrey Epstein's death, CNN reports.

After the financier indicted on sex trafficking charges was on Aug. 10 found dead in his jail cell, investigations were opened by the FBI and the Justice Department's inspector general into the circumstances surrounding what a medical examiner later concluded to be a suicide. Reports have emerged in recent weeks suggesting protocol was not followed at New York's Metropolitan Correctional Center, where Epstein was being held. The New York Times has reported that two guards who were tasked with routinely checking on Epstein fell asleep on the job, leaving him unwatched for hours, and The Washington Post on Wednesday reported that at least eight staffers at the jail, including supervisors and managers, were aware that Epstein was not to be left alone.

Now, CNN reports that "as many as 20" correctional officers from the Metropolitan Correctional Center received grand jury subpoenas last week, with investigators in particular wanting to "talk to the lieutenants who were in charge that night to get details on rounds that were not made." CNN also reports that "more subpoenas could be in the works as the investigation widens." Attorney General William Barr, who has said he was "appalled" to learn of Epstein's death, has promised that "we will get to the bottom of what happened" and recently replaced the head of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

In its Wednesday report on the investigation, the Post noted that the eight officers' "apparent disregard for the instruction" to keep Epstein under supervision "does not necessarily mean there was criminal conduct" and that it may be a "simpler and sadder" case of "bureaucratic incompetence spanning multiple individuals and ranks within the organization." Barr has said the investigation's findings will be ready to share with the public "soon."

Brendan Morrow

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