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March 18, 2019

Millionaire Jeffrey Epstein reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors in 2007 that allowed him to serve just 13 months in county jail on two Florida state charges of soliciting a prostitute, at least one of whom was a minor. That deal, approved by former prosecutor and current Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, was already widely seen as overly lenient before a federal judge ruled last month that Acosta's team violated the Crime Victims' Rights Act.

The underage victim Epstein pleaded guilty to having sex with was 16, not the 14-year-old girl who first alerted police to Epstein's underage sexual activities, The Washington Post reported Sunday night. "The decision to charge Epstein with a crime involving an older teen," confirmed by state prosecutors, "has eased his obligations to register as a sex offender." In more than half of U.S. states, the age of consent is 16. So in New Mexico — where Epstein owns a 7,600-acre ranch — for example, he does not have to register as a sex offender because his listed victim was 16; in Florida and the Virgin Islands, Epstein is classified as a lower-risk offender.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra said that in reviewing the federal non-prosecution agreement, he saw evidence that Epstein violated sex trafficking laws and abused at least 30 girls between 1997 and 2007, and an investigation by the Miami Herald found 80 girls and women who said they were victimized by Epstein. Prosecutors "had a grab bag of 40 girls to choose from" in charging Epstein, Spencer Kurvin, a lawyer representing the 14-year-old victim, told the Post. "The rug has been swiped out from under the one girl who was brave enough to come forward and break this thing."

Epstein lawyer Martin Weinberg told the Post his client "has fully complied with all applicable registration obligations under federal and local law, and will continue to do so." You can read more about Epstein's sex-offender registration issues at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

8:04 a.m.

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck stunned the NFL on Saturday evening when he abruptly announced his retirement from football at the age of 29.

The oft-injured Luck said the decision was the hardest in his life. "I've been stuck in this process," he said, referring to his fairly constant string of injuries over the last four years. "I haven't been able to live the life I want to live. It's taken the joy out of this game." Luck added that "the only way to move forward" was to leave football.

Colts fans caught wind of Luck's forthcoming announcement during the 4th quarter of the team's third preseason game against the Chicago Bears on Saturday, and several of them booed the quarterback — who was inactive due to an injured ankle — as he walked off the field. The negative reaction was likely a result of the shocking nature of Luck's announcement, as Colts fans have always held their signal caller in high regard. Regardless, Luck's fellow current and former players mostly backed him up, even if they were just as surprised as everyone else.

When Luck was healthy he was one of the game's elite passers, and the Colts were widely considered title contenders going into the season. That certainly seems to be in jeopardy now.

As for Luck, he reportedly plans to travel the world. Tim O'Donnell

7:44 a.m.

That's a first.

President Trump changed course slightly about the United States' trade war with China on Sunday while attending the Group of Seven summit in Biarritz, France.

Trump, just days after hiking tariffs on Chinese imports and ordering (via Twitter) U.S. businesses to begin cutting ties with China, said he does indeed have second thoughts about how the trade war has played out. "Might as well," he said. "Might as well. I have second thoughts about everything." He also said he has no plans to invoke a 1977 law that would grant him more authority to intervene with U.S. business practices in China.

Still, Trump said he believed the other leaders at the summit "respect the trade war," adding that "it has to happen," signaling that he has no intention of reversing the tariffs despite his recent comments.

As for his fellow G-7 leaders respecting Washington's trade policy? That doesn't seem to be the case, at least not entirely. Almost immediately after Trump said so far no foreign leader had challenged him on trade, U.K. Prime Minister did just that. "Just to register the faint, sheep-like note of our view on the trade war, we're in favor of trade peace on the whole," Johnson said. "We think that on the whole the U.K. has profited massively in the last 200 years from free trade." Read more about the G-7 summit at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

August 24, 2019

The Group of Seven Summit in Biarritz, France, hasn't officially started yet, but French President Emmanuel Macron got the ball rolling when he "ambushed" President Trump on Saturday.

Macron reportedly surprised Trump at his hotel, and the two had lunch, where they reportedly discussed several crises around the world, including in Libya, Iran, and Russia, as well as climate change and trade policy — Trump had earlier repeated threats to place tariffs on French wine imports to the U.S. in retaliation for France's digital services tax.

Trump seemed pleased with the meeting, though. In brief remarks, he said that he and Macron "actually have a lot in common" and "have been friends a long time." He added that "everybody's getting along" and that he expects to "accomplish a lot this weekend."

His administration, on the other hand, doesn't have such a rosy outlook. A senior administration official told Politico that by trying to bring issues such as climate change and gender equality to the forefront of the meetings that are meant to focus on global economics, security, and trade, Macron and France are "trying to fracture the G-7."

It looks like the summit might be as difficult as predicted. Tim O'Donnell

August 24, 2019

Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley dismissed rumors that she was being considered as a replacement for Vice President Mike Pence on President Trump's 2020 ticket, calling Pence a "dear friend" who has her "complete support." It's reportedly true that Pence and Haley are friends — multiple sources told Politico that the two have long had a "warm" relationship — but the rumored rivalry between their two camps is real, Politico reports.

The recent divisions between the two prominent Republicans, both of whom are being touted as potential future GOP presidential candidates, were seemingly fueled in part by rumors that Haley would be a possible replacement, only to be exacerbated by the fact that she took so long to address them. Some of Pence's top aides reportedly think that Haley or an ally were actually behind a June Wall Street Journal op-ed urging Trump to make the change.

The White House brushed off those suggestions publicly, and Pence has received support from the administration and Trump himself, who apparently privately told Pence that he was irritated by the article.

While it's unlikely there's any weight behind the vice presidential rumors, Pence's team is still convinced that Haley is already laying the groundwork for a future presidential bid, in which the vice president could become a direct competitor. Perhaps a showdown awaits. Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

August 24, 2019

Sometimes you just need to talk things out. Especially when it comes to Greenland.

President Trump on Friday evening said that he had a "great conversation" with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, whom he described as a "wonderful woman" before leaving the White House to head to the Group of Seven summit in France.

"We have a great relationship with Denmark, and we agreed to speak later," Trump said. "But she was very nice. She put a call in, and I appreciated it very much."

Trump's laudatory remarks come after he scrapped plans on Monday to visit Denmark in September because Frederiksen nixed the idea that Denmark would sell Greenland to the United States, a deal in which Trump has expressed interest. Trump called Frederiksen's response "nasty" — which seems to be one of his favorite pejoratives. Trump said he would not have reacted so strongly if she declined politely, but it appears he was rankled by the fact that Frederiksen said the idea that Greenland is for sale is "absurd."

It looks like they've patched things up for now, although it was unclear if Trump will reconsider visiting Denmark this fall. Either way, it doesn't appear the Trump administration is backing down from its interest in Greenland, as The Associated Press reports there are plans to open a U.S. consulate in the island's capital, Nuuk. Tim O'Donnell

August 24, 2019

North Korea reportedly fired two more suspected short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Saturday, the country's seventh weapons launch in a month, following what had been a 17-month hiatus on testing.

North Korea has expressed anger at joint U.S.-South Korea military training exercises, describing them as a "rehearsal for war." The earlier weapons tests were considered retaliation for the training exercises, but the launches were expected to stop following the conclusion of the drills, which occurred earlier this week.

South Korea said the tests cause "grave concern," while Japan said they were a clear violation of United Nations resolutions. The missiles did not land in Japanese territorial waters and did not cause any damage, Japanese officials said. Meanwhile, President Trump took a more relaxed approach, keeping in line with his past reactions to North Korea's tests. He said on Friday evening that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been "pretty straight with me" and that "we never restricted short-range missiles."

The Associated Press reports that many analysts consider the tests to be an attempt by North Korea to apply more pressure on the United States ahead of a possible resuscitation of denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington. Tim O'Donnell

August 24, 2019

President Trump wants everyone to lighten up.

Trump's claim while looking at the sky that he was the "chosen one" when it comes to taking on China in the trade realm elicited groans on Wednesday. But the president insists the comment was just sarcasm. Before departing for the Group of Seven summit in France late on Friday, a reporter asked Trump about the remark, to which he scoffed in response.

"Let me tell you, you know exactly what I meant," Trump said, steadfastly maintaining that he was joking. "We were all smiling," he added before dismissing the question as fake news.

Trump may very well have been messing around, but the president did not appear to be smiling, as he claimed on Friday. Besides, as the old saying goes, there is a grain of truth in every joke. Tim O'Donnell

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