March 21, 2019

The remarkably lenient plea deal Jeffrey Epstein reached with federal prosecutors is the best-known case involving the millionaire financier's history of paying underage girls for sex, but one of Epstein's alleged victims also sued one of his alleged enablers, Ghislaine Maxwell. That case was settled before trial for an undisclosed sum in 2017, but U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet had "accepted almost all filings in the case under seal, without specific orders justifying the secrecy." Three parties sued to have the files unsealed, and on Tuesday night, "two mystery litigants" objected, Politico reports.

Since Sweet declined to unseal the files, the U.S. 2nd Court of Appeals is deciding the fate of the documents submitted to court and Sweet's sealed ruling. "Just prior to a court-imposed deadline Tuesday, two anonymous individuals surfaced to object to the unsealing," arguing "they could face unwarranted speculation and embarrassment if the court makes public records from the suit," Politico reports. In the lawsuit, Virginia Giuffre accused Maxwell of sex trafficking by allegedly facilitating Epstein's sexual interactions with teenage girls; Maxwell denied the charge.

One of the requests to quash the unsealing was filed on behalf of "John Doe" by Manhattan-based lawyer Nick Lewin and the other by Washington-based attorney Kerrie Campbell on behalf of "J. Doe." The three parties who had requested the files be unsealed were the Miami Herald, alt-right social media personality Mike Cernovich, and prominent lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who said several of the sealed records would disprove allegations from two women that they had sex with him at Epstein's direction. You can read more about the case at Politico. Peter Weber

1:16 a.m.

Chinese President Xi Jinping landed Thursday in Pyongyang, where he is expected to discuss aid, the economy, and nuclear talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Xi is the first Chinese president to visit North Korea in 14 years, and he will stay for two days. The pair will likely talk about Kim's failed February summit with President Trump, which crumbled after the two sides could not reach an agreement on North Korea ending its nuclear program in exchange for relief from sanctions. "For North Korea, the coming meeting will serve to show the U.S. that China has its back and to send a message to Washington it should stop its maximum-pressure posture," Lim Eul-chul, a professor at Kyungnam University, told The Guardian.

Xi is having his own tussle with the United States, in the form of an escalating trade war. While this is his first trip to North Korea to meet with Kim, the North Korean leader has gone to Beijing four times since March 2018. Xi was accompanied on his visit by several top officials and his wife, Peng Liyuan. Catherine Garcia

12:50 a.m.

"Usually, a re-election campaign offers new ideas, new policies to move the country forward," Trevor Noah said on Wednesday's Daily Show, but President Trump's Tuesday night speech "felt like an exact replica of him running in 2016 — and when I say an exact replica, I mean exact." Here's what he means:

To be fair, Trump did test out a new slogan for 2020:

Yes, "last night Trump was in Orlando, Florida, to officially relaunch the campaign he has never stopped," Stephen Colbert said at The Late Show. "For those of you that are hoping that now that he's president, his tone would change, last night was a swift kick in the old hopey-changey." He played some highlights, interspersed with jokes and commentary. "You know, for all his bad environmental policies, Trump is very committed to recycling his garbage," he said. "Trump did make one new campaign promise, and it's a biggie" — but Joe Biden claimed it first.

"In the runup to this thing, Trump and his folks kept saying that this thing was oversold, something like 100,000 tickets — or 120,000, something like that — for only 25,000 seats in the arena," Colbert said. "That's why they said they had to have that '45 Fest' out in the parking lot, for the overflow crowd of 75,000 people who couldn't get in. That is impressive! That is also a lie."

Colbert showed Late Show footage of the "overflow crowd" outside the arena. And "it's no one — just garbage and abandoned yard furniture," he said. "But maybe that crowd went home, without any of their chairs, because they couldn't get into that sold-out arena? Again, no, because our team got their press credentials denied at the last minute — and this is true — so they just went online and got tickets and walked in ... to take any one of the many, many empty seats in the arena." He ended with the ugly opening prayer and a cameo. Watch below. Peter Weber

12:29 a.m.

Blaze Eppinger is an open book, sharing his story about living with sickle cell disease in order to inspire kids going through the same thing.

Eppinger is an advocate for people with sickle cell, and works as a counselor and administrator at a camp run by the Sickle Cell Foundation of Georgia. He gives advice to the campers, answering their questions about how to explain sickle cell to others, and motivating them to live life to the fullest. As a kid, Eppinger wanted to attend the camp, and being able to work there as an adult is a dream. "It was timed perfectly," he told The Week. "I'm at the camp like I wanted to be as a child, but in a different capacity. Maybe if I had gone as a child, I wouldn't have come back as an adult."

Wednesday was World Sickle Cell Day, which aims to raise awareness of sickle cell. About 100,000 people in the United States have sickle cell disease, and 90 percent are of African descent. When a person has a sickle cell disorder, their red blood cells become stiff and sickle shaped, which can block blood flow, leading to a painful sickle cell crisis. When people have a crisis, they go to the hospital for blood transfusions, and if their type is not available, they have to wait until it is delivered.

That's why Eppinger is also an advocate for blood donation, working with the Red Cross to bring attention to the fact that only three out of 100 people in the U.S. give blood. Through the Missing Types campaign, people with rare blood types are encouraged to donate, so they can help people like Eppinger and the kids he works with at camp. "It only takes 10 minutes to acquire the blood, and one bag can help three people," Eppinger said. "It doesn't take long to make a difference in someone's life." Catherine Garcia

June 19, 2019

Doctors at Planned Parenthood of St. Louis, the only abortion clinic still operating in Missouri, will no longer perform two pelvic exams on patients, as mandated by the state earlier this month, CBS News reports.

Missouri's Republican-led government enacted a rule that forced doctors to perform a pelvic exam on women 72 hours before they have an abortion; already, doctors conduct pelvic exams right before the procedure. The clinic's medical director, Dr. David Eisenberg, told CBS News on Wednesday that after performing these extra exams over the last few weeks, "I have new evidence to say that 100 percent of the patients who I've taken care of who've undergone this inappropriate, medically unnecessary, unethical pelvic exam have been harmed by that. Because to do so, in my opinion, is just assault."

The doctors consider the pelvic exam conducted right before an abortion to be medically relevant, and will continue the practice. Last month, Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit after Missouri's Department of Health and Senior Services refused to make a decision over whether to renew the clinic's license. A preliminary injunction is keeping the doors open, and a judge gave the state until this Friday to decide about the license. Catherine Garcia

June 19, 2019

Andrea Thompson, the State Department official responsible for U.S. arms control negotiations with Moscow and a former national security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, did not disclose to lawmakers during her confirmation process last year that she had a years-long friendship with Republican operative Paul Erickson, the ex-boyfriend of convicted unregistered Russian agent Maria Butina, The Washington Post reports.

Thompson, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs, also didn't reveal the relationship to her supervisors, the Post's Josh Rogin writes; three administration officials said she only told them this week after Rogin approached her about the matter.

In 2017, Erickson officiated Thompson's wedding to David Gillian, a former senior Australian army officer. Erickson's attorney said Butina attended as her former boyfriend's guest. At the time, Thompson was Pence's national security adviser. About six months later, news broke about Erickson and Butina being linked to Russian influence operations in the United States.

Thompson holds top security clearances, and she should have revealed her ties to the couple, several administration officials told Rogin. "When the person who marries you gets into trouble with the Russians and your job is to negotiate with the Russians, you have to disclose that," one person said. "Everybody with an intelligence clearance knows that." Rogin notes that there is no evidence that Thompson and her husband had any major interactions with Butina outside of their wedding, and that Thompson purposely was untruthful to lawmakers during her confirmation process. For more on the relationship, and Erickson's alleged theft of $100,000 from Gillian, visit The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

June 19, 2019

Mark Hamill came up with a plan to get people to stop vandalizing President Trump's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: give it to his Star Wars co-star Carrie Fisher.

Hamill tweeted the idea on Wednesday morning, after sharing an article from 2018 about the West Hollywood City Council voting to ask the Los Angeles City Council and Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to remove Trump's star, which he received for his work producing beauty pageants. Vandals regularly spray paint and take pickaxes to Trump's star, but that's not enough to get it permanently replaced, Hollywood Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Ana Martinez told the Los Angeles Times. "We don't remove stars," she said. "The stars are part of the history of the Walk of Fame."

Fisher died in 2016, and under the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce's rules, "the application has to be submitted on the fifth anniversary of her death," Martinez said. She threw even more cold water on the idea of a Carrie Fisher star, saying her family or estate would have to submit a written agreement saying they want a star for Fisher, plus pay $50,000 for the star and its assorted costs. "Also, how do we know that Carrie Fisher wanted one?" Martinez said. "We don't know if she ever was interested. She was never submitted for a star." Catherine Garcia

June 19, 2019

As part of an investigation into the unexplained deaths of nine American tourists over the last 13 months in the Dominican Republic, the FBI is testing samples taken from a minibar at one of the hotels where some of the Americans stayed, Dominican officials told CNN on Wednesday.

The samples were taken from the Bahia Principe Hotel. Ministry of Health communications director Carlos Suero told CNN that whenever a person dies in a Dominican hotel room, authorities test samples collected from the room's minibar, sink, and shower for bacteria.

In several cases, families of the deceased have said their loved one had a drink from the minibar before their death. Dominican officials are adamant that these were isolated cases and there's no reason for worried people to cancel their vacations. Catherine Garcia

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