May 22, 2019

The latest blow in the oversight fight between President Trump and Congress was former White House Counsel Don McGahn ignoring a subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee, Stephen Colbert explained on Tuesday's Late Show. "They wanted to ask McGahn about the section of the Mueller report where McGahn says Trump tried to obstruct justice — and it's a large section — but last night the White House blocked McGahn from testifying to Congress. So, they don't get to ask about obstruction, because the alleged obstructer obstructed the witness to his obstructing."

House Democrats, who scolded McGahn's empty chair on Tuesday, are not happy. "But there's some good news on the obstruction front," Colbert said. On Monday, a federal judge upheld a different House subpoena for Trump's financial records from his accounting firm. "That's huge — we are finally getting his financial records, and I have a strong feeling that we're going to find out that the whole time, Eric was just a shell corporation," he joked. Trump criticized the ruling and the judge, and Colbert recapped in Trump voice: "You can't trust an Obama-appointed judge. Take it from me, a Putin-appointed president."

"Trump promised to appeal this decision — and now comes the fun part," Colbert said. "Because the case is going to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is headed by .... drumroll please ... Judge Merrick Garland." In case you forgot, he said, "Merrick Garland is the judge Obama nominated to the Supreme Court in 2016, only to have his appointment shot down by Mitch McConnell. Now that guy's court gets to rule on Trump's financial records." Ha, "payback's a Mitch," Colbert said, adding, quietly and probably correctly, "I'm sure he'll be evenhanded."

"Thankfully, one member of the Trump administration actually did show up in Congress today," Colbert said, and what we learned from HUD Secretary Ben Carson "is that in two years, he has learned nothing about this own agency." Peter Weber

August 16, 2019

President Trump wasn't wrong to put Anthony Scaramucci on his enemies list.

It's no secret that never-Trump Republican Bill Kristol would like to see someone else at the top of the GOP's presidential ticket. Now, he's adding the former White House communications director turned anti-Trumper to his battalion, confirming they've discussed the matter with a texted "yup" to CNBC.

Kristol's long neoconservative history includes founding the now-defunct Weekly Standard magazine and working for a handful of past Republican presidents. But he's dead-set on ensuring Trump has no chance to be reelected in 2020, preferably by getting another Republican to primary the current president. Scaramucci, meanwhile, announced last week he's officially dumping Trump, apparently prompting Kristol to give him a call. Kristol and Scaramucci have "chatted" about ousting Trump, but "working with him would be an exaggeration," Kristol told CNBC.

It's an odd potential partnership for Kristol, who has publicly criticized Scaramucci in the past. Still, Scaramucci has retained his spot in Trump's mind well beyond his 11-day White House tenure, with Trump firing a tweet storm at his former aide just last week. Yet Scaramucci recently said he received support from current White House staffers, as well as current and former elected officials, after publicly opposing Trump. Kristol, it seems, could be trying to tap into the Scaramucci network.

Read more at CNBC. Kathryn Krawczyk

August 16, 2019

New York City's medical examiner is contradicting any conspiracy theories surrounding Jeffrey Epstein's death.

Epstein, the 66-year-old financier accused of running a sex trafficking ring involving dozens of minor girls, died Saturday of suicide by hanging, the examiner's office announced Friday. The news comes after The Washington Post reported Thursday that Epstein's autopsy was pointing toward confirming he committed suicide, though it didn't dispel swirling conspiracies that suggested otherwise.

The Thursday Post report didn't immediately confirm Epstein's death by suicide, but it did say Epstein had been found to have broken bones in his neck, which are more likely to be found in a strangulation case. This only fueled theories that Epstein's death was actually a homicide, but the medical examiner stymied those suggestions in a Friday statement.

Epstein was arrested last month for alleged sex trafficking and was being held in Manhattan's Metropolitan Correction Center. He was soon placed on suicide watch after an apparent suicide attempt, but was removed from that status shortly before his death over the weekend. Reports have since suggested there were irregular circumstances surrounding Epstein's death, including that the guards looking after him were overworked and possibly even asleep. Attorney General William Barr has pledged to look into these "serious irregularities," including why Epstein was allowed to be alone in his cell. Kathryn Krawczyk

August 16, 2019

Congressional Republicans are ready to point the finger to the other side of the aisle.

A memo circulated by House Republicans advises lawmakers to deflect questions about gun violence and white nationalism to instead blame "the left" and "both sides," reports the Tampa Bay Times.

The talking points falsely described the shooting in El Paso, Texas, and other mass shootings as "violence from the left," though the alleged El Paso shooter targeted "Mexicans" and reportedly wrote a white nationalist, anti-immigrant screed that decried a "Hispanic invasion of Texas," per NPR, echoing President Trump's rhetoric surrounding immigration.

The inclusion of El Paso was actually a mistake, said a spokesperson for Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), who circulated the talking points. It was supposed to mention Dayton, Ohio, where another shooting occurred the same weekend. The alleged Dayton shooter was reportedly a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), though there is no evidence his alleged attack was motivated by leftist political views. The Tampa Bay Times reports that other shootings described as leftist violence are included "despite ambiguous, if not contradictory, evidence."

If asked whether "white nationalism is driving more mass shootings recently," Republican lawmakers are advised to steer the conversation in a way that argues both sides are to blame. FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress most domestic terrorism cases "are motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacist violence." The Anti-Defamation League says 73 percent of extremist-related murder in the last decade were committed by right-wing extremists, including white supremacists, while 3 percent were committed by left-wing extremists.

"White nationalism and racism are pure evil and cannot be tolerated in any form," reads the reported document. "We also can't excuse violence from the left." Read more at the Tampa Bay Times. Summer Meza

August 16, 2019

Plagiarism scandals have officially infected the world of podcasting.

Crime Junkie, a popular podcast that BuzzFeed News says is currently the most listened to series on Apple Podcasts, apparently may be cribbing a lot more than just the public records surrounding some mysterious crimes.

The first accusation of plagiarism appeared on Sunday, when journalist Cathy Frye posted a comment on Crime Junkie host Ashley Flowers' Facebook page:

"You relied on my series about Kacie Woody to air your podcast, which, I would assume, profits by the sharing of crime stories. At one point, you quoted a portion of MY copyrighted story almost verbatim. I then started listening to your other podcasts and - SURPRISE! - discovered that you don't cite sources or credit news organizations."

Frye, considered the preeminent expert on the murder of Kacie Woody due to her award-winning coverage for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 2003, isn't the only one with an allegation. Fellow true-crime podcaster Robin Warder, host of The Trail Went Cold, wrote a post on Reddit in 2015 summarizing his episode about the death of Henry McCabe. He told Variety that in a recent episode of Crime Junkie, "Ashley Flowers is practically reading [from the Reddit post] verbatim without credit." BuzzFeed News reports that "a handful" of podcasters also felt their work had been plagiarized by the hosts.

Since the controversy started, five episodes of Crime Junkie have reportedly been removed from the show's website and streaming platforms. In a statement to Variety, Flowers said the show's "research process is thorough, rigid, and exhaustive, and those familiar with Crime Junkie are aware that we make clear references to the use of other sources and that comprehensive notes and links to all sources are made available on our show's website."

Sounds like a crime that still needs solving. Cyrena Touros

August 16, 2019

Former President Barack Obama isn't yet sporting a Biden 2020 hat, but that doesn't mean he isn't paying attention to his former vice president's campaign.

Although Obama has gone to great lengths to not endorse an individual in the 2020 Democratic primaries, he has reportedly been more involved in Biden's camp than he's let on. Obama has gone so far as to request briefings with Biden's team to discuss strategy, including one meeting before Biden announced his candidacy in April, reports The New York Times. In some of his meetings with Biden and Co., Obama has tried to emphasize the importance of Biden expanding his inner circle with younger voices, reportedly telling Biden his advisers are too old and out of touch.

Despite his watchful eye, Obama has been wary of Biden seeking the nomination. At one point before Biden entered the race, Obama reportedly said: "You don't have to do this, Joe, you really don't." Biden, who benched himself during the 2016 election, responded by saying he couldn't miss another shot to beat President Trump.

In March, Obama reportedly told Biden's advisers that they needed to make sure the former Vice President didn't "embarrass himself" or "damage his legacy." Coming from Biden's supposed best friend, that one's gotta hurt. Read it at The New York Times. Marianne Dodson

August 16, 2019

More than 150 prominent Latinx figures, including celebrities and political activists, published a letter in The New York Times on Friday to promote solidarity and call for change. The letter, written in both English and Spanish, condemns violence against the Latinx community following Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids and the recent shooting in El Paso, Texas.

One passage reads: "We will not be broken. We will not be silenced. We will continue to denounce any hateful and inhumane treatment of our community. We will demand dignity and justice." Democratic presidential candidate and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro highlighted the letter on Twitter, thanking the letter writers.

"The contributions we make to this country are invaluable," reads the letter, which could reference rhetoric like acting director of U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli's claim that the Statue of Liberty's promises were referring to "people coming from Europe." Cuccinelli suggested Emma Lazarus' "The New Colossus" should really read, "Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge."

Signatories include actors America Ferrera, Gina Rodriguez, Rita Morena, and Zoe Saldana; musicians Jennifer Lopez, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ricky Martin, and Selena Gomez; and activists Dolores Huerta, Teresa Romero, and Monica Ramirez. Supporters can add their signatures at the Querida Familia Letter website. Cyrena Touros

August 16, 2019

A bad situation just keeps getting worse.

Several families of migrant children are filing lawsuits claiming the U.S. government failed to protect their children from sexual, physical and emotional abuse in federally funded foster homes.

Some migrant children who were separated from their families at the border were placed in foster care while officials determined how to proceed with asylum claims or placed the adults in detention centers that were sometimes far away from the foster homes. At least 38 lawsuits say that children were harmed while in government custody, reports The Associated Press.

The Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" policy led to thousands of family separations at the border, and several nonprofit groups and U.S. law firms are working with migrants who want to sue the government over alleged wrongdoing that resulted. The Office of Refugee Resettlement opted to place some children in foster programs, but new allegations raise questions about how well some foster care facilities are vetted, says AP. "How is it possible that my son was suffering these things?" said the father of one boy who says he was repeatedly sexually molested in a foster home after being separated at the border at age 7.

The government hasn't settled any of these claims, and the Department of Justice didn't comment on AP's story outlining the allegations. "We may never know the extent to which children suffered particular abuses in foster homes," said Michelle Lapointe, a senior supervising attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center. Parents of migrant children who were in government custody describe lasting emotional trauma and say their children remain fearful when recalling their time in foster care. "It's the tip of the iceberg," said Erik Walsh, an attorney at Arnold & Porter, which has represented some families in suing the government.

A Health and Human Services spokesman said "We treat the children in our care with dignity and respect." Read more at The Associated Press. Summer Meza

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