July 10, 2019

In a blistering statement, the former state attorney for Palm Beach County, Florida, accused Labor Secretary Alex Acosta of not being truthful about the controversial 2008 plea deal he made with financier Jeffrey Epstein.

During a press conference on Wednesday, Acosta said that while working as a federal prosecutor in Florida, he had to intervene in the state's case to make sure Epstein, who was arrested on sex trafficking charges, served time in prison and had to register as a sex offender. Under the deal, Epstein was sentenced to 13 months in jail, and was allowed to work in his office six days a week. "There is a value to a short guilty plea because letting him walk — letting what the state attorney was ready to do go forward — would have been absolutely awful," Acosta said.

Barry E. Krischer, who served as the state attorney for Palm Beach County from 1993 to 2009, responded swiftly. "I can emphatically state that Mr. Acosta's recollection of this matter is completely wrong," he said in a statement. "Federal prosecutors do not take a back seat to state prosecutors. That's not how the system works in the real world."

Krischer said a grand jury returned a single count indictment of felony solicitation of prostitution against Epstein, and "subsequently, the U.S. Attorney's Office produced a 53-page indictment that was abandoned after secret negotiations between Mr. Epstein's lawyers and Mr. Acosta." Krischer's office knew nothing about their meetings, "and definitely had no part in the federal non-prosecution agreement and the unusual confidentiality arrangement that kept everything hidden from the victims."

If Acosta "was truly concerned with the state's case and he felt he had to rescue the matter, he would have moved forward with the 53-page indictment that his own office drafted," Krischer added. "Instead, Mr. Acosta brokered a secret plea deal that resulted in a non-prosecution agreement in violation of the Crime Victim's Rights Act." Catherine Garcia

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

12:30 p.m.

Boris Johnson should stay away from pimentos in the next few days.

Johnson won an internal race to lead his Conservative party on Tuesday, meaning he'll be the next prime minister of the U.K. after he's sworn in on Wednesday. It's a job Johnson has long aspired to, but also one he seemed skeptical of ever achieving, as he colorfully told David Letterman during a 2012 Late Show appearance.

Seven years ago, Johnson was serving as the bombastic mayor of London, well-known for his shocking blonde hair and colorful figures of speech. And during a stop on Letterman's show, Johnson was asked if he thought he'd ever become the prime minister. "I've got about as much chance of being reincarnated as an olive," Johnson replied.

That's just one of the many witty remarks Johnson has made over his political career, though most haven't been so incorrectly prescient. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:33 a.m.

Joe Biden has reversed a major sticking point from his time in the Senate.

The former vice president has joined up with nearly every Democrat running for president, revealing that he supports ending the death penalty nationwide. Biden previously supported the death penalty, but in his criminal justice plan unveiled Tuesday, he said he'll work to abolish the death penalty at both the state and federal levels.

Biden unveiled a sweeping criminal justice platform on Tuesday, which acknowledges that "too many people are incarcerated in the United States — and too many of them are black and brown." So he's pledged to "root out the racial, gender, and income-based disparities in the system" while rerouting criminal justice toward "redemption and rehabilitation."

Part of that plan includes eliminating the death penalty because "over 160 individuals who’ve been sentenced to death in this country since 1973 have later been exonerated," Biden's website reads. So if he's elected, Biden says he'll "work to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level, and incentivize states to follow the federal government's example."

That plan puts Biden in line with Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and pretty much every other 2020 Democrat. Biden had advocated for capital punishment while in the Senate , but appeared to be dropping that stance over the past few months. Kathryn Krawczyk

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