August 27, 2019

Take this for what it's worth, from The Washington Post:

At least one camera in the hallway outside the cell where authorities say registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein hanged himself earlier this month had footage that is unusable, although other, clearer footage was captured in the area, according to three people briefed on the evidence gathered earlier this month. It was not immediately clear why some video footage outside Epstein's cell is too flawed for investigators to use or what is visible in the usable footage. ... It's unclear whether the flaw in the taping affected a limited duration of the footage or whether it was a chronic problem in the beleaguered Manhattan facility. [The Washington Post]

Epstein's death has been ruled a suicide, but not everyone is yet convinced that he killed himself, including Epstein's lawyers. Conspiracy theories about his demise — floated by, among other people, President Trump, himself a longtime Epstein acquaintanceabound, thanks in part to Epstein's influential friends and his alleged trafficking of underage girls to powerful men, and also to missteps and irregularities like this at the Manhattan Correctional Center. The FBI and Justice Department's inspector general's office are both investigating Epstein's death and the footage is important to these inquiries. Read more at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

10:44 a.m.

China is sanctioning four U.S. officials following recent sanctions announced by the Trump administration.

China has announced it will ban entry to Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), as well as Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Ambassador for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, The Associated Press reports. The four officials have called out China for its human rights abuses in Xinjiang, The Washington Post notes.

This comes after the U.S. recently sanctioned several Chinese officials over China's human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims and other minorities; three officials were banned from visiting the U.S., according to the Post. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Monday that "Xinjiang affairs are China's internal affairs and the U.S. has no right to interfere in them," adding that "we urge the United States to immediately withdraw its wrong decision."

There "was no indication any of the four" U.S. officials China hit with sanctions actually "planned to travel to China," Axios observes. On Monday, Rubio reacted to the news by tweeting, "The Communist Party of #China has banned me from entering the country. I guess they don't like me?" Cruz, meanwhile, tweeted sarcastically, "Bummer. I was going to take my family to Beijing for summer vacation, right after visiting Tehran." Brendan Morrow

10:25 a.m.

The Washington Redskins have officially announced the retirement of the team's 87-year-old name. Owner Dan Synder and head coach Ron Rivera are now working to come up with a new name and logo, and, of course, everyone has suggestions.

Some possible ideas include the Warriors — although it's possible the team will want to avoid overlap with the NBA's Golden State franchise — and the Red Tails, which would honor the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of Black military pilots who fought in World War II. The latter seems to be a popular choice, but another name that's gaining momentum is the Red Wolves, which doesn't have any significance other than sounding cool. NBA superstar Kevin Durant, who hails from the D.C.-area, is apparently a fan of the name, as are former NFL wide receiver Chad Johnson and Washington's current quarterback Dwayne Haskins.

Jon Jansen, a former offensive linemen for Washington, suggested the team be called the Hogs. That probably won't gain too many backers, but Jansen's logic is sound — back in the 1980s and early 1990s, when Washington was one of the league's premiere franchises, the team was known for its legendary offensive line, a unit affectionately known as the Hogs.

Whatever they choose, Washington probably won't go with a D.C.-themed moniker, as of some of the city's other professional teams, like MLB's Nationals, or the Capitals in the NHL, have. Traditionally, the Washington franchise, which for a long time was the only team located below the Mason-Dixon line, has considered itself a regional team. Tim O'Donnell

8:28 a.m.

President Trump appears to be accusing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of "lying" about COVID-19 to damage his re-election prospects.

Former Love Connection and Wheel of Fortune game show host Chuck Woolery in a tweet on Sunday baselessly accused the "CDC, media, Democrats, our doctors, not all but most," of "lying" about the pandemic while claiming this is "all about the election and keeping the economy from coming back, which is about the election." His tweet drew plenty of outrage, but not from Trump, who on Monday morning gave it his approval with a retweet.

"There's no public health strategy that exists that involves telling everyone not to believe anyone no matter what, including your own administration," NBC News' Benjy Sarlin wrote in response to Trump's retweet, while Politico's Kyle Cheney tweeted that it's "hard to underscore how dangerous" this is.

Trump backing the claim that his administration's CDC, and most doctors, are lying comes as the White House has recently sought to discredit Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, with an anonymous White House official telling reporters that "several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things."

Fauci recently revealed that even as the U.S. continues to set new records for number of new coronavirus cases, he hasn't briefed Trump on COVID-19 in about two months. He also suggested that his reputation for "speaking the truth at all times and not sugar-coating things" may be "one of the reasons why I haven't been on television very much lately." Brendan Morrow

7:58 a.m.

At this point in the 2020 presidential campaign, you would rather be presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden than President Trump. Biden has a lead of 9 percentage points in the polling averages by RealClearPolitics and The Washington Post, and 9.4 points as measured by FiveThirtyEight. He leads Trump, "in some cases outside the margin of error, in recent polls in the battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin," the Post reports. Democratic congressional candidates are also crushing their GOP rivals in online donations, Politico reports, setting off alarm bells among Washington Republicans.

In fact, "Trump's management of this summer's crises has triggered what Democrats detect as a tectonic shift in the political landscape, with party leaders suddenly bullish about not only taking back the White House but also wresting control of the Senate, as well as expanding their House majority," the Post reports. Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) predicted "there's a tsunami coming." Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said "we're feeling very good" about taking back the Senate. Not everyone thinks this level of confidence is helpful.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told the Post that Democrats have "one advantage" over 2016: "People are vigilant, they are attuned, they are concerned." Trump and his allies will try to suppress Democratic votes, she warned. "I say: 'Own the ground. Don't give one grain of sand. Get everybody out.'" Longtime GOP strategist Mike Murphy, who opposes Trump, similarly said he would warn Democrats: "Caution! Elections are very dynamic!"

"Trump and his advisers insist that their campaign's internal data show the race as more competitive," the Post reports, "and that he can gain momentum in the weeks ahead with a disciplined message and a brutal, sustained assault on Biden's character, ideology, and mental acuity."

Things can absolutely change, but over the past month at least, "Biden’s lead over Trump has been both incredibly stable and unusually large," Geoffrey Skelley notes at FiveThirtyEight, and he "is verging on a landslide. That’s not a word we use lightly." Certainly, "the president is in a very, very deep hole, and I'm not quite sure how he gets out of it," said Amy Walter, national editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. And "instead of just a slight drag, the president is tying anchors around the ankles of Republican candidates." Peter Weber

5:51 a.m.

Polish President Andrzej Duda, a social conservative aligned with the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, appears to have narrowly beat center-left Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski in Sunday's election, Poland's National Electoral Commission said Monday. The head of the commission said the final results won't be announced until later, but that with more than 99 percent of votes tallied, Duda had a likely insurmountable 500,000-vote lead. The near-complete results, showing Duda beating Trzaskowski 51.2 percent to 48.8 percent, makes it the closest election in Poland since it shed communism in 1989.

The election was originally scheduled to take place in May, when Duda and the PiS were more popular. But despite Duda pushing to hold the vote on schedule, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he had to back down when a junior coalition partner sided with the opposition. Turnout was a near-record 68.12 percent, the electoral commission said.

The government, state media, and Poland's powerful Catholic Church backed Duda, a social conservative, in a divisive election where the incumbent called LGBT rights an "ideology" worse than communism and tapped anti-Semitic slurs to suggest Trzaskowski would sell Poland out to Jewish interests. The PiS is expected to continue its takeover of the judicial system, putting it in increasing conflict with the European Union.

But Duda also won domestic support for generous social welfare payments, including monthly cash bonuses of $125 per child to all families and more general retirement benefits. Trzaskowski had pledged to keep the popular welfare programs while restoring Poland's democratic values. "Duda's victory shows there is a strong electorate for social conservatism and generous state handouts," writes BBC Warsaw correspondent Adam Easton. "But the closeness of the vote also suggests that many in Poland are uneasy about the government's attempts to introduce a more illiberal democracy." Peter Weber

4:34 a.m.

President Trump spent the weekend at his golf club in Virginia, golfing. The presidency is a stressful job, and it's probably healthy for presidents to get out in the sun, but on Sunday morning, Trump defended his frequent golf outings. While many politicians and business leaders "work out endlessly," he tweeted, "my 'exercise' is playing, almost never during the week, a quick round of golf. Obama played more and much longer rounds, no problem."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) backed Trump's claim of being a fast golfer, calling it "a tremendous understatement."

But Trump is objectively wrong about his predecessor, Barack Obama, playing more golf. Trump has visited his golf properties 277 times as president, by CNN's count, and 262 times according to the Trump Golf Count website; Obama played golf 306 times over his eight years in office and fewer than half as many rounds as Trump at this point in his presidency — and Trump frequently criticized him for it. On the other hand, Trump was right about news organizations trying to get pictures of him golfing, paparazzi-like — when you're star, you let them do it — and their cameras called into question his idea of "exercise."

So Trump drives a golf cart and has a caddy, but to be fair, he did put "exercise" in quotation marks and said he only did a "tiny" bit. Peter Weber

2:50 a.m.

Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller did not directly criticize President Trump in an unusual op-ed Saturday for commuting his friend and adviser Roger Stone's 40-month prison sentence, but he did make clear he didn't see the controversial and objectively self-interested move as serving justice.

Mueller's op-ed, published in The Washington Post, was mostly a response to accusations from Trump and his allies that the Russia investigation "was illegitimate," and specifically "claims that Roger Stone was a victim of our office," Mueller wrote. "Stone was prosecuted and convicted because he committed federal crimes. He remains a convicted felon, and rightly so."

"Stone became a central figure in our investigation for two key reasons," Mueller said: "He communicated in 2016 with individuals known to us to be Russian intelligence officers, and he claimed advance knowledge of WikiLeaks' release of emails stolen by those Russian intelligence officers."

Stone was convicted by a jury on several counts of obstructing justice and repeatedly lying to Congress and investigators about those communications with Russian intelligence, and about his frequent updates to seniors Trump campaign officials about Russia's leaking of damaging information on Hillary Clinton via WikiLeaks, Mueller explained. "And he tampered with a witness, imploring him to stonewall Congress." He did not mention that Stone threatened to kill that witness' dog.

The op-ed apparently persuaded Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has rejected previous requests to call Mueller to testify, to reconsider his objections.

Mueller testified before two House committees to discuss his report. Taylor Reidy, a Graham spokeswoman, told the Post that a formal invitation to Mueller is being worked on, though the Post also noted the Senate has only about three dozen legislative days left before the election. Peter Weber

See More Speed Reads