October 19, 2020

Department of Justice lawyers argued on Monday that President Trump should not be personally sued for denying a rape accusation because he refuted the allegation while acting in his official capacity as president, The New York Times reports.

In June 2019, writer E. Jean Carroll accused Trump of raping her in a department store in the 1990s. He publicly rejected this claim and accused her of lying to sell her new book; in return, Carroll filed a defamation suit against him. Last month, Attorney General William Barr intervened in the lawsuit, a highly unusual move, seeing as how the alleged incident took place years before Trump became president.

The government lawyers argued on Monday that Trump didn't slander Carroll and his denial was an official act because he "addressed matters relating to his fitness for office as part of an official White House response to press inquiries. Given the president's position in our constitutional structure, his role in communicating with the public is especially significant."

Earlier this month, Carroll's lawyers filed court papers trying to block the Department of Justice from taking over Trump's case, saying "there is not a single person in the United States — not the president and not anyone else — whose job description includes slandering women they sexually assaulted." Catherine Garcia

3:33 p.m.

Joel Greenberg, Rep. Matt Gaetz's (R-Fla.) former confidant, has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and admitted to sex trafficking a minor, The New York Times reports.

Greenberg, a former Florida tax collector and associate of Gaetz, reached a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to six federal charges against him, including sex trafficking of a child, according to CNN. He admitted that he and others paid a 17-year-old girl for sex, saying that he "introduced the minor to other adult men, who engaged in commercial sex acts" with her, the Times reports.

Prosecutors reportedly say they have evidence corroborating Greenberg's admissions, per the Times, and Greenberg also reportedly admitted to other crimes including stealing money from taxpayers.

Gaetz has been facing an investigation into whether he had sex with a 17-year-old girl and violated sex trafficking laws. Though Greenberg reportedly didn't implicate Gaetz by name in the new filings, according to the Times, he "has told investigators that Mr. Gaetz had sex with the girl and knew that she was being paid."

Reports emerged last month that Greenberg was likely cooperating with prosecutors, at which point his attorney said, "I am sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today." Meanwhile, investigators in the probe have also reportedly been seeking cooperation from Gaetz's ex-girlfriend, who according to CNN is "believed to have knowledge of drug use and arrangements with women." Brendan Morrow

2:30 p.m.

Politicians — they're just like us.

President Biden's staff during his time as vice president did not serve leafy greens at events because Biden "did not want to be photographed with any leaves in his teeth," said Christopher Freeman, a caterer for the then-vice president, in an interview with The New York Times.

Instead, Biden stocked his vice presidential residence with items like vanilla chocolate chip Haagen-Dazs, Special K cereal, grapes, cheese, and some Orange Gatorade to wash it all down. No "untag" button needed.

Read more at the Times. Brigid Kennedy

1:18 p.m.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) described Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) as a "deeply unwell" person who "clearly needs some help" as video of Greene harassing her office in 2019 resurfaced.

CNN on Friday reported on a since-deleted Facebook Live video showing Greene outside of Ocasio-Cortez's locked office door taunting her staff through a mailbox slot during a Capitol Hill visit in Feb. 2019, before she was elected to Congress. Greene in the video calls Ocasio-Cortez "crazy eyes" and tells her to "get rid of your diaper" while demanding she come outside. She also says that "we have security following us" during the stream and was apparently escorted out by security by the end of the day, CNN reports.

The video was resurfaced after The Washington Post reported that Greene "aggressively confronted" Ocasio-Cortez on Wednesday as she exited the House chamber, shouting at her in an incident House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) described as a "verbal assault" that should "probably" be investigated by the House Ethics Committee.

"This is a woman that's deeply unwell and clearly needs some help," Ocasio-Cortez said Friday. "Her fixation has lasted for several years now. At this point, I think the depth of that unwellness has raised concerns for other members as well, and so I think that this is an assessment that needs to be made by the proper professionals."

In reference to the public debate between the two Greene has been demanding, Ocasio-Cortez said, "It's not a thing, and so I'm concerned about her perceptions of reality." Brendan Morrow

12:56 p.m.

Even Uncle Joe gets angry sometimes.

President Biden has "a short fuse" at times, especially when aides and advisers are unable to answer his many hyper-detailed questions, current and former associates told The New York Times in a report published Friday. It's a description seemingly at odds with the congenial and easygoing persona the American public usually sees.

Driven by a strong "sense of urgency," the president is reportedly susceptible to "flares of impatience," and a tendency to "cut off conversations," per the Times. Occasionally, he's even hung up the phone "on someone who he thinks is wasting his time."

Yet he is also slow to make important decisions, often gathering advice and detail from "scores" of experts before sharing his findings in the self-assured, "plain-speaking" manner he presents publicly. "He has a kind of mantra: 'You can never give me too much detail,'" National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told the Times. It's a difficult minefield to navigate, however; at risk of "an outburst of frustration," those fielding Mr. Biden's questions must go "beyond the vague talking points [the president] will reject" while also avoiding "responses laced with acronyms or too much policy minutiae." Advisers, aides and speechwriters become "hyperprepared" so as to avoid irritation.

Despite his displeasure when staff lack answers to reportedly "obscure" (but important) questions, the president is also "prone to displays of unexpected warmth." He never launches into Trump-esque "fits of rage" and frequently phones his grandchildren, who he calls "the center" of his world.

Read more at The New York Times. Brigid Kennedy

11:29 a.m.

It's official: Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) has won Rep. Liz Cheney's (R-Wyo.) old job.

Republicans on Friday voted to elect Stefanik the new chair of the House Republican Conference. She's replacing Cheney, who was ousted from that position this week for criticizing former President Donald Trump over his false claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Stefanik, meanwhile, is a Trump ally who has backed numerous false election claims he has made, and the former president endorsed her for the leadership position. She thanked Trump for his support after the vote, calling him a "critical part of our Republican team."

“I support President Trump," Stefanik also said. "Voters support President Trump. He is an important voice in our Republican Party, and we look forward to working with him."

Cheney since being removed from her leadership job, on the other hand, has vowed to continue her fight against Trump and ensure he doesn't serve another term as president.

"He's unfit," she told Today. "He never again can be anywhere close to the Oval Office." Brendan Morrow

10:39 a.m.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's updated mask guidance marked a major milestone in the pandemic. But has the agency "skipped a key step"?

The CDC announced Thursday that those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 mostly no longer need to wear masks or socially distance. Dr. Leana Wen, a physician and CNN medical analyst, is among the experts who had been critical of the CDC's previous guidelines as overly cautious, but she writes in The Washington Post that with the announcement, the CDC "skipped a key step" and has gone "from over-caution to throwing caution to the wind."

Wen particularly criticizes the CDC guidance for not requiring proof of vaccination.

"By resorting to the honor code, the CDC is removing a critical incentive to vaccination," Wen writes. "Many who were on the fence might have been motivated to get the shot because they could go back to activities they were missing, without a mask. Now, if no one is checking, and they can do everything anyway, why bother?"

All in all, Wen described the CDC's "about-face" as "shockingly abrupt," and The New York Times noted that it "came as a surprise to many people in public health," as in a recent informal survey of epidemiologists, a whopping 80 percent said they expected Americans would need to wear masks indoors for another year.

"Unless the vaccination rates increase to 80 or 90 percent over the next few months, we should wear masks in large public indoor settings," Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute program officer Vivian Towe told the Times.

But the CDC's move has drawn praise from other experts, who argued it's in line with the science and overdue. Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb also believes it should actually "provide a pretty strong incentive" for people "on the fence" about getting vaccinated, adding that those who would lie about being vaccinated and stop wearing a mask "would have done it anyway." Brendan Morrow

8:55 a.m.

Erik Prince, founder of private security contractor Blackwater and brother of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, recruited a former British spy in 2016 to professionalize the undercover operatives at Project Veritas, the conservative sting video shop run by James O'Keefe, The New York Times reports, citing documents and people involved in the subsequent operations to discredit perceived "deep state" enemies of former President Donald Trump inside the U.S. government.

The ex-undercover British spy, Richard Seddon, trained conservative operatives first at the Prince family ranch in Wyoming, then at a large, $10,000-a-month house near Georgetown University. Female undercover operatives tried to entrap FBI agents, sometimes using fake dating app profiles, and State Department employees, the Times reports. But "one of the most brazen operations of the campaign" was an attempt to take down H.R. McMaster, Trump's second national security adviser.

The plan was reportedly to send a female operative to Tosca, a restaurant McMaster frequented, to engage him in drinks and conversation and record him disparaging Trump or making other inappropriate remarks on camera. One of the people involved in the McMaster plot was Barbara Ledeen, a longtime Republican staffer on the Senate Judiciary Committee before retiring, she says, earlier this year. Presented with the details of the operation, Ledeen told the Times she was just a messenger, "not part of a plot."

Ledeen said "someone she trusted" contacted her to help with the McMaster operation. "Somebody who had his calendar conveyed to me that he goes to Tosca all the time," she said, and she passed the information on to a man she believed to be a Project Veritas operative with a fake name. The McMaster operation was aborted after he, unrelated to Project Veritas, resigned under pressure from Trump.

O'Keefe did not respond to the substance of the Times' report but did accuse the newspaper of running a "smear piece" on Project Veritas. Seddon left the project in 2018, before O'Keefe started releasing low-impact "unmasking the deep state" videos. He was dismayed, three former Project Veritas employees told the Times, with "O'Keefe's desire to produce quick media content rather than to run long-term infiltration operations." Read more about the operation and its cast of characters at The New York Times. Peter Weber

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