How Alex Acosta Got Away With It for So Long

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SLATE NEWS)

 

How Alex Acosta Got Away With It for So Long

The only way the labor secretary could give Jeffrey Epstein that 2008 plea deal is by ignoring victims.

Acosta standing with both hands on a podium, three American flags behind him.
Alexander Acosta at a press conference at the Department of Labor on Wednesday.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Back in 2008, when Alex Acosta was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, his office secretly cut a sweetheart deal for child rapist and sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. Now Acosta has been watching as increasingly damning evidence piles up, revealing that he was responsible for letting Epstein off the hook the first time around, and filters into the public consciousness. So he took a page from Donald Trump’s sexual assault impunity playbook at a press conference on Wednesday and denied any responsibility for any of his actions, refused to apologize to hundreds of victims who were children at the time, and instead blamed everyone from state prosecutors to the victims themselves. On Friday morning, he resigned as secretary of labor, but it hardly seems like enough.

Thanks to dogged reporting from Julie K. Brown at the Miami Herald, we know that a 53-page indictment drafted by Acosta’s own office was based on the statements of dozens of victims, and yet Acosta still brokered a plea deal allowing Epstein to register as a sex offender and spend just 13 months in the Palm Beach County jail. Epstein was allowed to be picked up by a car on 12 hours of daily work release from the prison, six days a week. A Florida judge ruled earlier this year that the non-prosecution agreement violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act because the witnesses were never consulted or informed that it had happened.

Epstein was charged Monday, by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, with running a sex trafficking operation. A search of his home revealed hundreds if not thousands of images of naked women, and, according to federal authorities, “some of the nude or partially-nude photographs appear to be of underage girls.” New York authorities specifically credited the Miami Herald, which has surfaced many other questionable details about the case, with helping lead them to new evidence. On Tuesday another woman came forward with allegations that she had been raped by Epstein as a teenager: Jennifer Araoz told NBC News that she was approached at age 14 in 2001 by a woman who took her to Epstein’s home where she was paid to give him massages in her underwear, and that he raped her when she was 15.

Acosta’s tactic Wednesday consisted of blaming state prosecutors first, and the victims second. His claim is that he’s actually a good guy, because when the state authorities decided to pursue charges that would have failed to result in jail time, his office stepped in to press for a more draconian sanction. “Simply put, the Palm Beach state attorney’s office was willing to let Epstein walk free, no jail time, nothing,” he said. “We did what we did because we wanted to see Epstein go to jail.” The deal had Epstein plead guilty to two state prostitution charges, resulting in the jail time and sex offender registration, though he also had to pay restitution to the victims.

Acosta’s version of the story has a million problems. Barry Krischer, Palm Beach state attorney at the time, immediately lit into Acosta for trying to “rewrite history” by blaming state authorities. “I can emphatically state that Mr. Acosta’s recollection of this matter is completely wrong,” Krischer told the New York Times. “No matter how my office resolved the state charges, the U.S. attorney’s office always had the ability to file its own federal charges. If Mr. Acosta was truly concerned with the state’s case and felt he had to rescue the matter, he would have moved forward with the 53-page indictment that his own office drafted.” Conveniently, each office has shifted the blame onto the other, so nobody bears any responsibility. Regardless, who gets to bring charges in such a case is never the sort of zero-sum turf battle either man is making it out to be—as former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade notes: “He could have allowed the state prosecutor to do whatever he wanted with the state case and still pursued his own separate federal charges. Sometimes prosecutors work cooperatively with state prosecutors to work out a global resolution when it is in their clients’ mutual interest, but it is certainly not required.” In other words, Acosta is pretending when he says he was jammed by state prosecutors.

Among Acosta’s most revealing claims were those about the absence of compelling evidence. It bears repeating that Brown, the Herald reporter, points out that Acosta had at his office’s disposal “36 girls who all told the same story, which is amazing.” The New York Times says there were 40 victims at the time the deal was struck. And as the Times further revealed, in a profile of Julie Brown, “Early in the process, she received a heavily redacted police report that was more than 100 pages long and mentioned more than 100 Jane Does.”

More than 100 Jane Does. As the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake points out, the new claim that Acosta had to agree to the sweetheart deal in order to prevent Epstein getting off for less is simply absurd. “Why did that decision have to be made right then and there?” Blake wrote. “If the evidence wasn’t there yet to be confident in a large-scale federal case, why not investigate further and hopefully uncover what federal prosecutors in New York revealed on Monday?” The new indictment includes ample evidence that had already been collected when the non-prosecution agreement was signed. When asked about this at his press conference, Acosta said other jurisdictions were free to pursue other investigations (and 10 years later New York did! See, the system works!) and that victims were also free to pursue civil remedies. (See, the system works!)

In point of fact, the system did work perfectly. To protect a child predator, that is. What you are witnessing here is Acosta seeking refuge in a country that allows jurisdictions to both point fingers at one another and reverse-engineer their own fact-finding to highlight only the smallest quantum of evidence. As was the case with the federal “investigations” into claims about White House chief of staff Rob Porter’s brutal and persistent battery of his partners, and Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual misconduct toward women, investigations are only as effective as the investigator’s willingness to lookAlex Acosta did not look very hard. Instead, Alex Acosta chose to sign a non-prosecution agreement around what he opted to see, which is what he wanted to see, which was close to nothing.

As important as Acosta’s willingness to blame state prosecutors is his willingness to avert his own eyes. Because the only way to have 100 Jane Doe interviews and a 53-page draft indictment and to still see so very, very little misconduct is to blame the victims themselves. And so, on Wednesday, Alex Acosta went on to do just that, as David Graham observed. In the single most grotesque moment in a wholly grotesque public event, Acosta, when asked what he’d tell Jeffrey Epstein’s victims, said this: “The message is you need to come forward. I heard this morning that another victim came forward and made horrendous, horrendous allegations, allegations that should never happen to any woman, much less a young girl. And as victims come forward, these cases can be brought and they can be brought by the federal government, they can be brought by state attorneys, and they will be brought.”

Acosta, who worked for a president who routinely claims that all sexual assault victims are solely in it for the money, went on to quote prosecutors in his office who described girls too terrified to come forward because they were scared of being shamed and trashed by defense counsel. As he said of a female prosecutor in his office, “She talks about the challenges faced, she talks about the victims being scared and traumatized, refusing to testify, and how some victims actually exonerated Epstein. Most had significant concerns about their identities being revealed. The acts that they had faced were horrible and they didn’t want people to know about them.” He added that the victims worried they would be disparaged for seeking monetary reparations—“and it became clear that they were going to receive money if he was convicted, how that would impeach their credibility”—buying into the Trumpist narrative that any accuser who ever accepts compensation could legitimately have their credibility questioned.

Taken in sum, Acosta seems to be saying that the real impediment to a just resolution is the unreliable and fickle victims, who are afraid the system won’t take them seriously (as he didn’t) and who are afraid of being talked about derisively (in precisely the ways he now does). As Adam Horowitz, a lawyer for seven of the victims, told the New York Times on Wednesday, the young women were indeed scared to testify—because the prosecutors themselves had terrified them. “The prosecutors were saying, ‘These defense lawyers are going to go through your whole personal life, dig up your bad acts and your sex life,’ ” Horowitz said. “When they heard that from prosecutors, sure they were intimidated. They kept saying, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ ”

Finally, Acosta posited that he is off the hook because life is significantly better for accusers in 2019. “We live in a very different world. Today’s world treats victims very, very differently. Today’s world does not allow some of the victim shaming that could have taken place at trial 12 years ago,” he urged. Apparently, Acosta has never heard of E. Jean Carroll, Christine Blasey Ford, or Summer Zervos, each of whom has been called a cash-seeking liar by the president of the United States, Acosta’s boss. He also falsely implied that the federal rules of evidence and the Crime Victims’ Rights Act either didn’t exist or didn’t preclude lawyers from “victim shaming” back in 2007, which is not true.

Anyway, to recap: Acosta arrived at the laughable 2008 agreement because he chose to ignore everything that could have been something. He did that by allowing the victims to be terrified and then blaming them for it, by creating an imaginary deadline by which he would have to close his investigation and finalize a deal, and by diffusing responsibility for bringing Epstein to justice among state authorities, civil litigation, other federal jurisdictions, and the victims themselves. Acosta’s entire mission is to push the blame outward, but in doing so, he has instead offered up a case study in institutional cowardice and complicity.

Just because we can blame Acosta does not mean it’s his fault alone. It’s a mistake to leave out the many, many other men who determined that they too had not seen enough evidence to act decisively, which includes Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter, who believed reporter Vicky Ward had amassed insufficient evidence of Epstein’s sexual depravity to keep it in a reported story in 2003, telling Politico, “In the end, we didn’t have confidence in Ward’s reporting. We were not in the habit of running away from a fight. But she simply didn’t have the goods.” It includes Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who allowed a prosecutor at a 2011 hearing to seek to reduce Epstein’s sex offender status to the lowest possible classification. It includes a system that, as the New York Post reports, ensured Epstein was permitted by the NYPD to skip every one of his court-mandated check-ins. It appears everyone evaluated all the evidence through their money-colored glasses.

And, as in any story about wealth and privilege and access, it also seems to come down to a trio of lawyers—all from Kirkland & Ellis, as Joe Conason notes—Kenneth Starr, Alex Acosta, and Jay Lefkowitz, who worked together to grease the skids for Epstein. As Lefkowitz, representing Epstein, memorialized in a 2007 letter, Acosta would not inform “any of the identified individuals, potential witnesses or potential civil claimants” against Epstein about the terms or existence of the sweetheart deal. That too, says Acosta, was done to protect … the victims.

So please. Just please. Stop saying victims don’t come forward. Stop saying you wish more of them would come forward. If you have not only not made it easier for them to do so, but have used your professional status and authority to make it far harder, you are lying when you say that. This is not just about Alex Acosta, or Bill Clinton, or Alan Dershowitz, or Donald Trump, or any one man. It’s not about Senate Republicans, who were evidently capable of feeling shame three years ago, but are wholly dead to it today. It is about entire hierarchies of wealth and invulnerability that first avoid looking at abused women and then insist it is their own fault they are invisible. As Rebecca Solnit aptly put it yesterday, “These men could not do what they did without a culture—lawyers, journalists, judges, friends—that protected them, valued them, devalued their victims and survivors. They do not act alone, and their might is nothing more or less than the way a system rewards and protects them, which is another definition of rape culture. That is, their impunity is not inherent; it’s something the society grants them and can take away.”

Decreasing that impunity would require making a choice, a rare choice, a choice that nobody seems to be making, to privilege abused women over powerful predators. Even as we swim in this sea of revealed abuse, consider the individual actors who, again and again, fail to make that choice. When you do, you don’t just see the results of their actions, you witness how they defend their inaction. It’s almost an art form now, and Alex Acosta is just the latest example of a man accused of wrongdoing who insists that everyone but himself is wrong. The Herald excoriated Acosta for failing to show “an ounce of sympathy for the vulnerable girls Epstein sexually exploited.” That’s perhaps because Acosta now lives in a world where all that matters is what the president thinks. This is where enablers of sexual predators end up when they enable new sexual predators.

If you can manage nothing else, pay attention only to this: Reports surfaced Wednesday via the Guardian that as labor secretary, Acosta proposed an 80 percent funding cut to a section of his own department known as the International Labor Affairs Bureau. That is the department that combats child sex trafficking. This administration is not just covering up for those who rape children and those who get away with raping children. They are making the rape of children invisible. They are ensuring that we can’t see it and we can’t investigate it, and before you know it, it will be as if it never even happened at all. And America’s child rape problem will have been “solved.”

Update, July 12, 2018: This piece has been updated to reflect Alex Acosta’s Friday resignation as secretary of labor.

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Trump Was In The Room When Illegal Payments Were Being Discussed

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

 Ohio on July 18, 2016.John Taggart / Bloomberg via Getty Images file Dec. 13, 2018 / 3:41 PM ESTBy Tom Winter

Donald Trump was the third person in the room in August 2015 when his lawyer Michael Cohen and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker discussed ways Pecker could help counter negative stories about Trump’s relationships with women, NBC News has confirmed.

As part of a nonprosecution agreement disclosed Wednesday by federal prosecutors, American Media Inc., the Enquirer’s parent company, admitted that “Pecker offered to help deal with negative stories about that presidential candidate’s relationships with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided.”

The “statement of admitted facts” says that AMI admitted making a $150,000 payment “in concert with the campaign,” and says that Pecker, Cohen and “at least one other member of the campaign” were in the meeting. According to a person familiar with the matter, the “other member” was Trump.

David Pecker attends an event in Paris in 2012.
David Pecker attends an event in Paris in 2012.Francois Durand / Getty Images

Trump was first identified as attending the meeting by The Wall Street Journal.

Daniel Goldman, an NBC News analyst and former assistant U.S. attorney said the agreement doesn’t detail what Trump said and did in the meeting. “But if Trump is now in the room, as early as August of 2015 and in combination with the recording where Trump clearly knows what Cohen is talking about with regarding to David Pecker, you now squarely place Trump in the middle of a conspiracy to commit campaign finance fraud.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which investigated Cohen’s hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, declined to comment.

Michael Cohen sentenced to 3 years in prison

DEC. 13, 201802:37

McDougal, a former Playboy Playmate, and her lawyers have said that the National Enquirer paid her $150,000 in August 2016 as part of a “catch-and-kill” strategy to keep the story from circulating publicly.

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When Cohen pleaded guilty to arranging the payments in August, he said he had done so “at the direction” of an unnamed candidate, and that a $150,000 payment prior to the 2016 election was “for the principal purpose of influencing” the election. The meeting between Cohen, Pecker and unnamed other parties to discuss suppressing stories was referenced in the criminal information document to which Cohen pleaded guilty. The document also refers to “at least one other member of the campaign” being present.

The statement of admitted facts says that AMI’s “principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election.” Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for the president, has said the payments were made to spare Trump’s family from embarrassment.

I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law. He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law. It is called “advice of counsel,” and a lawyer has great liability if a mistake is made. That is why they get paid. Despite that many campaign finance lawyers have strongly……

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On Wednesday, Judge William Pauley sentenced Cohen to a total of 36 months behind bars, and three years of post-release supervision, for tax evasion, violating campaign finance law and other charges. The judge ordered him to pay almost $1.4 million in restitution and forfeit $500,000, while fining him $50,000 for lying to Congress. Cohen must turn himself in to start serving his sentence by March 6.

At his sentencing, Cohen said that “time and time again, I felt it was my duty to cover up [Trump’s] dirty deeds.”

President Trump tweeted after the sentencing that he “never directed Michael Cohen to break the law.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Tom Winter

Tom Winter is a producer and reporter for the NBC News Investigative Unit based in New York, covering crime, courts, terrorism, and financial fraud on the East Coast.

Imelda Marcos convicted of graft, sentenced to prison

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

 

Imelda Marcos convicted of graft, sentenced to prison

Marcos, 89, was sentenced for funneling $200 million to Swiss foundations.
Image: Imelda Marcos convicted of seven counts of graft

Former First Lady Imelda Marcos visits the gravesite of her late husband former strongman Ferdinand Marcos at the Heroes Cemetery on Nov. 1, 2018.Francis R. Malasig / EPA

By Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines — A Philippine court found former first lady Imelda Marcos guilty of graft and ordered her arrest Friday in a rare conviction among many corruption cases that she plans to appeal to avoid jail and losing her seat in Congress.

The special anti-graft Sandiganbayan court sentenced Marcos, 89, to serve 6 to 11 years in prison for each of the seven counts of violating an anti-corruption law when she illegally funneled about $200 million to Swiss foundations in the 1970s as Metropolitan Manila governor.

Neither Marcos nor anyone representing her attended Friday’s court hearing.

Marcos said in a statement that the decision was being studied by one of her lawyers who notified the Marcos family that he intends to appeal the decision. Anti-Marcos activists and human rights victims welcomed the conviction as long overdue.

The court disqualified Marcos from holding public office, but she can remain a member of the powerful House of Representatives while appealing the decision. Her congressional term will end next year but she has registered to run to replace her daughter as governor of northern Ilocos Norte province.

“I was jumping up and down in joy in disbelief,” said former Commission on Human Rights chairwoman Loretta Ann Rosales, who was among many activists locked up after Imelda’s husband, former President Ferdinand Marcos, declared martial law in the Philippines in 1972.

Rosales said the decision was a huge setback to efforts by the Marcos family to revise history by denying many of the atrocities under the dictatorship, and urged Filipinos to fight all threats against democracy and civil liberties.

Former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., who was also jailed during the Marcos dictatorship, said it was up to voters in next year’s May 13 local elections, where Marcos is a candidate, if they want “somebody who has a bad name representing them, that’s your call.”

Imelda Marcos’ husband was ousted by an army-backed “people power” revolt in 1986. He died in self-exile in Hawaii in 1989 but his widow and children returned to the Philippines. Most have been elected to public offices in an impressive political comeback.

Government prosecutor Ryan Quilala told reporters that Marcos and her husband opened and managed Swiss foundations in violation of the Philippine Constitution, using aliases in a bid to hide stolen funds. The Marcoses have been accused of plundering the government’s coffers amid crushing poverty. They have denied any wrongdoing and have successfully fought many other corruption cases.

Imelda Marcos was acquitted Friday in three other cases, which were filed in 1991 and took nearly three decades of trial by several judges and prosecutors. She was once convicted of a graft case in 1993, but the Supreme Court later cleared her of any wrongdoing.

President Rodrigo Duterte, an ally of the Marcoses, said last year the Marcos family had indicated a willingness to return a still-unspecified amount of money and “a few gold bars” to help ease budget deficits. He indicated the family still denied that the assets had been stolen as alleged by political opponents.

Ferdinand Marcos had placed the Philippines under martial rule a year before his term was to expire. He padlocked Congress, ordered the arrest of political rivals and left-wing activists and ruled by decree. His family is said to have amassed an estimated $5 billion to $10 billion while he was in power.

A Hawaii court found Marcos liable for human rights violations and awarded $2 billion from his estate to compensate more than 9,000 Filipinos who filed a lawsuit against him for torture, incarceration, extrajudicial killings and disappearances.

Duterte has acknowledged that Imee Marcos, the couple’s daughter and a provincial governor, backed his presidential candidacy.

Volcano erupts on Indonesia’s quake and tsunami-hit Sulawesi

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

 

Volcano erupts on Indonesia’s quake and tsunami-hit Sulawesi

Volcanic activity had been increasing at Mount Soputan since August and began surging Monday, three days after the twin disasters.
by Associated Press /  / Updated 

JAKARTA, Indonesia — An Indonesian island devastated by a powerful earthquake and tsunami that has killed at least 1,400 people was was hit with another natural disaster early Wednesday: A volcanic eruption.

A government volcanologist said it’s possible the eruption of Mount Soputan, on the island of Sulawesi, was accelerated by Friday’s 7.5 magnitude temblor.

“It could be that this earthquake triggered the eruption, but the direct correlation has yet to be seen,” Kasbani, the head of Indonesia’s Vulcanology and Geology Disaster Mitigation agency, told online news portal Tempo.

Kasbani, who uses one name, said volcanic activity had been increasing at Soputan since August and began surging Monday. No evacuations were immediately ordered after Wednesday’s eruption, which sent ash 19,700 feet — more 3.7 miles — into the sky.

Nazli Ismail, a geophysicist at University of Syiah Kuala, Banda Aceh on Sumatra island, urged caution and stressed there was no concrete evidence to show they are linked.

“People talk about the butterfly effect. The concept is that when a butterfly flaps its wings, it can cause a catastrophe,” he said. “So it is possible for the earthquake to trigger the volcano eruption, but it’s not conclusive.”

Nazri said the Soputan volcano eruption isn’t surprising as Indonesia sits on the seismically active Pacific “Ring of Fire,” and Soputan is one of the most active volcanoes on the island.

Planes were warned of the ash clouds because volcanic ash is hazardous for their engines.

The earthquake in Central Sulawesi set off a tsunami and has devastated several communities.

Indonesia is an archipelago of more than 250 million people and government seismologists monitor more than 120 active volcanoes.

American-Israeli man stabbed to death in West Bank

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

 

American-Israeli man stabbed to death in West Bank

The victim was identified as Ari Fuld, a U.S.-born activist who was popular in the local community and an outspoken Israel advocate on social media.
by Associated Press /  / Updated 
Image: West Bank stabbing

Israeli forensic policemen inspect the place where an Israeli man was stabbed by a Palestinian at a settlement bloc next to the Palestinian town of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank on Sunday.Ahmad Gharabli / AFP – Getty Images

JERUSALEM (AP) — A Palestinian assailant on Sunday fatally stabbed a well-known Israeli settler to death at a busy mall in the West Bank.

The victim was identified as Ari Fuld, a U.S.-born activist who was popular in the local community and an outspoken Israel advocate on social media platforms.

The military said the attacker arrived at the mall near a major junction in the southern West Bank, close to the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, and stabbed Fuld before fleeing. Video footage showed Fuld giving chase and firing at his assailant before collapsing. Other civilians shot the attacker, whom Israeli media identified as a 17-year-old from a nearby Palestinian village. His condition was unclear.

David M. Friedman

@USAmbIsrael

America grieves as one of its citizens was brutally murdered by a Palestinian terrorist. Ari Fuld was a passionate defender of Israel & an American patriot. He represented the best of both countries & will be deeply missed. May his family be comforted & his memory be blessed.

Fuld, a 40-year-old father of four who lived in the nearby settlement of Efrat, was evacuated to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Fuld was a well-known English-language internet commenter on current affairs and the weekly Torah study. He was known for his nationalist ideology and strong support for the Israeli military.

Lior Shourka, a friend of Fuld’s, called him a “true Israeli patriot.”

Since 2015, Palestinians have killed over 50 Israelis, two visiting Americans and a British tourist in stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks. Israeli forces killed over 260 Palestinians in that period, of which Israel says most were attackers.

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Husband dies after wife puts eye drops in water

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

 

Husband dies after wife puts eye drops in water, police say

An autopsy uncovered a high amount of tetrahydrozoline in 64-year-old Stephen Clayton’s body. It is found in over-the-counter eye drops such as Visine.
by Associated Press /  / Updated 

CLOVER, S.C. — A South Carolina woman has been charged with murder after killing her husband by putting eye drops into his water for several days, according to authorities.

Image: Lana Clayton, 52, of Clover, South Carolina, is charged with murder and malicious tampering with a drug product or food.
Lana Clayton York County Sheriff Office

York County deputies said 52-year-old Lana Clayton confessed to investigators after an autopsy uncovered a high amount of tetrahydrozoline in her husband’s body.

The chemical is found in over-the-counter eye drops such as Visine.

Authorities say 64-year-old Stephen Clayton was found dead July 21 in the couple’s home in Clover.

Arrest warrants and the statement from deputies didn’t give a motive for the alleged poisoning.

Lana Clayton also is charged with malicious tampering with a drug product or food.

Jail records did not indicate if she had a lawyer.

Why Cohen could get worse for Trump: Prosecutors say they’ve got receipts

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

 

Why Cohen could get worse for Trump: Prosecutors say they’ve got receipts

First Read is your briefing from “Meet the Press” and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann / 

WASHINGTON — When it comes to Michael Cohen’s claim that he was directed by an unnamed candidate in 2016 — Donald Trump — to make payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal to influence the 2016 election, there’s something important to remember.

Prosecutors say they have audio recordings, text messages and phone records about Cohen’s payments — and the intent behind them.

As NBC’s Tom Winter has highlighted, here are the prosecutors from Tuesday:

The proof on these [campaign-finance] counts at trial would establish that these payments were made in order to ensure that each recipient of the payments did not publicize their stories of alleged affairs with the candidate. This evidence would include:

Records obtained from an April 9, 2018 series of search warrants on Mr. Cohen’s premises, including hard copy documents, seized electronic devices, and audio records made by Mr. Cohen.

We would also offer text messages, messages sent over encrypted applications, phone records, and emails.

So, lordy, there are tapes. And emails. And phone records. Of course, we already know of one tape — of Cohen apparently talking about one of the payments to Trump — which CNN reported on last month.

In his interview with Fox News, Trump was asked about Cohen’s payments to Daniels and McDougal.

FOX NEWS: Did you direct him to make these payments?

TRUMP: He made the deal. He made the deals. By the way, he pled to two counts which aren’t a crime which nobody understands. I watched a number of shows, sometimes you get some pretty good information by watching shows, those two counts aren’t even a crime. They weren’t campaign finance.

FOX NEWS: Did you know about the payments?

TRUMP: Later on I knew. Later on. But you have to understand, Ainsley, what he did – and they weren’t taken out of campaign finance. That’s a big thing. That’s a much bigger thing. Did they come out of the campaign. They didn’t come out of the campaign. They came from me.

Let’s repeat those last two sentences: “They didn’t come out of the campaign. They came from me.” That is PRECISELY the allegation of illegal activity here — funds intended for a campaign are SUPPOSED to come from the campaign, not from another source.

THE OTHER IMPORTANT ANGLE IN THE TRUMP-COHEN STORY: THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER

Meanwhile, the Washington Post writes about the other angle here. “According to the documents, [David] Pecker assured Cohen that he would help deal with rumors related to Trump’s relationships with women by essentially turning his tabloid operation into a research arm of the Trump campaign, identifying potentially damaging stories and, when necessary, buying the silence of the women who wanted to tell them.”

“The charging documents allege that Pecker and his company, American Media Inc., owner of the National Enquirer, were more deeply and deliberately involved in the effort to help the Trump campaign than was previously known. AMI also played a key role in the effort to silence adult-film star Stormy Daniels, prosecutors allege. Pecker and AMI did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. Nor did Cohen or his attorney.”

TRUMP’S STRANGE SOUTH AFRICA TWEET

Late last night, President Trump fired off this tweet: “I have asked Secretary of State @SecPompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers. ‘South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers.’ @TuckerCarlson @FoxNews.”

The government of South Africa responded, “South Africa totally rejects this narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past. #landexpropriation @realDonaldTrump @PresidencyZA.”

“Land reform is a highly divisive issue in South Africa, where white residents, who make up 8 percent of the population, own 72 percent of land, according to official figures,” the New York Times writes. “While there have been some land grabs by private groups — not sanctioned by the government — some right-wing groups have been pushing the false narrative that there have been numerous seizures of white-owned farms and killings of white farmers. In fact, research by one farmers’ organization, published in July, found that the number of killings of farmers was at a 20-year low.”

JUROR WHO SUPPORTS TRUMP TELLS FOX NEWS THAT MANAFORT WAS GUILTY

“Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team was one holdout juror away from winning a conviction against Paul Manafort on all 18 counts of bank and tax fraud, juror Paula Duncan told Fox News in an exclusive interview Wednesday,” Fox reports. “‘It was one person who kept the verdict from being guilty on all 18 counts,’ Duncan, 52, said.”

“‘Finding Mr. Manafort guilty was hard for me. I wanted him to be innocent, I really wanted him to be innocent, but he wasn’t,’ Duncan said. ‘That’s the part of a juror, you have to have due diligence and deliberate and look at the evidence and come up with an informed and intelligent decision, which I did.’”

And: “‘Every day when I drove, I had my Make America Great Again hat in the backseat,’ said Duncan, who said she plans to vote for Trump again in 2020. ‘Just as a reminder.’”

NBC/MARIST POLL: O’ROURKE TRAILS CRUZ IN TEXAS BY JUST 4 POINTS

“As Texas Democrats attempt to win a major statewide contest for the first time in almost three decades, a new NBC News/Marist poll finds Democrat Beto O’Rourke trailing Republican Sen. Ted Cruz by just 4 percentage points,” one of us writes. “O’Rourke, a congressman from El Paso who has ignited Democratic hopes with his impressive fundraising, has 45 percent support among registered voters compared with Cruz’s 49 percent. Six percent of voters remain undecided.”

And this is key when looking at the competitive congressional races in TX-7 (Houston area), TX-23 (Austin-San Antonio area) and TX-32 (Dallas area): “Cruz has majority support by about a 2-1 margin in both the more rural eastern and western parts of the state. But O’Rourke is holding steady with Cruz in Dallas/Fort Worth (both at 48 percent) and besting him in Houston (51 percent to 42 percent).”

Also, “O’Rourke’s relative strength against Cruz … is in contrast to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s whopping 19 point lead over Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez.”

By the way, there’s one more state poll we’ll be releasing later today…

Did cruise ship guards have to kill polar bear?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS AND FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

 

Did cruise ship guards have to kill polar bear? Experts say maybe — but blame climate change

by Kalhan Rosenblatt / 
Image: TOPSHOT-NORWAY-ARCTIC-ANIMALS-POLAR-BEAR

A dead polar bear lies on the beach in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago on July 28, 2018. Norwegian authorities said the polar bear was shot after it attacked and injured a polar guard who was protecting a group of tourists from a cruise ship.Gustav Busch Arntsen / Scanpix via AFP – Getty Images

A German cruise line has received a wave of backlash after its crew members shot and killed a polar bear that had attacked a guard whose job it was to spot and prevent interactions with the animal.

The cruise, a Hapag-Lloyd ship called the MS Bremen, was traveling near the northernmost island of the Svalbard archipelago, between mainland Norway and the North Pole, had intended to show the bears off to a group of tourists — and it appears guards on the vessel attempted to scare the bear off before resorting to lethal force, officials said.

Police spokesman Ole Jakob Malmo told the Associated Press that two members of the Bremen’s 12-man crew that set out ahead of tourists on Saturday first tried to ward off the bear “by shouting and making loud noises as well as firing a signal pistol, but to no effect.”

In a statement, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises had said the attack happened when a four-person bear guard team, went on land ahead of the tour.

“One of the guards was unexpectedly attacked by a polar bear that had not been spotted and he was unable to react himself. As the attempts of the other guards to evict the animal, unfortunately, were not successful, there had to be intervention for reasons of self-defense and to protect the life of the attacked person,” the statement said. The guard who was injured is in stable condition, according to Hapag-Lloyd Cruises spokesman Moritz Krause.

Experts warn that, as climate change continues to shrink the polar bear’s habitat, the animals are finding themselves face-to-face with humans more often.

“With climate change there’s a lot less sea ice and bears have to spend a lot more time on land. There is definitely more chance of interaction between people and bears,” said Sybille Klenzendorf, senior biologist and senior species expert for the World Wildlife Fund.

“And this is not just for tourism. This is for communities, this is for industry, anybody operating and living in the Arctic has this chance of higher encounters so we have to be prepared in a preventive and proactive manner to prevent conflict with polar bears,” she noted.

Experts told NBC News that in most cases guards have and are able to use a host of methods to deescalate bear encounters before resorting to killing the animal.

“Deterrent methods are extremely successful,” said Brian Horner, the founder and director of LTR Training Solutions in Anchorage, Alaska, which includes bear-guard instruction.

Horner said there are several steps guards can take before killing the animal. A guard who sees a bear can first try to shoot a projectile firework that will cause a bang and scare the animal off, although this requires a precise shot in order to scare the bear backwards rather than forward. Guards also must take care not to start a fire with the flare, Horner said.

Guards can also use a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with blank rounds.

“All it does is make the shotgun make a really big bang. We like those, but our clients don’t like them because it’s 161 decibels, and if you’re not ready, you’re going to have an ear ache,” Horner said.

The next line of defense is rubber bullets before a final non-lethal option: bean bag projectiles. But they can be risky.

“When you’re using bean bags, you’re so close that if it decides it doesn’t like the bean bag, it’s going to run toward you,” Horner said of polar bears.

Klenzendorf said that there are specific rules of engagement that cruise lines are supposed to follow in the region where the killing happened over the weekend, and that polar bear guards are required to limit the chance of interaction between humans and bears. But even to the trained eye, in the Arctic, it’s not an easy task.

“It’s very hard sometimes in the arctic environment to actually see them,” Klenzendorf said of polar bears.

Horner agreed that it can be a challenge for bear guards to spot the animals.

“Polar bears are smart. They’re really smart … and they have to hunt a lot. Polar bears go from curious to interested quickly,” Horner said, adding that “polar bears are sneaky” and likely crept up on the guards.

Fortunately, Klenzendorf said, polar bear guards don’t often end up having fatal interactions with the animals.

“Given that it’s only been the second bear in 20 years of the cruising industry in Svalbard that has been killed, it shows there must be high standards that are being followed for interactions,” she said.

Archaeologists discover burial ground for Egyptian high priests

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

 

Archaeologists discover burial ground for Egyptian high priests

Egyptian archaeologists have discovered mummified remains and thousands of well-preserved artifacts at a burial site of more than a dozen Egyptian priests.

Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities announced Saturday the discovery of a necropolis near the city of Minya, south of Cairo in an area known to house ancient catacombs. The burial grounds date back to the late pharaonic period, which spans from 664 to 332 B.C.

“We will need at least five years to work on the necropolis,” Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani said, “This is only the beginning of a new discovery.”

Image: Four canopic jars, made of alabaster with lids bearing the faces of the four sons of god Horus, that were unearthed are displayed at the site of an ancient Egyptian cemetery, in Minya province, 245 km south of Cairo, Egypt, on Feb. 24, 2018.

Four canopic jars, made of alabaster with lids bearing the faces of the four sons of god Horus, that were unearthed are displayed at the site of an ancient Egyptian cemetery, in Minya province, 245 km south of Cairo, Egypt, on Feb. 24, 2018. Ibrahim Youssef / EPA

The tombs discovered “belong to priests of the ancient Egyptian god Toth,” according to a press statement from the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry. Toth, according to Egyptian historians, was revered as the god of knowledge and wisdom.

Related: Archaeologists uncover 4,000-year-old tomb in Egypt

Archaeologists discovered the mummified remains of a high priest, which was covered in beads of ivory and crystal and decorated with a bronze collar as well as amulets of semi-precious stones.

They also found 13 other burial tombs, 40 limestone sarcophagi, a collection of more than 1,000 well-preserved figurines, and four canopic jars made of alabaster and inscribed with hieroglyphs.

Image: Skulls sit at a recently found ancient Egyptian cemetery, in Minya province, 245 km south of Cairo, Egypt, on Feb. 24, 2018.

Skulls sit at a recently found ancient Egyptian cemetery, in Minya province, 245 km south of Cairo, Egypt, on Feb. 24, 2018. Ibrahim Youssef / EPA

Mostafa Waziri, head of the archaeological mission, says eight tombs have been uncovered so far and he expects more will be discovered soon.

Earlier in February, archaeologists discovered a tomb of an ancient royal official buried more than 4,000 years ago during the period known as the “Age of the Pyramids.”

In 2017, the ministry found a necropolis holding at least 17 mummies in the area of Tuna al-Gabal, which is also known as the site of tombs, a funerary building and a large necropolis for thousands of mummified ibis and baboon birds, as well as other animals.

Egypt hopes that recent discoveries across the country will help spur the vital tourism sector, partially driven by antiquities sightseeing, which was hit hard by political turmoil following the 2011 uprising.

African nations slam Trump’s vulgar remarks

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

 

African nations slam Trump’s vulgar remarks as ‘reprehensible and racist’

The wave of international outrage grew Saturday against the vulgar language President Donald Trump used when referring to immigration from African nations, with Ghana’s president saying he would “not accept such insults, even from a leader of a friendly country, no matter how powerful.”

President Nana Akufo-Addo tweeted an unflinching defense of the African continent — and of Haiti and El Salvador, countries also mentioned during a meeting Thursday between Trump and a bipartisan group of senators at the White House.

Trump repeatedly referred to African nations in general as “shithole countries,”according to Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and also reportedly asked why the United States needs more Haitian immigrants instead of people from countries such as Norway.

In response, Akufo-Addo tweeted: “We are certainly not a ‘shithole country.'”

The language of @realDonaldTrump that the African continent, Haiti and El Salvador are “shithole countries” is extremely unfortunate. We are certainly not a “shithole country”. We will not accept such insults, even from a leader of a friendly country, no matter how powerful.

The White House did not initially deny Trump made those remarks. But as the controversy grew — with some members of Congress slamming the remarks as racist — the president on Friday responded in a tweet that the “language used by me at the … meeting was tough, but this was not the language used.”

Trump has not further clarified the statements attributed to him, and on Friday ignored questions reporters asked about it after he signed a proclamation honoring Martin Luther King Jr.

Related: In Norway, Trump’s comments on immigration rejected as backhanded praise

Meanwhile, the condemnation has been swift. In addition to Ghana, the government of Botswana said Trump’s language is “reprehensible and racist,” and said it has summoned the U.S. ambassador to clarify what he meant.

Senegal’s president, Macky Sall, said in a statement that it was “shocked” and that “Africa and the black race merit the respect and consideration of all.” His West African nation has long been lauded by the U.S. as an example of a stable democracy on the continent.

Play

 Is Donald Trump a racist? President faces backlash over vulgar comments 2:45

The African Union, which is made up of 55 member states, also took issue with Trump’s remarks.

“Given the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the United States as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behavior and practice,” said spokeswoman Ebba Kalondo.

Paul Altidor, Haiti’s ambassador to the U.S., called Trump’s comments “regrettable” and based on “clichés and stereotypes rather than actual fact.” He also noted the insensitivity of its timing, coming the same week as the eighth anniversary of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, which killed more than 200,000 people.

El Salvador’s government on Friday sent a formal letter of protest to the United States over the “harsh terms detrimental to the dignity of El Salvador and other countries.”

Trump has previously felt backlash over disparaging remarks about immigrants, most notably on the campaign trail when he characterized Mexicans as “rapists” and “criminals.”

The New York Times first reported in December that Trump said Haitian immigrants “all have AIDS” during a summer 2017 meeting about immigration. At that same meeting, he also complained that Nigerian immigrants who come to the United States would never want to “go back to their huts.”

The White House denied Trump ever used the words “AIDS” or “huts.”

Play

 ‘They’re rapists…all have AIDS’: Some of Trump’s comments on immigrants, minorities 3:50

Trump’s apparent struggle with racial insensitivity also surfaced last fall. At the time, he asked a career intelligence analyst where she was from, and after learning she was of Korean heritage, asked why the “pretty Korean lady” isn’t negotiating with North Korea on his administration’s behalf, two officials with direct knowledge of the exchange told NBC News on Friday.

Trump’s remarks have prompted two top House Democrats to announce the introduction next week of a censure resolution of Trump.

Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said in a joint statement Friday that they were “deeply disturbed and offended” by the language.

Organizing a formal reprimand of Trump would be difficult since it will require getting bipartisan support in a GOP-controlled House. The censuring of a president is also rare, and was only done once by the Senate against Andrew Jackson in 1834 for his failure to turn over certain documents.

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