On this week’s episode of the CAFE Insider podcast, Preet Bharara and Anne Milgram broke down the sex trafficking case brought by SDNY prosecutors against disgraced billionaire Jeffrey Epstein and the 2020 Census debacle. Next Monday, they’ll preview Mueller’s upcoming congressional testimony, and make sense of the latest headlines. To listen, join the CAFE Insider community. Thank you to all for supporting our work!
July 12th, 2019
No sign of the news cycle slowing down, and we’re on top of it. Embattled billionaire Jeffrey Epstein is being detained in a Manhattan jail while he awaits his detention hearing next week after being charged with the sex trafficking of minors; Labor Secretary Alex Acosta defended his involvement in Epstein’s 2007 “sweetheart” deal; President Trump drops the citizenship question from the 2020 Census; and ICE raids are scheduled for this weekend. Let’s dive in!
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta answers a reporter during a press conference at the US Department of Labor on July 10, 2019 in Washington, D.C.
Epstein charged again
Jeffrey Epstein, a wealthy financier with connections to the rich and famous, was arrested on Saturday and charged by Southern District of New York federal prosecutors with the sex trafficking of minors. The indictment, unsealed Monday, alleges that from 2002 to 2005 Epstein “enticed and recruited” minor girls to visit his New York and Florida mansions “to engage in sex acts with him.” By paying victims to recruit additional minors to be abused, “Epstein created a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit.” A search of Epstein’s New York City mansion uncovered a “trove of lewd photographs of girls” in a locked safe.
Epstein has pled not guilty, and he is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan as he awaits his detention hearing on Monday, July 15, when a judge will consider his bail request. On Thursday, Epstein’s defense lawyers filed a recommended bail package arguing that Epstein is “entitled” to bail, and that he should be released into home detention in his Manhattan mansion on a “substantial personal recognizance bond,” which could be secured by a mortgage on his Upper East Side home, valued at $77 million, as well as his private jet as collateral. Prosecutors argued in a bail memorandum that Epstein poses an “extreme” flight risk given his tremendous wealth and resources.
Meanwhile, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, who was the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida at the time of Epstein’s alleged criminal conduct, is under fire for his role in negotiating a secret non-prosecution agreement in 2007 in which Epstein avoided federal charges by pleading guilty to two state charges of soliciting prostitution from minors. Because of this “sweetheart deal,” Epstein only faced 13 months of jail time with work-release privileges, and “any potential co-conspirators” were granted immunity.
Acosta defended his handling of the Epstein case in a press conference on Wednesday following calls for his resignation. He said that his office intervened in the case, which was originally brought by a state’s attorney in Palm Beach County, so that Epstein wouldn’t have “gotten away with just that state charge.” Acosta explained: “The Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office was ready to let Epstein walk free, no jail time, nothing. The prosecutors in my former office found this to be completely unacceptable and they became involved, our office became involved.” Though Acosta did not apologize to Epstein’s victims during the press conference, despite multiple prompts from reporters, he stated that “Epstein’s actions absolutely deserve a stiffer sentence.”
In a written statement, Barry Krischer, the Palm Beach County state attorney at the time in question, called Acosta’s portrayal of events “completely wrong”, adding that Acosta “should not be allowed to rewrite history.” Krischer further opined: “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.” The House Oversight Committee has requestedthat Acosta provide testimony about Epstein’s 2007 deal on July 23.
The 2020 Census
In a press conference on Thursday, Trump announced he is backing down from the effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, and would instead issue an executive order directing the Commerce Department to gather existing data on citizenship from administrative records held by agencies across the federal government.
The announcement comes two weeks after the Supreme Court’s decision that halted the government from adding the citizenship question to the 2020 Census based on what Chief Justice John Roberts called a “contrived” rationale offered by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross for its inclusion.
Trump’s decision is not a sweeping victory for opponents of the citizenship question, however, as the administration could use the information collected through the executive order to draw districts based on citizenship rather than total population during the next redistricting cycle in 2021, ultimately shifting power to areas with fewer immigrants and more Republicans, according to news analysis by Mother Jones.
It remains to be seen how Attorney General Bill Barr, who also spoke at the press conference, will proceed with the three separate ongoing census cases in Maryland, California and New York.
WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 11, 2019: U.S. President Donald Trump makes a statement on the 2020 Census with Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross (L) and Attorney General Bill Barr in the Rose Garden of the White House
The New York Times reports that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is planning to conduct immigration raids in at least 10 cities beginning this Sunday, targeting members of undocumented families who have been ordered deported. Trump had postponed the raids, originally planned for end of June, to allow time for congressional negotiations and “partly because of resistance among officials at his own immigration agency.”
House Democrats are reportedly negotiating with James Quarles and Aaron Zebley, former prosecutors on the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team, to provide closed-door testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on the same day as Mueller’s scheduled testimony on July 17. Quarles and Zebley have left government service, but the Justice Department still seeks to discourage their participation in the hearings, instructing them not to appear.
Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee voted to authorize a slew of subpoenas on Thursday, requesting information and testimony related to potential obstruction of Mueller’s Russia investigation, the administration’s zero-tolerance border policy, and any talk of pardons for Homeland Security officials involved in enforcing immigration orders. Jared Kushner, Jeff Sessions, John Kelly, Michael Flynn, Rod Rosenstein, and Corey Lewandowski are among the intended recipients of the subpoenas. Trump chafed at Democrats, tweeting, in part: “How many bites at the apple do they get before working on Border Loopholes and Asylum.”
Democrats announced they have issued 37 subpoenas for information about Trump’s businesses and finances after U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan of Washington, D.C. ruled that discovery can proceed in the congressional Democrats’ emoluments case against the President. Justice Department lawyers responded by asking the D.C. Court of Appeals to issue an emergency order halting the lawsuit, arguing that Sullivan erred in deciding that members of Congress had legal standing to sue the President.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit dismissed a second emoluments clause lawsuit against President Trump, holding that Maryland and D.C. “lack standing under Article III.” Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine said they would consider appealing the case to be heard by a full panel of the Fourth Circuit.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan upheld last year’s district court ruling that Trump cannot block his critics from following his Twitter account, holding that “[the] First Amendment does not permit a public official who utilizes a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from an otherwise-open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees.”
The House Ways and Means Committee is suing the Treasury Department, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the IRS, and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig for six years of Trump’s tax returns. In May, Mnuchin rejected the Committee’s subpoena, saying it lacked “legitimate legislative purpose.”