On the docket for Monday’s episode of the CAFE Insider podcast: Preet Bharara and Anne Milgram preview Robert Mueller’s congressional testimony, break down the newly unsealed documents in the Michael Cohen campaign finance investigation, address the no bail ruling for Epstein, and more! To listen, join the CAFE Insider community. Thank you to all for supporting our work!
No sign of the news cycle slowing down, and we’re on top of it. Jeffrey Epstein is denied bail; documents are unsealed in the Michael Cohen campaign finance investigation, and the Justice Department decides not to charge police officers in connection with Eric Garner’s death. Let’s dive in!
Unsealed Michael Cohen Documents
District Judge William Pauley III unsealed on Thursday the unredacted versions of search warrant documents from the campaign finance investigation into hush money payments made by Trump’s then-attorney Michael Cohen to adult film actress Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels) and Playboy model Karen McDougal who alleged extra-marital affairs with Trump. Judge Pauley orderedthe government to make the documents public because “the Materials are a matter of national importance” and “it is time that every American has an opportunity to scrutinize the Materials.”
The documents reveal that Trump exchanged a series of phone calls with Cohen as Cohen negotiated purchasing Daniels’s silence with her lawyer, Keith Davidson. An FBI agent investigating the matter wrote that Cohen also exchanged “series of calls, text messages, and emails” with Hope Hicks, who was then press secretary for the Trump campaign, David Pecker, CEO of American Media which publishes the National Enquirer, and Dylan Howard, the company’s Chief Content Officer. “Based on the timing of these calls, and the content of the text messages and emails, I believe that at least some of these communications concerned the need to prevent Clifford from going public,” the agent concluded.
The release of the documents came a day after the government, in a July 15 letter, informed the court that it has concluded its investigations into who, other than Cohen (who is serving a three-year sentence), may be criminally liable and whether certain individuals committed perjury or otherwise obstructed justice, a previously unknown aspect of their investigation.
Epstein denied bail
Jeffrey Epstein, the wealthy financier charged with sex trafficking of minors as young as 14, was denied bail on Thursday. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Berman rejected his proposed bail package as “irretrievably inadequate.” In his decision and order remanding Epstein back to jail pending trial, Judge Berman wrote “the Government has shown by clear and convincing evidence that Mr. Epstein threatens the safety of another person and of the community.”
At a bail hearing on Monday, prosecutors had revealed that law enforcement agents seized, from a safe at Epstein’s Manhattan residence, what purports to be an Austrian passport listing a Saudi residence and bearing his photo but a different name, and offered this discovery in support of “the inference the defendant knows how to obtain false travel documents and/or assume other, foreign identities.”
In response, the defense noted that the passport “expired 32 years ago,” that there was no evidence Epstein ever used it, and explained: “Epstein — an affluent member of the Jewish faith — acquired the passport in the 1980s, when hijackings were prevalent, in connection to Middle East travel. The passport was for personal protection in the event of travel to dangerous areas, only to be presented to potential kidnappers, hijackers or terrorists should violent episodes occur.”
In a follow up letter countering Epstein’s claim that he never used the passport, the government wrote: “the passport contains numerous ingress and egress stamps, including stamps that reflect use of the passport to enter France, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia in the 1980s.”
Eric Garner’s death
The Justice Department decided on Tuesday not to file civil rights charges in connection with the 2014 death of Eric Garner, who was placed in what appeared to be a prohibited chokehold by New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo. The New York Times reports that Attorney General Barr intervened to settle a long-running “disagreement between prosecutors in the civil rights division, which has pushed for an indictment, and Brooklyn prosecutors, who never believed the department could win such a case.”
In a statement, Richard Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York which encompasses Brooklyn, gave reasons for the Office’s conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Pantaleo “willfully used more force than he reasonably could have believed was necessary under the circumstances.”
NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill will decide whether to fire Officer Pantaleo, who is currently on desk duty, once the police administrative judge renders a verdict in a disciplinary trial that concluded on June 6.
In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Alvin Bragg, who served as a special prosecutor in New York tasked with handling police killings of unarmed civilians, argues that the Garner decision “highlights the urgent need to reform thefederal criminal law governing excessive force,” particularly, “the requirement of proof that officers have acted ‘willfully’ when they use excessive force.”
- Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called for the FBI and Federal Trade Commission to investigate FaceApp, a popular smartphone app that creates an “aged” version of users’ faces, amid concerns that the Russian-made app could be sharing data with the Russian government. The Democratic National Committee also alertedpresidential campaigns of the risk, warning them not to use the app.
- The Trump administration announced it is effectively ending asylum protections for most Central American migrants by requiring all asylum-seekers to request protection in the first country they enter, typically Mexico. On Tuesday, the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Center for Constitutional Rights challenged the asylum rule in a federal lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
- U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson barred Trump associate Roger Stone from using social media in any capacity after ruling that several of his Instagram posts violated a court order not to comment on the case. “It seems he’s determined to make himself the subject of the story,” Jackson said, adding that the situation has “more to do with middle school than a court of law.”
- New information about former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn was revealed during the trial of his ex-business partner Bijan Rafiekian, who is accused of illegally lobbying for Turkey while working with Flynn. Prosecutors presented evidence on Wednesday that Flynn himself actively attempted to influence Trump’s 2016 campaign at Turkey’s request, including trying to persuade the soon-to-be-president to extradite U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen.
- Judges on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia appeared skeptical at oral arguments last week that pertained to a lawsuit filed by Trump to block his accounting firm, Mazars LLP, from complying with a House Oversight Committee subpoena for his financial records.
“House panel probes education secretary DeVos’ personal email use,” Reuters, 7/15/2019
“Kellyanne Conway defies subpoena, skips Oversight hearing,” Politico, 7/15/2019
“House votes to hold Barr, Ross in criminal contempt over census dispute,” CNN, 7/17/2019
“Justice Dept. Watchdog Is Preparing to Deliver Verdict on the Russia Investigation,” The New York Times, 7/9/2019
“DC attorney general subpoenas NRA financial records in nonprofit investigation,” The Hill, 7/12/2019
“Trump tells confidants he’s eager to remove Dan Coats,” Axios, 7/12/2019
“Security reports reveal how Assange turned an embassy into a command post for election meddling,” CNN, 7/15/2019
Adrienne Cobb & the CAFE team
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