On Monday’s episode of CAFE Insider, Preet Bharara and Anne Milgram will break down the week’s politically charged legal matters, including the latest on Jeffrey Epstein’s death. 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. Let’s dive in!
The mystery surrounding disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein’s death continues to deepen. New York City’s chief medical examiner said that Epstein’s autopsy revealed “multiple breaks in his neck bones,” including a broken hyoid bone, which can occur in suicide by hanging, but is more commonly associated with death by strangulation. The medical examiner stated that “no single factor in an autopsy can alone provide a conclusive answer about what happened,” and that the cause of Epstein’s death has yet to be determined.
The Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) guards tasked with checking in on Epstein in the Special Housing Unit every 30 minutes—pursuant to the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) protocols—reportedly fell asleep for about three hours and falsified records to cover up their error, the New York Times reported. The two employees have been placed on administrative leave and could potentially face criminal charges. The Justice Department has also temporarily reassigned the MCC warden pending the outcome of the FBI and Inspector General investigations.
The guards assigned to monitor Epstein were working overtime due to a staff shortage at MCC. Union officials representing federal prison workers reported that only one of the two staffers normally worked as a correctional officer, whereas the other was temporarily assigned to that post, although the employee’s usual job has not been disclosed. Such temporary reassignments are an increasingly prevalent practice according to a 2018 New York Times investigation that revealed that hiring freezes and budget cuts have led prisons to compel teachers, nurses, secretaries and other support staff to serve as substitute guards.
On Monday, as FBI agents raided Epstein’s private Caribbean island, Attorney General Bill Barr warned in a speech that any co-conspirators should not rest easy, adding that “the victims deserve justice and they will get it.” Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Hugh Hurwitz, Acting Director of the Bureau of Prisons, decrying “deficiencies in inmate protocol” and requesting information about the incident, BOP’s suicide prevention policies and their implementation in Epstein’s case.
- Philadelphia police shooting. Six Philadelphia police officers were wounded on Wednesday during an eight-hour standoff with a shooter inside a Nicetown-Tioga neighborhood house. Officers were originally trying to serve a narcotics warrant at the residence when Maurice Hill, a 36-year-old man with a history of gun convictions, opened fire. The following day, U.S. Attorney William McSwain blamed District Attorney Larry Krasner’s progressive criminal justice efforts for putting a target on the backs of police officers: “There is a new culture of disrespect for law enforcement in this City that is promoted and championed by District Attorney Larry Krasner – and I am fed up with it.”
- Endangering species. The Interior Department announced major changes to how the Endangered Species Act is applied, making it easier to remove a species from the endangered list and significantly weakening existing protections. Conservation groups criticized the move as a gift to the mining and oil industries, pointing out that the new rules, which are expected to take effect next month, will prevent long-term species protection and allow more human activity in areas where protected species live.
- Restricting legal immigration. Thirteen states are challenging the Trump administration’s new immigration policy, the so-called “public charge rule,” that would deny visas to poor immigrants who would qualify for public benefits like food stamps, Section 8 housing vouchers, or Medicaid. The lawsuit describes the new rule, which is set to take effect on October 15, as a “radical overhaul of federal immigration law transforming a system that promotes economic mobility among immigrants into one that advantages immigrants with wealth.”
- ICE raids. Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents detained nearly 700 immigrant workers in seven raids of food processing plants across Mississippi. Despite public backlash, President Trump has reportedly told ICE officials to conduct more raids this year. On August 9, three Democratic congressmen sent a letter to the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security requesting documents and a briefing to investigate the recent raids.
- Social media censorship. CNN obtained a leaked draft of an executive order that would give the Federal Communications Commission far-reaching powers to pick and choose which kind of internet material is and is not acceptable. This unprecedented government push will allow federal agencies to start policing social media moderation by “clarifying” when companies can invoke an important legal shield, currently provided by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The law gives websites broad legal immunity for content posted by third-party users while also giving them legal cover to make good-faith efforts at moderating their platforms for hateful, abusive or illegal content.
- Discrimination in hiring. The Labor Department formally proposed a new rule that seeks to expand the “religious exemption” businesses with federal contracts can raise to bypass anti-discrimination laws. Critics areraising concerns that the rule would allow companies not to hire LGBTQ individuals and minorities. Meanwhile, the Justice Department is urgingthe Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to reverse its position and argue before the U.S. Supreme Court that businesses can discriminate against transgender employees without violating the law because they allege that it is not a “sex” bias.
- An Emoluments warning. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, directed his aides to warn foreign governments that spending money at Trump-owned properties “facilitates the President’s apparent violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause.” According to the memo, staffers will now ask foreign officials to “cease and desist payments to the Trump Organization unless and until Congress approves the emolument, as provided in the Constitution.”
“House panel subpoenas Lewandowksi and former White House official as impeachment push ramps up,” CNN, 8/15/2019
“Judge rejects House Dem request to link McGahn, Mueller grand jury lawsuits,” Politico, 8/14/2019
“How a McConnell-backed effort to lift Russian sanctions boosted a Kentucky project,” The Washington Post, 8/14/2019
“’No Blame?’ ABC News finds 36 cases invoking ‘Trump’ in connection with violence, threats, alleged assaults,” ABC News, 8/14/2019
“House panel expected to return early from recess to vote on gun bills despite Democratic disagreement on details,” The Washington Post, 8/13/2019
“States Sue Trump Administration Over Rollback of Obama-Era Climate Rule,”The New York Times, 8/13/2019
“Harry Reid: The Filibuster Is Suffocating the Will of the American People,” The New York Times, 8/12/2019
“House Intelligence Committee Revs Up Probe Into Saudi Influence Efforts Targeting Trump,” Mother Jones, 8/9/2019
“FBI releases records of Justice Dept. official Bruce Ohr interviews about Russia probe,” The Washington Post, 8/9/2019
“We worked to defeat the Islamic State. White nationalist terrorism is an equal threat,” The Washington Post, 8/6/2019
Adrienne Cobb & the CAFE team
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