Making the click-through worthwhile: Seven-to-ten burning questions about the ever-worsening Jeffrey Epstein scandal, why Democrats have convinced themselves that they have yet another Great Southern Hope, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez emphasizes how heavy her committee workload is.
Burning Questions about the Jeffrey Epstein Scandal
Even by the standards of stomach-turning celebrity criminal scandals, the bits of information about multi-millionare Jeffrey Epstein and allegations of an underage sex-trafficking ring are utterly bizarre, pointing to something perhaps even bigger and worse going on. Just the reports out this morning prompt at least ten big questions.
One: How did Jeffrey Epstein make his fortune in the first place? One claim is a massive Ponzi scheme.
Two: Could Epstein really have been connected to some sort of intelligence service? In yesterday’s press conference, labor secretary Alex Acosta offered a weird, vague, contradictory, meandering answer when asked about this. If Epstein was working for some sort of spy agency, which one? What was the aim, to collect blackmail on prominent figures? Who was being blackmailed, and what did they do?
Three: Why did the office Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance try to keep Epstein from being registered as a top-level sex offender? “A seasoned sex-crimes prosecutor from Mr. Vance’s office argued forcefully in court that Mr. Epstein, who had been convicted in Florida of soliciting an underage prostitute, should not be registered as a top-level sex offender in New York.” The judge denied the request and declared, “I have to tell you, I’m a little overwhelmed because I have never seen a prosecutor’s office do anything like this.”
Four: After Epstein was labeled a “Level 3 sex offender” — meaning the worst — Epstein was required by law to check in with the NYPD every 90 days. He never checked in at all over an eight-year span. How did that not generate any consequences?
Five: How did his private island off Saint Thomas get the nickname “Pedophile Island” and how does a rumor like that not get law enforcement to start snooping around?
Six: Bill Clinton’s public statement about his interactions with Epstein was laughably inaccurate, contracted by contemporaneous media accounts, never mind FAA flight logs. You would think Clinton and those around him would have a well-worn playbook for denying sexual impropriety and criminal behavior by now.
Seven: Doesn’t this paragraph in deep in a recent article of Vanity Fair seem to bury the lede, as they say in journalism?
Pecker, he later told me, used to send him articles and issues before they were published so that he and Trump could read them. After the meeting Trump called in Sam Nunberg, then a Trump Organization employee, who saw Pecker leaving Trump’s office. “Michael was sitting in there when I came in, and the issue of the National Enquirer with the pictures of Prince Andrew was on his desk,” Nunberg recalled. “He said not to tell anyone, but that Pecker had just been there and had brought the issue with him. Trump said that Pecker had told him that the pictures of Clinton that Epstein had from his island were worse.” (Cohen, speaking by phone from the Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville, corroborated Nunberg’s version of the events, though he declined to add any additional information about the meeting.)
So the National Inquirer has pictures of Bill Clinton with Epstein and the women he was using?
If Trump knew about these photographs, why didn’t he at least leak or hype them during the 2016 campaign?
And if Clinton really did nothing inappropriate in all of his interactions with Epstein, why didn’t Hillary Clinton’s campaign make a stink about Trump’s past friendship with Epstein, during a campaign where Trump’s unsavory treatment of women was a big issue?
One aspect of Epstein that no longer has many questions: Is there anyone left who wants to argue that Alexandre Acosta handled the case the way he should have all those years ago?
Amy McGrath, the Latest Great Southern Democratic Hope
Last night, John McCormack asked if Kentucky Democratic Senate candidate Amy McGrath is the new Beto O’Rourke — a media-beloved and widely hyped Democrat who raises gobs of money running against a Republican senator that liberals absolutely detest, but who never had that much of a chance against an conservative incumbent in a red state.
At the very least, McGrath is the new Alison Lundergan Grimes — and just the latest in a long line of Great Southern Democratic Hopes. We go through a version of this somewhere in the South every cycle.
In 2013, Politico wrote of Grimes, “the fresh Democratic face could give the Senate minority leader the fight of his political life.” Mitch McConnell won reelection, 56 percent to 40 percent, in what was not the fight of his political life.
One of the really irritating facets of the media’s consistent infatuation with potential Great Southern Democratic Hopes is that the wish-casting hype makes it difficult to see whether a candidate really is any stronger on the stump or better-positioned than usual. Beto O’Rourke, for all of his flaws, was genuinely a better candidate than the average Texas Democrat in 2018. Of course, now that he’s in the Democratic presidential primary, he looks like a privileged, glib, underqualified, diner-counter-jumping goofball, but that’s what happens when the “Shazam!”-like powers of media hype recede. If you had the entire national media hanging around with you for a year and every week writing some new glowing profile calling you the inspiring voice of your generation, you might have delusions of grandeur, too.
The early evidence is that McGrath is not really that much better than the usual Democrat. The day she announced, she did an interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal and was asked about the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. McGrath answered, “There was nothing in his record that I think would disqualify him in any way.” Roughly one thermonuclear explosion of outrage from liberals later, McGrath tweeted, “upon further reflection and further understanding of his record, I would have voted no.”
Look, if you want to defuse the “She would oppose good judges” attack and try to win the general election as a Joe Manchin-style maverick, go ahead and do so. (That might be the only real shot of beating McConnell in a state when Trump is atop the ticket.) If you want to rake in the cash from angry progressive activists who believe that Kavanaugh is a demonic frat boy, go ahead and do that. But you can’t do both, and what really ought to terrify Democrats is that McGrath seems so unprepared for a routine question like that.
Keep in mind, knocking off Mitch McConnell in Kentucky is probably even tougher than knocking off Ted Cruz in Texas. Recall that Trump’s margin in Texas in was 9 points, but his margin in Kentucky was 30 points. And McConnell won comfortably in 2008 and 1996 — years when Democratic presidential candidates were winning nationally by big margins. (Everybody forgets that in 1996, Bill Clinton narrowly carried Kentucky in the presidential race.)
McConnell will have roughly a bazillion, kajillion dollars to spend. The moment there’s even a whiff of trouble, the National Republican Senate Committee will throw in any additional resources McConnell needs — television ads, staffers, volunteers. Almost every right-of-center 527 and PAC will be eager to help McConnell if he needs it, because everyone wants to stay on the right side of the Senate Majority Leader. Trump will probably visit Kentucky at least once in the fall of 2020 and it’s prime territory for one of his big, raucous rallies. Plus, McConnell has all six Infinity Stones — wait, I’m sorry, that last one is just a PhotoShop.
The irony is that Democrats have a shot of taking the Senate in 2020, and it involves flipping Senate races in states that are much friendlier than Kentucky. Democrats will need to reelect Doug Jones in Alabama, an admittedly challenging task if the GOP nominee isn’t Roy Moore. They need to beat the appointed senator Martha McSally in Arizona, which they did by a narrow margin in 2018. They need to beat two GOP freshman senators who won purple states in a good GOP year in Cory Gardner in Colorado and Thom Tillis in North Carolina. And they need to beat Susan Collins in Maine. That would give them 51 Senate seats, not even needing a Democratic vice-president to break ties.
AOC: ‘Sometimes I Wonder If They’re Trying to Keep Me Busy.’
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, speaking to WNYC, about not being selected for a special climate change committee:
Ultimately I’m fine with the decision especially given the committee assignments that I was ultimately given, which were very intense and very rigorous. I was assigned to two of some of the busiest committees and four subcommittees so my hands are full, and sometimes I wonder if they’re trying to keep me busy. (laughing)
If you listen to the audio, her tone is not really that she’s complaining, more emphasizing that she’s not disgruntled about being left off the climate-change panel. But it does raise the question, is AOC’s workload really all that different from other members? She’s on Financial Services and Oversight and Reform committees.
The House Ways and Means Committee gets the most legislation to review, the Energy and Commerce Committee has the broadest jurisdiction, and the Rules Committee has to set the terms of floor debate for every bill. Life on the House Foreign Affairs Committee means you get to go on junkets but also more or less have to travel abroad semi-regularly, and the Select Committee on Intelligence involves visiting far-off places.
Just like with Trump’s “nobody could have predicted health care would be so complicated,” with candidates who emphasize their outsider status, there’s always the chance that they don’t actually know or understand what the job involves.
ADDENDA: Coming soon: another edition of the pop-culture podcast with Mickey, where we discuss Stranger Things (a lot), Spider-Man: Far From Home, the documentaries of Ken Burns, The Bachelor, and True Crime podcasts.