In this Brief . . .
- G7 world leaders held a tense meeting in France.
Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe may be indicted for lying to federal agents in 2016, and the Justice Department has decided not to prosecute former FBI Director James Comey.
A court ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay Oklahoma $572 million for its role in fueling the state’s opioid crisis, and OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma offered to settle more than 2,000 opioid lawsuits filed against it.
Plus: Jeffrey Epstein’s female enablers, Trump’s expedited border wall construction, General Jim Mattis breaks his resignation silence, and the FEC loses its quorum.
No sign of the news cycle slowing down, and we’re on top of it. Let’s dive in!
2019 G7 summit roundup
The annual G7 (“Group of 7”) Summit, which took place in Biarritz, France this year, wrapped up on Monday after a chaotic weekend during which the leaders of the world’s major industrialized countries struggled to agree on specific long-term goals. France, the organizer of this year’s summit, issued a one-page statement summarizing the five issues for which the leaders were able to successfully produce agreements: trade, Iran, Ukraine, Libya, and Hong Kong. Highlights from this document include the leaders’ commitment to safeguarding open and fair global trade, ensuring that Iran can never acquire nuclear weapons, and supporting a truce in Libya that could lead to a lasting ceasefire.
The statement notably left out discussions on climate change and the Amazon rainforest, as Trump skipped Monday’s session on climate and biodiversity and a dispute escalated between Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro and French president Emmanuel Macron over the Amazon’s raging fires. Bolsonaro rejected a $22.2 million aid package from the G7 nations to help combat the fires, claiming that foreign help infringes on Brazil’s sovereignty and reduces the country to a “colony.” Bolsonaro said that Macron, who called the fires an international crisis, is trying to portray himself as “the one and only person” concerned about the environment. However, Bolsonaro announced on Wednesday that he was accepting four firefighting planes from Chile and that he would be meeting on September 6 with regional neighbors to discuss a unified approach to protect the rainforest.
Macron surprised everyone by holding a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the summit on Sunday, although President Donald Trump did not meet with the envoy during his visit. For several months, Macron has taken a lead role in trying to salvage the 2015 nuclear accord, which has been unraveling since Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement in May 2018. Macron has pushed for a meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, but to no avail. Rouhani announced on Tuesday that there would be no meeting with the U.S. until economic sanctions imposed on Tehran are removed.
The most heated moment of the weekend reportedly occurred when Trump argued strenuously with several leaders over reinstating Russia as a member following its ejection from the G8 in 2014. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson argued that Russia had grown increasingly anti-democratic, and others pointed out that rejoining would legitimize Vladimir Putin. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters: “Russia has yet to change the behavior that led to its expulsion in 2014, and therefore should not be allowed back into the G7.”
2020 G7 summit
As the summit came to a close, Trump turned his attention to next year’s G7 meeting, which is slated to be held in the U.S. The President said that he is considering holding the 2020 summit at the Trump National Doral Miami Golf Club in Florida—the Trump family’s biggest money-making asset—drawing accusations that he is attempting to profit off the presidency. He insisted, though, that he “doesn’t want to make money” and that he thinks the club is “just a great place to be.” Critics point out that because the summit attracts tremendous global attention, it would likely be an enormous windfall for Trump’s property. Richard Painter, former White House ethics counsel in the George W. Bush administration, told NBC News that “[i]f the foreign governments pay to use the proprieties, then [Trump] is receiving emoluments from foreign governments and violating the United States Constitution.”
McCabe’s potential indictment & Comey’s memos
The New York Times reports that federal prosecutors in Washington, DC are in the final stages of deciding whether or not to indict former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for lying to federal agents. The potential charges stem from the February 2018 Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) report that found that McCabe “lacked candor” when he was asked by investigators if he had authorized the disclosure of information to a Wall Street Journal reporter in October 2016 for an article about an investigation into the Clinton Foundation.
The Times further reports that during the last week, McCabe’s lawyers have met with Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Jessie Liu, who are expected to be involved in the decision about whether to prosecute. Lawfare’s Benjamin Wittes explains that such meetings with federal prosecutors “generally take place when indictment is imminent.” However, Wittes states that he doesn’t believe that criminal charges are supported in this case, fearing that McCabe’s case has been “tainted by gross political pressure.”
Meanwhile, the OIG released a long-anticipated report on Thursday concluding that former FBI director James Comey’s failure to turn over memos documenting his interactions with the President, and later leaking details of a particular memo to the media, violated both FBI policy and his employment agreement. Comey had previously admitted that he leaked to The New York Times—through his friend, Columbia Law Professor Daniel Richman—details of one of the memos he had written about a private conversation he had with Trump in which the President expressed his desire for the FBI to drop an investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Comey acknowledged that he hoped that the leaked information would lead to the appointment of a special counsel.
The OIG report also states that the Justice Department has declined to prosecute Comey for these violations, pointing out that there is “no evidence” that he or his attorneys leaked classified information. In response to the OIG’s decision, Comey tweeted: “I don’t need a public apology from those who defamed me, but a quick message with a ‘sorry we lied about you’ would be nice.”
The opioid crisis
In a landmark decision on Monday, an Oklahoma judge ordered health care behemoth Johnson & Johnson to pay the state $572 million for its key role in starting and sustaining the region’s opioid epidemic. In a statement, Cleveland County District Court Judge Thad Balkman said that the company “caused an opioid crisis that is evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome in Oklahoma,” and that it acted improperly with its “misleading marketing and promotion of opioids.”
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter’s suit, which sought $17.5 billion in penalties, alleged that Johnson & Johnson, through its pharmaceutical subsidiary Janssen, helped ignite a public health crisis that killed thousands of state residents. Immediately after Judge Balkman delivered his decision from the bench, Johnson & Johnson released a statement saying that the company plans to appeal the judgment.
Meanwhile, NBC News reported on Tuesday that the maker of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, and its owners, the Sackler family, are offering to settle more than 2,000 lawsuits filed against them for $10 billion to $12 billion. The lawsuits, which were brought by states, cities and counties, allege that Purdue’s sales practices were deceptive and at least partly responsible for fueling the nation’s opioid crisis, although the company and the Sackler family have denied these allegations. As part of the settlement, Purdue would declare bankruptcy and the Sackler family would give up ownership of Purdue and pay at least $3 billion.
- Epstein’s Enablers. Now that U.S. District Court Judge Richard Berman has dismissed the pending child sex trafficking case against deceased financier Jeffrey Epstein, federal prosecutors are turning the investigation’s focus to identifying alleged associates, clients and co-conspirators. A New York Times review of lawsuits, unsealed court records and depositions, as well as recent interviews, reveals disturbing allegations about how four women allegedly helped Epstein recruit his victims and exert control over them. These four women were named “possible co-conspirators” and granted immunity in Florida nearly a decade ago, but could now face criminal charges in Manhattan.
- The Border Wall. According to The Washington Post, Trump has directed aides to fast-track billions of dollars of construction contracts, seize private land, and disregard environmental rules in an effort to complete 500 miles of border fencing by the time voters go to the polls in November 2020. He reportedly assured concerned subordinates that he would pardon them should they face any legal consequences for breaking the law while executing his orders.
- President’s Tax Returns. In a letter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Deutsche Bank confirmed that it is in possession of tax returns sought by congressional subpoenas issued earlier this year to Trump, his family, and his businesses. The three-judge appeals court panel heard arguments last week from the two House committees that issued the subpoenas as well as from Trump’s attorneys, who argued that the subpoenas were overly broad. The panel did not indicate when it would issue its ruling.
- Mattis’ Book. Former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis broke his silence on his resignation from the Trump administration in his new book, “Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead.” In a book excerpt published in The Wall Street Journal, Mattis reflects on his decision: “When my concrete solutions and strategic advice, especially keeping faith with our allies, no longer resonated, it was time to resign.” Although Mattis said he would not speak ill of the commander in chief, he makes references to Trump’s influence: “What concerns me most as a military man is not our external adversaries; it is our internal divisiveness.”
- FEC Quorum. On Monday, Republican Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) announced his resignation, leaving the panel without the four-person quorum necessary to enforce campaign finance law as the 2020 election draws closer. In response to the news, Democratic Chairwoman of the FEC Ellen Weintraub tweetedthat the “FEC will still be able to shine a strong spotlight on the finances of the 2020 campaign” without a quorum.
- McGahn’s Subpoena. The House Judiciary Committee filed a motion on Monday to expedite its lawsuit seeking to enforce a subpoena against former White House Counsel Don McGahn. The Committee argues that its investigation has been severely delayed and diminished due to the White House’s refusal to comply with document requests that are part of its oversight efforts. The filing comes days after the Committee issued a subpoena to former White House aide Rob Porter.
“Jeffrey Epstein’s Victims, Denied a Trial, Vent Their Fury: ‘He Is a Coward,’” The New York Times, 8/27/2019
“Investigators scrutinizing video outside Epstein’s cell find some footage unusable, according to people familiar with the inquiry,” The Washington Post, 8/26/2019
“Citizenship will no longer be automatic for children of some US military members living overseas,” CNN, 8/29/2019
“Trump admin pulling millions from FEMA disaster relief to send to southern border,” NBC News, 8/27/2019
“DOJ making changes to agency that runs immigration courts,” The AP, 8/23/2019
“Nadler asks House committees probing Trump to share docs for its impeachment investigation,” Politico, 8/22/2019
“The Little-Noticed Way the McGahn Litigation Could Shape Congressional Oversight,” Lawfare, 8/23/2019
“Maryland, DC AGs Ask Fourth Circuit to Rehear Emoluments Suit,” Courthouse News, 8/26/2019
“Barr Plans to Throw $30,000 Holiday Party at the Trump Hotel in Washington,” The New York Times, 8/28/2019
“Federal Judge Blocks Parts Of Missouri Law That Bans Abortions After 8 Weeks,” NPR, 8/27/2019
“Trump associate Felix Sater proved invaluable FBI source, records show,” NBC News, 8/23/2019
Adrienne Cobb & the CAFE team: Tamara Sepper, Carla Pierini, Julia Doyle, Calvin Lord, Vinay Basti, David Kurlander, and Aaron Dalton
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