Delegation for 8.13.19: Epstein dies — tomato fight — Scott vs. FBI — red-flag laws — Columbia

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Jeffrey Epstein is dead; let the conspiracy theories begin.

Epstein death rocks country

The apparent “suicide” of convicted sex predator Jeffrey Epstein is dominating multiple news cycles. It is one issue that is uniting, up to a point, both Democrats and Republicans.

Jeffrey Epstein is dead; few believe it was suicide.

Those who believe Epstein took his own life are seemingly few. If he was taken out, those who are likely responsible for his death depends on which political party that person belongs.

At least it plays out that way on Twitter. Some Democrats and/or President Donald Trump haters believe the President must have something to do with it in order to “bury” nasty secrets between the two.

At the same time, some Republicans and/or those haters of Bill Clinton believe the former President must have something to do with it in order to seal nasty secrets between the two. Trump indirectly weighed in by retweeting a status from a black conservative that pointed the finger at Clinton.

With the media going crazy over this, bipartisan calls for an investigation are getting less attention. Former Clinton White House spokesman Joe Lockhart called for Trump’s removal using the 25th Amendment.

Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz tweeted in response:

On the serious side, Attorney General William Barr said he was “appalled” by Epstein’s death while in federal custody. He immediately asked the Department of Justice Inspector General to investigate the circumstances surrounding the event.

That did not satisfy Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who blasted Barr for what she described as an incomplete response. She repeated her earlier calls for a thorough Justice Department review of the entire Epstein saga (see Expanded below).

West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel agrees with Wasserman Schultz but wants Congress to investigate the original plea deal that kept Epstein behind bars for only 11 months. During that time, he was permitted to leave prison to work.

Frankel tweeted:

Sen. Rick Scott called Epstein “a coward,” adding victims were cheated for the chance to confront him in court. He also demanded the Federal Bureau of Prisons “provide answers on what systemic failures of the MCC (Metropolitan Correctional Center) Manhattan or criminal acts allowed this coward to deny justice to his victims.”

Barr pledged the legal proceedings are not over. While expressing anger at the “serious irregularities” present at the federal facility housing Epstein, he also indicated the rich and famous are not out of the woods.

“Let me assure you this case will continue on against anyone who was complicit with Epstein. Any co-conspirators should not rest easy. The victims deserve justice, and they will get it.”

Rubio, Mexico throw tomatoes

The United States Canada Mexico trade agreement will come before the Congress for ratification in a few weeks. While there is support for the agreement from both parties, concerns that include dumping of fresh tomatoes from Mexican growers persist.

Sen. Marco Rubio and Gainesville Republican Rep. Ted Yoho have been among those blasting what they describe as unfair practices. An investigation into the accusations is ongoing within the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“The message I have always conveyed to Secretary (Wilbur) Ross is that American tomato growers shouldn’t have to lose their livelihoods because of a bad deal imposed upon them by their own government, and that’s exactly what was happening under the previous suspension agreement,” Rubio said in a news release.

Marco Rubio has been warning Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross about Mexico dumping tomatoes in the U.S.

Mexican authorities have noted the words of their critics and responded. A consortium of Mexican growers presented data to the Commerce Department bolstering their case.

“The growers are hoping that Commerce ignores continuing pressure from Florida politicians, who have consistently demanded that Commerce prejudge this case,” according to a release from the consortium.

“If the Mexican growers remain unwilling to compromise to achieve a mutually-beneficial agreement, I look forward to the resolution of this issue in September when U.S. trade law enforcement mechanisms are finally able to reach a determinative conclusion on what I believe is clear and convincing evidence of produce dumping and injury,” Rubio added.

Scott blasts FBI response

With calls for more gun control continue unabated, Republicans are being pressured to join the effort. Some are expected to vote for red flag or background check bills, but many remind their colleagues that signs were missed that could have stopped mass murders such as the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Scott has been a frequent critic of the FBI’s role in the Parkland tragedy by not acting on tips that could have stopped the shooter. Nearly a year ago he demanded answers and when he finally received a response last week, he again blasted the agency for what he described as a lack of details.

Rick Scott has been a frequent critic of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In a letter to Attorney General Barr, Scott said the FBI “refused to address the most important question of accountability for the failures that preceded the attack in Parkland.” The response to Scott claimed “significant privacy implications” prevented the FBI from providing more details.

I ask that you seek the answers from Director (Christopher) Wray that I have sought without avail over the past year, and request that you keep me apprised of any responses you receive,” Scott concluded.

Committee heads to Florida

A Senate committee will hold a hearing this week in Panama City to hear testimony on the lingering effects of Hurricane Michael on Panhandle small businesses. Rubio, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, announced the subject will be “Weathering the Storm: Hurricane Michael’s Impact on Northwest Florida’s Small Businesses.”

Florida SBDC Network CEO Michael Myhre will testify on Hurricane Michael before a Senate committee in Florida this week.

The panel will hear from Michael Myhre, CEO of the Florida SBDC Network; Col. Brian Laidlaw, Commander of the Air Force’s 325th Fighter Air Wing-Air Combat Command; Aaron Rich, owner of Aaron Rich Marketing; and former Florida House Speaker Allan Bense, chairman of Rebuild 850.

The hearing will begin at 10:30 a.m. CDT at Gulf Coast State College in Panama City in Room number ATC 303. It will be livestreamed over the committee’s Facebook page.

Scott touts red-flag law

The fallout from the massacres in Dayton and El Paso included an op-ed column in The Washington Post written by Scott, explaining how he responded as Florida Governor to the Parkland massacre and what Washington needs to learn from that.

“I am a gun owner, a member of the National Rifle Association and a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. But the horror of Parkland demanded a swift, practical legislative response to try to prevent future such nightmares,” Scott wrote in the column.

For him, in the opinion column, Scott declared that such reactions need to involve listening and thinking, not talking.

As Florida Governor, Rick Scott signed a red-flag law after the Parkland high school shooting. Washington would be wise to learn from that lesson, Scott says.

“The pontificating and the politicking of elected officials do nothing to help grieving families or reassure Americans who fear that their friends or loved ones could be next,” Scott wrote.

“Sitting with families who have lost a parent, a child, a spouse can have a profound effect on anyone who sees firsthand the devastation of their loss,” he continued.

And for that reason, he asserted, Washington needs to do what Florida did and pursue action, including something like Florida’s “red flag” provision. “Properly constructed, the extreme risk protection order, as it’s known, is a common-sense public safety measure,” Scott stated.

Yet the column, “I’m a gun owner and NRA member. I support red-flag laws to help stop mass shootings,” also could raise some hackles in Florida.

That’s because Scott offered not one word about his or Florida’s reaction after the Pulse massacre of 2016, except for the nod that while he was Governor, “the state was scarred by several mass shootings.”

It’s a point on which Scott received much criticism from Pulse victims, survivors and their supporters: that he followed Pulse with expressions of empathy but virtually no action.

Colombia rejoins drug fight

Both Florida Senators are praising the Trump administration for a recent move to reinstate Colombia into the war on drugs. Both Scott and Rubio had urged the President to recertify Colombia due to recent efforts by President Ivan Duque.

In a memorandum, Trump cited the progress made by the Duque administration is reversing some of the setbacks in drug enforcement under his predecessor.

Colombian President Ivan Duque has reversed some of the setbacks in drug enforcement made by his predecessor.

“President Ivan Duque has made early progress in rolling back the record-high coca cultivation and cocaine production levels inherited from his predecessor and in leading efforts to restart a Colombian-led aerial eradication program,” Trump said.

“This progress needs to continue and expand, and my Administration will work with our Colombian partners to reach our joint 5-year goal to reduce coca cultivation and cocaine production by half by the end of 2023.”

While praising Colombia, the Trump memorandum also called out Mexico, saying that the country “needs to do more to stop the flow of deadly drugs entering our country.” In a joint statement, Scott and Rubio thanked Trump for recertifying Colombia.

“President Trump’s certification of Colombia’s commitment to combat the illegal drug trade reiterates the joint effort between our nations in the fight against narco-trafficking in the Western Hemisphere,” they said. “We welcome this certification as a step for both of our countries to continue working together to counter the threat of Maduro’s narco-terrorist tyranny in Venezuela.”

Candidates in Miami

Three Democratic presidential candidates visited Miami last week carrying a similar message. Sens. Corey Booker and Bernie Sanders, along with South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg told a Miami audience they believe Trump is a racist and responsible for recent acts of violence.

Pete Buttigieg was among several Democratic presidential candidates stumping in Miami. Image via WLRN.

The event was hosted by the National Association of Black Journalists, and while issues such as the economy and health care were discussed, gun violence and white nationalism played prominent roles.

While answering “yes” to a direct question about his opinion of Trump’s beliefs, Buttigieg, who is raising competitive amounts of money, he also blamed Trump for the current atmosphere.

“At best he is emboldening and empowering people with that ideology. At worst he is propelling it intentionally,” Buttigieg said. “I can’t see into the guy’s heart.”

Booker pointed to the problems that exist today and said interaction between the races clouds the country’s past.

“The truth is, white supremacism has always been a problem of our American story,” he told attendees. “Do not let the Disneyland version of our history be the one that’s paramount.”

Sanders called Trump a “demagogue,” but used most of his time to talk about issues important to him such as his “Medicare for all” proposal. He also explained his backing of the $15 per hour minimum wage.

In the most recent national polling, Sanders is third, far behind front-runner Joe Biden. Buttigieg is fifth with Booker coming in seventh.

Waltz, colleagues visit Israel

Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Waltz, in his first term representing Florida’s 6th Congressional District, is following in the footsteps of the previous Congressman from CD 6.

Just like Gov. Ron DeSantis did this year, Waltz, along with two of his Florida colleagues, are on a Congressional trip to Israel.

Just like his predecessor Ron DeSantis, Mike Waltz joins a large delegation to visit Israel.

“The U.S. and Israel’s partnership is defined by a united alliance in peace, freedom and democracy,” Waltz said ahead of the trip. “It’s critical each of our countries learn more about each other’s political, educational and economic investments.

“I’m looking forward to meeting with leaders across the spectrum and learning more about how to foster this important relationship moving forward.”

On Saturday, the delegation visited the Dead Sea and Church of the Nativity. On Sunday, the focus was defense, with a visit to the border and a look at the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Monday saw a visit to the Old City, a visit with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and a strategic survey of Jerusalem.

The bipartisan trip was sponsored by AIPAC subsidiary American Israel Educational Foundation (AIEF).

Other members of Congress, including Dover Republican Ross Spano and Coral Gables Democrat Donna Shalala, are also on the trip.

Waltz, Murphy seek briefing

A recent report from the Senate Intelligence Committee on Russian meddling in the 2016 election held some surprises from some Members of Congress. That prompted Waltz and Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy to call for a follow-up briefing from federal officials to provide more clarity on the Russian attempts to infiltrate the state’s election system.

The heavily redacted report left Waltz, Murphy and several of their colleagues wondering if they have the full story. They believe there is compelling evidence to suggest Florida was the target of two additional compromises not previously disclosed.

Stephanie Murphy is joining Mike Waltz in calling for a federal investigation on Russian attempts to infiltrate Florida’s election system.

“I haven’t seen the classified version, so I can’t verify that Florida is ‘state 2’, but it seems to be the case,” Waltz said in an interview with Central Florida’s News 13. “We are sending a follow-up to declassify some of that information so we can share more with the public.”

While some lawmakers seek more information, others say they do not need an additional briefing. However, Waltz and Murphy insist that they need to learn what has been redacted in the report to ensure that the state is prepared ahead of the 2020 election cycles.

“For Florida, the Senate report on election interference introduced far more questions than it answered,” Murphy said in a statement. “The public was left wondering whether our state was a larger target of Russian meddling than previously shared, and we were given no assurances that the federal and state governments are doing all they can to prevent another, potentially far more devastating attack.”

Both Waltz and Murphy are also stressing the need for legislation that they introduced last month the Achieving Lasting Electoral Reforms on Transparency and Security (ALERTS Act). The bill, which has 23 co-sponsors, including 14 from the delegation, would make it mandatory for the Department of Homeland Security to notify state and local officials, select members of Congress and voters personally impacted by a breach of voting systems.

Guardians bill launched

A shocking congressional report and an Orlando Sentinel investigative series, involving guardians for the frail or elderly, has prompted legislation from three delegation members. Democrats Darren Soto of Kissimmee and Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg joined with Palm Harbor Republican Gus Bilirakis to file a bill designed to increase protections for the disabled and elderly people under control of legal guardians.

Charlie Crist joined Darren Soto and Gus Bilirakis on a bill to boost protections for the disabled and elderly under legal guardians.

The Guardianship Accountability Act is intended to create further oversight and data collection measures to hold guardians accountable. Those include cases that have come to light over the summer, including at least one case that resulted in death.

“We owe it to our seniors and to those living with disabilities to provide protections from ill-intended bad actors who abuse the system designed to provide a better quality of life,” said Soto, the bill’s lead sponsor. “Guardianship is a critical resource that gives Americans support when they need it most.”

The release from Soto’s office also referred to the report from the Senate Committee on Aging called “Ensuring Trust: Strengthening State Efforts to Overhaul the Guardianship Process and Protect Older Americans.”

Bilirakis said, “guardianship is an area where we can and must do better in order to ensure the protection of our seniors.” Crist described some guardians as engaging in a “legal form of kidnapping” where “in many cases with little or no recourse available, and recently in Florida directly resulting in death.”

The bill is a companion to one filed in the Senate by Maine Republican Susan Collins and Pennsylvania Democrat Bob Casey.

Castor calls out Spano

Florida delegation members do not often publicly criticize a fellow member, but Dover Republican Spano came under criticism for a recent interview regarding climate change. Spano took the position that man’s role in climate change is exaggerated and referred to a fake Time magazine cover parroted by rocker Ted Nugent that global cooling was occurring recently.

Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor, who chairs the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, went on a tweetstorm calling for more action on climate change and called out Spano for his views.

In another, she said:

Both are not only part of the Florida delegation, but also reside in Hillsborough County. Another tweet warned that the area they represent is susceptible to significant consequences of climate change.

“Hillsborough and Polk counties in #FL are going to be some of the hardest hit by the climate crisis,” she said. “We need #ClimateActionNow to avoid the worst impacts.”

Buchanan urges background checks

In the wake of mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas, delegation co-chair Vern Buchanan urged Senate leadership to take up legislation on universal background checks.

“Our laws cannot be effective if there are gaping loopholes that allow criminals and deranged individuals to purchase firearms over the internet or at gun shows without background checks,” Buchanan said.

Vern Buchanan is seeking universal background checks and closing ‘gaping loopholes’ in firearm purchases.

His promotion of the legislation adds to the bipartisan nature of a fresh call for gun control after two major mass shootings rocked the nation. Buchanan in February cast one of just eight Republican votes in favor of the “Bipartisan Background Checks Act.” That bill passed in the Democrat-controlled House but has not been taken up in the Senate.

The Sarasota Republican sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praising the Kentucky Republican’s openness to background checks and red flag laws.

“Like you, I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, but our laws cannot be effective if there are gaping loopholes that allow criminals and deranged individuals to purchase firearms over the internet or at gun shows without background checks,” Buchanan wrote.

Hastings backs Peace Act

Last week marked the fifth anniversary of the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. Delray Beach Democrat Alcee Hastings has signed on as a co-sponsor of the Police Exercising Absolute Care With Everyone (PEACE) Act of 2019.

The lead sponsors, Democrats Ro Khanna of California and William “Lacy” Clay of Missouri, announced the bill in Ferguson, which is in Clay’s district. In a retweet, Hastings announced his support for the legislation:

The bill prohibits federal officers from using deadly force, unless it is a “last resort,” and creates no “substantial risk of injury to a third person.” It also calls for more police training and a mechanism for withholding federal funds to states and communities who do not comply with the act.

Khanna used strong language in rolling out the bill, claiming Wilson got away with a crime. He stated “Michael Brown was murdered by a police officer,” and ended his tweet with “Police brutality must end #PEACEact.”

A grand jury declined to return an indictment against Wilson and the Department of Justice (DOJ) under Attorney General Eric Holder also found no criminal intent, but the DOJ found multiple shortcomings within the Ferguson Police Department.

Democratic Senators and presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren also used the term “murder” over the weekend to describe the death of Brown.

Expanded Epstein probe sought

Attorney General Barr has already called for an Inspector General investigation into the death of accused child trafficker Epstein while in federal custody. But Wasserman Schultz says limiting the investigation to cover only Epstein’s apparent suicide is “obscenely inadequate.”

“An IG probe of his apparent suicide may only quell the irresponsible conspiracy theories President Trump peddles, but it will not provide true independent accountability to those who survived his horrific crimes,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz is pushing for an expansion of the investigation surrounding Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide.

“The IG must investigate this entire DOJ miscarriage of justice.”

Epstein faced charges back in 2007 after he was accused of having sex with several underage girls. The Southern District of Florida, under then-U. S. attorney Alex Acosta, declined to pursue federal charges.

That led to Epstein receiving a mere 13-month sentence, much of which was spent on supervised release. Renewed scrutiny of that decision forced Acosta to resign as Trump’s Labor Secretary.

A letter signed by Wasserman Schultz and 11 other members of the Florida delegation last year calls for that arrangement to be reviewed by the IG, along with the decision to issue a non-prosecution agreement protecting any of Epstein’s potential co-conspirators.

On this day

August 13, 1999 — In a show of his front-runner strength, Texas Gov. George W. Bush won the Iowa straw poll. Bush had to fend off a strong challenge from publisher Steve Forbes to claim the top spot.

Two high-profile candidates, former Vice President Dan Quayle and Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander both had disappointing finishes, putting their candidacies in jeopardy. Alexander finished sixth, while Quayle was eighth.

August 13, 2016 — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi warned Democrats to change their cellphone numbers and not let family members read their text messages after the hacking and release of personal information. A hacker who calls himself Guccifer 2.0 took credit for the hacks, which roiled the Democratic National Convention last month.

Pelosi described the hacks as “a Watergate-style break-in.” As a result of acquiring the personal information of hundreds of members and staff, purportedly from a hack into the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Guccifer posted the information online.

Staff Reports


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