News Brief: Jeffrey Epstein, Hong Kong Bill, Obamacare Trial

Jul 9, 2019
Originally published on July 9, 2019 10:03 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A simple description of the allegations by federal prosecutor Geoffrey Berman is devastating to hear.

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GEOFFREY BERMAN: The charges allege that Epstein sexually abused young girls by enticing them to engage in sex acts for money.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The prosecutor is referring to the financier Jeffrey Epstein. He pleaded not guilty to those charges in court Monday. Epstein, though, pleaded guilty to lesser charges in the state of Florida back in 2008, and that was part of a plea deal which protected him from major jail time.

INSKEEP: How much do we understand now of the case against Epstein and how much more is yet to be learned? NPR's Quil Lawrence is on the line from New York. Good morning.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: According to prosecutors, how large was this conspiracy?

LAWRENCE: Well, the indictment they unsealed is only covering a period of three years, and that was 15 years ago. But they clearly think that there are more victims and that Epstein sort of continued this pattern of behavior, that he recruited a network of young girls who would then bring in other young girls for money to give him these nude massages, which turned into sexual abuse. Here's Special Agent Bill Sweeney talking about the impact of these crimes alleged.

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BILL SWEENEY: Those who have been victimized by child sexual predators are frequently haunted by memories of these crimes well into their adulthood, often for the rest of their lives. They bear the burden of someone else's criminal behavior.

INSKEEP: Quil, we were reading yesterday this indictment that referred to dozens of victims, and then after hearing of dozens of victims, it's really quite sobering to hear the prosecutor say, we don't even know how many more of you there may be. If you think you're a victim, call this 800 number.

LAWRENCE: Yeah, the most dramatic part for me of that press conference yesterday was that they put up a picture of Epstein and they said, if you have seen this man, if you think you've been harmed by this man, call this FBI 800 number. So they think that this behavior went on for years and years and there must be many more victims.

And they found - after arresting him, when he landed at this New Jersey airport, they found that - they got a warrant to break into his home, his mansion in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. And they found, they said, a trove of nude photographs, which they believe are underage girls. So that's also, I would imagine, child pornography charges on top of the other charges.

INSKEEP: Other than entering a not guilty plea, have you heard anything from Epstein's side about how he would say he is not guilty of these charges?

LAWRENCE: Only that he's retained a high-powered law firm. We don't know that he - you know, he said he's not guilty, and there's a bail hearing on Thursday.

INSKEEP: We've also heard that Epstein is very, very well-connected, which has forced some very prominent people to make statements about their links to him.

LAWRENCE: Yes. The Clinton - the office of former President Bill Clinton, it sort of detailed the times that they were together and said that it was all accompanied by Secret Service and that he knew nothing of Epstein's terrible crimes, he said. President Trump hasn't said anything, although in the past, he had said that Epstein was a, you know, fun guy who seemed to like younger women. Alex Acosta, who's President Trump's secretary of labor, had signed off on this plea deal in Florida, which allowed him to escape prison time.

But what we're looking for next really is whether he will have a chance at bail. Epstein has a private jet. He landed in New Jersey from Paris on Saturday in this private jet. And the prosecutors are saying that he's just so powerful and wealthy, and that he's an extreme flight risk, and he should remain in detention throughout trial.

INSKEEP: Quil, thanks so much.

LAWRENCE: Thank you, Steve. Have a good morning.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Quil Lawrence.

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INSKEEP: Some other news now. Hong Kong's chief executive says she is giving up on an extradition bill. It's an apparent victory for protesters who pushed her back, even though the rules were heavily against them.

MARTIN: Her name is Carrie Lam, and she had previously suspended this measure. Protesters, though, weren't satisfied. So now she says the bill is dead. Though she still hasn't formally withdrawn it. Her latest step is another win for protesters who have faced long odds in all this. Under China's complicated system for controlling Hong Kong, Carrie Lam is not really elected by the people; she's chosen under a system that's dominated by Beijing. In the end, though, protesters forced the chief executive to answer to them.

INSKEEP: Does her latest move really end this story? Let's ask NPR's Julie McCarthy, who's been covering the tale. She joins us now from Manila. Hi there, Julie.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: How significant is this statement by Carrie Lam?

MCCARTHY: Well, I have to say, taken as a whole, it sounds like a kinder, gentler way of saying no to the protesters and their demands, and this in the face of the biggest challenge to the Beijing-controlled Hong Kong government in decades. Lam sounds like she's trying to stop the turmoil, which she even admits her government started when it pushed this extradition measure. And here's what she said today about the fate of that bill, recognizing that there is a problem.

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CHIEF EXECUTIVE CARRIE LAM: There are still lingering doubts about the government's sincerity or worries whether the government will restart the process in the Legislative Council. So I reiterate here, there is no such plan. The bill is dead.

INSKEEP: Julie, help me understand a thing you said there. In listening to the entirety of her statement, you felt that in some way she's also pushing back on the protesters and trying to reject some of their demands. What do you mean by that?

MCCARTHY: Well, it sounds like it's an unambiguous statement, but there's a lot of semantics involved here, especially for the protesters. The demonstrators said today, the word dead or suspending the bill - another term she's used - has no legal meaning in the Legislative Council, Hong Kong's Parliament; withdrawal does, so use it (ph) - she won't. Instead, when she spoke in Cantonese, she used the word - she used an idiom that means to die in one's bed at a ripe, old age, and the implication is that this bill will not be revived in this session and therefore would simply die at the start of next year.

Now, protesters say, if you're sincere, why the aversion to withdrawing it now? And, you know, beyond the bill, she's rejected all of their other demands today.

INSKEEP: OK, so we should think of this as another half step back, not a complete capitulation to the protesters. And you said other demands - what other demands do the protesters make to Carrie Lam?

MCCARTHY: Well, the demonstrators want amnesty for the protesters who've been arrested. Lam says no, the Department of Justice has got to take its course with no intervention. Demonstrators want authorities to retract the word riot to describe the protests. She says, I never - I don't refer to the protesters that way. And the demonstrators demand an independent inquiry into allegations that the police used excessive force. Lam says a fact-finding by the Police Complaints Commission can do that. Demonstrators say no, they can't (inaudible) all witnesses.

INSKEEP: And I guess there was also a demand that Carrie Lam herself resign. She gave no indication she's doing that, did she?

MCCARTHY: No, she did not, and that's not likely to happen. She may at some point be recalled by Beijing, which is watching this very carefully. She's under a great deal of pressure from China to rein in the social upheaval.

INSKEEP: Julie, thanks so much.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Julie McCarthy.

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INSKEEP: The Affordable Care Act is on trial today - again.

MARTIN: Yeah, the case is Texas v. the United States, and it's yet another lawsuit meant to overturn President Obama's signature law. It is nearly a decade old at this point, and it survived two previous challenges that ended up in the Supreme Court. Today's hearing is in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

INSKEEP: On the line now from New Orleans is Noam Levey of the LA Times, who's covering the trial. Good morning.

NOAM LEVEY: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How does this suit differ from other legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act, the many other legal challenges?

LEVEY: Well, the crux of this case, which is different than the two other ones that have come before the Supreme Court to some extent, is the requirement that Americans have health insurance. That was what brought about the first suit against the Affordable Care Act. But now there is no more penalty on Americans who have health insurance. And so Texas and a group of other mainly Republican-led states have sued, saying without the mandate, you can't have the rest of the Affordable Care Act. The Trump administration...

INSKEEP: Let me just make sure I figure this out because, I mean, there has been news about this in a lower court ruling, but I want to review it because it's quite remarkable. There was a mandate that was characterized - that was upheld by the Supreme Court because it was a tax. The federal government could use its taxing authority to penalize you if you did not have health insurance. Then the mandate was thrown out by Congress. And so now the argument is that without the tax, without the tax penalty, there is no authority under Congress to mandate health insurance for people - is that right?

LEVEY: That's right. And then the additional piece here, which is so important to this case in New Orleans, is that the states suing here are arguing that because that penalty, that tax penalty was so critical to the Affordable Care Act's program for extending health insurance, for guaranteeing sick people could get health insurance, for expanding Medicaid, so critical to all the reforms in the Affordable Care Act, that if you get rid of that penalty, you've got to take the whole law down with it.

INSKEEP: Let's hypothetically say the appeals court would agree to that, and ultimately, maybe the Supreme Court would agree to that. What would it mean for a law that's now almost a decade old to just be completely obliterated from the books? Does anybody have any idea what that would look like?

LEVEY: I mean, it's hard to even imagine how disruptive that would be to the American health care system. So I think people probably understand at this point that the Affordable Care Act is responsible for extending health insurance coverage to some 20 million previously uninsured Americans. But that's really just the tip of the iceberg, if you will. The law has now, as you said, been in place almost a decade. It now guarantees coverage. People have been used to getting coverage if they are sick. Without that guarantee, presumably insurers could go back to denying coverage to people who are sick. Twenty million - 20-some odd million people who have health insurance would lose it.

INSKEEP: Is the court in a situation where it could even consider the consequences of this? Can they say, this would be an utterly absurd ruling and therefore we can't make it, or do they simply have to say, if they decide they agree with the plaintiffs in this, the law is what the law is, and let the chips fall where they may?

LEVEY: Well, this is just the next step in this lawsuit's journey. So this court can weigh in however it sees fit, and then, of course, we would expect that it may end up once again before the U.S. Supreme Court.

INSKEEP: Noam Levey, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

LEVEY: Good to be with you.

INSKEEP: He writes about national health care policy for the Los Angeles Times.

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