July 9, 2019

There are lots of gross and prurient aspects to the lurid case unfolding around Jeffrey Epstein, a mysterious, well-connected, and evidently very wealthy self-professed financier, convicted sex offender, and alleged sexual abuser and trafficker of young girls, but there are also lots of basic questions. For one: Where did Epstein get all his money?

Until Epstein flew former President Bill Clinton to Africa with Kevin Spacey and Chris Tucker in 2002, few people paid him any heed. Then a 2002 profile of Epstein in New York laid out his origin story: Born and raised in Coney Island, Brooklyn; attended but did not graduate from Cooper Union and NYU; was recruited to Bear Stearns while teaching high school calculus and physics at the tony Dalton School; worked his way up to partner; left Bear Stearns under mysterious circumstances in 1981; founded his own wealth management company in which he would take on only billionaire clients who agreed to hand him total control of their money; yada yada yada multiple mansions, a fleet of private jets, his own island, and powerful friends.

In 2003, a Vanity Fair profile by Vicky Ward tore a few holes in that story, and in 2015, Ward wrote in The Daily Beast that in her extensive reporting on Epstein "no one I spoke to believed" that "the hidden source of his wealth" was "managing the money of billionaires and taking a commission." Some of Epstein's friends "speculated that retailer Les Wexner was the real source of Epstein's wealth," Ward wrote, but while the billionaire founder of Victoria's Secret is Epstein's only known client — or former client — Wexner wouldn't comment on the idea.

A decade ago, Epstein's lawyers said his wealth was in the nine-figure range, but "today, so little is known about Epstein's current business or clients that the only things that can be valued with any certainty are his properties," including the $77 million Manhattan mansion federal agents raided over the weekend and his properties in New Mexico, Paris, Palm Beach, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where his "black box" of a company is now incorporated, Bloomberg News reports. There's even mystery about the Manhattan mansion: The only New York property record on the 1990s transfer of the mansion from Wexner to Epstein was filed in 2011, with a transfer price of $0, Bloomberg says. "Epstein signed for both sides of the transaction." Peter Weber

1:08 a.m.

The Atlantic published a profile of Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on Sunday in which reporter McKay Coppins explained that "in the nine years I’ve been covering Romney, I’ve never seen him quite so liberated." At Slate, Ashley Feinberg appeared generally underwhelmed by Romney's apparent "effort to set himself up as the noble Republican foil to an out-of-control president," but she did find one interesting bit of news in the profile: "About midway through, the usually guarded senator revealed that, just like fellow lone-voice-of reason-haver James Comey, he was the owner of a secret Twitter account."

Romney told Coppins that he wasn't bothered by President Trump's Twitter attacks on him, explaining that he uses a secret Twitter account as "a lurker" to keep tabs on the political conversation. "I won't give you the name of it," Romney told Coppins, but he dropped enough clues — including that he follows Conan O'Brien but not Trump, because "he tweets so much," like his niece on Instagram: "I love her, but it's like, Ah, it's too much" — that Feinberg pretty quickly introduced the world to Pierre Delecto, @qaws9876.

Coppins called Romney after Slate published Feinberg's article. "C'est moi," Romney confirmed. Romney then took his secret account private, but Feinberg posted screenshots of some of Pierre's handful of tweets — usually, pro-Romney replies to other tweets — and intriguing catalog of likes, including several tweets from noted Trump critic George Conway and another tweet appearing to support invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. There is one mystery Feinberg couldn't uncover, though: Pierre Delecto?

"'Pierre' certainly does seem like a name a Mitt Romney-type looking for an alias might choose, though the 'Delecto' is less clear," Feinberg wrote. Maybe it has something to do with his time as Mormon missionary in France. Read Coppins' profile of Romney at The Atlantic and Feinberg's unmaking of @qaws9876 at Slate. Peter Weber

October 20, 2019

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said Sunday that she will release a plan to pay for her Medicare-for-all goal "in the next few weeks." Democratic presidential rivals have been attacking Warren on her refusal to specify how she proposes to fund the plan, and reporters continue to ask her if she would raise taxes, not just lower total health care costs, for the middle class.

"The cheapest possible way to make sure that everyone gets health care is Medicare-for-all," Warren said at the end of a town hall in Indianola, Indiana. "Right now, the cost estimates on Medicare-for-all vary by trillions and trillions of dollars. And the different revenue streams for how to fund it — there are a lot of them," she added. "So this is something I've been working on for months and months and it's got just a little more work until it's finished."

Warren has mostly embraced the Medicare-for-all legislation introduced by fellow presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and the bill does not specify how it would be financed. The price tag for universal single-payer health care is usually put at about $30 trillion over 10 years, and supporters for such a plan argue that Americans and U.S. companies already bear that financial burden, at least, through health insurance and other medical costs.

Many of Warren's rivals favor a plan that would offer Medicare to any American who wants it. If every American wants it, they would, of course, have to find a way to pay for that. Peter Weber

October 20, 2019

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) are still going after Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in a continuation of the most recent Democratic presidential debate.

Both candidates appeared on CNN's State of the Union on Sunday, where they maintained their support for a public option in their health-care plans. Neither were satisfied with the Warren campaign's efforts to clarify how the senator plans to pay for Medicare-for-all, either. Both Buttigieg and Klobuchar reiterated they are wary of any plan that would kick people off their private insurance.

Klobuchar, for her part, also said her plan, which also includes a non-profit public option, would "build" rather than "trash" ObamaCare. Tim O'Donnell

October 20, 2019

Is President Trump still in the hospitality business or is he the president of the United States? Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney says it's a bit of both.

While Mulvaney on Sunday was not indicating that Trump was looking to profit off the 2020 Group of Seven Summit by hosting it at the Trump National Doral Miami resort near Miami, Florida, he did tell host Chris Wallace during an appearance on Fox News Sunday that Trump wanted to put on the "absolute best show" he could for other world leaders because he "still considers himself to be in the hospitality business."

That comment gave Wallace pause since he, like most people, thought Trump was now in the business of running the U.S. government's executive branch. Mulvaney elaborated, explaining that it's a holdover from Trump's pre-Oval Office life, implying that the original choice was a natural reaction, rather than an an actual business opportunity.

After receiving intense backlash from across the political spectrum, Trump announced he's no longer planning to hold the event there, though he wasn't happy about. Mulvaney said he believed it was the right decision to find another site, in the end. Tim O'Donnell

October 20, 2019

We're almost at the midway point for the NFL season. Here are four games to watch for Week 7:

Indianapolis Colts vs. Houston Texans, 1 p.m. E.T. on CBS — The Texans are playing at a high level behind quarterback DeShaun Watson. They're coming off a victory last week in Kansas City, which may be one of the biggest wins of the entire season. Watson and company face another big test this week in Indianapolis, and this time the stakes are even higher as the two teams race for the AFC South title.

Chicago Bears vs. New Orleans Saints, 4:25 p.m. E.T. on Fox — Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky will reportedly return to action this week as Chicago looks to stay afloat in the competitive NFC North. The Saints, who are already without quarterback Drew Brees, will be without their versatile star running back, Alvin Kamara, and tight end Jared Cook. But the 5-1 Saints have shown a lot of resilience so far this year, so don't expect them to fold.

Seattle Seahawks vs. Baltimore Ravens, 4:25 p.m. E.T. on Fox — Any game with Russell Wilson is worth watching right now. The Seahawks quarterback has been one of the best players in the league all season, and he'll look to keep Seattle rolling along against a talented, but inconsistent Ravens team. Ravens safety Earl Thomas will make his return to Seattle, where he starred for several years as the centerpiece of one of the most dominant secondaries in NFL history.

Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 8:20 p.m. E.T. on NBC — It's been a weird season for these longtime rivals, who will face off during primetime Sunday evening. Dallas got off to a hot start against bad competition, but has now lost three in a row, while the Eagles have been up and down all season en route to their own 3-3 record. The winner should emerge as the favorite in a weak NFC East. Tim O'Donnell

October 20, 2019

Democrats may be playing it too safe when it comes to political advertising, The New York Times reports.

Laura Edelson, a researcher at New York University who tracks political advertising on Facebook, compared President Trump's re-election campaign to a "supercar" and the Democrats to a "little Volkswagen Bug," which is particularly harsh considering Volkswagen discontinued production of its famous Beetle model in July. While the Trump campaign has been aggressive in rolling out ads, testing content, and selling merchandise, experts say many Democratic campaigns are trying to sway moderates and offend as few people as possible.

"We see much less of that kind of experimentation with the Democratic candidates," Edelson said.

Part of the problem, the Times reports, may be generational. Some digital operatives say the aging professional political class is too timid and less open to new ideas. The digital director of a prominent Democratic presidential candidate was reportedly once shut down by an older consultant when trying to implement "shorter, pithier" ads that would get more internet traffic. "We don't need any of your cinéma vérité clickbait," the consultant reportedly said to director.

That apparently wasn't a one-off example, either — several campaigns reportedly have dealt with similar disagreements over tone. "It's true that anodyne messaging doesn't turn anyone off," said Elizabeth Spiers, who runs the Insurrection, a progressive digital strategy and polling firm. "But it doesn't turn them on either." Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

October 20, 2019

It appears U.S. troops leaving Syria won't be coming home — at least not yet — as President Trump had indicated last week, and reiterated today.

Instead, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Saturday that all U.S. troops leaving northern Syria will be re-stationed in western Iraq where they will reportedly defend the country and continue to conduct preventative operations against the Islamic State, as the cease-fire brokered with Turkey in northern Syria mostly seems to be holding. Esper also did not rule out counterterrorism missions from Iraq into Syria.

The plan calls for about 1,000 troops to head to Iraq, adding to the more than 5,000 troops currently in the country. "Things could change between now and whenever we complete the withdrawal, but that's the game plan right now," Esper said. The secretary added that he will talk with U.S. allies at a NATO meeting next week to discuss how to handle military operations to block any resurgence from ISIS.

But Trump still maintained that troops were coming home in a Sunday morning tweet, in which he also called Esper the wrong name.

Read more at NBC News and The Associated Press.

Update: Trump has since removed the original tweet and posted another in which he referred to Esper by his correct name, and said the U.S. is "ending endless wars" rather than "bringing soldiers home." Tim O'Donnell

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