Mueller seeks September sentencing for Papadopoulos

Caption info: George Papadopoulos appears in a booking photo taken at the Alexandria, Va. Detention Center early on July 28, 2017, after he was arrested by the FBI at Dulles Airport in connection with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Source: City of Alexandria, Va.

George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign adviser, faces a maximum possible sentence of five years in prison after pleading guilty to giving false testimony to investigators. | City of Alexandria, Va.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is asking that George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, be sentenced in September on the false-statement felony charge he pleaded guilty to last fall.

In a court filing on Friday evening, Mueller’s prosecutors and defense attorneys in the case asked U.S. District Court Judge Randy Moss to set Papadopoulos’ sentencing for Sept. 7, or a date in October if the judge is unavailable.

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If the hearing goes forward as scheduled, Papadopoulos could become the second defendant sentenced in Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

In April, Alex van der Zwaan, a Dutch attorney, was sentenced to 30 days in federal custody for the same charge: lying in the course of a federal investigation. Van der Zwaan admitted that he misled prosecutors about contacts related to work his law firm did as part of a campaign aimed at burnishing the image of Viktor Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine at the time.

Papadopoulos was secretly arrested by the FBI last July as he returned to the U.S. on a flight from Germany. He was initially charged with making false statements and with obstruction of justice for misleading the FBI about his contacts with pro-Russia advocates during the 2016 campaign.

Last October, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to the false-statement charge in a sealed courtroom in Washington, becoming the first person to admit guilt in the course of the Mueller investigation.

Papadopoulos, 30, faces a maximum possible sentence of five years in prison. However, judges typically follow sentencing guidelines that call for more lenient sentences for defendants with no criminal record, particularly if they plead guilty. It is possible the former Trump adviser could not be sentenced to jail at all.

The timing of the planned sentencing suggests either that Papadopoulos will not be a witness in other cases or that he is likely to receive a relatively light sentence regardless of the impact of his testimony, so there is no need to delay the sentencing.

In recent weeks, Papadopoulos’ wife, Simona Mangiante, has been publicly urging President Donald Trump to pardon her husband. Mangiante has argued that it’s possible he was the victim of some kind of a sting operation carried out by FBI informants.

Papadopoulos, an energy consultant, was part of a relatively thin bench of foreign policy advisers touted by the candidate at a time when few figures in the Republican establishment were willing to assist him, but he played a pivotal role in the launching of the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation.

In May 2016, Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat, Alexander Downer, that the Russians had access to information on Hillary Clinton that could be damaging to her campaign. A couple of months later, another Australian diplomat relayed that information to the FBI, which opened an investigation.

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Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy is effectively dead

An agent is pictured at the exterior gate of a holding facility. | AP Photo

The policy slammed into a series of brick walls — insufficient space for incarcerating families crossing the border, strict legal limits on how children can be detained and backlash against separating them from their parents. | Andres Leighton/AP Photo

‘It’s going to be “catch and release” because they don’t have the detention beds,’ a formal DHS official said.

President Donald Trump may not admit it, but practically speaking, his administration’s “zero-tolerance” border strategy is dead.

Top officials at the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged that reality at a meeting Thursday afternoon, according to a former department official with knowledge of the meeting.

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“It’s going to be ‘catch and release’ because they don’t have the detention beds for them,” the former official said.

That same message was delivered by Brandon Judd, president of a union for Border Patrol agents, who told CNN Thursday that the executive order Trump signed Wednesday requiring families caught at the border to be detained together simply left his agency no choice.

“We’re going to have to release them,” he said.

Homeland Security and Justice Department officials did not respond to requests for comment.

But the policy slammed into a series of brick walls that made it all but impossible to fully enforce on the ground — insufficient space for incarcerating the hundreds of families crossing the border, strict legal limits on how migrant children can be detained and political backlash against separating them from their parents.

Even before Trump signed the executive order, his zero tolerance policy had never approached the “100 percent” promised by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. That’s because DHS was referring only about 60 percent of suspected border-crossers for prosecution, based on data provided by the department. That 60 percent was double the previous rate and more than enough to overwhelm the system.

Trump’s decision to announce the end to family separation effectively delivered the death knell to zero tolerance simply because the facilities to place families in detention were already close to capacity.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement maintains just 3,326 beds in three family detention centers, according to a 2018 report to Congress. As of June 20, the agency had placed 2,623 people in them. The number of migrant family members arrested by the Border Patrol each month is in the thousands.

Zero tolerance hit another obstacle as a result of the courts. The 1997 Flores settlement agreement — which outlines the basic standards for treatment of unaccompanied minors in detention — mandated that children spend no more than 20 days incarcerated. U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee ruled in 2015 that the guidelines also extended to children with their parents.

The Justice Department on Thursday filed a motion with the court to change the agreement to allow for indefinite detention of children with their parents or guardians. But plaintiffs in the case oppose any alternation, and Gee, an appointee of President Barack Obama, is not expected to grant it.

The political fallout surrounding family separations poses yet another obstacle to maintaining zero tolerance as the Trump administration dodges questions about whether it would reunite the nearly 2,300 children separated over a five-week period from their parents — some of whom were already deported — prior to the executive order.

DHS officials told several media outlets Friday that 500 of those children had been reunited with parents, but offered no details.

“The administration either didn’t think it through, or did think it through and didn’t care,” Cecilia Muñoz, White House Domestic Policy Council director under Obama, told POLITICO. “Neither of those is particularly comforting.”

Sessions announced the first part of the “zero tolerance” policy in early April, directing U.S. attorney’s offices along the southwest border to prosecute offenses under an illegal entry statute “to the extent practicable.” Roughly a month later, Sessions announced that DHS would refer “100 percent of illegal southwest border crossings” for criminal prosecutions — a controversial move that precipitated the rapid rise in family separations.

“We don’t want to separate families, but we don’t want families to come to the border illegally,” Sessions said then. “This is just the way the world works.”

But 100 percent of border-crossers turned out to be about 60 percent, and the Justice department has not made public the proportion of those 60 percent who were actually prosecuted.

A senior U.S. Customs and Border Protection official told The Washington Post on Thursday that the agency would stop referring families caught at the border for prosecution, a further sign of the demise of the hard-line border enforcement stance.

Sarah Isgur Flores, a DOJ spokeswoman, tweeted that the Justice Department had not changed its part of the zero tolerance policy, but did not provide data requested by POLITICO on its implementation.

“There has been no change to the Department’s zero tolerance policy to prosecute adults who cross our border illegally,” she wrote.

Whatever the percentage of suspected border-crossers prosecuted, it was more than enough to create chaos. Trump’s executive order was supposed to resolve that crisis, but top administration officials appeared this week to have little idea about how it would work in practice.

On a call with reporters Wednesday, Gene Hamilton, a top aide to Sessions at the Justice Department and an immigration hard-liner, said he couldn’t offer details on how various federal departments would implement the order.

“I’m not an operator and I can’t pretend to tell precisely what they’re going to do,” he said. “But that being said, the president’s executive order makes it clear what the policy will be going forward.”

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George Will: Vote against GOP in midterms

Conservative columnist George Will is making the argument to vote against Republicans in the upcoming midterm elections. 

In a piece published Friday in the Washington Post, Will says that President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN analyst Kirsten Powers: Melania’s jacket should read ‘Let them eat cake’ CNN’s Cuomo confronts Lewandowski over ‘womp womp’ remark Sessions says FBI agent Peter Strzok no longer has his security clearance MORE‘s “zero tolerance” policy at the border was “the most telegenic example of misrule” and it provided “fresh if redundant evidence for the principle by which” independents and moderate Republicans should vote.

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That principle he says is that the number of Republicans in office must be “substantially reduced.”

“The principle: The congressional Republican caucuses must be substantially reduced. So substantially that their remnants, reduced to minorities, will be stripped of the Constitution’s Article I powers that they have been too invertebrate to use against the current wielder of Article II powers,” Will wrote. “They will then have leisure time to wonder why they worked so hard to achieve membership in a legislature whose unexercised muscles have atrophied because of people like them.” 

Will targets House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPolitical figures pay tribute to Charles Krauthammer House approves five-year farm bill House postpones vote on compromise immigration bill MORE (R-Wis.) and many other Republican lawmakers for serving as the “president’s poodles.” 

“Not because James Madison’s system has failed but because today’s abject careerists have failed to be worthy of it,” Will added. “Congressional Republicans (congressional Democrats are equally supine toward Democratic presidents) have no higher ambition than to placate this president.”

Will continued that the failure of Congress to respond in productive ways to the president has impaired the Constitution’s separation of powers. 

“The Republican-controlled Congress, which waited for Trump to undo by unilateral decree the border folly they could have prevented by actually legislating, is an advertisement for the unimportance of Republican control.” 

Will’s criticism comes after a tumultuous week for President Trump — one in which he ultimately signed an executive order to stop the practice of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border. Though it remains unclear how or when the thousands of families divided will be reunited. 

Will has frequently criticized the GOP under Trump. Last week he accused the party of being subservient to the president while making an appearance on “Real Time with Bill Maher.”

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Opioid bills could net millions for companies

The House is touting passage of dozens of bills that could help combat the national opioid crisis — but a small handful of companies that have spent millions lobbying Congress could reap a windfall if any of the bills become law.

In a two-week legislative blitz, the House cleared several narrowly tailored measures that would spur sales for companies that have ramped up their influence game in Washington, according to a review of the more than five dozen bills up for votes.

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Those poised to benefit include:

• Alkermes, which spent $1 million lobbying in part to support a bill to fund full-service centers where people can detox, receive medical care and start treatment — a setup that could boost the fortunes of its best-selling product, anti-addiction treatment Vivitrol, which has been held back by the need for patients to fully detox before taking the drug.

• Indivior, an Alkermes rival that spent $180,000 largely in support of a bill that eases restrictions on certain controlled substances used in injectable anti-opioid treatments — a change that would make it easier for doctors to buy Indivior’s once-a-month injectable Sublocade.

• Pennsylvania drugmaker Braeburn Pharmaceuticals, which spent $100,000 lobbying and backed the same bill because it is developing a competing injectable.

• A group of drugmakers that produce non-opioid pain relief medications, including California-based Heron Therapeutics, which spent hundreds of thousands to lobby for legislative changes to create an additional Medicare payment for non-opioid pain drugs.

The measures come as part of a House package that anti-addiction advocates and even some lawmakers say will make only incremental progress toward fighting a public health crisis that’s killing an estimated 115 Americans per day.

“This is a very energetic effort to pretend we’re doing something significant,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), who supported the package but stressed the need to devote greater resources to the opioid fight. “By and large it’s better to do than not, but it falls way short of what is required.”

Yet as the epidemic morphs into a major campaign issue — and Congress runs out of time to pass other legislative packages — interest in the opioid effort has ballooned. Congress used February’s budget deal to authorize spending $6 billion over two years to address the crisis, prompting more than 300 companies and interest groups to flood Capitol Hill to lobby on opioids during the first three months of 2018, according to disclosure forms.

“When you hear they’re investing $3 billion in this in 2018 and $3 billion in 2019, everyone’s ears are going to perk up,” said Andrew Kessler, the founder of behavioral health consulting firm Slingshot Solutions. “For years, we got the scraps. And now we’re the big time.”

Alkermes, a big potential winner, has already attracted attention for its aggressive marketing tactics and Washington lobbying presence. Former HHS Secretary Tom Price toured the company’s Wilmington, Ohio, plant last year to tout Vivitrol — stirring controversy by belittling rival medication-assisted treatments that are more widely-used.

Alkermes spent $1 million lobbying Congress from January through March, focusing on a bipartisan bill from Reps. Brett Guthrie and Gene Green that directs millions of dollars to create full-service centers where people can detox, receive medical care and start treatment under the same roof. The proposal, passed last week in the first wave of House opioid votes, attempts to address the difficulty many patients face finding comprehensive treatment, the lawmakers said.

It also neatly addresses a chief problem holding back Alkermes’ best-selling product: While Vivitrol is one of just three FDA-approved drugs treating opioid addiction, it’s the only one that requires patients to fully detox before taking it.

That’s a major roadblock for doctors who are often unsure whether a patient has been in withdrawal for at least a week, and for patients desperate for immediate treatment, crimping Vivitrol’s market potential just as providers increasingly embrace medication-assisted treatment.

“The issue with Vivitrol is the fact that 25 percent of patients fail the detox component and therefore relapse, and is also one of the reasons why patients prefer Suboxone or Sublocade,” said Biren Amin, a pharmaceutical analyst for Jefferies LLC, referring to competing treatments. “Vivitrol growth [is] clearly impacted.”

By contrast, doctors in the recovery centers proposed by Guthrie and Green could closely monitor and manage patients’ progress, and then start treatment as soon as they’re fully detoxed.

The bill was one of only two opioid bills that Alkermes targeted in its lobbying, according to disclosure documents. Of the four main lobbyists for the company on the issue, one previously served as Guthrie’s deputy chief of staff. Another was Green’s former legislative director.

Both Guthrie and Green rejected any suggestion the bill was written to benefit Alkermes, pointing to its support from anti-addiction groups. The bill doesn’t mandate the recovery centers use one medication over another.

“We met with all the stakeholders,” Guthrie said. “We just think most people need access to all the [treatment] options.”

In a statement, Alkermes highlighted the legislation’s broad support, adding that it “is not about a particular form of treatment, but rather focuses on … comprehensive care.” The company said it has always supported using all FDA-approved medications for opioid dependence.

Though Alkermes ranked among the biggest-spending companies on opioid issues, it’s far from the only firm spending large sums to capture Congress’ attention.

“Whoever’s stuff is slick gets put to the top of the pile,” one longtime behavioral health lobbyist said of the corporate muscle that’s descended on Capitol Hill.

Indivior backed a bill from Rep. Ryan Costello that would ease restrictions on certain controlled substances used in injectable anti-opioid treatments — an arcane but important change that would effectively make it easier for doctors to buy Indivior’s once-a-month injectable Sublocade. Some view injectable treatments as preferable because they’re less likely to be diverted or misused.

The legislative tweak — which has already passed the Senate — is the only specific House opioid bill that Indivior listed in disclosures showing $180,000 spent on lobbying in the year’s first three months.

Braeburn Pharmaceuticals, which is developing a competing injectable anti-opioid treatment, spent $100,000 over that same period and also listed the Costello bill as the only provision in the House package it focused on.

Indivior did not respond to specific questions about its lobbying effort, saying in a statement that “government policies impacting these treatments must adapt toensure patients have access to all evidence-based treatment options.”

Braeburn said the bill simply codifies prior understandings, and that it supports policies that open up access to all treatments for opioid use disorder.

A spokeperson for Costello said he supports medical innovation and expanding access to a variety of anti-opioid treatments, and noted the bill passed unanimously out of the Energy and Commerce Committee. The legislation wasn’t initially rolled into the House’s main opioid package, but could still be added or passed separately.

Other bills proposed in the House are more direct in the way they would help specific companies.

A small group of post-surgery pain drug makers, including Heron Therapeutics, stand to benefit from Rep. Scott Peters’ legislation creating an additional Medicare payment for certain non-opioid pain drugs.

Heron, which is developing a treatment that would qualify for the payment, spent $40,000 lobbying on rate-setting issues for post-surgical non-opioid drugs from January to March.

The company is headquartered in Peters’ district, and said in an email that it has discussed opioid and addiction policies with the California lawmaker. But it emphasized that none of its currently approved drugs would benefit from the proposal, and that drugs made by other companies could also qualify.

A spokesperson for Peters said he met with Heron employees and toured the company’s headquarters as part of his interest in promoting post-surgery opioid alternatives, but he also met with other groups and developed the bill’s language in coordination with federal health officials and other lawmakers.

A bipartisan effort led by Reps. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), meanwhile, reverses deep cuts to reimbursements for select interventional pain management techniques.

That qualifies as a victory for the main trade group representing doctors who use non-opioid methods — including epidurals and other injections — to manage pain. In a celebratory blog post, the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians said it turned to Congress to restore its pay levels after unsuccessfully lobbying federal health officials.

“The agency said heck no, we can’t touch it — it needs a legislative fix to be more specific in the intent of Congress,” Shimkus said about when he stepped in. He added that the higher pay rate is needed because those more invasive pain management techniques are often more expensive than prescribing opioids.

A spokesperson for Krishnamoorthi said the lawmaker’s interest stemmed from his support for non-opioid alternatives, and that he never personally met with ASIPP about the legislation. ASIPP’s PAC has donated the maximum $10,000 allowed for this election cycle to both support for the bill.

Behavioral health and anti-addiction advocates have largely shrugged off those narrow provisions, saying they’re a byproduct of a fast-moving, piecemeal effort to address a public health crisis.

Yet they also acknowledge it means crucial funds will be limited to select groups instead of the broader population.

That only heightens the importance of Congress continuing to pursue new proposals for curbing drug abuse, Slingshot Solutions‘ Kessler said.

“There’s a lot of good stuff in there,” he added. “However, there’s a lot to be very, very cautious of as well. And the reason is because as much attention as Congress is paying and as much money as they’re dedicating to it, we’re still not anywhere close to where we need to be.”

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Trump tries to shift focus to victims of undocumented immigrants

Donald Trump is pictured. | AP

President Donald Trump mostly steered clear of directly addressing the family separation issue that sparked an international backlash, although some of the parents alluded to it in their remarks. | Evan Vucci/AP Photo

The president gave the stage to families he says have suffered from ‘permanent separation’ from their loved ones.

President Donald Trump on Friday put a spotlight on families who lost loved ones killed by undocumented immigrants — calling them victims of “permanent separation” — as he sought to shift the attention away from his administration’s recently halted policy of separating migrant families at the border.

It was a dramatic way to end a week that saw Trump make a rare reversal in the face of public outcry, and presented a counterargument as mothers and fathers told grisly tales of their children being tortured and murdered — and claimed the media has not covered their stories.

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“You know, you hear the other side. You never hear this side. You don’t know what’s going on. These are the American citizens permanently separated from their loved ones. The word permanently being the word that you have to think about,” the president said Friday afternoon.

“They’re not separated for a day or two days. These were permanently separated because they were killed by illegal aliens. These are the families the media ignores. They don’t talk about them. Very unfair.”

One by one, mothers and fathers took turns at the podium, invited by the president to share their stories. One mother recalled that her son had been repeatedly strangled and set on fire after he was dead. A father told the crowd of administration officials and law enforcement officers that his daughter had been kidnapped, raped and killed in 1990 and her body left naked in an artichoke field.

Another father, whose son was shot and killed while working as a clerk on an overnight shift, said his family sets up a Christmas tree on his son’s grave every year. Holding a challenge coin he had been given by acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Thomas Homan, the father said, “I wish some of our media had the same integrity as our president, our vice president.”

Trump mostly steered clear of directly addressing the family separation issue that sparked an international backlash, although some of the parents alluded to it in their remarks. The president’s comments were more somber than his Twitter outburst early Friday morning, in which he accused Democrats of telling “their phony stories of sadness and grief, hoping it will help them in the elections.”

Several of the parents carried large photographs of their deceased sons and daughters, many of which appeared to have been autographed by the president.

“I was going to end my life. I had no purpose, but President Trump coming down that escalator that day and talking about illegal immigration stopped me in my tracks. And I had no clue at that point that I would ever be at the White House,” one mother, who wore the ashes of her son, killed by a drunk driver, in a locket around her neck. “Remember when you go home and hug your kids that there are many of us, thousands of us who don’t get to do that anymore.”

The event marked the end of a week which the White House spent fully on the defensive, pushing back against a tidal wave of outcry over its policy of referring all illegal border-crossers for prosecution, a practice that resulted in the forcible separation of thousands of children from their parents.

Early in the week, the Trump administration held fast to its position that the administration’s hands were tied on family separation by established law, even though no such law exists and the policy was the result of a Justice Department policy directive that could be easily reversed.

The White House also argued that the practice could only be ended by a change in the law and therefore it was obstinate Democrats, unwilling to accede to the president’s broader immigration demands, who were to blame for the separations.

With both White House arguments proving untenable and public pressure mounting in the wake of photographs of children kept in cages at a Texas facility and audio of them crying out for their moms and dads, Trump signed an executive order Wednesday intended to keep families together at the border.

But even after the president’s order, confusion remained as to what would happen to the already separated families and how exactly families crossing the border illegally would be treated moving forward.

While administration spokespeople were steadfast in their positions, they quickly found themselves on an island, with Republicans on Capitol Hill growing increasingly vocal in their criticism of the practice.

The issue remained contentious Friday afternoon on Capitol Hill, where Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), played audio of children wailing inside a detention center on the House floor as Rep. Karen Handel (R-Ga.), who was presiding over the chamber at the time, tried to gavel him down, accusing him of violating House rules.

Throughout the week, administration officials complained often that the media’s coverage of illegal immigration and the issue of family separation neglected to reflect the victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, a group Trump spotlighted frequently on the campaign trail. Friday’s event, portions of which were carried live by all three major cable news networks, seemed an effort at redirecting the media’s attention.

“I cannot imagine it being any worse, but we promise to act with strength and resolve,” the president said. “We’ll not rest until our border is secure, our citizens are safe and we end this immigration crisis once and for all… Your loved ones have not died in vain.”

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