The TAKE with Rick Klein
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A Trump Cabinet secretary's job is in the balance, stemming from a deal he cut with Jeffrey Epstein as a U.S. Attorney years ago that's since been exposed as extraordinarily lenient, given the severity of the allegations -- that he molested teenage girls.
Epstein pleaded not guilty on Monday to new child sex-trafficking charges.
But Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta's fate is only a piece of the possible fallout. Acosta could pay a price for happening to be in President Donald Trump's Cabinet at the time new charges and more vivid allegations surfaced, yet Epstein represents potentially much more than that.
Epstein's vast political connections -- to Trump and to members of his family, to former President Bill Clinton and to a range of other prominent pols including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and others to whom he gave money -- carry with them the suggestion that he considered himself somehow beyond the reach of prosecutors.
In an environment where mistrust for political elites run deep, and where insider status and wealth itself are under attack in the Democratic primary, Epstein's behavior and what his prominent friends knew about him for all these years will spark questions worth asking.
"We believe we proceeded appropriately," Acosta said Wednesday at a long news conference, which notably did not include an apology to Epstein's alleged victims.
"I'm defending this case -- that's my job," he said.
Acosta is rightly answering to the new allegations. But he should not and will not be alone in that regard.
The RUNDOWN with MaryAlice Parks
Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has a new high-profile challenger as of this week, and she's likely to continue to grow her national profile as she makes a pitch across the aisle.
Democrat Amy McGrath broke onto the political stage last cycle when she ran for Congress in Kentucky. As a former Marine Corps fighter pilot, she had some stunning ads showing her as a tough, female outsider -- in a year those were much sough-after qualities.
There was a lot of hype that she might be the face of the so-called "pink wave" last fall, but while a record number of women were elected to Congress -- flipping red districts coast-to-coast -- she was not one of them.
Despite losing her congressional race in Lexington, Kentucky, last year, McGrath is now running statewide to, as she put it on Twitter, "destroy the swamp [McConnell] created."
"Kentucky voted overwhelmingly for President Trump," McGrath told ABC News Live. "They voted for him to drain the swamp, to do big things on infrastructure, to bring down prescription drug prices -- and a lot of those things have been blocked by Senator McConnell."
McGrath told the Louisville Courier Journal that if the president has good ideas, she'll back them, and she probably would have voted for his last Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh, too. (However, she later tweeted that "upon further reflection and further understanding of his record, I would have voted no.") In that way, she's running as an independent-minded Democrat, eager to step outside party norms.
While McConnell has a mighty war chest, McGrath's campaign said she'd raised $2.5 million in the first 24 hours since launching her campaign. And, according to her campaign manager, she raised the funds from nearly 70,000 donations. For context, one of the thresholds for qualifying for the Democratic presidential debates was receiving donations from 60,000 donors.
The TIP with Kendall Karson
A Republican primary runoff in North Carolina for a U.S. House seat became an early test for female Republican candidates as to how the party will prioritize gender diversity in its 2020 recruitment efforts.
State Rep. Greg Murphy trounced Joan Perry, a political newcomer and pediatrician who was endorsed by all 13 House Republican women. The contest reignited the party's urgency to elect more female candidates, particularly for House Republicans.
In the wake of Perry's bruising defeat, even the top-ranking Republican woman in the House, Liz Cheney, acknowledged on Wednesday, according to the Washington Post, that the party's diversity problem is two-fold: "We have to work very hard as Republicans to convince more women to run for office, but also to convince more women to vote for us."
That same day, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy defended the GOP's recruitment efforts as Cheney, the House Republican Conference chairperson, stood by his side: "The voters were able to make that decision, but she was able to make a runoff having never run before ... from the start, having never run before, this was a great improvement, and I look forward to seeing more women elected in this Republican new Congress coming in."
ONE MORE THING
Joe Biden is set to announce a plan for how he'd handle foreign policy as president Thursday in New York City.
ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. Thursday's episode features ABC News Chief National Affairs Correspondent Tom Llamas and Senior Editorial Producer John Santucci, who break down Acosta's press conference on Wednesday. The labor secretary defended his role in the Jeffrey Epstein case in Florida over a decade ago. http://apple.co/2HPocUL
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