Pentagon ‘very carefully’ watching China, it’s ‘No. 1 priority,’ Defense Secretary Mark Esper tells Fox News

China is the Pentagon’s “number one priority,” and the United States is watching Beijing “very carefully” in order to safeguard America, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told Fox News in an exclusive interview Wednesday.

In his first interview since he was confirmed as Pentagon chief in July, Esper told Fox News national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin that China has engaged in the “greatest theft of intellectual property in human history” and is also expanding its military to “push the United States out of [the Indo-Pacific] theater.”

“China is the number one priority for this department. It’s outlined in the National Defense Strategy, why we think it’s a long-term strategic competitor and one that is pursuing a maximization campaign, if you will, throughout the Indo-Pacific Theater, whether it’s politically, economically, or militarily,” he told Griffin. “They are clearly professionalizing and expanding the capacity and capabilities of the military in order to push the United States out of that theater.”

“They’ve studied us, and they’ve learned about how we employ weapons; they’ve learned about our doctrine,” Esper added. “And so, that is something that we watch very carefully.”

Esper, a former Army lieutenant colonel, graduated from West Point in 1986 – the same class as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – and spent 10 years on active duty, followed by 11 years in the Army National Guard and Reserve. He brings military, defense and national security experience to the table, and touts a “good relationship” with President Trump.

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In his wide-ranging interview, Esper also spoke about deterring Russia’s nuclear ambitions, protecting American elections from foreign hackers, denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and Iran funding its “illicit activities.”

Esper noted what he described as the coming shift from “low-intensity conflict that lasts 18 years,” referring to the war in Afghanistan, to “high-intensity conflicts against competitors such as Russia and China.”

“That means modernizing the force with advanced capabilities, A.I.-based, hypersonics, robotics, directed energy and updating our doctrine — doing all those things will be critical for us to deter a conflict in the future,” he said.

Esper described China’s theft of intellectual property as a “big, big problem.”

CHINA COULD WIN MILITARY CONFLICT IN INDO-PACIFIC REGION EVEN ‘BEFORE AMERICA CAN RESPOND,’ THINK TANK WARNS

“It’s a state-run organized effort to go after technologies, whether they are defense or non-defense technologies, to go up against other — all other types of intellectual property, even commercial goods,” he explained. “So, it really requires enforcement. And this is where […] I applaud the president for pushing back against China and all their trade activities that are outside the bounds of what should be expected.”

In addition to safeguarding intellectual property, Esper said the U.S. needs to modernize its nuclear stockpile.

“Our strategic forces are a key deterrent to nuclear war. I think a strong, reliable, capable, ready deterrent is really what prevents nuclear war from happening in the first place,” he pointed out.

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Esper noted the Russians were “clearly […] trying to expand their strategic nuclear arsenal […] to deal with the United States.”

“And so, as people talk about a New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty — that’s why we say, look, if there’s going to be an extension of New START, then we need to make sure we include all of these new weapons that […] Russia is pursuing,” he stressed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned his country would develop short- and intermediate-range land-launched nuclear missiles if it got word the United States had started building such weapons.

PUTIN THREATENS TO DEVELOP NUCLEAR MISSILES IF UNITED STATES DOES

“Right now,” Esper said, “Russia has possible nuclear-tipped […] INF-range cruise missiles facing [Europe] — that’s not a good thing.”

When it came to Russian hacking, Esper said the U.S. will see “continued malign Russian cyber activity.”

“We will see North Korean cyber activity and Chinese cyber activity,” he went on. “But I will say, we built exquisite capabilities ourselves under Cyber Command. And I think it’s one of the reasons why, between our capabilities and between the authorities granted to us by President Trump in the last year or so, we had little problems with 2018 elections.”

“[We] will continue to apply all of our capabilities and all of our authorities to make sure that we — our elections — are protected and that the integrity of our democracy is unquestionable,” Esper noted.

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The defense secretary also talked about President Trump’s proposed Space Force, and why it was needed – he pointed to nations like Russia and China, “probably more so China,” which are turning space into a “war-fighting domain.”

“Ten years ago, space was a place — the heavens upon which we looked down upon the Earth and figured out what was going to be the weather in Iowa, or we could survey our adversaries,” he explained.

But, since then, China and Russia have been working to overtake U.S. systems in space and threaten not only the U.S. military but the country’s economy and commerce, as well, Esper said.

“We want to be able to develop a space force that would build the space capabilities in a coherent […] fashion, but, at the same time, have a Space Command that would be responsible for the space war-fight,” he said.

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The Pentagon chief also told Fox News he applauded the president’s approach to North Korea, saying diplomacy was the way to achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula “in a verifiable, complete, and irreversible way.”

Griffin later asked Esper about former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who resigned from his post in December after disagreeing with the president about the possibility of pulling troops from Syria.

“That was his red line,” Griffin said. “What is your red line?”

“So look, what I said is my issue with any person I ever worked for was, I would never do anything that is either illegal, immoral or unethical. And, I don’t believe the president’s going to ask me to do any one of those three,” Esper said.

Griffin also asked Esper about a moniker in his West Point yearbook.

“In your yearbook, they call you Troop. Why’d they call you Troop?” she asked. Mattis famously had the nicknames “Mad Dog,” “Warrior Wonk” and “Chaos.”

“Because I was really, really committed to military service and being in infantry, and that was kind of a nickname I inherited by a couple friends,” Esper said.

Griffin also asked Esper if anything kept him up at night and referenced claims by Trump that nothing keeps him up at night.

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“Is that true for you?” she asked.

“Yes,” Esper answered. “Nothing keeps me up at night because I think we’re defended by the best military in history.”

Jeffrey Epstein arranged for sex with 18-year-old while on work release from jail: lawsuit

Jeffrey Epstein had sex with an 18-year-old woman inside the headquarters of a nonprofit while on work release from Florida jail — as plainclothed sheriff’s deputies stood guard outside — one of three new lawsuits filed Tuesday in New York against the late financier’s estate alleges.

A woman identified only as Kaitlyn Doe claims she flew to West Palm Beach, Fla., in October 2008 shortly after her 18th birthday to work for Epstein’s new nonprofit, the Florida Science Foundation.

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Once she arrived, she was allegedly coerced into performing sex acts for Epstein, sometimes alone and sometimes with another young woman, inside the offices of the non-profit, all while he was on work release, the lawsuit says.

“Jeffrey Epstein, through his brazen and powerful organization, was quite literally able to commit federal sex trafficking offenses at his work release office, during his jail sentence,” according to the lawsuit.

“Jeffrey Epstein, through his brazen and powerful organization, was quite literally able to commit federal sex trafficking offenses at his work release office, during his jail sentence.” 

— Kaitlyn Doe lawsuit

At the time, Epstein was serving an 18-month prison sentence at the Palm Beach County Jail after pleading guilty to state prostitution charges. As part of the plea agreement, Epstein also registered as a sex offender and paid victims financial settlements, the Sun Sentinel of South Florida reported.

About three months into his sentence, Epstein was granted permission from Palm Beach Sheriff Ric Bradshaw to leave jail for up to 12 hours a day, six days a week on work release at his nonprofit, the Palm Beach Post reported. Epstein paid off-duty Palm Beach sheriff’s deputies dressed in suits to stand guard outside the office while he was inside.

The deputies were supposed to take detailed logs of who entered and exited the office while Epstein was there. Those records were destroyed years after Epstein finished his sentence as per Florida public record laws, the Palm Beach Post reported.

The Florida Science Foundation was created about seven months before Epstein accepted his plea deal and was dissolved two months after his sentence ended.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has ordered a state investigation to be conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and its handling of Epstein’s work release. The sheriff’s office is not named as a defendant in Kaitlyn Doe’s suit.

Kaitlyn Doe claims she first met Epstein in New York City when she was 17 and suffering from an eating disorder as well as other medical ailments. Epstein allegedly promised to pay for “expensive necessary surgeries” to treat her, the Miami Herald reported.

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Kaitlyn claims she was coerced into performing sex acts for Epstein while she was still 17 and a virgin at his New York City mansion. She also claims she was flown to Epstein’s compound in the U.S. Virgin Islands where she was coerced into having sex with him. The sexual relationship continued until 2014, the suit alleges.

The lawsuit also alleges Epstein forced Kaitlyn to marry another woman so that that woman could remain in the United States even though she was not a U.S. citizen. That woman allegedly helped recruit young women for Epstein to have sex with.

Conan O’Brien vows to negotiate Trump’s Greenland deal, offers up Florida

“Conan” host Conan O’Brien is offering his negotiation skills to President Trump after it was reported that the president has expressed serious interest in buying Greenland.

“A lot of people have kind of been making fun of the idea for the past day or so… but not me,” O’Brien told his audience Monday. “You see, I want to give the President Trump the benefit of the doubt. What if we, the United States, did buy Greenland? It might just be a good idea. It seriously might. And as the elder statesman of late-night, what if I negotiated the deal?”

After sparking some laughs, the TBS host doubled down.

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“Seriously, what if I handled this historic negotiation?” O’Brien said. “I have as much, if not more, negotiating experience as Trump. I mean c’mon, an 11 o’clock timeslot on TBS, you don’t just get that!”

Despite Denmark insisting that Greenland is “not for sale,” the late-night comedian is convinced otherwise and warned that China will snatch it with “all cash.”

“So alright, Denmark, you want to play hardball? I’m ready to sweeten the deal,” O’Brien said. “We could do a straight trade: Greenland for Florida.”

The “Conan” host then highlighted some perks of being part of the United States, like being “enrolled in the U.S. health care system,” and never being cold by being “American fat.”

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He also announced that he was going to make an actual visit to the icy nation as part of his “Conan Without Borders” special.

“Here’s my promise… if I do not make this deal to purchase Greenland, if I do not make this deal, I, Conan O’Brien will never, ever again step foot on American soil,” he joked to this audience, which roared with applause.

Reporter brutally punched during live hit at Mexico City protest: report

A television reporter in Mexico was knocked unconscious during a live broadcast while covering a tense protest sparked by allegations that police officers in Mexico City raped two teenaged girls, reports said.

The punch occurred during a march Friday against gender violence in the city and was broadcasted on ADN 40,  reports said.

Juan Manuel Jimenez, the reporter, was in the middle of a live broadcast when he was confronted by a female protester who screamed at him.

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Once she left, a man dressed in a white shirt and blue hat eases behind the reporter. He rears back and throws a devastating punch that connects squarely with the reporter’s chin, the video appears to show. The reporter drops his microphone and falls to the ground.

The alleged attacker is seen walking back into the crowd of protesters.

Jimenez took to Twitter to thank his followers for their support and said he has filed a complaint.

The crowd at the protest chanted “Rapist police!” and “My friends protect me, you don’t!” and some trashed a bus station, breaking windows and gates. The crowd moved on to a police station, where they smashed windows and set a fire on the second floor, the Associated Press reported.

A 17-year-old girl claimed that four police officers raped her in a patrol car, and a 16-year-old said an officer raped her in a museum, the BBC reported.

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The demonstrations have become known as the “glitter protests” after marchers earlier this week doused the city’s police chief in pink glitter.

The Associated  Press contributed to this report

Joe Biden heaps praise on GOP during Massachusetts fundraiser

Democratic 2020 presidential frontrunner Joe Biden praised Republicans as “decent people” at a Massachusetts fundraiser Saturday while touting his ability to work across the aisle, according to a report.

“There’s an awful lot of really good Republicans out there,” the former vice president told the audience, according to The Hill. “I get in trouble for saying that with Democrats, but the truth of the matter is, every time we ever got in trouble with our administration, remember who got sent up to Capitol Hill to fix it? Me. Because they know I respect the other team.”

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He said congressional Republicans ran because they “care about things,” but are afraid to be at odds with President Trump.

“They’re intimidated right now,” he told the audience, The Hill reported.

Biden took heat last fall when The New York Times published a story that said he “stunned Democrats and elated Republicans” three weeks before the midterms by lauding Republican House candidate Fred Upton, R-Mich.

He has also frustrated Democrats in the past by praising former Vice President Dick Cheney and calling Vice President Mike Pence “a decent guy.”

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While Biden — considered to be the most moderate of the top-ranked candidates — is largely running on his ability to work with Republicans, more liberal candidates like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris are focused on promoting progressive plans like Medicare-for-All and the Green New Deal.

Trump must keep US troops in Afghanistan, Florida rep says: ‘It will follow us home’

President Trump should not withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, a member of the House Armed Services Committee who served in the country as a member of the U.S. Army said Friday.

“Half the world’s terrorist organizations still exist there and can attack the United States,” U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., said Friday on “The Story with Martha MacCallum.” “And if you believe the Taliban’s promises, which I don’t, but if you believe them, how do they have the capability to keep a lid on these groups that the American Army has struggled with?”

On Friday, Trump met with his top security advisers about the way forward in Afghanistan — possibly moving toward a phased withdrawal, something critics warn could lead to the Taliban taking hold of the country once again.

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Waltz, who served as a Green Beret, expressed his concern about neighboring Pakistan and urged Trump not to make the same mistakes that he claims President Obama did with Iraq.

“Right next door to Afghanistan is Pakistan with seven times the population and potential of loose nukes if Afghanistan devolves into chaos,” Waltz said. “Pakistan will go with it.”

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“So I guess my message is, ‘Mr. President, do not be to Afghanistan — please — what President Obama was to Iraq.”

The first-term congressman from the Jacksonville area urged Trump to keep the conflict in Afghanstan to avoid losing more American lives.

“Let’s fight these wars in places like Kabul, [otherwise] it will follow us home,” he said. “I do not want to lose Americans fighting their way back in.”

Fox News’ Alex Pappas and Adam Shaw contributed to this report.

Former Yang staffer explains why he wants Democrat Nadler’s US House seat

A former staffer of Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang explained Thursday why he plans to challenge U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., in next year’s Democratic primary.

“The reason I’m running on this platform is we’re going through a fundamental economic shift — the greatest in our history where we’re automating away the most common jobs in our economy,” Jonathan Herzog said on Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle.”

Nadler, 72, has been a member of Congress since 1992 and currently serves as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He represents New York’s 10th Congressional District, which includes parts of the Manhattan and Brooklyn boroughs of New York City.

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“Working in retail is still the most common job,” Herzog explained to guest host Jason Chaffetz. And so we need to enact meaningful solutions to help hundreds of thousands of folks here in New York and especially in the district to transition to this fundamental economic shift.”

Herzog, who announced his candidacy Tuesday, is running on a platform similar to that of Yang, calling for a universal basic income giving citizens $1,000 a month, dubbed a “Freedom Dividend.”

The congressional candidate vowed to beat Nadler by “proposing bold solutions.”

“Putting forth bold solutions that address the challenges of our time is what will bring us across the finish line,” Herzog said.

At one point during the interview Herzog brought up Amazon not paying federal taxes, using it as reason to push for a “Freedom Dividend.”

Chaffetz pressed Herzog on whether he agreed with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., whose criticism of Amazon ultimately led the company to pull out of a plan to build a secondary headquarters in New York City.

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“Do you want Amazon to come to New York, yes or no?” Chaffetz asked.

“Yes, it is good to have job growth,” Herzog said after some prodding.

Jeffrey Epstein autopsy reveals broken bones in neck, cause of death pending: report

An autopsy on the body of Jeffrey Epstein revealed the convicted sex offender had several broken bones in his neck, including the hyoid bone, according to a report.

The hyoid bone, which is near the Adam’s apple, can be broken in a suicide by hanging — especially in older people — but is more common in strangulation murders, The Washington Post reported.

EPSTEIN ACCUSER’S LAWYER: GHISLAINE MAXWELL WAS A ‘PRINCIPAL CONSPIRATOR’ IN ALLEGED SEX-TRAFFICKING RING

Epstein, 66, was found hanging in his cell in an “apparent suicide” at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City on Saturday where he was being held on sex trafficking charges.

He was placed on suicide watch in July but was removed from it by the end of the month.

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The circumstances surrounding Epstein’s death have led to several unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.

His official cause of death is still pending, The Post reported.

In 1976 speech, Biden said US criminal justice should focus on punishment not rehabilitation

In a 1976 speech in Idaho, then-Sen. Joe Biden said the U.S. criminal justice system should stress punishment rather than rehabilitation — a direct contradiction to his current platform, which focuses on rehabilitation, according to a report.

“Why should we liberals, why should we Democrats, apologize for saying a criminal justice system has implicit in it the idea that a crime should be met with a punishment? What is wrong with that?” the senator from Delaware said at the annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Boise, Idaho, in audio reportedly obtained by the Washington Examiner.

“Why should we liberals, why should we Democrats, apologize for saying a criminal justice system has implicit in it the idea that a crime should be met with a punishment? What is wrong with that?”

— Joe Biden, in 1976 speech

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In the speech, Biden also said that liberals claim convicts need to be rehabilitated but there’s a recognition that “We have not found a way to rehabilitate.”

He added if Democrats didn’t get tougher on criminals voters would start to support politicians like Alabama segregationist George Wallace, who was strict on crime.

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“When we don’t respond,” he said, according to the Examiner, “we allow men like [Wallace] to run around the nation talking about ‘pointy-headed federal judges’ and about the fact that we need more severe penalties in the government for crime, and people begin to believe him.”

Biden also said that diversity strengthening America is “poppycock,” adding that people “fear differences.”

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Biden has faced scrutiny from his 2020 presidential rivals over his support for the 1994 crime bill and other past positions over his decades-long career.

Pressley calls McConnell the ‘common enemy’ during mass shootings

Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., declared Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was the “common enemy” during mass shootings during her Monday night appearance on “The Daily Show.”

After claiming that President Trump’s rhetoric is “exactly why” the El Paso mass shooting took place earlier this month, Pressley agreed with “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah, who suggested that guns are the “common factor” in mass shootings.

“Yes, guns are the common factor and the common enemy in all of this is Mitch McConnell,” Pressley said, which sparked applause from the audience. “So please give him a call and tell him I sent you.”

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She continued, “Why haven’t we acted? This gun violence is a public health crisis and epidemic. It’s an urban issue, it’s a rural issue, it’s a suburban issue, it’s transcendent… it is pervasive and it is growing.”

The “Squad” member went on to praise New Zealand for “banning assault weapons” shortly after its mass shooting in March and blamed inaction in the U.S. on “a deficit of political courage and leadership.”

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“We need to hold two narratives: there are mass shootings and there’s community-based violence. And we also know that there’s more guns than people,” Pressley told Noah. “And as long as that’s the case, you are going to see an intersectionality of violence.”

Last week, protestors gathered outside McConnell’s home, where one called for him to be stabbed in the heart.