The U.S. at a glance ...
Boente: Pushed out?
Grilled on the Hill
Hoover(AP (2), Getty, AP)
Suspicious contract: Puerto Rico this week moved to cancel a $300 million power-reconstruction contract with a tiny, two-year-old Montana firm linked to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, amid growing questions over how the controversial deal was struck. Whitefish Energy had just two employees when it was chosen to rebuild the island’s power grid in the wake of Hurricane Maria. The company planned to subcontract much of the work—charging $227 per hour for a lineman, plus more than $400 per worker for daily meals and lodging—and the contract barred the government from auditing the company’s labor rates or profits. The firm is based in Zinke’s hometown of Whitefish (pop. 7,300), and chief executive Andrew Techmanski and Zinke know each other. Both men said that Zinke had no role in securing the contract, and Whitefish said it was suited for the work because of its experience in mountainous terrain. But Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló pulled the deal, saying it was a “distraction” from the island’s disaster response.
Sudden departure: Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia who briefly served as acting attorney general after President Trump fired Sally Yates, abruptly resigned last week—prompting speculation that he had been forced to make way for a replacement who would agree to fire special counsel Robert Mueller if President Trump so ordered. Responsibility for removing Mueller could fall to Boente’s successor if Trump’s demand prompted a “Saturday Night Massacre”–style purge among Justice Department officials who quit in protest or were fired. Other Washington insiders speculated that Boente may be a witness in Mueller’s investigation into potential obstruction of justice by Trump, or that Trump wants to replace him with a loyalist who will reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Boente himself gave no reason for his sudden resignation.
Voter purge: A government watchdog last week sued Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, accusing her of illegally purging voters from state rolls. Common Cause Indiana alleges that Lawson’s office relies on an inaccurate Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck database that identifies people in different states who share the same name and birth date. Under a new state law, Indiana allows local officials to immediately remove voters identified by Crosscheck without asking them to confirm an address change or respond to a notice, as required by federal law. Crosscheck systems, which are championed by Kris Kobach, vice chair of President Trump’s voter fraud commission, are on the rise nationally, despite one study that estimated the error rate to be more than 99 percent. Indiana has purged more than 481,000 people from voter rolls since 2014. Lawson’s general counsel called the allegations “baseless.”
Disabled girl detained: Civil liberties groups this week demanded the release of a 10-year-old undocumented immigrant with cerebral palsy who was taken into federal custody after the ambulance taking her to the hospital was pulled over. Rosa Maria Hernandez has been receiving treatment for her disorder since she was brought across the Mexican border to Laredo, Texas, by her parents when she was 3 months old. Last week she was being rushed to a hospital in Corpus Christi at 2 a.m. for emergency gallbladder surgery when immigration officials stopped her ambulance at a checkpoint. Hernandez was allowed to proceed to the hospital with an adult cousin, but armed Border Patrol agents waited outside her room during surgery, then transferred her to a facility for migrant children in San Antonio. Hernandez has the mental capacity of a 5-year-old and has never been away from her family. The ACLU has sued for her release.
Tech giants testify: Google, Twitter, and Facebook this week revealed that Kremlin-linked operatives had a far greater reach in the 2016 election than previously reported, as lawyers for the three Silicon Valley tech giants were grilled on Capitol Hill about Russia’s disinformation campaign. Facebook disclosed that roughly 150 million Americans were exposed to Kremlin-linked ads—a significantly higher figure than the 11 million previously estimated by the social network. Russian trolls also created at least three Facebook groups that encouraged violence on both sides of the political divide—with posts suggesting that Black Lives Matter activists “be immediately shot,” and others calling on black activists to seek an “eye for an eye” for police brutality. Twitter disclosed that some 36,000 Russian bots tweeted 1.4 million times during the election, and Google said Kremlin-linked operatives uploaded more than 1,100 videos to YouTube. “This is the national security challenge of the 21st century,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham.
JFK files: The CIA considered a mob hit on Fidel Castro, while FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover said the bureau must “convince the public” that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing President John F. Kennedy, according to some of the more than 2,800 declassified government records released by the National Archives last week. In 1992, Congress set a 25-year deadline for the release of all assassination documents— though President Trump agreed this week to delay the release of roughly 300 files pending further national security review. Various records revealed that a private detective investigated suspected sex parties involving Kennedy and Frank Sinatra, and that the FBI received a phone call threatening Oswald’s death one day before he was shot by Jack Ruby. In a memo dictated by Hoover shortly after Oswald was killed, the FBI director said Americans needed to be quickly convinced that Oswald “is the real assassin.” He did not explain why he did not want a prolonged investigation. ■