Mich. Prosecutors Drop Charges In Flint Water Investigation, But Promise New Probe

The Flint Water Plant tower in Flint, Mich., where drinking water became tainted after the city switched from the Detroit system and began drawing from the Flint River in April 2014 to save money.

Carlos Osorio/AP

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Carlos Osorio/AP

Three years after lead was detected in the drinking water of Flint, Mich., state prosecutors say they are dropping all criminal charges filed against a group of eight government officials implicated in the scandal, in favor of launching a new expanded investigation.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced the dramatic shift in a statement Thursday.

“I want to remind the people of Flint that justice delayed is not always justice denied and a fearless and dedicated team of career prosecutors and investigators are hard at work to ensure those who harmed you are held accountable,” Nessel said.

In a separate statement, Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, who assumed control of the investigation in January, said they had “immediate and grave concerns” about the investigation conducted by the previous team of prosecutors. They concluded that “contrary to accepted standards of criminal investigation and prosecution, all available evidence was not pursued.”

In particular, the previous prosecutors “gave private law firms—representing Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the Department of Treasury, and the Executive Office of former Governor Rick Snyder—a role in deciding what information would be turned over to law enforcement.”

Hammoud and Worthy said that by dismissing the cases against the defendants they can move forward with “a thorough, methodical and ethical investigation,” rather than “build on a flawed foundation.”

Reaction to the announcement ranged from relief among some of the defendants to disbelief and disappointment among some Flint residents.

“This has been bungled,” Nayyirah Shariff, a Flint resident and director of the grassroots group Flint Rising, told the Detroit Free Press. “I don’t know what’s going on.”

“I’m very disappointed with (Attorney General) Dana Nessel’s office because she ran on a platform that she was going to provide justice for Flint resident, and it doesn’t seem like justice is coming,” she added.

Attorney Chip Chamberlin, who represents Michigan’s former health director Nick Lyon, told The Associated Press that he and his client “feel fantastic and vindicated.”

“We’re confident that a just and fair investigation, done properly, will yield no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing,” Chamberlin said.

Lyon had been charged with involuntary manslaughter for failing to alert the public about an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease during the period when Flint was drawing water from the Flint River.

Up until April 2014, Flint drew its drinking water from Lake Huron treated in Detroit. In a move meant to be temporary and save money, a state-appointed emergency manager switched the drinking water supply to Flint River, without taking measures to mitigate the impact of corrosive water on old pipes. That resulted in a spike in lead levels for the majority-black city of 100,000 residents.

Fifteen people initially were charged by former Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican. Seven were charged with misdemeanors with the expectation that their records would be scrubbed if they cooperated with prosecutors.

Prosecutors Hammoud and Worthy said they are not precluded from refiling charges against the defendants, or adding new charges and additional defendants.

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Trump Turns Trade Talks Into Spectator Sport

President Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping are expected to talk about trade on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, later this month.

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White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Thursday that the Trump administration is determined to make China play by the rules of international trade.

“You know how you get from here to there?” Kudlow told an audience at a pro-trade think tank in Washington. “You kick some butt.”

That’s not the kind of dry, technocratic language one usually associates with trade negotiations. But it’s another example of how President Trump has turned international commerce into a highly unusual spectator sport.

The next big spectacle is expected to be a face-off between Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, later this month.

This “Talka in Osaka” is another high-stakes showcase for the president, who’s managed to turn trade talks into must-see television. Less WTO — more WWE, complete with heroes, villains, plot twists and plenty of trash talk.

“China wants to make a deal very badly,” Trump told reporters this week. “It’s me, right now, that’s holding up the deal.”

Trump said that before he took office, “China ate the United States alive, economically.” The president has imposed steep tariffs on Chinese imports. And he’s threatened to go further if China won’t throw in the towel.

Like last week’s tariff battle with Mexico, the showdown with China has kept the president on the front page, sent shock waves through the stock market, and turned dusty rules of international commerce into a hot topic around the dinner table.

“There will be no shortage of conversations in the early summer barbecues, boy, with people looking at their portfolios,” said Matthew Slaughter, a Dartmouth economist who studies international trade.

Trump has not only put trade front and center in the national conversation. Because the president is such a polarizing figure, he’s managed to scramble the usual partisan cheering sections. Some Republicans are now defending tariffs and other protectionist measures while some Democrats are pushing in the opposite direction.

“There’s some Democrats who are now saying, ‘Boy, we need to be careful on levying these new trade barriers and we need to worry about trade wars,’ ” said Slaughter, who served in the George W. Bush White House. “The president and his policies are starting to muddy those waters again.”

A Quinnipiac poll last month found 53% all Americans disapprove of the president’s handling of trade, while just 39% approve. The poll was taken about a week after talks between the U.S. and China broke down and Trump increased tariffs on some $250 billion worth of imports.

“Right now, China is paying us billions and billions of dollars,” Trump said. “They never gave us 10 cents.”

Never mind that most economists say the tariffs are largely paid by American businesses and consumers. Meanwhile, China has raised tariffs of its own on U.S. exports, while cutting the taxes on products it buys from other countries.

Kudlow calls himself a free trader but said he’s come around to the president’s view that tariffs can be a useful economic weapon.

“It’s a negotiating tool, but it’s not a bluff,” Kudlow said. “As you’ve seen, he will actually execute or implement tariffs.”

A member of the audience asked Kudlow, what happens if Trump’s tariffs don’t deliver a knockout punch. What if, instead, the two sides settle into a costly, rope-a-dope trade war.

Kudlow didn’t have a ready answer for that. The think tank’s director emeritus, Fred Bergsten, observed that for much of the last century, the U.S. has gone largely unchallenged in the global ring. In China, it’s finally facing another economic heavyweight.

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Street In Front Of NASA Headquarters Renamed To Honor ‘Hidden Figures’

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine (from left to right), U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, and Margot Lee Shetterly, author of the book Hidden Figures, unveil the “Hidden Figures Way” street sign at a dedication ceremony on Wednesday in Washington.

NASA/Joel Kowsky

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NASA/Joel Kowsky

NASA is highlighting the legacy of African-American women who played a major role in the space race but are only recently getting widespread recognition.

This week, the space agency renamed the street in front of its headquarters Hidden Figures Way.

Hidden Figures is the name of a book and movie that celebrated the contributions of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. Its author, Margot Lee Shetterly, was at the unveiling ceremony, along with members of the women’s families.

“Naming this street Hidden Figures Way serves to remind us, and everyone who comes here, of the standard that was set by these women, with their commitment to science and their embodiment of the values of equality, justice and humanity,” Shetterly said. “But, let it also remind us of the Hidden Figures way, which is to open our eyes to [contributions] of the people around us so that their names, too, are the ones that we remember at the end of the story.”

Last year, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Ed Markey, John Thune and Bill Nelson introduced a bill to rename the street to honor the “human computers” at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which eventually became NASA.

In its early days, the space agency heavily relied on people “who performed mathematical equations and calculations by hand” – as the bill notes, they “played an integral role in the aeronautical and aerospace research at the laboratory from the mid 1930s into the 1970s.”

Katherine Johnson played a major role in calculating the trajectory of John Glenn’s mission to orbit Earth, among other achievements. According to NASA, Mary Jackson “very well may have been the only black female aeronautical engineer in the field” in the 1950s. And Dorothy Vaughn led a segregated computing unit for nearly a decade. There, she was NASA’s “first African-American manager.”

NASA scientist and mathematician Katherine Johnson, shown here in 1962, is one of the “Hidden Figures” honored with the new street name in front of NASA headquarters.

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“Here we are, 50 years after the landing of the Apollo 11 Moon lander, celebrating those figures who were, at the time, not celebrated,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said at the ceremony.

Cruz said he hopes the street name prompts retelling of the women’s stories for years to come.

“For years, and then decades, and then centuries, when little girls and little boys come to see NASA, they’re going to look up and see that sign, and they’re going to say ‘Hidden Figures? What’s that? What does that mean?’ And that, in turn, is going to prompt a story – a story about the unlimited human potential of all of us,” Cruz said.

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Who Made The Cut: DNC Announces Primary Debate Contenders

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke have all made the cut to appear in the first Democratic primary debate.

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Scott Eisen; Mark Makela; Ethan Miller; Kimberly White; Kimberly White/Getty Images

The Democratic National Committee announced Thursday the final list of presidential candidates who will take the stage at the first primary debates, on June 26 and 27.

To accommodate the massive field of candidates, the debates will be spread over two nights, with 10 candidates taking the stage for each two-hour debate.

Here are the candidates who the DNC said have made the cut, in alphabetical order:

  • Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden*
  • New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker*
  • South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg*
  • Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro*
  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio
  • Maryland Rep. John Delaney
  • Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard*
  • New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand*
  • California Sen. Kamala Harris*
  • Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper
  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee*
  • Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar*
  • Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke*
  • Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan
  • Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders*
  • California Rep. Eric Swalwell
  • Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren*
  • Writer and spiritual guru Marianne Williamson*
  • Entrepreneur Andrew Yang*

In order to qualify, all candidates had to hit either a fundraising or a polling threshold. For fundraising, candidates had to have at least 65,000 donors and at least 200 donors in each of 20 states. For polling, candidates had to garner at least 1% support in national or early-state polls.

Candidates marked with an asterisk (*) above met both thresholds according to the DNC.

On Friday, the DNC is set to announce which 10 candidates will take the stage on each night of the debates on June 26-27.

Of the 23 major candidates in the race, three did not make the first debate: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock; Miramar, Fla., Mayor Wayne Messam; and Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton.


Not all of the candidates agree with the DNC’s assessment. On Thursday morning, Bullock’s campaign sent a letter to the DNC making the case that he should be in the debate.

At issue is one ABC News/Washington Post poll from February, which had Bullock registering 1% support. Bullock’s camp lists this among his qualifying poll results. And indeed, in its initial qualifying criteria, the DNC listed both ABC and Washington Post polls as qualifying polls.

The DNC recently told Politico that it would not count that poll because it asked voters whom they would support in the primary in an open-ended fashion, rather than having them pick from a list.

Bullock waited to enter the race until the Montana legislature was out of session, which also gave him less time to try to amass 65,000 donors. He entered the race latest of all the candidates mentioned here, on May 14.

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New York Advances Bill Ending Religious Exemptions For Vaccines Amid ‘Health Crisis’

New York moved closer on Thursday to eliminating a religious exemption to vaccine requirements in the face of the nation’s worst measles outbreak in decades.

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Paul Vernon/AP

Lawmakers in New York passed a law on Thursday ending vaccination exemptions based on a family’s religious belief, as the country is in the grips of its worst measles outbreak in decades.

The New York Assembly voted 77-53 to pass the measure that eliminating religious and other nonmedical exemptions for schoolchildren across the state.

After the final vote tally was announced, howling protesters from activists including the parents of unvaccinated children filled the chamber, chanting “shame on you,” until lawmakers moved to recess.

The New York Senate is poised to vote on the bill later in the day, which would send the bill to the desk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who says he supports getting rid of religious exemptions for vaccines.

Cuomo on Wednesday said the law is necessary in what he described as a state health crisis.

“I understand freedom of religion. We all do. We respect it. I’ve heard the anti-vaxxers theory, but I believe both are overwhelmed by the public health risk,” Cuomo said.

Assembly member Patricia Fahy echoed Cuomo’s stance before voting in support of the measure. She said, “when we put the rest of the public at risk,” individual choices to not vaccinate children become “another matter.”

The debate around issue has grown more urgent with measles cases concentrated in ultra-Orthodox parts of New York, including Rockland County and parts of Brooklyn.

Opponents of the push to eliminate exemptions to vaccinations view it as an attack on religious freedom, but backers argue that the vaccine hold-outs are putting other schoolchildren at risk.

A small number of other states including California, Mississippi and Arizona have already passed laws banning vaccine exemptions on religious grounds.

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