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After Mormon Family’s Terror in Mexico, a Message Emerges: No One Is Safe

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LA MORA, Mexico — Andre Miller saw the column of black smoke rising from at least a mile away. Moments later, he said, the boom erupted.

He charged up the road to find a sport utility vehicle engulfed in flames — the same one his sister-in-law, Rhonita Miller, had been driving with her four children on Monday morning. He watched in horror, unable to approach. The heat was too intense.

“I couldn’t get any closer than 30 feet,” said Andre, 18. “I couldn’t tell if they were inside the car or not.”

[Is Mexico growing more violent? Our journalists answer reader questions.]

Past the flames, he spotted three armed men racing away. It was 10:20 a.m.

It was the first harrowing evidence that something had gone horribly wrong for the Mormon community in La Mora, a tiny hamlet of fruit and nut orchards tucked in a curtain of mountains in northern Mexico.

The senseless loss of life poses an existential crisis for Mexico and its president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

In recent weeks, a wave of disasters has forced the issue into the public eye with relentless consistency: the murder of 14 police officers in a single episode; a separate firefight that left 15 dead; an entire city placed under siege in broad daylight by nearly 400 gunmen from the Sinaloa Cartel — the criminal group once led by Joaquín Guzmán Loera, known as El Chapo. In that case, the cartel completely overwhelmed the Mexican government’s forces, taking eight of their members hostage and forcing them to let Mr. Guzmán’s son go free.

The president has struggled to assuage the divided nation, with some casting their support behind his impulse not to fight “fire with fire,” and others crying out for a stronger, more coherent response.

The murder rate has reached its highest point since the nation began collecting homicide data, and families across Mexico have largely writhed anonymously under the weight of loss.

Now, the ambushes have cast a glaring international light on the violence, spurring President Trump to vow to help Mexico “wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth,” while leaving the Mormon community of La Mora in tatters.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever come back here,” said Tyler Johnson, the husband of Christina Langford Johnson, who died in the second ambush, but whose 7-month-old baby, Faith, survived. “Not after everything that’s happened.”

As the local cartel raced up the road to confront its enemies, the family stopped at the S.U.V.’s smoldering frame, where the remains of Mrs. Miller and her children were scarcely recognizable.

Social media began to light up as family members shared the tragic news on WhatsApp and posted videos to Twitter, pleading for help. Along the road through the mountains, cell reception is spotty at best. Within a few hours, the family was in a panic, worried about the other S.U.V.s in Mrs. Miller’s convoy. They had set out from La Mora shortly after 9 a.m. and hadn’t been heard from since.

Relatives called the United States Embassy, the federal police, offices of two state attorneys general and the Mexican military, leveraging any connections they could to mount a rescue.

By late afternoon, Julian LeBarón and his father formed a search party and took off from the community of LeBarón, about a three-and-a-half-hour drive, hoping to intercept the women from the opposite end of the road.

It is unclear what time the second ambush — on the two vehicles carrying Christina Langford Johnson, Dawna Langford and their children — occurred. The government says it happened around 11 a.m., perhaps an hour or more after Mrs. Miller was ambushed. By that time, the other mothers and children were about 11 miles ahead of her.

The road narrowed as it climbed steeply. To the left, a dense wall of mud rose into the hillside. To the right, a ravine plunged to the floor of a narrow valley before rising into a towering mountain.

The location seemed chosen for its vulnerability. An attack could not easily be defended — or escaped. As the women barreled up the road, their vehicles were easy targets.



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Trump loses challenge to New York law allowing tax returns release

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President Donald Trump attends the opening ceremony of the Veterans Day Parade in Madison Square Park on November 11, 2019 in New York City.

Eduardo Munoz | VIEW press | Corbis News | Getty Images

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., on Monday dismissed President Donald Trump’s lawsuit seeking to bar a House committee from using a New York state law to obtain his state tax returns, suggesting the president’s legal action belonged in another courthouse.

The ruling by Judge Carl Nichols does not mean that Trump’s state tax returns will be released to the House Ways and Means Committee anytime soon.

Neither that committee, nor the two other congressional committees that under certain circumstances can obtain a president’s tax returns under the new state law, has actually invoked it to get Trump’s state returns.

Nichols’ ruling in Trump’s own suit had failed to establish that a judge in Washington federal court had jurisdiction over a challenge to New York’s law, known as the TRUST Act.

That act allows the chairs of the Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation, to get New York state returns of certain federal, state and local public officials, “for a specifed and legitimate legislative purpose.”

Nichols’ ruling said that Trump did not establish a conspiracy between the Ways and Means Committee and New York officials, which could have established that a Washington court had jurisdiction over the suit.

“Nowhere in his Amended Complaint does Mr. Trump allege the existence of a conspiracy; in fact, the word ‘conspiracy’ does not even appear in his pleadings,” Nichols wrote.

But Nichols did note that Trump “may renew his claim” that New York state tax officials are barred from releasing his state tax returns in the event that they are sought by one of the congressional committees under the New York law.

The judge also noted that Trump could file his suit in “another forum” — meaning another court — “presumably in New York.”

The information on those state returns would largely mirror details of Trump’s federal income tax returns, which are being sought by the House Ways and Means Committee.

That committee is suing the Treasury Department and the IRS to obtain those federal returns.

Before that suit was filed, both the Treasury Department and the IRS had rejected a demand from the committee to turn over those returns despite a section of the federal tax code saying that the Treasury “shall furnish” an individual’s returns if a formal written request is made by the committee.

Trump has refused to publicly disclose his tax returns either before or after winning the 2016 election, despite a longstanding tradition of presidential candidates and presidents doing so.

Last week, a federal appeals court in New York rejected Trump’s bid to bar a grand jury in Manhattan state court from obtaining eight years of personal and corporate tax returns from his accountants as part of an ongoing criminal probe. Trump’s lawyers plan to ask the U.S. Supreme Court this week to hear an appeal of that decision.

Trump had sued the Ways and Means Committee, the New York attorney general and the state’s tax chief in federal court in Washington in July, citing concerns that the committee’s chairman, Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., soon would try to obtain his state tax returns under New York’s TRUST Act, which was signed into law earlier that same month.

When Trump sued the Ways and Means Committee over its potential use of New York’s law to obtain his state tax returns, his lawyer Jay Sekulow said, “We have filed a lawsuit today in our ongoing efforts to end Presidential harassment.”

“The actions taken by the House and New York officials are nothing more than political retribution,” Sekulow said.

On the heels of Nichols’ ruling in the case on Monday, Sekulow said, “We are reviewing the opinion.”

The White House had no immediate comment.

New York Attorney General Letitia James said, “We have said all along that this lawsuit should be dismissed and we are pleased with the court’s conclusion.”

“The TRUST Act is an important tool that will ensure accountability to millions of Americans who deserve to know the truth,” James said. “We have never doubted that this law was legal, which is why we vigorously defended it from the start and will continue to do so.”

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., a Ways and Means Committee member who has argued for the release of Trump’s tax returns, said Nichols had “made the right decision, and when Trump and his lawyers make more attempts to block oversight, I am confident the ruling will be upheld.”

“Trump and his myriad enablers in the administration have moved heaven and earth to violate the law and keep Trump’s taxes hidden from sunlight,” Pascrell said. “It’s time for full transparency of Trump’s corruption.”

— Additional reporting by CNBC’s Kevin Breuninger.



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US national security officials objected to stopping Ukraine aid | USA News

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The view among the national security officials was unanimous: Military aid to Ukraine should not be stopped. But the White House’s acting chief of staff thought otherwise.

That was the testimony of Laura Cooper, a Defense Department official, whose deposition was released Monday in the House impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.

“My sense is that all of the senior leaders of the US national security departments and agencies were all unified in their – in their view that this assistance was essential,” she said. “And they were trying to find ways to engage the president on this.”

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Cooper’s testimony was among several hundred pages of transcripts released Monday, along with those of State Department officials Catherine Croft and Christopher Anderson.

Cooper told investigators that, in a series of July meetings at the White House, she came to understand that Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, was holding up the military aid for the US ally.

“There was just this issue of the White House chief of staff has conveyed that the president has concerns about Ukraine,” she testified.

When she and others tried to get an explanation, they found none.

“We did not get clarification,” she said. 

She said it was “unusual” to have congressional funds suddenly halted that way, and aides raised concerns about the legality of it. The Pentagon was “concerned” about the hold-up of funds and “any signal that we would send to Ukraine about a wavering in our commitment”, she said.

Cooper told investigators that she was visited in August by Kurt Volker, the US special envoy to Ukraine, who explained there was a “statement” that the Ukraine government could make to get the security money flowing.

It was the first she had heard of the quid pro quo that is now the central question of the impeachment inquiry – the administration’s push for the Ukraine government to investigate Trump’s political rivals.

“Somehow, an effort that he was engaged in to see if there was a statement that the government of Ukraine would make,” said Cooper, an assistant defence secretary, “that would somehow disavow any interference in US elections and would commit to the prosecution of any individuals involved in election interference.”

The House is investigating whether Trump violated his oath of office by pushing Ukraine’s president to investigate Democrats, including Joe Biden, while the administration was withholding military funds for the East European ally. 

Cooper described the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, saying it involved a range of items such as night-vision goggles, vehicles, sniper rifles and medical equipment.

“Security assistance is vital to helping the Ukrainians be able to defend themselves,” Cooper said.

Because Ukraine and Georgia are two “front-line states” facing Russian aggression, the US needed to “shore up these countries’ abilities to defend themselves”.

“It’s in our interest to deter Russian aggression elsewhere around the world,” she said.





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E.P.A. to Limit Science Used to Write Public Health Rules

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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is preparing to significantly limit the scientific and medical research that the government can use to determine public health regulations, overriding protests from scientists and physicians who say the new rule would undermine the scientific underpinnings of government policymaking.

A new draft of the Environmental Protection Agency proposal, titled Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science, would require that scientists disclose all of their raw data, including confidential medical records, before the agency could consider an academic study’s conclusions. E.P.A. officials called the plan a step toward transparency and said the disclosure of raw data would allow conclusions to be verified independently.

“We are committed to the highest quality science,” Andrew Wheeler, the E.P.A. administrator, told a congressional committee in September. “Good science is science that can be replicated and independently validated, science that can hold up to scrutiny. That is why we’re moving forward to ensure that the science supporting agency decisions is transparent and available for evaluation by the public and stakeholders.”

The measure would make it more difficult to enact new clean air and water rules because many studies detailing the links between pollution and disease rely on personal health information gathered under confidentiality agreements. And, unlike a version of the proposal that surfaced in early 2018, this one could apply retroactively to public health regulations already in place.

“This means the E.P.A. can justify rolling back rules or failing to update rules based on the best information to protect public health and the environment, which means more dirty air and more premature deaths,” said Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy at the American Lung Association.

Public health experts warned that studies that have been used for decades — to show, for example, that mercury from power plants impairs brain development, or that lead in paint dust is tied to behavioral disorders in children — might be inadmissible when existing regulations come up for renewal.

For instance, a groundbreaking 1993 Harvard University project that definitively linked polluted air to premature deaths, currently the foundation of the nation’s air-quality laws, could become inadmissible. When gathering data for their research, known as the Six Cities study, scientists signed confidentiality agreements to track the private medical and occupational histories of more than 22,000 people in six cities. They combined that personal data with home air-quality data to study the link between chronic exposure to air pollution and mortality.

But the fossil fuel industry and some Republican lawmakers have long criticized the analysis and a similar study by the American Cancer Society, saying the underlying data sets of both were never made public, preventing independent analysis of the conclusions.

The change is part of a broader administration effort to weaken the scientific underpinnings of policymaking. Senior administration officials have tried to water down the testimony of government scientists, publicly chastised scientists who have dissented from President Trump’s positions and blocked government researchers from traveling to conferences to present their work.

An E.P.A. spokeswoman said in an emailed statement, “The agency does not discuss draft, deliberative documents or actions still under internal and interagency review.”

On Wednesday, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology will hold a hearing on the E.P.A.’s efforts. A top pulmonary specialist and a representative of the country’s largest nonprofit funder of research on Parkinson’s disease, the Michael J. Fox Foundation, are expected to testify that the E.P.A.’s proposed rule would eliminate the use of valuable research showing the dangers of pollution to human health.

Mr. Pruitt’s original proposal drew nearly 600,000 comments, the vast majority of them in opposition. Among them were leading public health groups and some of the country’s top scientific organizations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners said it was “deeply concerned” that the rule would lead to the exclusion of studies, “ultimately resulting in weaker environmental and health protections and greater risks to children’s health.” The National Center for Science Education said ruling out studies that do not use open data “would send a deeply misleading message, ignoring the thoughtful processes that scientists use to ensure that all relevant evidence is considered.” The Medical Library Association and the Association of Academic Health Science Libraries said the proposal “contradicts our core values.”

Industry groups said the rule would ensure greater public understanding of the science behind regulations that cost consumers money.

“Transparency, reproducibility and application of current scientific knowledge are paramount to providing the foundation required for sound regulations,” the American Chemistry Council wrote to the E.P.A. in support of the plan.

The new version does not appear to have taken any of the opposition into consideration. At a meeting of the agency’s independent science advisory board this summer, Mr. Wheeler said he was “a little shocked” at the amount of opposition to the proposal, but he was committed to finalizing it. Beyond retroactivity, the latest version stipulates that all data and models used in studies under consideration at the E.P.A. would have to be made available to the agency so it can reanalyze research itself. The politically appointed agency administrator would have wide-ranging discretion over which studies to accept or reject.

“It was hard to imagine that they could have made this worse, but they did,” said Michael Halpern, deputy director for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit advocacy group. He added, “This is a wholesale politicization of the process.”

Academics are not typically required to turn over private data when submitting studies for peer review by other specialists in the field, or for publication in scientific journals, the traditional ways scientific research is evaluated. If academics were to turn over the raw data to be made available for public review, the E.P.A. would have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to redact private information, according to one federal estimate.

The Six Cities study and a 1995 American Cancer Society analysis of 1.2 million people that confirmed the Harvard findings appear to be the inspiration of the regulation.

The proposal gives the public 30 days to offer comments on the changes to the E.P.A.’s plan. Agency officials have said they hope to finalize the measure in 2020.

“The original goal was to stop E.P.A. from relying on these two studies unless the data is made public,” said Steven J. Milloy, a member of Mr. Trump’s E.P.A. transition team who runs Junkscience.org, a website that questions established climate change science and contends particulate matter in smog does not harm human health.

He dismissed concerns that the new rule could be used to unravel existing regulations, but he said he did expect it to prevent pollution rules from getting tougher.

“The reality is, standards are not going to be tightened as long as there’s a Republican in office,” he said.



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