‘Troopergate’ moves: In a bid to keep an ethics investigation from becoming an embarassment for John McCain’s presidential campaign, Republicans this week sought to derail a state legislative inquiry into whether Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin improperly fired the state’s public safety commissioner. In a suit filed in state court, Republican legislators in Alaska called the investigation “partisan” and unconstitutional. Separately, Alaska’s Republican Attorney General Talis Colberg said Palin’s staff would not honor subpoenas in the case, despite Palin’s earlier pledge of cooperation. Palin has denied allegations that she dismissed Commissioner Walt Monegan because he refused to fire Palin’s former brother-in-law, a state trooper who was embroiled in a nasty divorce from Palin’s sister.
Deadly train crash: A speeding commuter train crashed head-on into a freight train in a Los Angeles suburb last week, killing 25 people and injuring 135. The MetroLink commuter train, carrying about 225 people, was racing north along a main rail line when it collided with a southbound Union Pacific freight train. Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board said that the engineer of the MetroLink train, who died in the crash, ignored a stop signal. Phone records indicate that the engineer may have been text-messaging just before the crash. Rescue workers called the accident scene the worst they’d ever seen. “There were dead bodies lying on top of survivors,” said Los Angeles firefighter John Virant.
Sex scandal: Department of the Interior employees engaged in sex with oil company employees and one another, used cocaine and marijuana, and accepted thousands of dollars in industry gifts, the department’s inspector general charged last week. In his report, Earl Devaney said a “culture of ethical failure” prevailed at the department’s Minerals Management Service, which supervises oil and gas companies’ work on federal lands. The allegations were immediately injected into the debate over offshore oil drilling, with opponents charging that the scandal exposed the excessive influence oil companies have over federal agencies.
Half-finished fence: The long-promised 670-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border won’t be finished during the Bush administration’s remaining time in office, the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged this week. Blaming a lack of funding and delays in purchasing private land along the border, Homeland Security official Ralph Basham said that only 344 miles of fencing had been completed. Costs for items such as vehicle barriers and pedestrian fencing had risen as much as 75 percent since construction began, Basham said, depleting the project’s budget. “We’re out of money and operations will stop,” he said. The Bush administration blamed Congress for the project’s demise, saying Democrats had failed to provide adequate funding.
New York City
Rosenberg case revisited: One of the Cold War’s most enduring controversies was all but settled last week, when a 91-year-old convicted spy admitted that he helped Julius Rosenberg pass U.S. nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. Ever since Rosenberg and his wife, Ethel, were convicted of espionage in 1951 and later executed, historians and political partisans have debated whether they actually spied for the Soviets. Last week, Morton Sobell, who was convicted alongside the Rosenbergs and served 18 years in prison, said in an interview with The New York Times that Julius Rosenberg did indeed give the Soviets secret information in 1945 about U.S. plans for an atomic bomb. But Ethel Rosenberg, Sobell said, was guilty only “of being Julius’ wife.”
New York City
Rangel ducked taxes: Rep. Charles Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, admitted last week that he failed to pay taxes on a rental property he owns in the Dominican Republic. It’s the latest ethics flap to hit the New York Democrat, whose committee oversees the U.S. tax code. He also faces questions on how he managed to lease four rent-controlled apartments in Harlem and his use of his congressional letterhead to raise funds for a private charity. Rangel acknowledged that he had failed to report or pay taxes on $75,000 earned from renting out a beachfront property at a luxury resort in the Dominican Republic. But he said that failure was merely an oversight and that he had “done nothing morally wrong.” He rebuffed calls from Republicans to give up his powerful committee post.