Mendocino County, Calif.
An entire family of eight was feared dead this week after their SUV plunged off a cliff along the Pacific Coast Highway, a crash that officials believe may have been intentional. The bodies of mothers Jennifer and Sarah Hart, both 38, and at least three of their six adopted children were recovered on the rocks below. The couple’s other three children remain unaccounted for. One of the missing children, Devonte, a 15-year-old African-American, attracted global attention in 2014 when he was photographed sobbing in the arms of a white police officer during a protest in Portland, Ore., against the police shooting of Michael Brown. Investigators say the Harts’ SUV appeared to have stopped on a dirt pullout before it accelerated and fell over the cliff. There were no signs of skid marks, suggesting that the driver didn’t lose control. Authorities in Washington state, where the Harts lived, had unsuccessfully tried to contact the family in March after receiving a report of child abuse.
San Bruno, Calif.
A woman who apparently held a grudge against YouTube opened fire with a handgun at the company’s headquarters this week, wounding three people before shooting and killing herself. Nasim Najafi Aghdam, a 39-year-old from San Diego, regularly published videos on the site about a wide range of topics, including fitness, veganism, and animal cruelty. She also posted long diatribes against the Google-owned company, accusing it of discriminating against her videos to keep them from getting more views. Family members said she’d been living off the ad revenues generated by her videos and had been angry in recent weeks that she had stopped receiving payments as a result of YouTube’s February decision to demonetize smaller channels. Aghdam did not appear to have known any of her victims. Her father, who reported her missing before the shooting, had warned police that she might go to YouTube because she “hated” it.
Trump a ‘subject’
Special counsel Robert Mueller has told President Trump’s lawyers that the president continues to be a “subject” of his investigation, but that he is not a criminal “target” at this time, The Washington Post reported this week. Prosecutors view someone as a subject when they are investigating the person’s conduct but lack sufficient evidence to bring charges. Mueller’s team made the disclosure to Trump’s attorneys last month, during ongoing negotiations over a possible presidential interview. Some of the president’s advisers are reportedly concerned that the special prosecutor could be trying to bait Trump into agreeing to sit for a legally perilous interview, noting that subjects of investigations can easily become targets. Mueller reportedly also suggested that he would release his findings in stages, starting with a report on Trump’s actions in office and possible obstruction of justice, potentially as early as June, and then moving on to Russian interference.
Mueller’s probe also secured its first sentencing this week, as a Dutch lawyer was ordered by a federal judge to spend 30 days in jail and pay a $20,000 fine for lying to the FBI. Alex van der Zwaan, 33, pleaded guilty to misleading investigators over his contacts in 2016 with a business associate of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates. Manafort, who is facing charges of conspiracy, money laundering, and bank fraud relating to his lobbying work in Ukraine, is seeking to have his charges dismissed on the basis that Mueller’s probe is exceeding its legal authority. But in response to the legal challenge, Mueller revealed this week that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein explicitly authorized him last August to investigate whether Manafort colluded with Russia during the presidential campaign.
Pulse widow acquitted
In a rare defeat for federal terrorism prosecutors, the widow of the Pulse nightclub shooter was acquitted last week of aiding and abetting her husband’s ISIS-inspired attack in 2016, and of obstructing the FBI’s investigation. Jurors found Noor Salman, 31, not guilty on all charges over her alleged involvement in Omar Mateen’s rampage at the Orlando club, which left 49 people dead and 53 injured. Prosecutors had argued that Salman actively helped Mateen plan the atrocity and that she confessed when she wrote in an FBI interview that she wished she could “go back and tell his family and the police what he was going to do.” Defense attorneys successfully countered that the evidence linking Salman to the attack was circumstantial and that investigators had misread her “confession.” The jury foreman said after the verdict that jurors were “convinced” Salman knew her husband was considering an attack, but couldn’t find her guilty of aiding and abetting this shooting.
Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, faced mounting ethics questions this week, amid reports that he bypassed the White House to give political appointees substantial raises and took advantage of a discount condo rental provided by a lobbyist’s wife. Pruitt, who was already facing scrutiny for his frequent first-class air travel, reportedly used an obscure provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act to grant pay hikes of $28,130 and $56,765 to two of his closest aides, after the White House denied the request. One of the beneficiaries is a 26-year-old staffer who oversaw Pruitt’s personal housing hunt last year during her official work hours, in violation of federal rules. ABC News reported that Pruitt has been paying just $50 a night to stay in a Capitol Hill condo owned by a woman whose energy-lobbyist husband has extensive business before the EPA, including a proposed natural gas pipeline approved last year. Trump appears to be standing by Pruitt, telling reporters “I hope he’s going to be great.” ■