Bowing to outraged parents, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles endorsed criminal charges this week for two nuns accused of stealing as much as $500,000 from a Catholic school. Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper and Sister Lana Chang retired earlier this year from St. James Catholic School, where Kreuper had worked for nearly three decades, most recently as principal, and Chang for 20 years as an eighth-grade teacher and vice principal. A routine audit revealed that tuition, fees, and donations had been siphoned off for at least 10 years. The nuns apparently used the money for trips to Las Vegas casinos. They admitted to the theft and were placed under “canonical restrictions” by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, which committed to repay the funds. “We’ve not been sleeping,” said Debby Rhilinger, who put five children through St. James. “Sister Lana preached to those eighth-graders every day that there are consequences to your actions.”
A jury this week recommended that avowed neo-Nazi James Fields serve life in prison for plowing his car into a crowd of counterprotesters at a white-supremacist rally in August 2017, killing Heather Heyer, 32. The same jury that convicted Fields, 21, on 10 counts, including first-degree murder, recommended he serve life plus 419 years and pay $480,000 in fines. A judge will formally sentence Fields in March. “I don’t hate him,” said Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, “but my God, the kid’s messed up. He needs help. Put him away. I’m sorry. He should not be in society, and I think the jury could see that.” The jury found that Fields purposely rammed his Dodge Challenger into the counterprotesters at the “Unite the Right” rally, a white nationalist gathering that ended in widespread mayhem and ignited national condemnation.
Maria Butina agreed this week to plead guilty to a charge that she infiltrated the National Rifle Association and ingratiated herself with Republican leaders on behalf of the Russian government. Arrested in July, Butina, 30, said she was a gun-rights advocate who moved to Washington, D.C., in 2016 to attend graduate school. But after nearly five months in solitary confinement, Butina told prosecutors that she was directed by a Russian official to advance Russian interests. By agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors, Butina will likely avoid significant time in prison and could soon be deported to Russia. Yet the plea agreement lacked some of the explosive allegations made after her arrest, including claims that she was connected to Russian intelligence. Russian President Vladimir Putin said this week, “I asked the heads of our intelligence services” and “nobody knows anything about her.”
Baylor rape charges
Jacob Anderson, 23, a former Baylor University fraternity president accused of rape, avoided jail time this week after pleading no contest to a charge of unlawful restraint. In February 2016, a Baylor sophomore said Anderson led her behind a tent at a party hosted by his frat, Phi Delta Theta, then gagged, choked, and repeatedly raped her. An investigation by the private Baptist school led to Anderson’s expulsion and his fraternity’s suspension, and a grand jury indicted him on four counts of sexual assault. Yet prosecutors say they lacked sufficient confidence to take the case to trial, and offered a plea deal allowing Anderson to be placed on three years’ deferred probation while maintaining his innocence and avoiding having to register as a sex offender. “After all these years and everything I have suffered, no justice was achieved,” his accuser said in court.
An Oval Office photo op went off the rails this week, as President Trump sparred with incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), insisting he’d be “proud” to force a government shutdown should Congress fail to fund a border wall later this month. Pelosi and Schumer baited Trump into taking responsibility for a shutdown, with Schumer saying Trump was throwing a “temper tantrum” and Pelosi calling it a “Trump shutdown.” The threat of a shutdown has loomed for weeks, with Trump demanding the next budget allocate $5 billion for a border wall. A divided Republican House Caucus lacks the votes to pass a budget without support from across the aisle. Republicans fear that Trump’s open calls for a shutdown will lead the public to blame the GOP for a budget impasse.
Comey defends Mueller
Former FBI Director James Comey defended the integrity of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and voiced exasperation after his closed-door hearing on Capitol Hill last week, saying, “We are talking about Hillary Clinton’s emails, for heaven’s sakes.” Comey had sued to demand his testimony before the House Judiciary and Oversight committees be made in public. The two sides settled on releasing a redacted, 235-page transcript. He testified that the FBI launched probes into four Americans affiliated with the Trump campaign in July 2016 who were suspected of possible collusion with Russia. Comey said he wasn’t worried that the Mueller probe is in danger of being subverted, explaining, “You’d almost have to fire everyone in the FBI and the Justice Department to derail the relevant investigations.” Responding on Twitter, President Trump said Comey “must have set a record for who lied the most to Congress in one day.”