Gov. Gavin Newsom offered a sobering reassessment this week of California’s $77 billion bullet train project, saying plans to link San Francisco and Los Angeles “would cost too much and take too long.” In his first State of the State address, Newsom said he’d instead focus on completing a 171-mile segment of the line already under construction in California’s Central Valley, a fraction of what voters approved in a 2008 ballot measure. The centerpiece of that proposal was a line taking people from the Bay Area to Southern California in 2 hours and 40 minutes, estimated to cost $33 billion and be completed by 2020. More recent projections targeted a 2033 completion—at more than twice the cost. “There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency,” Newsom said. While the governor didn’t officially cancel the line, his speech signaled that the ambitious project to link the state’s major cities could get significantly pared back.
El Paso, Texas
President Trump traveled south to the Rio Grande this week to rally support for a border wall, while former Rep. Beto O’Rourke held a counter-rally in his hometown, less than a mile away. Behind a sea of signs that read “Build the Wall” and “Finish the Wall,” Trump didn’t wait long to take a shot at the Democratic phenom, calling him “a young man who’s got very little going for himself, except he’s got a good first name.” O’Rourke, 46, touted El Paso’s low crime rates, telling his rallygoers, “We’re not safe because of walls but in spite of walls.” Trump insisted that fencing along the border had cut El Paso’s crime rate and counseled his supporters not to trust crime statistics, which showed no such decline. The city’s Republican major has also rebuffed wall proposals; at his rally, Trump called the mayor “full of crap.”
A prosecutor for special counsel Robert Mueller offered a rare insight into their probe last week, revealing that a meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Russian goes “very much to the heart” of Mueller’s investigation. In a closed-door hearing, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann described encounters between former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime Manafort business associate with alleged ties to Russian intelligence. In August 2016, Kilimnik flew to the U.S. and met with Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, in a private cigar room blocks from Trump’s campaign headquarters where they discussed sanctions relief for Russia, according to a heavily redacted transcript. Manafort agreed to cooperate with Mueller after being convicted of financial crimes, but prosecutors say he then lied about his interactions with Kilimnik.
Baptist church scandal
About 380 Southern Baptist church workers were accused of sexual misconduct over the past 20 years, according to an investigation published this week by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News. The 380 include ministers, youth pastors, Sunday school teachers, and church volunteers, about 220 of whom were convicted or took plea deals, while dozens more have pending cases. Some of the accused continued to work in the church. Their victims exceed 700 in number, many of whom were ostracized by their churches or urged to forgive their abusers and get abortions. Children as young as 3, the report says, “were molested or raped inside pastors’ studies and Sunday school classrooms.” Leaders at the Southern Baptist Convention are accused of concealing or mishandling victims’ allegations. SBC President Rev. J.D. Greear called abuses described in the report “pure evil.”
New York City
Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán faces life in prison after a conviction this week for selling hundreds of tons of drugs and conspiring to murder a slew of rivals while running Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel. Jurors deliberated for six days before finding Guzmán, 61, guilty on all 10 criminal counts. The prosecutions’ 11-week case featured “an avalanche of evidence” linking Guzmán to one of the largest criminal organizations in the world—including testimony from 56 witnesses, 14 of whom once worked for Guzmán. A folk hero of sorts in Mexico for evading authorities and repeatedly escaping from prison while maintaining an ultralavish lifestyle, Guzmán was arrested by Mexican police after a gunfight in 2016 and extradited to the U.S. the next year. Following his June sentencing, Guzmán will likely be imprisoned in a Colorado “supermax” facility from which nobody has ever escaped.
Former Air Force counterintelligence agent Monica Elfriede Witt was charged this week with spying on behalf of Iran, allegedly providing the name of at least one U.S. intelligence officer and details about a highly classified Defense Department program. Born and raised in Texas, Witt, 39, was regularly deployed to the Middle East from 1997 to 2008, then worked as a government contractor on classified projects through 2010. Prosecutors say she defected to Iran in 2013—where they believe she continues to live—writing to an Iranian contact that she was “endeavoring to put the training I received to good use instead of evil.” The Iranian government allegedly supplied Witt with housing and equipment so she could disclose classified information and conduct research on former U.S. intelligence colleagues. The FBI says the information she shared “could cause serious damage to national security.” ■