Salt Lake City
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has stockpiled $100 billion in tax-free funds intended for charity, according to a whistleblower complaint revealed this week. David Nielsen, 41, a Mormon who until September worked in the church’s investment division, Ensign Peak Advisors, told the IRS that Ensign Peak has not funded any charitable causes in 22 years. The church collects about $7 billion a year from members, the complaint says. About $6 billion is said to cover operating costs, while the rest is invested by Ensign. In a statement, Nielsen said, “Would you pay tithing instead of water, electricity, or feeding your family if you knew that it would sit around by the billions until the Second Coming of Christ?” Church officials said the complaint relies on “limited information”; under the IRS whistleblower law, Nielsen would share in any recovery that the agency made from the church as a result of his complaint.
Get out of jail
After losing his re-election bid in November, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin issued a staggering 428 pardons before leaving office last week. One went to Patrick Baker, sentenced in 2017 to 19 years in prison for posing as a law enforcement officer and fatally shooting a man in a home-invasion robbery. Baker’s family held a fundraiser that raised $21,500 for Bevin, and Baker’s brother and sister-in-law each gave an additional $4,000. In his pardon order, Bevin said the evidence against Baker was “sketchy at best,” to which sentencing Judge David Williams said, “I’ve never seen a more compelling or complete case.” Bevin also cited shoddy evidence when pardoning Micah Schoettle, convicted of raping a 9-year-old, and Delmar Partin, convicted of murdering and decapitating his former lover. Kenton County prosecutor Rob Sanders called the pardons “an abomination.”
Port Washington, Wis.
A Wisconsin judge ordered the state Elections Commission to take about 234,000 voters off the rolls last week because they may have moved, drawing accusations of partisan gamesmanship in the crucial swing state. Judge Paul Malloy, a GOP appointee, ordered the purge after the commission sent letters in October asking voters to confirm their address. More than 170,000 hadn’t responded by Dec. 5. Another 60,000 letters were returned as undeliverable. The bipartisan commission wants to hold off on removing voters until 2021, but Malloy ordered it done well before the 2020 election. “It’s not that difficult to do it sooner,” he said. In a state President Trump won by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016, Democrats note, the letters disproportionately targeted liberal cities like Milwaukee and Madison. About 55 percent of letters went to municipalities where Hillary Clinton bested Trump.
El Paso, Texas
A federal judge blocked the Trump administration last week from diverting $3.6 billion in defense funds to construct a southern border wall, citing legislative restrictions crafted by House Republicans in 2014 to curtail President Obama’s powers. Those rules prevent a president from unilaterally moving to “increase,” “eliminate,” or “reduce” budget funds authorized by Congress—in Obama’s case, repurposing funds from the space program. U.S. District Court Judge David Briones said Trump had unlawfully sought to increase the $1.375 billion approved by Congress for border-wall construction to $3.6 billion, and a federal judge in California ruled similarly days later. Briones did approve $2.5 billion shifted from separate Pentagon funding to wall construction as a “counterdrug activity.” Although the Trump administration told contractors to stop wall construction to comply with the court order, it pledged to appeal the rulings.
Two U.S. Military Academy cadets and a Naval Academy midshipman were seen on TV last week at the annual Army-Navy football game flashing a possible “white power” hand gesture. Posing for ESPN’s pregame show, the students made a downward “OK” sign at least five times—an increasingly popular sign among white supremacists that resembles the letters WP. One student made the gesture behind the head of a nonwhite cadet. Both academies said they are investigating the students’ intentions. Before the game, West Point officials dropped the slogan GFBD—“God forgives, brothers don’t”—from rally flags used at football games after it came to light that the phrase is popular among white-supremacist prison and motorcycle gangs. Responding to the “OK” controversy, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he doesn’t believe white supremacy is “an issue in the military.” Navy won the game, 31-7.
Mr. Comey regrets
Former FBI director James Comey conceded this week he’d been “overconfident” about the Russia probe, saying “there was real sloppiness” in the surveillance of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. Comey, who oversaw the probe before getting fired in 2017, accepted the findings of Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz that the FBI made 17 significant errors in its application to eavesdrop on Page. “He’s right. I was wrong,” Comey said. Asked on Fox News why he’s been taking a “victory lap” since the report came out, Comey stressed that Horowitz found no evidence that the Russia probe was politically motivated. He said it was “irresponsible” of Attorney General William Barr to speculate that agents acted in bad faith. After the interview, Trump attacked Comey on Twitter, asking “What are the consequences for his unlawful conduct. Could it be years in jail?” ■