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Pentagon Acknowledges Mistakes As It Briefs Families Of Troops Killed In Niger

The military has completed an investigation into the ambush that killed four U.S. soldiers last October. The report has not been released, but the military is briefing families of those killed.

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The Pentagon has started briefing the families of four soldiers killed in an ambush in Niger last October, and the military acknowledges a series of missteps contributed to the deaths, one family member told NPR.

“I think in any instance where people lose there lives, there were obviously mistakes that were made,” said Will Wright, the brother of one of those killed, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright. Will Wright is himself a combat veteran, having served as a staff sergeant in Afghanistan. He and his family were briefed by military officers on Thursday.

“Having seen combat, having an understanding of combat situations, you’re always going to make mistakes, you’re never going to do it perfect. There are things you wish you could change every time,” Wright told All Things Considered co-host Ari Shapiro.

Asked if the military briefers described the failures on this mission, Wright said they did. But he added, “Out of respect for the families that haven’t received their briefings yet, I’d like to avoid specifics.”

The officers did tell Wright that the U.S. troops in Niger now have assets they did not have before, including armed drones and armored vehicles.

The Pentagon has sent the classified report on the Niger ambush to Congress. The report has not been released publicly, but an official who has seen it described it to NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. The official said there was both a lack of planning and training for the mission.

The report also raises questions about whether U.S. Special Forces in Niger are taking too many risks.

Five years in Niger

Twelve Americans, led by Green Berets, joined with a larger force of Nigerien troops on a routine patrol last Oct. 3 in the southwest part of Niger, near the border with Mali.

Americans forces have been in Niger since 2013 to train, advise and assist the Nigerien military in its battle with extremists linked to the Islamic State. The Americans are not supposed to take part in combat unless they come under fire.

As planned, the Americans and the Nigerien forces met with village leaders and spent the night. But instead of returning to their base the next day, the troops received a new mission. They were told to look for intelligence in an area where a militant leader had apparently fled.

According to the official who has seen the report, a lower-level officer signed off on this new mission, and higher-level officers were not aware of the change in plans.

The U.S. team was not expecting to encounter any militants and did not have heavy firepower or air support.

But the American and Nigerien forces ran into an ambush and were overwhelmed by some 50 fighters in a two-hour shootout in the village of Tongo Tongo.

The four Americans killed included Wright, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson and Sgt. La David Johnson. Two more Americans were wounded, and five Nigerien soldiers were killed.

“As a veteran myself, the fog of war is something that’s hard to unravel,” Will Wright said. “Having the details [from the military], it really helped put things in context.”

President Barack Obama sent the U.S. troops to Niger five years ago, and around 800 are believed to be in the country. The Americans are building a drone base, but do not have a large airfield for manned aircraft that could mount a rescue mission.

“We as a nation are involved in Africa, but it is not on our radar,” Will Wright said. ” Most Americans aren’t aware, they aren’t informed about the extent of our involvement in Africa.”

Niger and other African countries want U.S. training and expertise to deal with security threats, but they do not want a large, visible American presence.

Until the American deaths in Niger, the U.S. military presence there received little attention.

The New York Times reported that on Dec. 6, two months after the October ambush, another group of Green Berets and Nigerien forces killed 11 militants in a shootout. The U.S. military did not announce the fighting at the time. But the Times reported it last month, describing it as one of 10 previously undisclosed clashes in West Africa since 2015.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.
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Health

Judge Rejects Anti-Vaxxer Lawsuit Against New York City’s Vaccine Mandate

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A state judge on Thursday rejected a lawsuit filed by anti-vaccination parents who sought to lift New York City’s new measles vaccination mandate, as parts of the metropolis continue to face an outbreak.


“A fireman need not obtain the informed consent of the owner before extinguishing a house fire,” Judge Lawrence Knipel wrote in his ruling. “Vaccination is known to extinguish the fire of contagion.”

Five anonymous parents in Brooklyn filed the lawsuit earlier this week against the city health department for ordering the mandatory vaccinations in parts of the borough amid a growing outbreak of the measles virus concentrated in the Williamsburg area. The lawsuit said the city’s response is “irrational,” and that the spread of the virus does not pose a clear danger to public health.

Knipel ruled that the city’s decision to require measles vaccinations during the outbreak is supported by “largely uncontroverted” evidence.

New York City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot issued the emergency order on April 9, requiring everyone who lives and works within four Brooklyn ZIP codes to receive the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine if they hadn’t already gotten it. Failure to comply with the mandate could result in misdemeanor punishments, including criminal fines or imprisonment.

The city has already issued summons to three people who refused the mandate and face $1,000 in fines.

As of Wednesday, the measles outbreak has infected at least 329 people since October, mostly children from Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn, according to Barbot. Many Orthodox Jewish people believe vaccinations go against Jewish or Talmudic law, resulting in low vaccination rates for some communities.

Barbot praised the decision to dismiss the lawsuit, saying in a statement to HuffPost that it “will protect New Yorkers from a very dangerous infection with potentially fatal consequences.”

She added that officials “do not want to issue violations but will continue and hope that New Yorkers make the best choice for their families, their neighbors and their own health ― to get vaccinated.”

(Reporting by HuffPost)

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Court Rulings

Federal Appeals Court Backs California Laws To Protect Immigrants

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Thursday kept in place three California laws intended to protect immigrants, continuing the state’s efforts to be a national leader in opposing Trump administration policies.


The court upheld lower court rulings denying the Trump administration’s request to block law enforcement from providing release dates and personal information of people in jail, as well as to throw out a law barring employers from allowing immigration officials on their premises unless the officials have a warrant.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected U.S. District Judge John Mendez’s reasoning last year for denying a portion of the third law, which requires the state to review detention facilities where immigrants are held. It ruled that the section requiring the state to review circumstances surrounding the apprehension and transfer of detainees puts an impermissible burden on the federal government.

But the appellate panel said Mendez can consider rejecting a preliminary injunction for that section on other legal grounds.

The U.S. Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has repeatedly sued the Trump administration mostly over immigration and environmental decisions, said the ruling shows that states’ rights “continue to thrive.”

“We continue to prove in California that the rule of law not only stands for something but that people cannot act outside of it,” Becerra said in a statement.

California officials have said the immigration laws promote trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement, while the administration argued the state is allowing dangerous criminals on the streets.

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Mueller Report

Trump Attempted To Choke Russian Probe, Oust Mueller, Redacted Report States

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Special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election as released on Thursday, April 18, 2019, is photographed in Washington. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Public at last, special counsel Robert Mueller’s report revealed to a waiting nation Thursday that President Donald Trump tried to seize control of the Russia probe and force Mueller’s removal to stop him from investigating potential obstruction of justice by the president. Trump was largely thwarted by those around him.


Mueller laid out multiple episodes in which Trump directed others to influence or curtail the Russia investigation after the special counsel’s appointment in May 2017. Those efforts “were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,” Mueller wrote.

After nearly two years, the two-volume, 448-page redacted report made for riveting reading.

In one particularly dramatic moment, Mueller reported that Trump was so agitated at the special counsel’s appointment on May 17, 2017, that he slumped back in his chair and declared: “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m f—ed.”

With that, Trump set out to save himself.

In June of that year, Mueller wrote, Trump directed White House Counsel Don McGahn to call Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversaw the probe, and say that Mueller must be ousted because he had conflicts of interest. McGahn refused — deciding he would rather resign than trigger a potential crisis akin to the Saturday Night Massacre of Watergate firings fame.

Two days later, the president made another attempt to alter the course of the investigation, meeting with former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and dictating a message for him to relay to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The message: Sessions would publicly call the investigation “very unfair” to the president, declare Trump did nothing wrong and say that Mueller should limit his probe to “investigating election meddling for future elections.” The message was never delivered.

The report’s bottom line largely tracked the findings revealed in Attorney General William Barr’s four-page memo released a month ago — no collusion with Russia, no clear verdict on obstruction — but it added troubling layers of detailabout Trump’s efforts to thwart the investigation. Looking ahead, both sides were already using the findings to amplify well-rehearsed arguments about Trump’s conduct, Republicans casting him as a victim of harassment and Democrats depicting the president as stepping far over the line to derail the investigation.

The Justice Department released a redacted version of the report about 90 minutes after Attorney General William Barr offered his own final assessment of the findings at a testy Justice Department news conference. The nation, Congress and Trump’s White House consumed the report voraciously — online, via a compact disc delivered to legislators and in loose-leaf binders distributed to reporters.

The release represented a moment of closure nearly two years in the making but also the starting bell for a new round of partisan warfare.

A defiant Trump pronounced it “a good day” and tweeted a photo declaring “Game Over” in a typeface mimicking the “Game of Thrones” logo.

Top Republicans in Congress saw vindication, too.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said it was time to move on from Democrats’ effort to “vilify a political opponent.” The California lawmaker said the report failed to deliver the “imaginary evidence” incriminating Trump that Democrats had sought.

But Democrats cried foul over Barr’s preemptive press conference and said the report revealed troubling details about Trump’s conduct in the White House.

“Even in its incomplete form, the Mueller report outlines disturbing evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice and other misconduct,” said House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler.

He sent a letter to the Justice Department requesting that Mueller himself testify before his panel “no later than May 23” and said he’d be issuing a subpoena for the full special counsel report and the underlying materials. Barr said he wouldn’t object to Mueller testifying.

Trump himself was never questioned in person, but the report’s appendix includes 12 pages of his written responses to queries from Mueller’s team.

Mueller deemed Trump’s written answers — rife with iterations of “I don’t recall” — to be “inadequate.” The team considered issuing a subpoena to force the president to appear in person, but decided against it after weighing the likelihood of a long legal battle.

In his written answers, Trump said his comment during a 2016 political rally asking Russian hackers to help find emails scrubbed from Clinton’s private server was made “in jest and sarcastically” and that he did not recall being told during the campaign of any Russian effort to infiltrate or hack computer systems.

But Mueller said that within five hours of Trump’s comment, Russian military intelligence officers targeted email accounts connected to Clinton’s office.

Mueller evaluated 10 episodes for possible obstruction of justice, and said he could not conclusively determine that Trump had committed criminal obstruction. The episodes included Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, the president’s directive to subordinates to have Mueller fired and efforts to encourage witnesses not to cooperate.

The president’s lawyers have said Trump’s conduct fell within his constitutional powers, but Mueller’s team deemed the episodes deserving of scrutiny for potential criminal acts.

As for the question of whether the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign, Mueller wrote, “While the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges.”

Workers at a Russian troll farm contacted Trump’s campaign, claiming to be political activists for conservative grassroots organizations, and asked for signs and other campaign materials to use at rallies. While volunteers provided some of those materials — and set aside a number of signs — investigators don’t believe any Trump campaign officials knew the requests were coming from foreign nationals, Mueller wrote.

Mueller also said there wasn’t sufficient evidence to charge any campaign official with working as an unregistered foreign agent of Russia or violating federal campaign finance laws.

Josh Blackman, a professor at the South Texas College of Law Houston, stressed that Mueller didn’t think the president’s obligations to run the executive branch entitled him to absolute immunity from prosecution. But to find that the president obstructed justice, he said, Mueller would have needed much clearer evidence that the president acted solely with “corrupt intent.”

“The evidence was sort of muddled,” Blackman said, adding that the president’s actions had multiple motivations.

Trump’s written responses addressed no questions about obstruction of justice, as was part of an agreement with Trump’s legal team.

He told Mueller he had “no recollection” of learning in advance about the much-scrutinized Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials and a Russian lawyer. He also said he had no recollection of knowledge about emails setting up the meeting that promised dirt on Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

He broadly denied knowing of any foreign government trying to help his campaign, including the Russian government. He said he was aware of some reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin had made “complimentary statements” about him.

It wasn’t just Trump under the microscope. But Mueller wrote that he believed prosecutors would be unlikely to meet the burden of proof to show that Donald Trump Jr. and other participants in the Trump Tower meeting “had general knowledge that their conduct was unlawful.” Nor did Mueller’s probe develop evidence that they knew that foreign contributions to campaigns were illegal or other particulars of federal law.

Barr’s contention that the report contained only “limited redactions” applied more to the obstruction of justice section than its look at Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign.

Nearly two-thirds of the Russia section —135 pages out of 199— had some form of color-coded redaction. Blocked sections appeared on 22 of 182 pages in the obstruction section, and even showed up in the report’s table of contents. Barr had said that he would redact grand jury information and material related to ongoing investigation, privacy and intelligence.

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