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July 13, 2018

Remember Tom Price?

America hasn't heard from President Trump's short-lived health and human services secretary in a while, but the government's internal watchdog was still keeping tabs on him. And on Friday, it concluded Price wasted at least $341,000 on travel during his seven months in office, The Associated Press reports.

Price's high-flying air travel costs led to his resignation from the White House last September. He stole headlines by spending hundreds of thousands of government dollars on chartered flights, including a $50,420 round-trip to a September 2017 conference — where he ranted about wasted taxpayer dollars.

The inspector general's report concluded that in 20 out of 21 of those flights, the health secretary's office broke federal regulations and often booked a charter jet without considering cheaper commercial flights. Price's trips totaled nearly $1.2 million in airfare, at least $341,000 of which was wasted.

The health secretary's office should now attempt to get that money back, per the inspector general's recommendations. While still serving as health secretary, Price pledged to repay precisely $51,887.31 — the cost of his seat on the chartered flights, but not the whole plane — and in March, House Democrats confirmed he had paid the government nearly $60,000.

Only a few hundred thousand more to go. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:00 p.m. ET
Sandra Mu/Getty Images

An Australian boy was arrested on Wednesday for putting sewing needles inside strawberries.

New South Wales police said the boy admitted he had put the needles inside the strawberries as a prank, ABC News reports, but they do not believe he's behind other recent cases of food contamination and they are looking for additional suspects. Since Sept. 12, three brands of strawberries have had to be recalled in Australia, due to several reports of consumers finding needles inside the berries. Authorities said it's possible other brands could be targeted as well, and to be safe people should cut strawberries before eating them.

Needles have been found in strawberries in New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania, and South Australia. Police have also heard reports of needles in bananas and apples, but those are considered isolated incidents. Anyone found guilty of purposely contaminating food could be sentenced to prison for up to 10 years. "Whether it's done with the intention of prank, whether it's done with the intention of serious harm to another individual, it's no difference," Stuart Smith, acting assistant commissioner of the New South Wales Police Force, said. "They are going to be charged with that offense and they are going to find themselves in front of a court." Catherine Garcia

7:56 p.m. ET
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Christine Blasey Ford's lawyer released a statement Wednesday night reiterating her client's request for an FBI investigation into Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh before she testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Ford has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were teenagers. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has scheduled a hearing Monday, giving Ford and Kavanaugh the opportunity to speak about the allegation. Grassley also said he'll send staffers to California to interview Ford privately there if she prefers.

On Tuesday, Ford, through her lawyers, asked for an FBI investigation, and on Wednesday, lawyer Lisa Banks criticized the committee for only inviting Ford and Kavanaugh to testify. "The committee's stated plan to move forward with a hearing that has only two witnesses is not a fair or good faith investigation; there are multiple witnesses whose names have appeared publicly and should be included in any proceeding," Banks said. "The rush to a hearing is unnecessary, and contrary to the committee discovering the truth." Grassley asked Ford's lawyers to let the committee know by Friday if she will attend Monday's hearing; Banks did not mention in the statement if Ford will be there. Catherine Garcia

6:54 p.m. ET
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

On Wednesday, Jack Ma, founder and chairman of the Chinese retailer Alibaba, walked back a promise he made to President Trump in January 2017.

During their meeting, Ma told Trump he planned on creating 1 million jobs in the United States over five years, getting American businesses and farmers onto Alibaba's online platform to sell their wares in China. There's no way this could happen now, Ma told the Chinese news outlet Xinhua on Wednesday. "The promise was made on the premise of friendly U.S.-China partnership and rational trade relations," he said. "That premise no longer exists today, so our promise cannot be fulfilled."

On Monday, in the latest round of tariffs the U.S. imposed levies on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, and China retaliated by slapping tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. imports. During an Alibaba investor conference on Tuesday, Ma called the trade tensions "a mess," but told Xinhua he will not "stop working hard to contribute to the healthy development of China-U.S. trade." Catherine Garcia

5:20 p.m. ET
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"Sunday Morning" has made it to Super Bowl Sunday.

The halftime show at Super Bowl LIII will be headlined by dad-friendly rock band Maroon 5, sources told Variety on Wednesday.

The pop group recently collaborated with rappers Cardi B and Kendrick Lamar, leading to predictions that they will join Maroon 5 on stage when they perform in Atlanta in February 2019. Besides "Sunday Morning," Maroon 5 could perform more recent hits like "Sugar," "Moves like Jagger," and "Animals."

The NFL has not confirmed that Maroon 5 was selected for the 53rd Super Bowl, but if the group performs, they would join the ranks of Prince, Beyonce, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, and Paul McCartney, all of whom have performed Super Bowl halftime shows. Read more at Variety. Summer Meza

4:31 p.m. ET
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After spending 27 years in prison on a murky murder charge, Valentino Dixon has been declared innocent thanks to his colored pencils and a golf magazine.

Dixon was sentenced to 39 years to life in prison for the 1991 murder of Torriano Jackson, and served most of the sentence in the Attica Correctional Facility. He passed the time sketching detailed landscapes of golf courses, and eventually caught the eye of Golf Digest. In 2012, Dixon shared his story with the magazine: his shaky conviction, his maintained innocence, and how he longed to set foot on the courses he drew.

Despite a wave of media attention following the profile, Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo still puttered past a pardon for Dixon, Golf Digest details. But then, two attorneys stepped in and built a pro bono case around the original magazine article — though "it's embarrassing for the legal system that for a long time the best presentation of the investigation was from a golf magazine," one of the defenders told Golf Digest.

That defense, eventually corroborated with a wrongful convictions report, resulted in Dixon becoming a free man. The man who admitted responsibility for Jackson's killing on the day he was shot — and nearly every day since — pleaded guilty. And Dixon, with his "family and support team" in tow, went to the park.

Read more about Dixon's swing to freedom at Golf Digest. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:26 p.m. ET
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Ryan Coogler, who earlier this year directed the wildly successful superhero film Black Panther, has just lined up a highly unexpected next project.

Per The Hollywood Reporter, Coogler is now set to produce Space Jam 2, the sequel to Warner Bros.' beloved 1996 movie in which Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes characters unite to play a basketball game against evil aliens. This time, LeBron James will star in the lead role, having been attached to the project since 2016. Previously, Star Trek Beyond's Justin Lin was going to direct, but now, Random Acts of Flyness creator Terrence Nance will fill that role.

James told The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday that he "loved [Coogler's] vision" for Black Panther, adding that he wants to inspire people with the Space Jam sequel the way Coogler did with that film. The Space Jam sequel does not yet have a release date or an official title, but it's set to begin production in 2019. James' production company, SpringHill Entertainment, teased the project on Instagram with a photo of a locker room populated by James and Bugs Bunny, and ComicBook.com writer Brandon Davis speculates the numbers seen in the picture, 1-23-20-21, might suggest the release date is Jan. 23, 2021. Read more about the Space Jam sequel at The Hollywood Reporter. Brendan Morrow

3:55 p.m. ET
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A recent essay in the New York Review of Books was so controversial that it has resulted in the editor's departure before even hitting newsstands.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Ian Buruma has left as editor of the Review of Books. This comes days after the erudite magazine published a piece by former radio host Jian Ghomeshi, who has been accused of sexual assault by over 20 women. He was acquitted of five charges in 2016, per The Guardian. In a piece titled "Reflections from a Hashtag," Ghomeshi talks about the #MeToo movement and the experience of living as an outcast after facing sexual misconduct allegations.

The essay is to appear in the magazine's Oct. 11 edition, but it was published online on Sept. 14. A backlash swiftly followed, with critics arguing that Ghomeshi should not have been given a platform to paint himself as a victim and that the magazine allowed him to mischaracterize the allegations against him. Buruma defended the decision to publish the article in an interview with Slate last week, arguing that it wasn't "a defense of what he may have done" but was an "angle on an issue that is clearly very important." While noting that Ghomeshi was acquitted, Buruma also argued, "The exact nature of his behavior — how much consent was involved — I have no idea, nor is it really my concern."

It's not clear at this time whether Buruma was fired or resigned. Read more at The New York Times. Brendan Morrow

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