investigations
January 27, 2020

The National Transportation Safety Board provided an update on Monday afternoon about its investigation into the helicopter crash that killed Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others Sunday morning in Calabasas, California.

There was heavy fog in the area, and the pilot told air traffic controllers that he was going to try to fly higher to avoid a cloud layer, the NTSB said. When controllers asked him to share more information, he did not respond. Flight radar suggests the helicopter made it to 2,300 feet then began dropping down to the left, The New York Times reports.

Investigators are taking a "broad look at everything" around the accident, NTSB official Jennifer Homendy said. "We look at man, machine, and the environment, and weather is just a small portion of that."

Investigators are now searching a debris field of 500 to 600 feet for perishable evidence. The helicopter did not have a cockpit voice recorder. Catherine Garcia

April 4, 2019

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is investigating women's basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell, after parents complained she made racially insensitive remarks and pressured team members to play even when they were seriously injured, several people with knowledge of the matter told The Washington Post.

The allegations were made last week during a meeting with university administrators, parents who attended the meeting told the Post. Multiple parents said their daughters shared that Hatchell told players they would get "hanged from trees with nooses" if they didn't step up their game, and also ordered them to do a "war chant" in honor of an assistant coach with Native American ancestry.

Several also said they were concerned that Hatchell and the team's physician, Dr. Harry Stafford, encouraged players to compete when they were hurt. They mentioned junior guard Emily Sullivan, who dislocated her shoulder during a game against Louisiana State University, the Post reports. She was told she didn't have a tear, and could get cortisone shots so she could keep playing. Although Sullivan's shoulder kept slipping out of its socket, Hatchell told her she shouldn't have surgery, the Post reports, which would have kept Sullivan from playing the next season.

UNC announced Monday that Hatchell is on paid leave "due to issues raised by student-athletes and others." The university said it hired an outside law firm to run an investigation, but did not say what the probe was about. Hatchell's attorney, Wade Smith, told the Post the parents misconstrued her comments. "She said, 'They're going to take a rope and string us up, and hang us out to dry,'" he said. Smith also said Hatchell, who has coached at UNC since 1986, would never push a player to compete if she was not cleared by medical staff. Catherine Garcia

March 18, 2019

The Department of Transportation is investigating the Federal Aviation Administration's approval of Boeing's 737 MAX planes, people with knowledge of the matter told The Wall Street Journal on Sunday.

The investigation is looking at an anti-stall safety system suspected of playing a role in the October crash of Lion Air Flight 610, which killed 189 people. Investigators are working to determine if this same system was behind last week's crash of an Ethiopian Airlines jet shortly after take-off from Addis Ababa; that accident left 157 people dead. On Sunday, Ethiopia's transport minister said there were "clear similarities" between the two crashes.

The inquiry was launched following the Lion Air crash, the Journal reports, and is being conducted by the department's inspector general. Investigators are trying to figure out if the FAA used the correct design standards and engineering analyses when certifying the 737 MAX's anti-stall system, called the maneuvering characteristics augmentation system. It's meant to help pilots should the plane's nose suddenly go up more than expected, and during tests, Boeing determined that the feature could assist crews during lower-altitude stalls, the Journal reports. Experts say the risks that came along with this system were underestimated and not explained in manuals or during pilot training.

The inquiry is focusing on two FAA offices in the Seattle area: one that certifies the safety of new aircraft models and another that mandates training requirements and signs off on training programs, officials told the Journal. People at those offices have been told not to delete or tamper with documents and emails. Catherine Garcia

February 19, 2019

A 24-page report released by the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday says several current and former members of President Trump's administration, including former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, pushed for the sale of nuclear power facilities to Saudi Arabia despite objections from the National Security Council and other White House officials. The report indicates that the sales were discussed in the early days of the Trump presidency but "efforts may be ongoing" and that the deal was "discussed in the Oval Office as recently as last week."

The Washington Post says the report is based on documents the committee obtained and accounts of anonymous whistleblowers, who were wary of the complications — conflicts of interest, national security risks, and legal hurdles — that could stem from the persistent push.

One of the documents obtained by the committee was a draft memo sent by IP3 International, the company backing the plan, to Flynn. The memo described the plan as "the Middle East Marshall Plan" and also mentioned Trump's close personal friend and advisor Tom Barrack, the chairman of the president's inaugural committee, as a "special representative to implement the plan."

House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said that the committee will launch a full investigation to determine whether the potential deal was meant to serve national security interests or "those who stand to gain financially as a result of this potential change" in foreign policy.

The export of American nuclear technology which could be used to create weapons is controlled under 1954's Atomic Energy Act and must be approved by Congress. Tim O'Donnell

February 17, 2019

Police in Chicago on Saturday said their investigation of the alleged assault against Empire actor Jussie Smollett has changed focus following the interview of two brothers linked to the case.

"We can confirm that the information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the Empire case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation," said a police statement. "We've reached out to the Empire cast member's attorney to request a follow-up interview."

An unnamed police source told NBC the new information suggests Smollett hired two men to stage the attack. Smollett's lawyers vehemently denied that report, saying, "Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying."

Smollett has likewise expressed indignation at accusations that his account is not accurate. "It's not necessarily that you don't believe that this is the truth," he said Thursday. "You don't even want to see the truth."

Like his Empire character, Smollett is gay. He alleged two people yelled racist and homophobic slurs at him, beat him, poured a substance that may have been bleach on his body, and put a noose around his neck as he left a Chicago restaurant. The two brothers who spoke with police were arrested and at first considered suspects, but they have since been released without charges and are no longer suspected. One of the brothers is Smollett's personal trainer, his attorneys said. Bonnie Kristian

January 23, 2019

The House Oversight Committee announced on Wednesday it is launching an inquiry into the White House security clearance process.

The committee is now led by Democrats, and its chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), sent the White House a letter stating the probe is due to "grave breaches of national security at the highest level of the Trump administration." The goal of the investigation, he added, is to "determine why the White House and transition team appear to have disregarded established procedures for safeguarding classified information, evaluate the extent to which the nation's most highly guarded secrets were provided to officials who should not have had access to them, and develop reforms to remedy the flaws in current White House systems and practices."

The committee is requesting information on several current and former White House officials, including Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, and former aide Rob Porter, who was accused of spousal abuse. Despite the allegations against him, Porter was able to get an interim security clearance, and Kushner had to edit his application for a top-level clearance three times because he left out more than 100 foreign contacts. Catherine Garcia

November 27, 2018

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) will investigate whether three members of President Trump's Florida Mar-a-Lago resort had undue influence on his administration's policy for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) requested a GAO probe in August after a report from ProPublica alleged this "informal council that is exerting sweeping influence on the VA." Multiple current and former VA officials corroborated the report to CNN that month.

The three Mar-a-Lago members implicated are a Palm Beach doctor named Bruce Moskowitz, Marvel Entertainement chair Ike Perlmutter, and an attorney named Marc Sherman. "None of them has ever served in the U.S. military or government," ProPublica reported, "Yet from a thousand miles away, they have leaned on VA officials and steered policies affecting millions of Americans." The three men said they'd simply volunteered requested advice without wielding any real authority.

The GAO told Warren and Schatz in a Nov. 19 letter the investigation is "within the scope of its authority" and will begin in the spring. In the meantime, read more about the VA's longstanding and numerous problems here at The Week. Bonnie Kristian

November 15, 2018

FBI agents are investigating the death of a 52-year-old woman while aboard a Princess Cruises ship on its way to Aruba.

Early Tuesday, the woman, whose name has not been released, fell from an upper deck onto a lifeboat, authorities in Aruba said. A local news outlet said witnesses saw the woman fighting with another passenger before she plunged to her death.

The Caribbean cruise left Port Everglades, Florida, on Nov. 9, and was traveling from Curacao to Aruba when the woman died. Her husband was on the ship with her, HuffPost reports, and has not been named as a suspect. A spokeswoman for the Aruba Public Prosecutor's Office told USA Today it is "obvious that she fell, but why did she fall? Was she pushed? Did she jump? That is what we are investigating, to find out exactly what happened." Catherine Garcia

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