‘It’s powerful’: Tropical storm starts lashing Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS — Homeowners sandbagged their doors and tourists trying to get out of town jammed the airport Friday as Tropical Storm Barry began rolling in, threatening an epic drenching that could test how well New Orleans has strengthened its flood protections in the 14 years since Hurricane Katrina.

With the storm expected to blow ashore early Saturday near Morgan City as the first hurricane of the season, authorities rushed to close floodgates and raise the barriers around the New Orleans metropolitan area of 1.3 million people for fear of disastrous flooding.

The storm was expected to inflict the most damage on Louisiana and parts of Mississippi, with wind and rain affecting more than 3 million people.

About 3,000 National Guard troops, along with other rescue crews, were posted around Louisiana with boats, high-water vehicles and helicopters. Drinking water was lined up, and utility crews with bucket trucks moved into position.

“This is happening. ... Your preparedness window is shrinking,” National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham warned. He added: “It’s powerful. It’s strengthening. And water is going to be a big issue.”

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As Barry approaches, New Orleans residents debate evacuation

NEW ORLEANS — Go or stay?

It is a question people in and around New Orleans ask themselves every time a threatening storm lurks in the Gulf: a major hurricane like Katrina, which devastated the area in 2005 when levees failed, and now Tropical Storm Barry , which forecasters said was unlikely to become a ferocious hurricane but could still bring historic levels of rain and devastating floods.

The dilemma is one that confronts people anywhere, but New Orleans has a unique set of circumstances: It’s particularly susceptible to hurricanes and flooding and, as underscored by Katrina 14 years ago, many of its people are poor. They don’t have the financial means or transportation to leave, and after a storm, they lack the resources to rebuild and recover.

Many remember the heartaches and hardships that befell victims of Katrina — whether they fled or rode it out: the deplorable conditions of the overcrowded Superdome that served as an inadequate shelter; and the harrowing experience of residents who clung to their rooftops as floodwaters swirled around them, sweeping many to their deaths.

Maria Thomas, a self-described housewife and soprano with the Symphony Chorus of New Orleans who lives in the suburb of Metairie with her wife, a local chef, is among those who recall the trauma that accompanied the decision to evacuate during Katrina.

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Pence tour of migrant center shows men crowded in cages

WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence toured two detention facilities on the Texas border Friday, including a Border Patrol station where hundreds of men were crowded in sweltering cages without cots.

Some of the men said they were hungry and had been held there for 40 days or longer.

“Look, this is tough stuff,” Pence acknowledged at a later news conference.

“I knew we’d see a system that is overcrowded,” he added. “It’s overwhelmed and that’s why Congress has to act.”

Pence’s office said the tour was part of an effort to show the Trump administration is providing adequate care for migrants. But the scene the vice president witnessed is sure to spark new criticism of the conditions facing migrants in U.S. government facilities. 

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Special counsel Mueller’s testimony delayed until July 24

WASHINGTON — Special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony to Congress has been delayed until July 24 under an agreement that gives lawmakers more time to question him.

Mueller had been scheduled to testify July 17 before two house committees about the findings of his Russia investigation. But lawmakers in both parties complained that the short length of the hearings would not allow enough time for all members to ask questions.

Under the new arrangement, Mueller will testify for an extended period of time — three hours instead of two — before the House Judiciary Committee. He will then testify before the House intelligence committee in a separate hearing. The two committees said in a statement that all members of both committees will be able to question him.

The agreement will also give Mueller more time to prepare for the rigorous questioning. The statement said the postponement was “at his request.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., announced the terms after days of negotiations and questions over whether the testimony would be delayed. In the joint statement, the panels said the longer hearings “will allow the American public to gain further insight into the special counsel’s investigation and the evidence uncovered regarding Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and President Trump’s possible obstruction of justice and abuse of power.”

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Epstein philanthropy since sex plea included all-girl school

NEW YORK — In the decade since striking a deal that required him to register as a sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein has sought to underwrite all manner of youth causes, such as a baseball program near his retreat in the U.S. Virgin Islands and an all-girls’ school a few blocks from his Manhattan mansion.

The Associated Press found that the wealthy financier’s donations included $15,000 to the exclusive Hewitt School on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, $35,000 to the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland, and $25,000 to the Ecole du Bel-Air grade school in Haiti — all after he pleaded guilty in 2008 to charges of soliciting a minor for prostitution.

Epstein’s donations through his charitable foundations, though not in violation of his status as a sex offender, were nonetheless awkward for some recipients. They were also, at times, difficult to trace.

It wasn’t until later, when they realized a sex offender was behind the donations, that the school, the tennis center and the Haiti project returned the money.

It’s not clear why Epstein, who taught calculus and physics at Manhattan’s coed Dalton School in the 1970s, singled out the Hewitt School for the 2016 gift. Administrators at the 500-student school responded to questions by saying only that it immediately gave the money back after learning of the Epstein connection several months ago.

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Trump citizenship plan will face logistical, legal hurdles

WASHINGTON — After failing to get his citizenship question on the census, President Donald Trump now says his fallback plan will provide an even more accurate count — determining the citizenship of 90 percent of the population “or more.” But his plan will likely be limited by logistical hurdles and legal restrictions.

Trump wants to distill a massive trove of data across seven government agencies — and possibly across 50 states. It’s far from clear how such varying systems can be mined, combined and compared.

He directed the Commerce Department, which manages the census, to form a working group.

“The logistical barriers are significant, if not insurmountable,” said Paul Light, a senior fellow of Governance Studies at New York University with a long history of research in government reform. “The federal government does not invest, and hasn’t been investing for a long time, in the kind of data systems and recruitment of experts that this kind of database construction would require.”

Trump says he aims to answer how many people are here illegally, though there already are recent estimates , and possibly use such information to divvy up congressional seats based on citizenship. It’s also a way for Trump to show his base that he’s not backing down (even as he’s had to back down) from a battle over the question on his signature topic, immigration.

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House approves 9/11 victims bill, sends it to Senate

WASHINGTON — The House on Friday overwhelmingly approved a bill ensuring that a victims compensation fund for the Sept. 11 attacks never runs out of money.

The 402-12 vote sends the bill to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has agreed to call a vote before Congress goes on its August recess.

Lawmakers from both parties hailed the House vote, which comes a month after comedian Jon Stewart sharply criticized Congress for failing to act. Stewart, a longtime advocate for 9/11 responders, told lawmakers at an emotional hearing that they were showing “disrespect” to first responders now suffering from respiratory ailments and other illnesses as a result of their recovery work at the former World Trade Center site in New York City.

Stewart called the sparse attendance at the June 11 hearing “an embarrassment to the country and a stain on this institution.” He later targeted McConnell for slow-walking previous version of the legislation and using it as a political pawn to get other things done.

Stewart said Friday that replenishing the victims fund was “necessary, urgent and morally right.”

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Acosta exits; Trump’s big Cabinet turnover keeps growing

WASHINGTON — Adding to the lengthy list of departures from President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said Friday he’s stepping down amid the tumult over his handling of a 2008 secret plea deal with wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein, who is accused of sexually abusing underage girls.

Trump, with Acosta at his side, said Friday he did not ask his secretary to leave and “I hate to see this happen.” The president, who publicly faults the news media almost daily, said Acosta put the blame there, too.

Acosta “informed me this morning that he felt the constant drumbeat of press about a prosecution which took place under his watch more than 12 years ago was bad for the Administration, which he so strongly believes in, and he graciously tendered his resignation,” Trump tweeted later in the day.

Trump said Patrick Pizzella, deputy secretary since April 2018, would succeed Acosta on an acting basis.

Pizzella served in the administrations of Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama. A coalition of civil rights, human rights, labor and other groups opposed his nomination by Trump to the department’s No. 2 slot, citing Pizzella’s record on labor rights.

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Report: FTC approves roughly $5B fine for Facebook

The FTC has voted to approve a fine of about $5 billion for Facebook over privacy violations, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday. The report cited an unnamed person familiar with the matter.

Facebook and the FTC declined to comment. The Journal said the 3-2 vote broke along party lines, with Republicans in support and Democrats in opposition to the settlement.

In most cases the Justice Department’s civil division will review settlements by the FTC, and it is unclear how long the process would take. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the Facebook matter.

The fine would be the largest the FTC has levied on a tech company. But it won’t make much of a dent for Facebook, which had nearly $56 billion in revenue last year. Facebook has earmarked $3 billion for a potential fine and said in April it was anticipating having to pay up to $5 billion.

The report did not say what else the settlement includes beyond the fine, though it is expected to include limits on how Facebook treats user privacy. Some have called on the FTC to hold Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally liable for the privacy violations in some way, but based on the party line vote breakdown experts said this is not likely.

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9 more women file lawsuits against UCLA gynecologist

LOS ANGELES — Nine more women have alleged in two lawsuits they were sexually assaulted by a former gynecologist who worked for the University of California, Los Angeles.

The lawsuits state the women were assaulted by Dr. James Heaps during examinations between 1989 and 2017. The women allege the inappropriate touching sometimes without gloves was not for any legitimate medical purpose and solely for Heaps’ sexual gratification.

Heaps has been criminally charged with the sexual battery of two patients but denies any wrongdoing. He has pleaded not guilty.

The most recent lawsuits were filed Thursday and Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court against the doctor, the university system’s regents and other parties. Three of the nine women were UCLA students at the time of the alleged assaults; the other six were not students and saw Heaps at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

UCLA Health spokeswoman Rhonda Curry said in an email Friday that 117 former patients had reached out to UCLA with “concerns about their interactions” with Heaps. The university is contacting them for follow-up interviews.

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