Nation and world news briefs

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Sen. Duckworth doesn’t back down on military promotions after Vindman retirement

WASHINGTON — Sen. Tammy Duckworth will keep her hold on over 1,100 military promotions in place despite Wednesday’s announcement of the retirement of Lt. Col. Alex Vindman, a key witness in the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

The Illinois Democrat announced the hold July 2 amid concerns that Vindman would not receive a promotion to the rank of colonel in retaliation for his testimony before the House last year.

Vindman, a former Ukraine expert to the National Security Council, was ousted from his White House job after following his November testimony in which he validated many of the concerns raised by the whistleblower whose report sparked the impeachment inquiry.

Reports have suggested that Trump, who has publicly attacked Vindman, pressured the Pentagon to block Vindman’s promotion.

“Through a campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation, the President attempted to force LTC Vindman to choose: Between adhering to the law or pleasing a President. Vindman’s patriotism has cost him his career,” Vindman’s attorney David Pressman said in a statement Wednesday.

The July 2 hold instituted by Duckworth, a retired Army officer who lost both legs while serving in the Iraq War, applies to 1,123 scheduled promotions of officers to the rank of “06” — colonel or Navy captain or above. Duckworth said last week she would lift the hold once Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper assured her, in writing, that Vindman would be shielded from retaliation.

Duckworth has still not received confirmation from Esper that the Army submitted a list of promotions to colonel that included Vindman, or that that list was sent to the White House for review, she said in a statement Wednesday.

The hold will remain in place “until the secretary of defense provides a transparent accounting of this disgraceful situation,” she said.

—CQ-Roll Call


Ex-Philly priest pleads guilty to decades-old sex assaults of altar boys

PHILADELPHIA — After decades of dodging allegations of abusing children, a disgraced former Catholic priest pleaded guilty Wednesday to molesting two altar boys in Bucks County decades ago.

Francis Trauger, 74, admitted his guilt to two counts of indecent assault of a minor and Bucks County Judge Jeffrey L. Finley sentenced him to 18 to 36 months in a state prison and seven years’ probation.

Despite being named in multiple grand jury reports on the abuse of children by Catholic priests in the Philadelphia archdiocese, Trauger had not been prosecuted until the case that led to Wednesday’s guilty plea.

Trauger’s attorney, Brian McVann, said the defrocked priest’s conduct “cannot be defended” and that Trauger felt compelled to admit his guilt and take responsibility for his actions.

“He has done great good in his life,” McVann said. “Unfortunately, it has been lost in this case.”

But Finley, in passing down the sentence, told Trauger that any good he had done during his decadeslong tenure with the church had been “torn down” and destroyed by these actions.

“I don’t know that you truly understood that,” the judge said, “Or at least that you truly didn’t understand that until you were arrested.”

Two men, now in their 30s, told investigators Trauger groped them as they changed into their altar boy vestments before of Mass at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Tullytown. The small community church was Trauger’s final assignment before he was named as an abuser in a sweeping grand jury report detailing decades of child abuse by priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and a massive cover-up by church officials.

The Tullytown assaults took place in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when both victims were 12, prosecutors said. The case was referred to District Attorney Matt Weintraub in 2018, after one of the men filed a complaint with the archdiocese’s victim compensation fund. The second victim came forward in March 2019.

Despite being nearly 20 years old, the cases were eligible for prosecution under a 2005 change in the statute of limitations for sex abuse.

Trauger, who now lives in New York City, was defrocked in 2005.

—The Philadelphia Inquirer


Coronavirus cases surge at Lake Tahoe amid summer tourist season

LOS ANGELES — The coronavirus is spreading at one of the California’s favorite summer destinations: South Lake Tahoe.

The South Lake Tahoe region has reported a per-capita infection rate, over the last 14 days, of 169 new coronavirus cases for every 100,000 residents, exceeding the state’s goal of fewer than 100 cases per 100,000, said Dr. Nancy Williams, the health officer for El Dorado County.

If the South Lake Tahoe region were its own county, “it would now be added to the state’s monitoring list and asked to curtail certain activities,” Williams said in a statement. Actions would include shuttering bars and indoor dining rooms at restaurants.

South Lake Tahoe is part of El Dorado County, a sprawling county that extends from the Nevada border and South Lake Tahoe through the Sierra Nevada and into communities east of Sacramento.

As a whole, the county is reporting about 61 cases per 100,000 residents over the past 14 days, according to the Los Angeles Times’ California coronavirus tracker.

But the South Lake Tahoe area has a disproportionately high number of the county’s cases, Williams said.

For the South Lake Tahoe region to meet the state’s infection rate goal, it should only see two new cases per day on average, Williams said. “But we’re seeing four or five times that many now,” Williams said.

New cases are also increasing in the rest of El Dorado County.

—Los Angeles Times