The News Memo
Let's dive in to what you need to know this week:
Fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris Shocks World
The great French religious and cultural icon caught fire Monday night (Paris time) and continued burning for some 12 to 15 hours (video). Some 400 firefighters furiously tried to contain the blaze. People watching across the river stood in visible shock as the fate of the 850-year old Gothic cathedral hung in the balance.
As the fire tore through the cathedral, the spire collapsed, falling through the roof - ⅔ of which was destroyed. The two famous bell towers were saved, despite being 30 minutes away from being destroyed (drone footage shows the aftermath).
The roof, which is nicknamed ‘the forest,’ is composed of wooden beams from 5,000 oak trees, some more than 800 years old. In the past, it was decided not to install sprinkler systems and alarms in the roof, both for aesthetic considerations, as well as the hazard of installing new electrical wiring. According to the WSJ, years of neglect had weakened the church’s infrastructure and posed plenty of safety hazards.
While most of the relics and artwork were rescued, including Christ’s crown of thorns, it is unclear at this time just how many were destroyed. The chaplain of the fire department, Rev. Jean-Marc Fournier, played a central role in rescuing the crown of thorns and the Blessed Sacrament. Just a few days prior to the fire, 16 bronze statues surrounding the spire were removed for restoration, saving them from damage. Although there were hundreds of people in the cathedral celebrating Mass, nobody died and only one was seriously injured.
An investigation into the cause of the fire is underway, although at this point, officials are treating the fire as an accident. An extensive restoration project had been underway when the fire started.
President Macron’s Response
On Tue (Apr 16), President Macron stated, “We will rebuild Notre-Dame Cathedral, more beautiful than ever, and I want this to be finished in five years.” Many experts believe it will take longer than this to complete, possibly 10 to 15 years.
What to watch moving forward
In the aftermath of the fire, countless groups and wealthy individuals, including Apple Co. and France’s two wealthiest families (owners of Louis Vuitton and Gucci), began pledging millions of dollars to restore the cathedral (almost $1 billion has been pledged thus far). The donations, which will be eligible for large tax breaks, have drawn criticism from the Yellow Vest movement, who say the money should be used for alleviating social problems.
French PM Edward Philippe announced on Wed. an international competition to design a new spire for the cathedral. The spire that collapsed on Mon. was designed by French architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, and built in the 19th century, after the cathedral was damaged during the French Revolution.
Redacted Mueller Report Delivered to Congress, Public
Weeks ago, AG William Barr released a 4-page summary of the Mueller report conclusions. The summary said no Trump/Russia collusion was found, and the obstruction of justice charges were not prosecutable. Barr promised from the onset to release as much of the report as soon as possible. In the weeks following the summary, some members of Mueller’s team told associates the report was more damaging than Barr indicated.
What new did we learn from the full report?
The full report is 448 pages long, with some sections redacted if they fell into any of these four categories: 1) Grand Jury material, 2) information that would disclose methods of investigation for the Intelligence Community, 3) info that would impair ongoing investigations, and 4) to protect the privacy and reputation of peripheral third parties. While Trump’s team was able to read the report before it was made public, no one from the team was able to make or propose redactions.
Here are some notable highlights.
Trump Believed His Presidency Was Over
After hearing the announcement of a special counsel that would investigate his campaign, Mr. Trump believed his presidency was over. According to notes from a top aide to then-AG Jeff Sessions, Trump said:
"Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m f---ed.”
"Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels, it ruins your presidency. It takes years and years and I won't be able to do anything. This is the worst thing that ever happened to me."
Trump Tried to Remove Mueller Multiple Times
According to the report, Trump called the White House Counsel Don McGahn at his home and ordered him to fire Robert Mueller saying,
"Call Rod [Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein], tell Rod that Mueller has conflicts and can't be the Special Counsel", and "Mueller has to go" and "Call me back when you do it."
McGhan repeatedly refused to complete Trump's orders and threatened to quit.
The Trump Campaign Had Multiple Russian Connections
The report detailed connections between the Trump Campaign and Russia, but did not find enough evidence for any criminal charges. It also states that the campaign “showed interest” in the WikiLeaks email hack and releases. Below are some notable quotes regarding potential Russia collusion:
The Trump Campaign "expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts."
"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.”
"The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or co-ordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities."
"The Russian contacts consisted of business connections, offers of assistance to the campaign, invitations for candidate Trump and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin to meet in person, invitations for campaign officials and representatives of the Russian government to meet, and policy positions seeking improved US-Russian relations.”
Whether or not Trump Obstructed Justice is hotly debated
Mr. Trump has claimed he received “total and complete exoneration” on the question of obstruction, but the report itself states:
"If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment. The evidence we obtained about the President's actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred."
"The President's efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”
The report lists 10 instances that were investigated as possible obstruction cases, some of which were outlined above. In explaining the decision not to charge on obstruction, Mueller in part listed the Justice Department's guidance that a sitting president cannot be indicted. It appears that much of the grey area around obstruction came down to the limits of a president’s executive authority, and whether Trump acted with intent to actively thwart the investigation (one video explaining the legal theory).
Reactions to the Report
Mr. Trump reacted to the full release of the report in several ways, one being the tweet below:
Many Democrats were frustrated with the way Barr handled the release of the report, as well as his press conference Thursday, claiming he acted at times more like Trump’s personal lawyer than the attorney general.
What to watch moving forward
Democrats are looking to open new follow up investigations from the Mueller Report findings, and will likely press for Mueller to testify before Congress, something Barr has made clear he has no objection to.
Barr, in his press conference before the report was released, also said that a select group of Congressional leaders will be given the whole unredacted report, minus the Grand Jury material.
Girl “Infatuated” With Columbine Shootings Found Dead Outside Denver
Amid the coming 20th anniversary of the horrific Columbine High School massacre that occurred in Colorado on April 20, 1999, half a million high school students in the Denver area stayed home on Wed (Apr. 17) due to a possible threat of violence.
An 18 year old girl, who was a student at Miami Beach Senior High, had reportedly flown from Florida to Colorado on Mon (Apr. 15), in what officials described as a “pilgrimage” to Columbine. She purchased a pump shotgun and ammunition at a store near Columbine HS. Officials said she was “infatuated” with the Columbine shooting, and law enforcement issued a warning on Wed, saying she was “extremely dangerous.”
Officials began searching for the girl in earnest, worried about her mental health condition and a possible school attack. They later found her on Wednesday in the foothills outside of Denver, dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
“We are used to threats certainly at Columbine,” said Mr. McDonald, the school safety director, but “this one felt different.” In the years following the Columbine shooting, there has been somewhat of a cult following from people who glorify and reminisce about the attack, with the Columbine shooters assuming a type of dark, folklore status.
The Notre Dame Cathedral, which took over 200 years to build starting in 1160, attracts 30,000 visitors a day making it one of the most popular churches in the world.