What We Read This Week: Our Investigative News Roundup
Senate Leader’s Slave-Holding Ancestors Discovered
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said recently he opposes paying government reparations to the descendants of American slaves, has a family history deeply entwined in the issue: Two of his great-great-grandfathers were slave owners. The details about McConnell’s ancestors, discovered by NBC News through a search of ancestry and census records, came in the wake of recent hearings on reparations before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Asked about the reparations issue, McConnell, R-Ky., said he was opposed to the idea, arguing it would be hard to figure out whom to compensate. NBC News asked if the senator was aware that his great-great-grandfathers were slave owners. The office did not respond to those requests.
A Free-Spending, Sex-Predator Bishop
Senior Catholic leaders in the United States and the Vatican began receiving warnings about West Virginia Bishop Michael J. Bransfield as far back as 2012. But Bransfield’s conduct went unchecked for five more years. He resigned in September 2018 after one of his closest aides came forward with an incendiary inside account of years of sexual and financial misconduct, including the claim that Bransfield sought to “purchase influence” by giving hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash gifts to senior Catholic leaders. Five lay investigators concluded early this year that Bransfield abused his authority by sexually harassing young priests and spending church money on personal luxuries, according to their final report and other documents obtained by The Washington Post. Bransfield spent $2.4 million on travel, often flying in private jets, as well as $4.6 million in all to renovate his church residence, church records show. His cash gifts to fellow clergymen totaled $350,000, the records show.
Justice Department Drops Interpreters from Immigrant Cases
The Trump administration is preparing to replace in-court interpreters at initial immigration court hearings with videos informing asylum seekers and other immigrants facing deportation of their rights, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. The administration portrays the change as a cost-saving measure for an immigration court system bogged down under a growing backlog. But advocates for immigrants are concerned the new procedure could jeopardize their due-process rights, add confusion and potentially make the system less efficient by causing more of them to go underground or appeal cases. The Justice Department informed the nation’s immigration judges of the change last month at a training session, multiple sources familiar with the situation told The Chronicle. At issue are “master calendar” hearings where immigration judges meet with undocumented immigrants, usually dozens of them, in rapid succession to schedule their cases and to inform them of their rights. The quick sessions are intended mainly to be sure the immigrants understand what is happening and know when their next hearing will be and what steps they need to take in the interim.
FBI Files Show Bungled Investigation of Civil Rights Era Murder
The murder of the Rev. James Reeb was unsolved for more than 50 years. The Boston minister was killed during the 1965 voting rights campaign in Selma, Ala., and three men were tried for and acquitted of the crime. And the FBI has failed to solve Reeb’s murder twice: once in 1965, and a second time in 2008, when it reopened the case as part of its Cold Case Initiative. Then last month, using the FBI’s case file, NPR identified a man who had participated in the attack on Reeb but was never arrested or charged. William Portwood died less than two weeks after reporters Andrew Beck Grace and Chip Brantley confirmed his involvement. At 87, Portwood was the last living person who could have been held to account for Reeb’s murder. Now, Alabama officials who might have pursued prosecution tell NPR that if the FBI had shared its case file with them, they would have investigated Reeb’s murder years earlier.
Featured image: Photo illustration by NBC News