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The Paper Trail: May 24, 2024

Key Bridge Collapse Was Anticipated; EPA’s Role in Jackson Water Crisis; New Bill Allows Defense Contractors to Fleece Taxpayers; and More. 

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The Paper Trail

Top stories for May 24, 2024

Governance experts launch a group to oppose Schedule F: A new group consisting of government and federal civil service experts hopes to serve as a counterbalance to efforts to strip federal workers of their due process protections and politicize the federal workforce. (Erich Wagner, Government Executive)

How lax EPA oversight enabled Jackson’s water crisis: What happened in Mississippi in 2022 was a “worst-case scenario” according to the EPA. Records show years of missed opportunities to maintain, fix, and upgrade Jackson’s water systems and avert disaster. (Nick Schwellenbach and René Kladzyk, Project On Government Oversight)

New bipartisan bill allows military contractors to fleece taxpayers: After donating millions to key lawmakers, defense contractors scored two provisions in the 2025 Pentagon funding bill allowing them to continue overcharging the government. (Freddy Brewster, The Lever)

🔎 See Also: Analysis: How to stop war profiteering (Indigo Olivier, The New Republic)

Another provocative flag was flown at another Alito home: Supreme Court Justice Alito’s New Jersey beach house last summer displayed an “Appeal to Heaven” flag, a symbol carried by the January 6 insurrectionists and associated with the Christian nationalist movement. (Jodi Kantor, Aric Toler, and Julie Tate, New York Times)

Democratic senators probe oil execs about Trump’s $1B campaign request: Congressional Democrats are investigating whether the companies discussed potential industry-friendly policies Trump might adopt in a second administration in return for their financial support, and whether they colluded with OPEC to fix oil production in order to keep prices elevated. (Ben Lefebvre, Politico)

Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse

Long before Key Bridge collapse, Baltimore mariners warned of “ship strikes”: After the bridge’s collapse in March, officials claimed the catastrophe couldn’t have been anticipated. But over the past 20 years, a maritime safety committee featuring experts from key government agencies repeatedly raised the possibility of such a disaster. (Steve Thompson and Ian Duncan, Washington Post)

Israel-Hamas War

U.S. military faces reality in Gaza as aid project struggles: In the week since the U.S. military and allies attached a temporary pier to the Gaza shoreline, Pentagon planners have confronted the logistical nightmare that critics warned would accompany the endeavor. So far, little relief has reached Palestinians. (Helene Cooper and Adam Rasgon, New York Times)

🔎 See Also: Three U.S. troops have non-combat injuries during Gaza pier operation (Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart, Reuters)

How Yale University surveils pro-Palestine students: Documents illustrate a pattern of targeted surveillance against students engaged in pro-Palestine activism: administrator presence at rallies, police surveillance of social media, and coordination between campus, local, and state police. (Theia Chatelle, The Nation)

Classified Documents

Lawyers found classified docs in Trump’s bedroom 4 months after Mar-a-Lago search: A newly unsealed 2023 opinion by U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell revealed that Donald Trump’s attorneys discovered four classified documents in Trump’s bedroom months after prosecutors had subpoenaed them and the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago. (Kyle Cheney, Politico)

🔎 See Also: Unsealed motions in Trump’s Fla. case suggest new evidence of possible obstruction (Perry Stein, Washington Post)

Garland calls Trump’s false FBI search claim “extremely dangerous”: The attorney general explained that the FBI policy regarding the use of deadly force “is part of the standard operations plan for searches and, in fact, it was even used in the consensual search of President Biden’s home.” (Lauren Irwin, The Hill)


Trump electors in key states want to serve again, despite criminal charges: Republican activists in at least three states where Donald Trump tried to reverse his defeat in 2020 — nearly all of them under criminal indictment for casting electoral votes for him — are poised to reprise their roles as presidential electors. (Amy Gardner and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, Washington Post)

House GOP moves to crack down on noncitizen voting, sowing false narrative: Two proposed bills address a nonexistent problem and have virtually no chance of passing, but they could help reinforce Donald Trump’s efforts to delegitimize the 2024 election if he loses. (Luke Broadwater, New York Times)

Dobbs Aftermath

Louisiana is set to make possessing abortion pills without a prescription punishable by up to 10 years in prison: Under the first-in-the-nation legislation, pregnant women who obtain the medication for their own use would be exempt from criminal liability. But friends or family who help them get the pills and non-pregnant women who obtain them as a precaution could face criminal penalties for possession. (Megan Messerly, Politico)

Russia-Ukraine War

U.S. will announce $275 million more in artillery and ammunition for Ukraine: With this latest package, the U.S. has now provided almost $51 billion in military assistance to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022. (Tara Copp and Matthew Lee, RealClear Defense)

Defense and Veterans Affairs

Veterans became eligible for billions. These firms saw a chance to profit: Glitches, slowdowns, and other mishaps have dogged the VA’s Honoring our PACT Act disability claim program, enabling the growth of an unregulated shadow industry that promises to drastically boost tax-free disability checks — in exchange for veterans signing away future benefits. (Lisa Rein, Washington Post)

Judge dismisses felony convictions of 5 retired U.S. Navy officers in “Fat Leonard” bribery case: The dismissals of the convictions of the retired Navy officers and a Marine Corps colonel, all of whom admitted to accepting bribes from defense contractor Leonard (“Fat Leonard”) Francis, came at the request of the government, citing prosecutorial errors. (CBS News)

Business and Finance

Norfolk Southern to pay over $500M for cleanup, rail safety after East Palestine derailment: The settlement deal, which doesn’t require the company to admit liability, mandates rail safety upgrades that EPA Administrator Michael Regan called “a game-changer.” (Alex Guillén and Chris Marquette, Politico)

U.S., states sue to “break up” Ticketmaster parent Live Nation: The DOJ on Thursday filed an antitrust lawsuit, joined by 30 state and district attorneys general, against Live Nation Entertainment seeking to break up the conglomerate over allegations that it has amassed and abused unrivaled power in the ticketing and concert industries. (Tony Romm, Washington Post)

NCAA agrees to share revenue with athletes in landmark $2.8 billion settlement: The move marks a dramatic shift for the NCAA, breaking with its century-old stance that college athletes are amateurs and therefore can’t share in any of the money they generate for their schools. The settlement doesn’t solve all of the NCAA's most pressing problems, however. (Laine Higgins and Jared Diamond, Wall Street Journal)


Investigation shows how easy it is to find escorts, oxycodone on Eventbrite: Event management and ticketing website Eventbrite prohibits users from posting certain types of content, including listings selling illegal substances. But an investigation found thousands of events posted on the platform that appeared to violate one or more of its rules. (Matt Burgess and Dhruv Mehrotra, Ars Technica)

Lawmakers pursue legislation that would make it illegal to share digitally altered images known as deepfake porn: Last year, there were more than 21,000 non-consensual intimate deepfake images online — up more than 460% over the year prior. Teens especially are grappling with this growing problem. (Jo Ling Kent, Kelsie Hoffman, and Nicole Keller, CBS News)


Fast-rising seas could swamp septic systems in parts of the South: As sea levels rise, so do concerns about waste from septic tanks running into waterways in the American South. (Brady Dennis, Kevin Crowe, and John Muyskens, Washington Post)

Health Care

Fentanyl is fueling a record number of youth drug deaths: Fentanyl is increasingly landing in the hands of teens across the country, worrying pediatricians who say treatment options for youth are limited. (Jenna Portnoy and Dan Keating, Washington Post)

Bird flu found in Michigan dairy worker, second U.S. case in two months: CDC officials said the case doesn’t change their assessment that the risk to the general public is low. They said the case underscores the importance of personal protective equipment for workers at dairy farms and slaughter facilities, although federal and state officials haven’t made their use mandatory. (Lena H. Sun and Rachel Roubein, Washington Post)


Immigration and Border Security:

Migrant crossings at U.S.-Mexico border plunge 54% from record highs, internal figures show

Judge backtracks ruling that blocked Florida immigration law

Other News:

Supreme Court throws out race claim in South Carolina redistricting case in win for GOP

House votes to make CFTC main crypto regulator, a win for the industry

America’s monster: How the U.S. backed kidnapping, torture and murder in Afghanistan

Uvalde settles with victims’ families over school shooting

Alaskan rivers are turning orange. Climate change could be to blame

Because It’s Friday

U.S. embassy owes London £14.6M in unpaid traffic charges: The U.S. embassy in London has racked up more than £14 million in unpaid traffic charges over 20 years — the most of any embassy in the U.K. capital. Local officials said that while most embassies in London pay their fees, “a stubborn minority ... refuse to do so.” (Noah Keate, Politico)

Hot Docs

🔥📃 GAO - Military Justice: Increased Oversight, Data Collection, and Analysis Could Aid Assessment of Racial Disparities. GAO-24-106386 (PDF)

🔥📃 Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law: Raiding the Genome: How the United States Government Is Abusing Its Immigration Powers to Amass DNA for Future Policing. May 21, 2024 (PDF)

Nominations & Appointments


  • Karla M. Campbell - Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
  • Joshua L. Ditelberg - Member, National Labor Relations Board
  • Rebeccah L. Heinrichs - Member, U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy
  • Catherine Henry - Judge, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
  • Mary Kay Lanthier - Judge, United States District Court for the District of Vermont
  • Julia M. Lipez - Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
  • Lauren McFerran - Member, National Labor Relations Board
  • Stephanie E. Segal - United States Alternate Executive Director of the International Monetary Fund
  • Bethany Pickett Shah - Member, State Justice Institute Board of Directors
  • William Isaac White - Member, Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board


  • Nelson W. Cunningham - Deputy United States Trade Representative