Feds say Atlanta family plotted terrorism while at New Mexico desert compound

ATLANTA — A federal grand jury on Wednesday indicted five relatives from Atlanta, charging them with plotting terrorism after kidnapping a toddler and retreating to an isolated desert compound in New Mexico.

The defendants, whose site was raided last summer, have long been accused by authorities of planning terrorism, but the indictment is first time they’ve been formally charged with such allegations. The Clayton County boy, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, was found dead at the compound on what would have been his 4th birthday. Previously, the relatives, who had lived around Clayton, DeKalb and Fulton counties, were held in federal custody only on firearm charges. The new indictment doesn’t specify the group’s plans, but says they intended to kill members of the FBI and the U.S. military.

Authorities have said they believe the boy may have died because, rather than given him seizure medicine, his father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, performed rituals to rid him of evil spirits. Because of trouble getting oxygen during birth, Abdul-Ghani had many medical problems, including seizures as well as cognitive and developmental delays.

According to Abdul-Ghani’s mother, Wahhaj had said he was taking the boy to a Clayton County park one day in late 2017 and never returned. Instead, the child was found dead in a cave in the desert on Aug. 6, 2018.Wahhaj was arrested at the compound with his wife Jany Leveille, his sisters Hujrah Wahhaj and Subhanah Wahhaj, as well as Subhannah Wahhaj’s husband, Lucas Morton. Their 11 children were taken into custody from the property by New Mexico child welfare workers.

— Journal-Constitution

Man accused of dropping daughter off bridge appears in court before upcoming murder trial

LARGO, Fla. — John Jonchuck appeared in a Pinellas County, Fla., courtroom on Thursday days before his upcoming murder trial.

Jonchuck, now 29, faces charges of first-degree murder, assault and fleeing police. He’s accused of dropping his 5-year-old daughter, Phoebe Jonchuck, from a bridge near the Skyway on Jan. 8, 2015. She drowned in Tampa Bay.

Thursday’s court hearing was to discuss two defense motions. The first motion is to prevent the term “psychopath” from making it into the trial, because it has the “strong likelihood to unduly prejudice the jury” against Jonchuck, his lawyers wrote. The second motion is to prevent testimony related to hypothermia as a contributing cause of Phoebe’s death.

Jonchuck arrived in the Pinellas County jail on Wednesday ahead of his trial, which is scheduled to begin Monday and could take up to four weeks. He had been housed at the North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center outside Gainesville, where he was undergoing treatment to improve his mental health.

Jonchuck was declared incompetent to stand trial shortly after his arrest, meaning he couldn’t understand the charges he faced or the trial process. He was declared competent in 2017, yet courtroom delays repeatedly pushed back the trial date.

Prosecutors have dropped their death penalty bid, meaning if convicted of first-degree murder, Jonchuck will face an automatic lifetime prison sentence.

— Tampa Bay Times

McConnell sets up Senate vote on a Green New Deal resolution

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has followed through on his promise to call a test vote on a resolution supporting the Green New Deal, a vote that Democratic supporters have decried as a political stunt.

The Republican from Kentucky moved to limit debate on taking up a joint resolution supporting the Green New Deal, setting up a vote after the Senate recess next week.

It’s the first legislative item lined up for the next work period, coming after the Senate moves through to confirm the nomination of Bridget S. Bade for a seat on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“By now, we’re all familiar with the major thrust of the proposal: Powering down the U.S. economy, and yet somehow also creating government-directed economic security for everyone at the same time. Naturally, accomplishing all this is quite a tall order,” McConnell said of the Democratic-led proposal for a big energy and environment overhaul in a Wednesday floor speech about what has become one of his favorite topics.

— CQ-Roll Call

Nadler moving carefully on obstruction probe

WASHINGTON — Documents requested from key associates of Donald Trump as part of the House Judiciary Committee’s investigation into obstruction of justice and corruption are beginning to trickle in, the top Democrat on the committee indicated Thursday.

About half of the 81 people and entities connected to Trump who received letters and document requests in February from Chairman Jerrold Nadler have been in touch with the New York Democrat’s staff about complying with the committee’s probe.

“We’ve heard from a number of other people who’ve said they would comply if we give them a subpoena … a friendly subpoena,” Nadler told reporters Thursday.

Only “a handful” of the 81 people and groups have “been defiant and said, ‘No we’re not going to comply,’” Nadler said.

The list that Nadler wants to hear from for the probe includes a range of people in the president’s orbit. They include his adult children — some of whom work in his administration — his convicted former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and the controversy-plagued campaign consulting group Cambridge Analytica.

Nadler did not say how quickly he will initiate the process of issuing subpoenas to compel witness testimony and document disclosure. But he indicated Thursday that he did not intend to abuse that congressional tool.

“We’re not a subpoena production factory,” Nadler said. “We’re not in business for the purpose of issuing subpoenas. … The purpose is to get information back.”

After the committee examines the first sets of documents it receives, Nadler will then decide whether to issue subpoenas and who he will call to testify.

The committee sent document requests to a slew of current and former Trump administration officials including: former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former White House counsel Don McGahn, former deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland, and former communications staffers Sean Spicer and Hope Hicks.

The committee also requested information from members of Trump’s family, including sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, and son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner.

The letters also seek information from Trump’s campaign, transition staff, and former employees and informal advisers in those areas such as Roger Stone.

— CQ-Roll Call