Dangerously strong wind and computer problems forced NASA to delay the launch today of its Saturn probe Cassini, powered by 72 pounds of highly radioactive plutonium. NASA says it will try again no earlier than Wednesday. The scheduled pre-dawn lift-off of the Titan 4B rocket holding the Cassini spacecraft was pushed back first by technical trouble, then by 100-mile-per-hour winds of altitudes of more than seven miles that would have blown rocket debris down the Florida coast in the event of an explosion. It’s NASA’s largest, most expensive interplanetary probe ever and, to the horror of anti-nuclear activists, carries the most plutonium ever. Project scientists assure the launch was safe and even brought their children and grandchildren to watch it. Critics fear a launch accident would cause the carcinogenic plutonium to rain down on the earth.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Friday that two white suburban police officers should be tried again in the death of a black motorist who suffocated fighting with police during a traffic stop outside Pittsburgh. The first trial of Milton Mulholland and Michael Albert on manslaughter charges ended in a mistrial last fall when the coroner, under questioning by the defense, said Mulholland should explain what he did that night. A defendant is not required to testify at a trial. Johnny Gammage was driving a Jaguar through Brentwood, a suburb of Pittsburgh, in October 1995, when police stopped him for flickering brake lights.
Attorney General Janet Reno says no aspect of the Justice Department’s campaign finance investigation has been completed, including an examination of the President’s activities, and she will not allow critics to bully her with “innuendo” and “shrill accusations,” as she called them. Reno said that on the recently discovered videotapes of White House coffees for big donors, she has so far seen no indication of criminal activity by President Clinton or other officials covered by the Independent Counsel Act. But she insisted that her department’s 11-month-old task force, whose slow pace has drawn criticism from congressional Republicans, is “conducting one of the most complex investigations in the country’s history.” Reno’s handling of the probe and her refusal so far to request appointment of an independent counsel to pursue allegations of campaign finance abuses have been widely criticized by Republicans and even some Democrats. House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on Saturday the White House made Reno “look like a fool” by not promptly telling her about the discovery of the videotapes of White House coffees.
President Clinton arrived in Venezuela at the beginning of a trip through Latin America. The President’s goodwill tour will take him next to Brazil and Argentina. The trip is also intended to build support for fast-track trade legislation before Congress. A committee vote last week in the House showed the strength of Democratic resistance to the proposal. The administration is offering $500 million over five years to help workers hurt by imports, but lawmakers are asking for more. While unions have been lobbying intensively in opposition, business groups appear to have gotten off to a slow start on supporting passage of the measure.
A bill signed by President Clinton Friday clears the way for a congressional pay boost, even though it never mentions giving lawmakers more money. The bill actually covers the Treasury Department and several other agencies, but under a 1989 law, members of Congress get cost-of-living raises unless they take action to prevent them. They have excluded themselves from such raises in this particular spending bill, from 1993 through last year, but this year they will get a 2.3 percent raise. One congressional watch dog group affiliated with Ralph Nader says House Speaker Newt Gingrich got exactly what he wanted. As Gary Ruskin of the Congressional Accountability Project sees it, Gingrich is giving himself and his overpaid colleagues a raise. Gingrich and Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott had no immediate comment.
Settling a second-hand smoke lawsuit brought by 60,000 flight attendants, the tobacco industry Friday agreed to pay $300 million to establish a research foundation on diseases blamed on cigarettes. The attendants had sued for $5 billion, claiming they developed lung, heart and other diseases by breathing other people’s smoke on airliners. The trial began four months ago. The settlement marks the first time the tobacco industry agreed to pay damages in a second-hand smoke lawsuit.
The economic spokesperson for Italy’s Communist Refoundation Party says he was confident his group would strike a last-minute deal with the prime minister to revive the center-left government. The prime minister was forced to resign last week after Refoundation, which secures the government’s majority in the lower house of parliament, refused to back the 1998 budget.
Tony Blair arrived in Northern Ireland today for the first time between a meeting of British prime minister and an Irish Republican leader.