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Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday acquitted Chinese Canadian researcher Anming Hu of all fraud charges, bringing to a close the government's controversial first trial under the Justice Department's China Initiative.

Why it matters: The case drew attention after it ended in a mistrial and heightened the scrutiny surrounding the DOJ initiative, which faces accusations that it leads to racial profiling against Asians in the U.S.

Context: The FBI spied on Hu and his family for nearly two years. Even though agents implicated Hu as having ties to the Chinese military in meetings with Hu's bosses at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, they could not confirm claims of spying.

  • The nanotechnology specialist was instead charged with fraud for allegedly concealing part-time work for a Chinese university to secure federal funding, though UTK officials testified that they knew of the connection.

What they're saying: "[E]ven viewing all the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, no rational jury could conclude that defendant acted with a scheme to defraud NASA" in failing to disclose his affiliation with the Beijing University of Technology to UTK, U.S. District Judge Thomas A. Varlan wrote in the decision.

  • The judge added "there was no evidence presented that defendant ever collaborated with a Chinese university in conducting his NASA-funded research, or used facilities, equipment, or funds from a Chinese university in the course of such research."

"We respect the court’s decision, although we are disappointed with the result," DOJ spokesperson Wyn Hornbuckle told Axios. Hornbuckle did not answer questions about the future of the China Initiative.

Asian American civil rights groups and lawmakers praised the acquittal.

  • "Dr. Hu is finally free to return to his life and be reunited with his family," John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, said in a statement. But the "scars of the prosecution and investigation on Dr. Hu and his family are deep and long-lasting."
  • Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), who has led efforts calling for a probe into the China Initiative, addressed the DOJ on Twitter: "You should stop discriminating against Asians ... If Hu’s last name was Smith, you would not have brought this case."
  • "We must work vigilantly to ensure that what happened to Dr. Hu and his family does not happen again to anyone," Yang added.

Go deeper

Howard University student protest continues

The protest extended beyond Blackburn Center as some students pitched tents outside. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Blackburn Takeover at Howard University has gone on for over three weeks as students continue to protest unsafe living conditions and advocate for representation on the board of trustees. 

The big picture: University officials and student protesters are in a deadlock as administrators promise to sit down with students occupying Blackburn Center once they leave, but the students say they won’t go until their demands are met.

Driving the news: Student protestors have gotten support from notable Howard alumni and others.

  • Rev. Jesse Jackson was on campus this week to meet with students and university officials.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) tweeted in support of protestors on Tuesday.
  • Rappers under artist Gucci Mane’s label have also shown support.

What’s happening: Since the protest began, the university has released multiple statements supporting the right to peaceful protest, but condemning the occupation of Blackburn Center, which also serves as a cafeteria. 

University president Wayne A. I. Frederick on Tuesday released a statement saying in part that Sodexo, the company that runs the cafeteria inside Blackburn, has had to layoff some employees as the result of being closed for so long.

  • His statement also mentioned COVID concerns, as some students are moving back and forth from Blackburn Center to their residence halls. 

Zoom in: Mold, leaks, and vermin are all issues in residence halls, according to students.

University officials have reported improvements in student housing and say the majority of students are "living comfortably."

  • But, students say unsafe living conditions are still an issue, and are calling for the historic HBCU to end its contracts with Corvias, the company that manages campus housing.
  • There have also been recent reports of safety issues in the university's chemistry building. The university addressed some of those concerns on Twitter.

Meanwhile, The Hilltop, HU’s student newspaper, also released a statement on Tuesday saying that it’s consulting with the Student Press Law Center following concerns about what The Hilltop calls efforts by the university to censor their reporting. 

In response, Frank Tramble, Howard's vice president and chief communications officer, sent Axios a statement saying in part, "To challenge student reporters to be accurate is not a call to silence their voice but elevate their practices to be respected in the industry."

Tramble went on to cite a few incidents involving Blackburn coverage where a student journalist recorded after being asked not to, and published off-the-record comments, among other issues.

The bottom line: The Blackburn Takeover has already far exceeded the 9-day Howard student protest in 2018, which ended with a deal between students and the university. This time there’s no clear end in sight. 

Why 401(k) rollovers are so annoying

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

If you happened to change jobs recently, you may have tried to transfer your retirement account from your former employer into an Individual Retirement Account or your new employer's 401(k) plan. If so, you probably encountered a bureaucratic gantlet — and you're not alone.

Why it matters: Kludgey processes around retirement account transfers result in people losing track of their funds, giving up important tax advantages, or otherwise disadvantaging themselves and being less prepared for retirement.

The hard math behind America's labor shortage

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Congressional Budget Office; Chart: Axios Visuals

Yes, the pandemic has created unusual temporary labor market dynamics. But in the bigger picture, the 2010s were a golden age for companies seeking cheap labor. The 2020s are not.

The big picture: In the 2010s, the massive millennial generation was entering the workforce, the massive baby bo0m generation was still hard at work, and there was a multi-year hangover from the deep recession caused by the global financial crisis.