Thursday May 16, 2013

GOP, Democrats aggressively question Holder over subpoenas of AP phone records

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress Wednesday that a serious national security leak required the secret gathering of telephone records at The Associated Press as he stood by an investigation in which he insisted he had no involvement.

Pestered by Republicans and some Democrats, Holder testified that he has faith in the individuals conducting the broad investigation, driven in large part by GOP outrage last year over the possibility that administration officials leaked information to enhance President Barack Obama’s national security reputation in an election year.

Holder said he had recused himself from the case because "I am a possessor of information eventually leaked." He said he was unable to answer questions on the subpoenas and why the Justice Department failed to negotiate with the AP prior to the subpoenas, a standard practice.

That elicited frustration from some committee members with the Obama administration and the attorney general.

"There doesn’t appear to be any acceptance of responsibility for things that have gone wrong," Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., told Holder. He suggested that administration officials travel to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and take a photo of the famous sign, "the buck stops here.


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Probe of IRS could include civil rights violations, potential false statements

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The FBI is investigating potential civil rights violations at the Internal Revenue Service after the agency acknowledged the agency had singled out conservative groups for extra scrutiny, Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday.

Other potential crimes include making false statements to authorities and violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in some partisan political activities, Holder said.

"I can assure you and the American people that we will take a dispassionate view of this," Holder told the House Judiciary Committee at a hearing Wednesday. "This will not be about parties, this will not be about ideological persuasions. Anybody who has broken the law will be held accountable."

But, Holder said, it will take time to determine if there was criminal wrongdoing.

Holder announced a day earlier that the Justice department had opened a criminal investigation, joining three committees in Congress that are looking into the matter. As the investigation widened, House Speaker John Boehner told reporters he had this question: "Who’s going to jail over this scandal?"

Back to the Pentagon Papers, leaks lead to clashes, prosecutions and First Amendment questions

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Government information leaks and collisions with the media date back decades and decades. Think back to the Pentagon Papers.

In the early 1970s, the Justice Department went to court to prevent further publication in The New York Times of portions of a top-secret study, dubbed the Pentagon Papers, which was packed with damaging details about America’s conduct of the Vietnam War. It led to a landmark First Amendment case before the Supreme Court, which sided with the media. It also drew the ire of President Richard Nixon and resulted in a break-in at the psychiatrist’s office of Daniel Ellsberg, the leaker of the papers.

Fast-forward to the disclosure this week of the secret seizure by the Justice Department of two months of phone records for more than 20 telephone lines used by reporters and editors at The Associated Press. Investigators are trying to find out who may have leaked information contained in an AP story last year about a CIA operation in Yemen that stopped an al-Qaida plot to detonate a bomb on a U.S.-bound airplane. The seizure of phone records has been described by media advocacy and civil liberties groups as sweeping and broad, triggering serious concerns that this type of hunt for leakers could cast a chill on journalists and whistleblowers who want to reveal government wrongdoing.

The Justice Department has been under scrutiny before in its media leak investigations. Its own inspector general’s office concluded in a January 2010 report that the FBI did not comply with the federal regulation and department policy "that requires attorney general approval and a balancing of First Amendment interests ... before issuing subpoenas for the production of reporters’ telephone toll billing records."

One of the media leaks the inspector general looked at involved articles in The Washington Post and The New York Times. One phone company provided law enforcement with records for more than 1,600 phone calls. "No grand jury subpoena was issued for these reporters’ records, either before or after the records were produced," the report said. "No department personnel sought attorney general approval" either.

Pentagon faces outrage over sexual assault cases, but with few solutions in sight

WASHINGTON (AP) -- One after another, the charges have tumbled out -- allegations of sexual assaults in the military that have triggered outrage, from local commanders to Capitol Hill and the Oval Office.

But for a Pentagon under fire, there seem to be few clear solutions beyond improved training and possible adjustments in how the military prosecutes such crimes. Changing the culture of a male-dominated, change-resistant military that for years has tolerated sexism and sexist behavior is proving to be a challenging task.

"Members of the Hill, people in the department and the American people have the right to be outraged," Pentagon press secretary George Little said Wednesday, adding that the military "must hold ourselves to a higher standard."

As new sexual assault allegations emerged this week involving an Army soldier who was assigned to prevent such crimes -- the second military member involved in similar accusations -- the Pentagon said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is working on a written directive to spell out steps aimed at resolving the escalating problem.

But President Barack Obama, fuming at a news conference last week, warned that he wanted swift and sure action, not "just more speeches or awareness programs or training." Sexual offenders need to be "prosecuted, stripped of their position, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period," he said.

OJ Simpson testifies in Las Vegas court in bid for new robbery-kidnap trial

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- His leg shackles rattling as he shuffled to the witness stand, a grayer, bulkier O.J. Simpson made his case for a new trial on armed robbery charges Wednesday, saying he was relying on the advice of his trusted attorney when he tried to reclaim mementos from his football glory days.

After more than four years in prison, Simpson seized the opportunity to recount how he and some friends confronted two sports memorabilia dealers in a Las Vegas hotel room in 2007, and how he believed he had the right to take back what he claimed had been stolen from him, including photos and footballs.

"It was my stuff. I followed what I thought was the law. My lawyer told me I couldn’t break into a guy’s room. I didn’t break into anybody’s room. I didn’t try to muscle the guys. The guys had my stuff, even though they claimed they didn’t steal it," the 65-year-old former NFL star and actor said.

Simpson did not testify when he was tried and convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping in 2008. He was sentenced to nine to 33 years in prison.

His fall from long-ago fame and fortune was demonstrated as he made his way to the stand with shackles around his ankles for a hearing on his claim that he was poorly represented by his attorney during the trial.

Jury deciding whether Jodi Arias should be eligible for death penalty after murder conviction

PHOENIX (AP) -- Prosecutors on Wednesday tried to convince jurors that Jodi Arias should be eligible for the death penalty, saying Travis Alexander suffered tremendous pain as he fought for his life while Arias stabbed and slashed him nearly 30 times.

The trial resumed with a new phase to decide whether Arias should be eligible for the death penalty.

After about two hours of arguments and testimony, the same jurors who convicted Arias a week ago began deliberations to decide whether Alexander died an especially cruel, depraved and heinous death. If they agree that standard has been met, the penalty portion of the trial will begin to decide whether the 32-year-old Arias should get a life sentence or death.

Alexander’s family sobbed in the front row as prosecutor Juan Martinez took the jury through the killing one more time. He described how blood gushed from Alexander’s chest, hands and throat as he stood at the sink in his master bathroom and looked into the mirror with Arias behind him.

"The last thing he saw before he lapsed into unconsciousness ... was that blade coming to his throat," Martinez said. "And the last thing he felt before he left this earth was pain."

Google unveils maps features, photo tools, music streaming, social enhancements at conference

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Google’s sixth annual conference for software developers opened Wednesday with a chance for the company to showcase its latest services. Announcements included new features for online games, maps and search, a new music-streaming service and enhancements to its Google Plus social network, including tools for editing and sharing photos.

The audience of about 6,000 people at "Google I/O" included engineers and entrepreneurs who develop applications and other features that can make smartphones and tablets more appealing. Reporters from around the world were also on hand, giving Google a chance to generate more hoopla about its latest innovations. The keynote was also available live on a YouTube webcast.

Android already has been activated on 900 million devices made by Samsung Electronics Co., HTC Corp. and other manufacturers. Android devices are the chief rivals to Apple’s iPhones and iPads. Android has helped Google make more money because its search engine and other services, including maps, are usually built into the devices. That tie-in drives more visitors to Google and gives the Mountain View, Calif., company more opportunities to sell ads.

The keynote kicked off at about 9 a.m. PDT and lasted about three and a half hours. The conference at the Moscone Center in San Francisco goes through Friday.

Here’s a running account of the event, presented in reverse chronological order. All times are PDT. Presenters included CEO Larry Page; Vic Gundotra, Google’s senior vice president for engineering; Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president for apps and Chrome; Hugo Barra, vice president for product management for Android; Ellie Powers, a product manager at Google; Brian McClendon, a vice president who oversees Google Maps; and Daniel Graf, director of Google Maps.

Russia’s FSB claims another alleged US spy was expelled earlier this year

MOSCOW (AP) -- A Russian security services operative -- his features bathed in shadows -- went on state television Wednesday to claim that the U.S. diplomat who was ordered out of the country was the second American expelled this year over spying allegations.

The anonymous operative said the CIA had failed to halt this "disturbing activity" despite Moscow asking it to do so.

The TV report came one day after Russia ordered Ryan Fogle, a third secretary at the U.S. Embassy, to leave the country after the Federal Security Service claimed to have caught him red-handed trying to recruit a Russian agent in Moscow. The agency, known by the initials FSB, alleged that Fogle worked for the CIA.

State TV channels showed a man identified as an FSB agent saying that another American was told to leave in January in "another case of recruitment." The anonymous speaker, whose identity as an FSB operative could not be confirmed by The Associated Press, did not give the name of the expelled American.

Various Russian TV networks gave different names for the American, and the FSB refused to clarify the name to The Associated Press. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell declined to comment.