Wednesday May 22, 2013

Former IRS commissioner knew tea party groups targeted in 2012; says he didn’t tell anyone

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The former head of the Internal Revenue Service said he first learned in the spring of 2012 -- in the heat of the presidential campaign -- that agents had improperly targeted political groups that vehemently opposed President Barack Obama’s policies.

But, former Commissioner Douglas Shulman said Tuesday, he didn’t tell higher ups in the Treasury Department and he didn’t tell members of Congress.

And he wouldn’t apologize for it.

"I had a partial set of facts, and I knew that the inspector general was going to be looking into it, and I knew that it was being stopped," Shulman told the Senate Finance Committee in his first public comments on the matter. "Sitting there then and sitting here today, I think I made the right decision, which is to let the inspector general get to the bottom of it, chase down all the facts and then make his findings public."

Shulman, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, left the IRS in November when his five-year term ended. His testimony makes him the top official to publicly acknowledge knowing before the presidential election that tea party groups had been targeted.

As immigration bill nears committee vote, supporters seek delay in debate over gay spouses

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Far-reaching immigration legislation neared a final committee vote on Tuesday as the White House and Democratic supporters pressed the panel’s chairman to delay a showdown over the rights of gay spouses until a debate in the full Senate.

"There have been 300 amendments. Why shouldn’t we have one more?" said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. He spoke in response to concerns that a vote on the issue inside the Senate Judiciary Committee could unravel months of work on the bill, which gives a chance at citizenship to millions of immigrants living in the United States illegally.

The measure also creates a new program for low-skilled foreign labor, and would permit highly skilled workers into the country at far higher levels than is currently the case. At the same time, it requires the government take new steps to guard against future illegal immigration.

Leahy, who has presided over days of committee work on the legislation, said an end was in sight, perhaps as early as Tuesday night.

The bill’s ranks of supporters inside the committee grew during the day as the result of a compromise setting the terms of the expansion of H-1B high tech visas. Under the deal, the number of highly skilled workers admitted to the country would rise from 65,000 annually to 110,000, with the possibility of a further rise to 180,000 depending in part on unemployment levels.

Benghazi suspects: U.S. officials identify 5 men, but don’t have evidence to bring to trial

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. has identified five men who might be responsible for the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year, and has enough evidence to justify seizing them by military force as suspected terrorists, officials say. But there isn’t enough proof to try them in a U.S. civilian court as the Obama administration prefers.

The men remain at large while the FBI gathers evidence. But the investigation has been slowed by the reduced U.S. intelligence presence in the region since the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks, and by the limited ability to assist by Libya’s post-revolutionary law enforcement and intelligence agencies, which are still in their infancy since the overthrow of dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

The decision not to seize the men militarily underscores the White House aim to move away from hunting terrorists as enemy combatants and holding them at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The preference is toward a process in which most are apprehended and tried by the countries where they are living or arrested by the U.S. with the host country’s cooperation and tried in the U.S. criminal justice system. Using military force to detain the men might also harm fledgling relations with Libya and other post-Arab-Spring governments with whom the U.S. is trying to build partnerships to hunt al-Qaida as the organization expands throughout the region.

A senior administration official said the FBI has identified a number of individuals that it believes have information or may have been involved, and is considering options to bring those responsible to justice. But taking action in remote eastern Libya would be difficult. America’s relationship with Libya would be weighed as part of those options, the official said, speaking only on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the effort publicly.

Iran election overseers block 2 wild card figures from presidential race

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran’s election overseers removed potential wild-card candidates from the presidential race Tuesday, blocking a top aide of outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and a former president who revived hopes of reformers.

Their exclusion from the June 14 presidential ballot gives establishment-friendly candidates a clear path to succeed Ahmadinejad, who has lost favor with the ruling clerics after years of power struggles. It also pushes moderate and opposition voices further to the margins as Iran’s leadership faces critical challenges such as international sanctions and talks with world powers over Tehran’s nuclear program.

The official ballot list, announced on state TV, followed a nearly six-hour delay in which the names were kept under wraps. That raised speculation that authorities allowed some time for appeals by the blackballed candidates and their backers to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say in all matters.

But the official slate left off two prominent but divisive figures: former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad protege Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. The decision also appeared to remove many potential surprise elements in the race, including whether Rafsanjani could revitalize the reform movement or if Ahmadinejad could play a godfather role in the election with his hand-picked political heir.

Instead, the eight men cleared by the candidate-vetting Guardian Council included high-profile figures considered firm and predictable loyalists to the ruling Islamic establishment, such as former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf and Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili.

The pope and the devil: Francis’ obsession with Satan leads to suspicion he performed exorcism

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis’ obsession with the devil took on remarkable new twists Tuesday, with a well-known exorcist insisting Francis helped "liberate" a Mexican man possessed by four different demons despite the Vatican’s insistence that no such papal exorcism took place.

The case concerns a 43-year-old husband and father who traveled to Rome from Mexico to attend Francis’ Mass on Sunday in St. Peter’s Square. At the end of the Mass, Francis blessed several wheelchair-bound faithful as he always does, including a man possessed by the devil, according to the priest who brought him, the Rev. Juan Rivas.

Francis laid his hands on the man’s head and recited a prayer. The man heaved deeply a half-dozen times, shook, then slumped in his wheelchair.

The images, broadcast worldwide, prompted the television station of the Italian bishops’ conference to declare that according to several exorcists, there was "no doubt" that Francis either performed an exorcism or a simpler prayer to free the man from the devil.

The Vatican was more cautious. In a statement Tuesday, it said Francis "didn’t intend to perform any exorcism. But as he often does for the sick or suffering, he simply intended to pray for someone who was suffering who was presented to him."

Jodi Arias tells jury she can contribute from prison if she’s allowed to live

PHOENIX (AP) -- Jodi Arias begged jurors Tuesday to give her life in prison, saying she "lacked perspective" when she told a local reporter in an interview that she preferred execution to spending the rest of her days in jail.

Standing confidently but at times her voice breaking, Arias told the same eight men and four women who found her guilty of first-degree murder that she planned to use her time in prison to bring about positive changes, including donating her hair to be made into wigs for cancer victims, helping establish prison recycling programs and designing T-shirts that would raise money for victims of domestic abuse.

She also said she could run book clubs and teach classes to prisoners to "stimulate conversations of a higher nature."

Arias became emotional as she played a slideshow of pictures from her photo album for the jury. The images included family portraits, pictures of her and friends and boyfriends and young relatives she has met only from behind bars.

Arias concluded her statement by pleading that jurors not give her the death penalty for the sake of her family.

Gay Fla. teen facing charges of having sexual contact with 14-year-old girlfriend

MIAMI (AP) -- An 18-year-old Florida cheerleader is facing felony charges that she had sexual contact with her underage, 14-year-old girlfriend, leading gay rights advocates to say the teen is being unfairly targeted for a common high school romance because she’s gay.

The criminal case against Kaitlyn Hunt is unusual because it involves two females, not an older male and a younger female. But advocates say older high schoolers dating their younger counterparts is an innocuous, everyday occurrence that is not prosecuted -- regardless of sexual orientation -- and not a crime on par with predatory sex offenses.

Hunt played on the basketball team with her younger girlfriend and shared the same circle of friends, said Hunt’s mother, Kelley Hunt Smith. The two had a consenting relationship that began soon after Kaitlyn Hunt turned 18, and Hunt Smith said she assumed the younger girl’s parents knew that.

But Hunt was kicked off the basketball team near the end of last year after the coach learned of the relationship because players were not allowed to date each other, her parents said. Then, in February, she was charged with lewd and lascivious battery on a child 12 to 16. The day before she was arrested, police and the younger girl’s parents secretly recorded a phone conversation in which the two girls discussed kissing in the school bathroom, said Hunt’s father, Steve Hunt.

"It’s horrible. For my daughter’s sexual preferences, she’s getting two felony charges. It could possibly ruin her future," Steve Hunt told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday.