New documents show scramble to control bad publicity after lane closings in N.J. bridge scandal
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- Newly released documents show officials scrambled to control the publicity damage in the days after lane closings near the George Washington Bridge caused huge traffic jams that now appear to have been politically orchestrated by officials in Gov. Chris Christie’s administration.
In emails days after the closings, the Christie-appointed chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, David Sampson, suggested that the director of the Port Authority leaked an internal memo on the matter to a reporter.
Sampson called it "very unfortunate for NY/NJ relations" because the director is an appointee of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
On Thursday, Christie apologized for the closings, fired a top aide who was implicated in the scandal and cut ties with a top political adviser.
Chemical spill brings W.Va. capital to standstill; tainted water means no showers, laundry
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A chemical spill left the water for 300,000 people in and around West Virginia’s capital city stained blue-green and smelling like licorice, with officials saying Friday it was unclear when it might be safe again for even mundane activities like showers and laundry.
Federal authorities began investigating how the foaming agent escaped a chemical plant and seeped into the Elk River. Just how much of the chemical leaked into the river was not yet known.
Officials are working with the company that makes the chemical to determine how much can be in the water without it posing harm to residents, said West Virginia American Water president Jeff McIntyre.
"We don’t know that the water’s not safe. But I can’t say that it is safe," McIntyre said Friday. For now, there is no way to treat the tainted water aside from flushing the system until it’s in low enough concentrations to be safe, a process that could take days.
Officials and experts said the chemical, even in its most concentrated form, isn’t deadly. However, people across nine counties were told not to so much as wash their clothes in water affected, as the compound can cause symptoms ranging from skin irritation and rashes to vomiting and diarrhea.
Target says millions more customers than previously disclosed affected by data breach
NEW YORK (AP) -- Fallout from Target’s pre-Christmas security breach is likely to affect the company’s sales and profits well into the new year.
The company disclosed on Friday that the massive data theft was significantly more extensive and affected millions more shoppers than the company reported in December. As a result of the breach, millions of Target customers have become vulnerable to identity theft, experts say.
The nation’s second largest discounter said hackers stole personal information -- including names, phone numbers as well as email and mailing addresses -- from as many as 70 million customers as part of a data breach it discovered last month.
Target announced on Dec. 19 that some 40 million credit and debit card accounts had been affected by a data breach that happened between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15 -- just as the holiday shopping season was getting into gear. As part of that announcement, the company said customers’ names, credit and debit card numbers, card expiration dates, debit-card PINs and the embedded code on the magnetic strip on the back of cards had been stolen.
According to new information gleaned from its investigation with the Secret Service and the Department of Justice, Target said Friday that criminals also took non-credit card related data for some 70 million shoppers who could have made purchases at Target stores outside the late Nov. to mid-Dec. timeframe.
500 reported killed in weeklong rebel clashes in Syria, overshadowing fight against Assad
BEIRUT (AP) -- With nearly 500 people reported killed in a week of rebel infighting, many Syrians barricaded themselves in their homes Friday, while others emerged from mosques angrily accusing an al-Qaida-linked group of hijacking their revolution.
The rebel-on-rebel clashes have overshadowed the battle against President Bashar Assad and underscore the perils for civilians caught in the crossfire of two parallel wars.
The violence, which pits fighters from a variety of Islamic groups and mainstream factions against the feared al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, have spread across four provinces in opposition-held parts of northern Syria.
The infighting is helping Assad, whose forces have clawed back some of the ground lost to the rebels in recent months as they bombard the north and other opposition regions with warplanes, heavy artillery and crude explosive-filled barrels dropped over rebel neighborhoods.
"The revolution has been derailed," said Abdullah Hasan, a self-described secular activist in the northern town of Maskaneh, where fighters from the al-Qaida-linked group swept in last month. "None of the groups fighting in Syria represent me now," he said, adding that he was nonetheless hopeful that the infighting would help purge extremists from the ranks of the rebels.
House passes bill focusing on health law’s security - 67 Dems break with Obama
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Republican-led House voted overwhelmingly Friday to bolt new security requirements onto President Barack Obama’s health care law, with 67 Democrats breaking ranks to join with the GOP. It was the first skirmish of what is certain to be a long and contentious election-year fight.
The vote was 291-122 with Republicans relentlessly focusing on "Obamacare," convinced that Americans’ unease with the troubled law will translate into significant election gains in November. Dozens of Democrats, nervous about their re-election chances or their campaigns for other offices, voted for the GOP bill.
"Americans have the right to know if the president’s health care law has put their personal information at risk, and today’s bipartisan vote reflects that concern," said Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Among the Democrats joining the Republicans was Rep. Steve Israel of New York, the chairman of his party’s campaign committee dedicated to electing Democrats.
"I voted for this bill because I want to make sure confidential information is protected. That’s just common sense," Israel said in a statement. "This is an added consumer safeguard on top of the many consumer protections in the law that already exist."
Federal recognition granted for more than 1,000 same-sex marriages in Utah
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Obama administration extended federal recognition to the marriages of more than 1,000 same-sex couples in Utah that took place before the Supreme Court put those unions in the state on hold.
The action will enable the government to extend eligibility for federal benefits to these couples. That means gay and lesbian couples can file federal taxes jointly, get Social Security benefits for spouses and request legal immigration status for partners.
Attorney General Eric Holder said the families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their benefits while courts decide the issue of same-sex marriage in Utah.
The decision came days after Utah officials said they would not recognize the marriages. The office of Gov. Gary Herbert told state agencies this week to put a freeze on proceeding with any new benefits for the newly married gay and lesbian couples until the courts sort out the matter.
In a statement Friday afternoon, Herbert’s office issued a statement that said Holder’s announcement was unsurprising, but state officers should comply with federal law if they’re providing federal services.
U.S. withdraws diplomat after India expulsion demand, hopes for end to bilateral spat
NEW DELHI (AP) -- The United States said Friday it was withdrawing a diplomat from India in hopes it would end a bitter dispute that started with the arrest and strip search of an Indian diplomat in New York.
Washington’s announcement that it was complying with a demand from New Delhi for the expulsion of the U.S. official came hours after Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, left the U.S.
Khobragade, 39, is accused of exploiting her Indian-born housekeeper and nanny, allegedly having her work more than 100 hours a week for low pay and lying about it on a visa form. Khobragade has maintained her innocence, and Indian officials have described her treatment as barbaric.
In an apparent compromise, she was indicted by a federal grand jury but also granted immunity that allowed her to leave the United States. Khobragade arrived in New Delhi on Friday, where she was met at the airport by her father and a sister.
"She just said, ‘Papa, I love you,’ and that’s all. And she’s happy to be back, her father, Uttam Khobragade, told reporters. Khobragade left the airport separately through an exit that is not accessible to the public.