Cunningham scandal expands: “Federal prosecutors have begun an investigation” into powerful House Appropriations Committee chair Jerry Lewis (R-CA). The probe is focusing on Lewis’ connections to “longtime friend” and lobbyist Bill Lowery. “As chairman of the Appropriations panel, Lewis has earmarked hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts for many of Lowery’s clients.”
The National Security Agency has been “secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth.” The goal of the program, created shortly after 9/11, is “to create a database of every call ever made” within the nation’s borders. “Among the big telecommunications companies, only Qwest has refused to help the NSA.”
The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility has closed its investigation into the Bush administration’s warrantless domestic surveillance program because investigators were “denied the security clearances needed to conduct a probe.” Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) called the denial of clearances “hard to believe.”
A draft Government Accountability Office report finds that only “one one in five Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who screen positive for combat-related stress disorders are referred by the Pentagon for mental health treatment.”
House conservatives gave Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), who is better known as “Representative #1” in the Abramoff court pleadings, “a standing ovation after he told them yesterday that he has no plans to resign and will vigorously fend off a likely federal indictment.”
“The Pentagon has been forced to delay the release of its updated Army Field Manual on interrogation because of congressional opposition to several provisions, including one that would allow tougher techniques for unlawful combatants than for traditional prisoners of war.”
President Bush and Congress “have suffered a decline in support from almost every part of the conservative coalition over the past year, a trend that has accelerated with alarming implications for Bush’s governing strategy.” In Gallup polling, Bush has suffered a “13-percentage-point drop in Republican support…in the past couple of weeks.”
Foreign policy experts from both parties are pressuring Bush to hold direct talks with Iran. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) warned, “The continued unwillingness of the U.S. to engage Iran will make other states hesitate to support, and possibly oppose, these tougher measures.”
A “year-old but little-known Army Reserve policy” bars officers from resigning “unless they fulfill various conditions: They have to serve in Iraq or Afghanistan, work in much-needed specialties, or have serious family issues.” Several reservists are suing to overturn the policy.
And finally, a fun fact about Chuck Norris: “If you ask Chuck Norris what time it is, he always says, ‘Two seconds till.’ After you ask, ‘Two seconds till what?’ he roundhouse kicks you in the face.” Another fun fact: Norris met yesterday with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) to promote his “KICKSTART” program that “aims to keeps kids off drugs, out of gangs and to build their self-confidence.”
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