Reuters: Assad says Syria has received Russian missile shipment: Lebanese media
Syria has already received the first shipment of an advanced Russian air defense system and will soon get the rest of the S-300 missiles, President Bashar al-Assad was quoted as saying on Thursday. "Syria has received the first shipment of Russian anti-aircraft S-300 rockets," Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar newspaper quoted Assad as saying in an interview due to be broadcast later in the day. "The rest of the shipment will arrive soon." An interview with Assad will be released on Al Manar, a television station linked to Assad's ally, the Shi'ite Muslim militant group Hezbollah. Russia has said it would deliver the missile system to the Syrian government over Western objections, saying the move would help stabilize the regional balance.
CNN: Paterno family and others to file lawsuit against NCAA
Joe Paterno led the Penn State Nittany Lions for 46 seasons and - in the process - became the winningest coach in college football history. Then came the child molestation scandal involving his former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky and the allegations that Paterno played a role in concealing it. The NCAA vacated 111 of his wins over a 14-year period, fined the school $60 million, reduced scholarships and banned it from bowl games for four years. And Paterno died last year, his iconic reputation in tatters. But come Thursday, his family will launch a fresh battle to see that his legacy doesn't end that way.
CNN: Threatening letters to Bloomberg test positive for ricin
Preliminary tests indicate ricin was found in letters sent this past weekend to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York deputy police commissioner Paul Browne said Wednesday. Browne said the letters to Bloomberg contained a threat to the mayor and mentioned the debate on gun laws. "The letter obviously, referred to our anti-gun efforts but there's 12,000 people (who) are going to get killed this year with guns and 19,000 that are going to commit suicide with guns, and we're not going to walk away from those efforts," Bloomberg said. One letter addressed to the mayor's office was opened at the city government's mail facility, Browne said.
CNN: Arizona mom turns to scripture to survive in Mexican jail
Inside a Mexican jail, Yanira Maldonado wept. A devout Mormon, the Arizona mother of seven said Wednesday she's been turning to scripture to survive ever since authorities falsely accused her of drug smuggling last week. "Reading the scriptures, reading the Book of Mormon, praying, fasting," Maldonado told CNN. "And all the support that I've been getting from my family, my husband, my children, and everybody out there reaching out to help." A judge is weighing whether to set Maldonado free after authorities accused her of drug smuggling and alleged they found 12 pounds of marijuana under her bus seat. Maldonado maintained her innocence Wednesday.
CNNMoney: NJ prisoners received more than $23 million in benefits
New Jersey prisoners incorrectly received more than $23 million in unemployment benefits, Medicaid and other public assistance, according to a state audit released Wednesday. Between July 2009 and April 2011, the state paid out the benefits to or on behalf of more than 20,000 incarcerated individuals who don't appear to be entitled to the payments, according to a press release from State Comptroller Matthew Boxer, who led the audit. More than $10 million of the payments were unemployment benefits paid out to about 7,600 incarcerated individuals, according to the release. State law requires that only those who are "able" or "available" to work are eligible to receive unemployment.
CNN: Officials: Obama to tap ex-Bush official as next FBI chief
President Barack Obama plans to nominate James Comey to replace Robert Mueller as FBI director, officials familiar with the nomination process said Wednesday. Comey is a former prosecutor who worked in New York and Virginia, where his caseload included terrorism, organized crime and fraud prosecutions, the latter including executives from WorldCom, Adelphia and Imclone, an official biography notes. He served as a deputy attorney general in President George W. Bush's administration beginning in 2003.
WSJ: Mortgage-Relief Plan Is Extended
The Obama administration is set to announce Thursday that its signature consumer-mortgage modification initiative, due to expire at the end of the year, will be extended for two more years. Senior administration officials said Wednesday that despite a nascent housing-market recovery, it didn't make sense to dismantle the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, given the real-estate bust's lingering damage. About 1.1 million borrowers were in some stage of foreclosure at the end of April, according to a report released Wednesday by CoreLogic, CLGX -1.91% and banks have been completing some 52,000 foreclosures a month.
NYT: Travels of the President Under a Microscope in an Era of Belt Tightening
Perhaps it is nothing more than an accident of timing that as federal workers brace for a summer filled with unpaid furlough days, their leaders are traveling the nation and globe on trips that exude luxury. On Wednesday, President Obama left the White House for two Chicago fund-raisers in the hope of helping Democrats retake the House in next year’s elections. The cost of flying aboard Air Force One to his hometown: $180,000 per hour. The same day, Michelle Obama traveled to Massachusetts to lunch with rich donors who had paid up to $37,600 per ticket at the Taj Boston Hotel. …For a leader presiding over automatic budget cuts and a slow-moving economic recovery, there are growing political costs to presidential travel. Every move a president makes costs money, and in an era when money is in short supply, that means heightened scrutiny. Vacations are especially touchy.
CNN: Obama: Washington can still be ‘fixed’
Speaking at a political fundraiser, President Barack Obama promised Wednesday to work tirelessly to convince the American people that Democrats’ ideas are the right ones. But at the same time, he attempted to strike a bipartisan tone, acknowledging that while Washington may appear broken, “it can be fixed. We’ve got everything that we need to succeed,” the president said at the fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “But the one thing that’s still missing is a politics that matches up with the decency and the hard work and determination and creativity of the American people. We’ve got a politics that’s stuck right now.”
CNN: Lawmakers demand more details about Benghazi from State
House Republicans continued to demand answers Wednesday on the Benghazi attack, one day the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee issued a congressional subpoena to current and former State Department officials over the issue. In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, 15 members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee demanded to know what actions were taken against four people Kerry had testified would face consequences for failing to protect Chris Stevens, the ambassador to Libya, and others at the U.S. mission in Benghazi. Stevens was among four Americans killed on September 11, 2012, in an attack later characterized as an organized assault by terrorists.
NBC: As Congress debates curbs on tax breaks, a new one debuts in 2014
If “tax reform” means curbing or scrapping tax breaks, then tax reform will result in higher-income Americans paying more to the Internal Revenue Service at tax filing time. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), in a report issued Wednesday on “tax expenditures” – the deductions, credits, exemptions and other preferences that benefit specific categories of taxpayers – found that more than half of the benefits of the top 10 tax breaks this year will go to households with incomes in the highest fifth of the population. Households in the top 1 percent of income distribution garner 17 percent of the benefit of the top 10 tax breaks, the CBO found. Only 8 percent of the benefit of tax expenditures will go to households in the bottom quintile of the income distribution. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, requested that the CBO do the report.
HuffPo: IRS Targets Medical Marijuana Businesses In Government's Ongoing War On Pot
The tea party has company. For the past several years, the Internal Revenue Service has been systematically targeting medical marijuana establishments, relying on an obscure statute that gives the taxing agency unintended power. The IRS has been functioning as an arm of justice, employing the U.S. tax code as a weapon in the federal government's ongoing war against legal cannabis. …Now the IRS is applying a rule originally aimed at illegal (and often violent) drug trafficking to businesses that are entirely legal under their states' laws. Medical marijuana dispensaries are facing audits and heavy tax bills that could force them out of business.
CNN: Conservative group takes IRS, top Obama officials to court
A prominent conservative legal advocacy group sued top Internal Revenue Service and Obama administration officials on Wednesday, claiming the constitutional rights of 25 organizations were violated when the IRS targeted conservative outfits seeking tax-exempt status. The Washington-based American Center for Law and Justice argued in a federal district court filing that the organizations' First Amendment free speech rights and Fifth Amendment due process rights were violated, among other things. The group also contends that the IRS violated its own regulations. The filing by the ACLJ - founded by televangelist Pat Robertson - asks the court to rule that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, former IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, IRS Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner, and IRS official Holly Paz all acted unlawfully.
Roll Call: Who Will Lead the Tea Party Caucus?
Who will be the next Michele Bachmann? The Minnesota Republican’s announcement on Wednesday that she’ll be stepping down when her term wraps up in 2014 leaves a void at the top of the Tea Party Caucus she founded in 2010 — and a handful of conservatives could vie to take up her mantle. From the time Bachmann founded the caucus, the movement has had its ebbs and flows, at its high point having significant influence over the electoral landscape and at its low point becoming dormant to the point — some might argue — of irrelevance. But with revelations that the IRS improperly targeted conservative-affiliated groups seeking to register as tax-exempt nonprofits, the tea party movement both on Capitol Hill and around the country was reignited, and many supporters believe political candidates will ride that wave through the next election cycle as they did in 2010.
ALSO SEE: CNN: Bachmann's legacy: What a difference a few years can make
ALSO SEE: Des Moines Register: Trial date set in Iowa court case against Michele Bachmann
BuzzFeed: Huma Abedin Helping Fundraise For Anthony Weiner
Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is reaching out to donors to raise money for her husband, Anthony Weiner’s, comeback mayoral campaign, BuzzFeed has learned. A donor close to the Weiner operation said that Abedin has been making calls to contacts she knows personally, asking for contributions to her husband’s second bid for New York City mayor. “It’s not like she’s cold-calling,” said the donor, describing the people she has contacted as a “more selective” list. “But it’s a big deal for her to be making calls. She doesn’t do that.” Asked to confirm whether Abedin has been fundraising for Weiner, campaign communications director Barbara Morgan said, “It’s not a secret that Huma is 100 percent committed to helping Anthony reach City Hall. As is Jordan.”
CNN: McCain says State provided security in Syria trip
The U.S. State Department helped Sen. John McCain with his trip into war-torn Syria this week, the senator from Arizona said Wednesday. McCain acknowledged on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" that the State Department and rebel groups were both involved in providing his security. "I want to express my appreciation to the State Department," McCain said in the exclusive CNN interview. "The reality is if they had said no, I wouldn't have made this visit. They were very helpful and cooperative, and I'm grateful." On Monday, McCain slipped across the Syria-Turkey border and became the first U.S. senator to visit the country since civil war broke out more than two years ago. He traveled roughly 1 kilometer inside Syria to meet with rebel leaders from different Syrian cities. He remained in the country for several hours.
WATCH: VIDEO – Sen. McCain addresses criticism that arming opposition fighters in Syria could put weapons into the hands of terrorists.
ALSO SEE: BuzzFeed: McCain Didn’t Realize He Was Posing With Rebel Kidnapper, Spokesman Says
CNN: U.S. Syria envoy likely to leave post
Robert Ford, the U.S. Ambassador to Syria, is expected to leave his post in July, a senior State Department official said. The move was expected and does not signify a policy shift on Syria, as his term was due to end, the official said. His departure from the post is considered part of the regular shuffle of ambassadors, which takes place during the summer, the official said. Ford was pulled from Damascus in October 2011 due to "credible threats against his personal safety," the State Department said at the time.
CNN: Lawyer: Soldier to plead guilty in killing of 16 Afghan villagers
In order to avoid the death penalty, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales intends to plead guilty in the killing of 16 Afghan villagers, his lawyer said Wednesday. A plea deal - which Bales' lawyer John Henry Browne told CNN about by text message, as he was meeting with his client - must be approved by a judge and a commanding general. In addition to those killed, six Afghans were wounded in the March 2012 attack near a small U.S. base in Afghanistan's Kandahar province.
Bloomberg: Pentagon Furloughs Hit Hardest in Virginia, California
Virginia, home to the military’s headquarters, and California have the most people who will be hit by Pentagon furloughs set to begin July 8, according to data provided by the Defense Department. About 72,000 Defense Department civilian employees in Virginia (BEESVA) will have 11 unpaid days off as a result of automatic U.S. spending cuts, according to the data provided to Bloomberg News. The furloughs will cost those workers about $237 million in lost wages. California (USUSCALI) will see about 57,000 civilian workers furloughed, followed by Texas with 45,000, Navy Commander Leslie Hull-Ryde, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed response to questions. The furloughs will cost the California workers about $189 million, with lost wages in Texas amounting to $149 million, according to Pentagon estimates.
AVIATION, REGULATION and JUSTICE:
CNN: Inside the hunt for a leaker: State Dept., search warrants and Fox News
When the government investigates the alleged unauthorized release of sensitive information, the focus is normally on the person doing the leaking. But the criminal case against a State Department contractor escalated dramatically, putting the spotlight on the person reportedly receiving those communications - Fox News reporter James Rosen. The complex layer of once-secret search warrants for e-mails and phone records involving Rosen have raised constitutional concerns about press freedoms, balanced against national security. The investigation of that adviser, Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, and a separate probe involving clandestine searches of Associated Press records, has prompted President Barack Obama to order a review of the federal government's practices involving leaks of classified material.
ALSO SEE: CNN: DOJ says e-mails, letter prove it notified Fox of subpoenas
CNN: Holder runs into roadblocks on off-the-record meetings on leaks
Attorney General Eric Holder's plans to sit down with media representatives to discuss guidelines for handling investigations into leaks to the news media have run into trouble. The Associated Press issued a statement Wednesday objecting to plans for the meetings to be off the record. "If it is not on the record, AP will not attend and instead will offer our views on how the regulations should be updated in an open letter," said Erin Madigan White, the AP's media relations manager. The New York Times is taking the same position. "It isn't appropriate for us to attend an off-the-record meeting with the attorney general," executive editor Jill Abramson said in a statement.
ALSO SEE: BuzzFeed: ACLU Defends News Organizations For Rejecting Off-The-Record Meeting With Attorney General
WaPo: Officials: Man who knew Boston bombing suspect was unarmed when shot
A Chechen man who was fatally shot by an FBI agent last week during an interview about one of the Boston bombing suspects was unarmed, law enforcement officials said Wednesday. An air of mystery has surrounded the FBI shooting of Ibragim Todashev, 27, since it occurred in Todashev’s apartment early on the morning of May 22. The FBI said in a news release that day that Todashev, a former Boston resident who knew bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was killed during an interview with several law enforcement officers. The FBI has provided few other details, saying that the matter is being investigated by an FBI review team that may not finish its probe for several months.
ALSO SEE: CNN: Group seeks probe into death of man who knew Boston bombings suspect
ABC: FBI Agent Took Gifts and Cash, Ex-Mobster Informant Alleges
The FBI has opened an investigation into accusations that one of its agents took lavish gifts and cash from an informant who has been indicted in the murder of a popular Atlanta rapper known as Lil Phat. The informant, Russian ex-mobster Mani Chulpayev, has told investigators for the Department of Justice's Office of Inspector General that he was asked for and gave the FBI agent gifts of cash, jewelry, watches, expensive sports shoes, basketball game tickets, hotel rooms and the use of luxury cars, according to his lawyer, George Plumides.
CNN: TSA removes body scanners criticized as too revealing
The harshest critics labeled them "virtual strip searches." Airport passenger screening that produced particularly realistic full-body images using backscatter technology. Others also expressed health concerns about low doses of radiation from the X-rays underpinning those scans. Well, it's all over now as the Transportation Security Administration says it has met a June 1 deadline to remove all 250 backscatter machines from U.S. airports. Travelers will still go through other full-body scans that rely on a system that uses radio waves and produces less detailed body imaging. The millimeter wave machines raise fewer privacy and virtually no health concerns.
LA Times: U.S. sued over policy on killing endangered wildlife
Environmental groups are taking the Justice Department to court over a policy that prohibits prosecuting individuals who kill endangered wildlife unless it can be proved that they knew they were targeting a protected animal. Critics charge that the 15-year-old McKittrick policy provides a loophole that has prevented criminal prosecution of dozens of individuals who killed grizzly bears, highly endangered California condors and whooping cranes as well as 48 federally protected Mexican wolves. The policy stems from a Montana case in which Chad McKittrick was convicted under the Endangered Species Act for killing a wolf near Yellowstone National Park in 1995. He argued that he was not guilty because he thought he was shooting a wild dog.
Philadelphia Inquirer: Margolies to run for Congress, attempt comeback
Marjorie Margolies plans to file a statement of candidacy Thursday for the 13th District U.S. House seat that she held for one term in the early 1990s, sources close to the former congresswoman said. Then-Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky cast the deciding vote to enact President Bill Clinton’s economic plan, which increased taxes $241 billion. Much of the burden fell on wealthy taxpayers, but there was also a hike in the gas tax, and she had promised in her 1992 campaign to oppose tax increases. Margolies, 70, who now heads Women's Campaign International, which develops female political leaders in emerging democracies, and teaches government at the University of Pennsylvania, has always defended her reluctant vote as the right thing to do. (She resumed her maiden name after a divorce.) She has deep ties to the Clintons. Maroglies is Chelsea Clinton’s mother-in-law. Her son, Marc Mezvinsky married the former first daughter in 2010.
Hartford Courant: Senate Approves Driver's Licenses For Undocumented Immigrants
With the Senate's endorsement early Thursday, Connecticut joined a small but growing group of states that allows undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to obtain a special driver's license. The bill to allow driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, which the Senate approved 19-16 with two Democrats joining the Republican minority to vote no, is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Connecticut is home to 120,000 undocumented immigrants, according to the Pew Hispanic Center; roughly 54,000 could qualify for a driver's license under the bill.
Dallas Morning News: Sen. Ted Cruz brings vision to Republican donors in New York
With protesters outside denouncing his views on guns and immigration, Sen. Ted Cruz offered New York Republicans a blend of defiance, optimism and Texas wisdom Wednesday night. “As we’ve seen in the last few weeks, a month can be an eternity in politics,” he told GOP donors, painting the party’s “drubbing” last November as ancient history compared with scandals now weighing down the White House. More than 100 protesters gathered across 42nd Street from the Grand Hyatt near Grand Central Station. That, and the dinner invitation itself, reflected Cruz’s unusually high profile for a senator of five months’ tenure — and the polarizing niche he’s carved.
NYT: Brooklyn Prosecutor’s Office Is Accused of Detaining Trial Witnesses
The office of the Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, routinely detained trial witnesses against their will in hotel rooms as a part of forced interrogations, according to depositions taken in a civil rights lawsuit against the city, calling into question whether strong-handed tactics by prosecutors played a role in dozens of troubled convictions already under review. The detentions, which a top paralegal described in detail in a sworn deposition, took place during the 1990s under the office’s now defunct “hotel custody program.” Investigators held witnesses who prosecutors believed could help build cases in undisclosed hotels, under armed guards, cutting them off from visitors and telephone calls.
WSJ: As Syrian Islamists Gain, It's Rebel Against Rebel
In parts of this battle-torn country, a second civil war has begun. In the north and east bordering Turkey and Iraq, a stretch of Syria in rebel hands has split into competing fiefs. In some places, Islamist extremists with agendas that extend far beyond Syria are pushing aside the rebel battalions that started the insurgency against Bashar al-Assad's regime in 2011. The resulting chaos has fragmented the rebel fight and created a playground for al Qaeda just as a U.S. debate heats up over how deeply to get involved.
ALSO SEE: NYT: Chances of U.N. Peace Talks on Syria Appear Dim as Both Sides Dig In
CNN: Man to appear in London court over soldier's killing
A 22-year-old man is due to appear in court Thursday after he was charged with murder over the death of British soldier Lee Rigby last week on a London street. Michael Adebowale was also charged with unlawful possession of a firearm, a Dutch revolver, the Metropolitan Police said Wednesday. He will appear before Westminster Magistrates' Court in the morning, police said. "There is sufficient evidence to prosecute Michael Adebowale and it is in the public interest to do so," said Sue Hemming, head of the Crown Prosecution Service's Special Crime and Counter-Terrorism Division.
NYT: Salvadoran Court Denies Abortion to Ailing Woman
El Salvador’s highest court on Wednesday denied an appeal from a woman with a high-risk pregnancy to be allowed to undergo an abortion, upholding the country’s strict law banning abortion under any circumstances. Beatriz, a 22-year-old woman who asked that her last name be withheld to protect her identity, has lupus and related complications that doctors say will get worse as the pregnancy, which is in its 26th week, continues, possibly leading to serious illness or even death. Her fetus, which has anencephaly, a severe birth defect in which parts of the brain and skull are missing, has almost no chance of surviving after birth, leading her doctors to urge an abortion to protect Beatriz’s health before it deteriorates further.
BBC: UK faces European Court over immigrants' benefits
The UK is to be taken to the European Court of Justice over its alleged failure to correctly assess whether EU migrants are entitled to benefits. Britain is accused of discriminating against those from EU member states who have been living and working in the UK. It is alleged an extra residency test applied by the UK to see if migrants are eligible to claim breaches EU law. A British official said he could not comment on court action until the commission made its decision public.
CNNMoney: Top 1% get big bang from tax breaks
There are more than 200 tax breaks in the U.S. tax code, and the top 10 for individuals are by far the most expensive. How expensive? They will cost federal coffers $12 trillion over the next decade. But the dollar benefits of those top 10 breaks are not distributed evenly across income groups. The top 20% of households will enjoy more than half of the combined benefits of the major tax expenditures this year, according to a report by the Congressional Budget Office released Wednesday. And within that top 20%, the benefits skew disproportionately to the highest earners.
WaPo: Plan by Google’s Motorola to open Tex. factory signals shift as tech firms look to add U.S. jobs
Motorola Mobility, once a pioneer in shifting manufacturing to China, is opening a smartphone factory in Texas, the company said Wednesday, joining a small but growing movement toward bringing technology jobs to the United States. The decision follows announcements by major tech firms, including Apple and Lenovo , planning to add U.S. manufacturing capacity after more than a decade in which the flow was almost exclusively in the other direction — with millions of jobs going to East Asian factories known for low wages and minimal labor protections. The shifts to the United States are fledgling, and some industry experts say the companies are motivated less by long-term manufacturing needs than by public relations strategy.
CNNMoney: China's expensive love affair with pork
China loves its pork and is willing to pay big for it. On Wednesday, Virginia-based Smithfield Foods (SFD, Fortune 500), the world's largest processor of pork, announced that it was being bought by Chinese meat producer Shuanghui International for nearly $5 billion. It is the biggest announced acquisition of a U.S. company by a Chinese buyer. The deal makes sense: China's pork consumption has been steadily increasing. China is already the world's largest producer and consumer of pork. In China, per-capita pork consumption last year was 86 pounds, up from 70 pounds in 2002, said Mark Schultz, chief analyst with Minneapolis-based Northstar Commodity Investment.