Washington (CNN) - Prosecutors have reduced the charges against four men accused of trying to access the phone system in the New Orleans office of Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana.
The case involves James O'Keefe, the conservative activist who played a pimp in videos that later embarassed ACORN, the community organizing group now in the process of shuttering its operations. The case also involves Robert Flanagan, the son of an acting U.S. attorney from Louisiana's Western District.
The U.S. Attorney's office for the Eastern District of Louisiana said Friday that O'Keefe, Flanagan and the two other associates are now charged with entering federal property under false pretenses, a misdemeanor.
The men were originally arrested on felony charges after they entered Landrieu's office, located inside a federal building, on Jan. 25.
(CNN) - Conservative activist James O'Keefe said Friday that the government had "confirmed" that he did not try to wiretap or bug the office of Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana.
He offered no evidence to back his assertion.
O'Keefe, 25, Joseph Basel, 24, Robert Flanagan, 24, and Stan Dai, 24, were charged Tuesday with entering Landrieu's New Orleans office - which is federal property - under "false pretenses for the purpose of committing a felony," according to a news release from the local U.S. attorney's office.
Calling himself an "investigative journalist," O'Keefe claimed he was trying to test the credibility of a claim by Landrieu that her office had been unable to field calls from constituents opposed to her stance on the Senate
health care bill because her phone lines had been "jammed for weeks."
(CNN) - President Obama is taking heat from a Senate Democrat over how he dealt with the issue of health care in his first State of the Union speech.
"I think the president should have been more clear about a way forward on health care last night," Sen. Mary Landrieu told reporters on Capitol Hill Thursday. "I'm hoping in the next week or two he will be, because that's what it's going to take if it's at all possible to get this done."
"Mailing in general suggestions, sending them over the transom is not necessarily going to work," the Louisiana Democrat added.
Obama didn't address the signature issue of his first year in office until about halfway through the 71-minute speech, and then only discussed it for about five minutes. But he urged Congress not to abandon the effort that now appears in limbo following the Democratic Party's recent loss of its supermajority in the Senate.
"Do not walk away from reform. Not now," Obama said. "Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people."
Landrieu, one of the last members of her party to agree to the final Senate health care bill, also suggested the president erred in allowing three separate Senate and House committees to pass various versions of the bill.
"As far as I know, the president thought it was a good idea to have three different bills debated," she said.
"No wonder people got confused. So it's not completely our fault that that was the plan."
Landrieu also said she felt the president unfairly blamed the Senate during his speech for holding up a series of initiatives that had already cleared the House.
"I thought he was pointing his finger at the Senate a lot throughout the speech last night … no I do not think its fair," she said. "Moderate Senate Democrats, who give the Senate the 60 votes, come from states that have to appreciate a broad range of ideas and since the president ran on a bipartisan, change, working with Republicans, [he] doesn't do a great service to then say everything the House passes without any Republican votes is something the Senate should just take."
- CNN's Ted Barrett and Alexander Mooney contributed this report
(CNN) - A conservative activist who made controversial undercover videos of the liberal community organizing group ACORN was one of four men charged Tuesday with attempting to illegally access and manipulate the phone system in a district office of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.
Joseph Basel, 24, Robert Flanagan, 24, James O'Keefe, 25, and Stan Dai, 24, were charged with entering Landrieu's New Orleans office - which is federal property - under "false pretenses for the purpose of committing a felony," according to a news release from the local U.S. attorney's office.
The four posted a $10,000 unsecured bond and were released, said Kathy English of the Department of Justice. According to CNN affiliate WWL, the next court date in the case was set for Feb. 12.
O'Keefe is the same conservative activist who dressed up as a pimp last summer and visited ACORN offices to solicit advice on setting up a brothel, among other scenarios, law enforcement officials confirmed. He secretly
recorded the visits on videotapes that were posted on the Internet, leading to a media firestorm.
Flanagan is the son of William Flanagan, the acting U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, his office said.
Articles on conservative Web sites connect O'Keefe to a man named Joe Basel, describing them as conservative student activists and filmmakers.
"This is a very unusual situation and somewhat unsettling for me and my staff," Landrieu said in a statement Tuesday night. "The individuals responsible have been charged with entering federal property under false pretenses for the purposes of committing a felony. I am as interested as everyone else about their motives and purpose, which I hope will become clear as the investigation moves forward."
Updated: 8:03 p.m.
Washington (CNN) - Barring any major changes stemming from the awaited Congressional Budget Office score, longtime Democratic holdout Sen. Mary Landrieu told reporters Wednesday she had decided to vote for the health care reform bill
Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama's decision to send another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan met Tuesday with a mixed reaction among the nation's leaders.
Leading Republicans backed the additional deployments, but questioned the creation of a three-year withdrawal timetable.
The sharp disagreement among members of Obama's own party indicates potential political trouble for the president as he tries to rally the country around his decision to expand American involvement in the eight-year conflict.
Obama announced the deployments - along with the three-year withdrawal plan - in a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, on Tuesday night.
(The mixed reactions of 15 key lawmakers and politicians after the jump)
Washington (CNN) - Coming out of their Wednesday meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana both had positive comments that suggested they were more ready to vote for a motion that would allow debate to begin on the Democrats' health care plan than they had been prior to this afternoon's sitdown.
Landrieu and Nelson, along with fellow moderate Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, met with Reid in his office.
"Sen. Reid gave me some assurances that some of my concerns will be dealt with," said Landrieu, who stressed she would not make a decision on whether to vote for the motion to proceed until the text of the bill was released, and she had a chance to review some of the provisions again.
"I’ve been very clear. There are two or three issues," she told CNN. "One, does this bill actually drive down costs to individuals, to businesses and to the government. Number two, is there a quote, public option that will undermine the private insurance market - and if there is, it needs to come out at some point. It needs to come out at some point.
“I would tend not to,” Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union when asked whether she would support a public health insurance option included in health care reform bills passed by committees in the House of Representatives. “But, we’ve got to keep working to find solutions,” Landrieu added.
“There are some portions of our health care system that are working, but it’s all too expensive.”
The Democrat told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King she thinks costs could be contained without the inclusion of a public health insurance option. She said she supports an alternative proposal co-sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Bob Bennett, R-Utah, that focuses on “providing insurance through the free marketplace with the right regulations and safeguards.”
Landrieu also told King “it would be very difficult” for her to support a health care reform bill that allowed taxpayer-funded abortions even though “general insurance policies now – subsidized through the government by the tax code – allow women to make those choices right now, again, within the confines of the Constitution.”
Because of her moderate to conservative views, Landrieu has become a target of some Senate Republicans hoping to win her vote on any health care reform bill presented to the full Senate later this year. On Friday, two Senate Republicans, who are also both medical doctors, paid a visit to Landrieu’s state to discuss health care reform.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Four senators pushed for a bill Wednesday to ban texting while driving, a day after a study found that drivers who text while on the road are much more likely to have an accident than an undistracted driver.
Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-New York; Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey; Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana; and Kay Hagan, D-North Carolina, unveiled the ALERT Act, which would ban truck and car drivers and operators of mass transit from texting while driving.
The proposed legislation would prohibit any driver from sending text or e-mail messages while driving a vehicle, said an earlier news release from the senators. If the bill passes, the Department of Transportation would set the minimum standards for compliance.
States that do not enact text-banning laws within two years of the bill's passage could lose 25 percent of their federal highway funds, Schumer said in a news conference announcing the legislation. The non-compliant states could recuperate that money once they meet the text-banning standards, Schumer added.
Fourteen states and the District of Columbia already have laws barring texting while driving, which include the home states of three of the bill's sponsors: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia and Washington.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Six key senators – three Democrats, one independent and two moderate Republicans – sent a letter to Senate leaders calling for a slowdown in the push for a health care overhaul, in light of the Congressional Budget Office's assessment that the Democratic plan currently being considered would not cut medical costs
CNN Radio: Hear Ben Nelson on “44 with Ed Henry”
"We believe taking additional time to achieve a bipartisan result is critical for legislation that affects 17 percent of our economy and every individual in the U.S.," read the letter, signed by Democrats Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu and Ron Wyden. independent Joe Lieberman and Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, who also said they were "firmly committed to enactment of comprehensive reform this year."
The letter echoes concerns raised by many conservative Democrats on the House side.
Full text of the letter after the jump.