WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman called Wednesday for the establishment of a nonpartisan "commission of inquiry" to investigate allegations of wrongdoing against former Bush administration officials in their prosecution of the war on terrorism.
Nothing "did more to damage America's place in the world than the revelation that our great nation stretched the law and the bounds of executive power to authorize torture and cruel treatment," Sen. Patrick Leahy said at the start of a committee hearing.
American "detention policies and practices from Guantanamo Bay [Cuba] and Abu Ghraib [Iraq] have seriously eroded fundamental American principles of the rule of law," he added.
Leahy, D-Vermont, called for the "truth commission" to have a "targeted mandate" focusing on issues of national security and executive power. He said it should look specifically at allegations of "questionable interrogation techniques," "extraordinary rendition" and the "executive override of laws."
He added that the commission should have the power to issue subpoenas and offer immunity to witnesses "in order to get to the whole truth."
Leahy refused to rule out of the possibility of prosecutions for perjury committed during the commission's hearings.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - With former presidential rival Sen. John McCain and other congressional critics of government waste by his side, President Barack Obama changed another Bush-era policy Wednesday, announcing a plan to change how the government awards private sector contracts.
“It’s time for a government that only invests in what works,” Obama said when calling for new spending guidelines. “And what’s encouraging is that there is broad, bipartisan consensus on behalf of reform.”
Obama reserved special criticism for defense contractors, saying that the majority of the waste “comes from influence peddling and indefensible no-bid contracts that have cost American taxpayers billions of dollars in Iraq."
Under the new directive, Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag will work with officials in the cabinet and across the federal government to come up with a new set of regulations to govern the process by this September that are intended to open it up to independent contractors and prevent waste and fraud - changes the White House predicted would save as much as $40 billion per year.
(CNN) – The White House announced Wednesday that President Barack Obama will nominate Craig Fugate, the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, as the new FEMA administrator.
“From his experience as a first responder to his strong leadership as Florida’s Emergency Manager, Craig has what it takes to help us improve our preparedness, response and recovery efforts and I can think of no one better to lead FEMA,” Obama said in a statement. “I’m confident that Craig is the right person for the job and will ensure that the failures of the past are never repeated.”
In his current position, Fugate is in charge of coordinating the disaster response and preparedness for the state of Florida, which has been hit by a number of devastating hurricanes since he took charge in 2001.
Fugate will join Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for an event in New Orleans on Thursday.
(CNN) - A new poll spells trouble for New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine's bid for re-election this year.
Forty percent of New Jersey registered voters questioned in a Fairleigh Dickinson University survey released Wednesday approve of the job Corzine is doing as their state's governor, while 46 percent disapprove. That's a reversal from January when 46 percent approved of Governor Corzine's performance and 40 percent disapproved of how he was handling his job.
The poll also indicates that only one on four New Jersey voters think the state is headed in the right direction.
The survey suggests that Corzine bests any possible contenders in the Democratic primary but reveals that Corzine could face problems in November's general election.
In a hypothetical matchup with former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, the leading Republican contender, Christie leads 41 percent to 32 percent. That's a switch from January, when Corzine held a seven point lead over Christie.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – In a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, a majority of adults said they had a favorable opinion of Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy.
Fifty-three percent said they had a favorable view of the ailing senator, while 36 percent said they had an unfavorable view of Kennedy.
"Overall, Ted Kennedy is popular with the American public, but he remains a very polarizing figure," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Nearly eight in ten Democrats have a favorable view of him; seven in ten Republicans don't like him. And Independents are split right down the middle - 43 percent of them have a favorable opinion of Kennedy, and 42 percent have an unfavorable view."
The poll of 1,046 adult Americans was conducted by telephone on February 18-19, 2009 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
(CNN) - President Obama signed a memorandum Wednesday designed to save the federal government $40 billion a year by overhauling what Obama calls the "broken system of government contracting."
"It's time for this waste and inefficiency to end. It's time for a government that only invests in what works," Obama said.
The president said the country must "turn the tide on an era of fiscal irresponsibility so that we can sustain our recovery, enhance accountability and avoid leaving our children a mountain of debt."
Last week, Obama presented a budget summary to Congress that he says outlines $2 trillion in deficit reduction.
Obama said Wednesday that part of his plan to reduce deficit spending includes "reforms in how government does business, which will save the American people up to $40 billion each year."
He said government spending on contracts has doubled in the past eight years to more than half a trillion dollars.
"We are spending money on things that we don't need, and we are paying more than we need to pay, and that's completely unacceptable," Obama said.
Updated: 12:15 p.m.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – House Republican leaders seem to be a little tired of all the chatter about conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh.
“The White House has created this big distraction,” House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner said at a Capitol Hill press conference Wednesday about recent claims by Democrats that Limbaugh leads the Republican Party and is rooting for President Obama to fail. “So nobody will pay attention to what they’re doing in their budget. We shouldn’t be distracted. This budget calls for higher taxes and more spending.”
“Political operatives in the White House are trying to divert attention away from the challenges facing our economy, the sinking stock market, and the irresponsible spending binge they are presiding over,” Boehner said in a separate news release Wednesday, titled ‘White House Attempting to Divert Attention from Economy and Its Fiscally-Irresponsible, Tax-Raising Budget.’ “This diversionary tactic will not create a single job or help a single family struggling in today’s economic crisis. That’s where our focus should be. President Obama has said we must change the way Washington operates in order to address the challenges we are facing. In the midst of a deepening recession, White House staff should have higher priorities than this cynical strategy.”
Boehner’s sentiments were echoed by House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, who also said Wednesday that the political discourse needs to be focused on fixing the nation’s recessionary economy.
“It is not about Rush Limbaugh. It’s not about Rahm Emanuel,” the Virginia Republican said. “This is about real impact on families across this country. Again, the stock market is not a tracking poll. It’s real money. . . .This is where the focus of discussion needs to be. This is where the American people expect us to be.”
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Sen. Edward Kennedy is being awarded an honorary knighthood, Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Wednesday.
"Northern Ireland is today at peace, more Americans have health care, more children around the world are going to school, and for all those things we owe a great debt to the life and courage of Senator Edward Kennedy," Brown said in an address to a joint meeting of Congress.
Kennedy, who underwent surgery for brain cancer last year, was not present for the speech, but his colleagues gave him a standing ovation when the honor was announced.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Democrats will continue Wednesday to portray Rush Limbaugh as the spokesman for the Republican Party by launching a Web page that mocks GOP leaders for apologizing to the radio host for criticizing or publicly disagreeing with him.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is hosting the page - www.imsorryrush.com - which allows visitors to create an apology to Limbaugh on behalf of Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Georgia; South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford; or Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.
"You and I both know that in reality, you simply want President Obama to fail in this time of economic collapse," reads the fake letter of apology template. "How can I disagree with that? Please accept my sincere apologies, oh great leader of the Republican Party."
Democrats have sought to portray Limbaugh as the leader of the Republican Party and stepped up their efforts last weekend to promote the idea after the radio talk show host told a gathering of conservative political activists to stand strong for their principles. Limbaugh also was unapologetic for saying earlier this year that he hoped President Barack Obama would fail.
(CNN) - Rep. Gresham Barrett of South Carolina will officially announce Wednesday that he will run for governor of his home state, a spokesman confirmed to CNN.
Barrett will declare his intention to seek the Republican gubernatorial nomination in an email to supporters and in a video posted on his campaign Web site.
"I believe I have certain strengths in these uncertain times," Barrett writes in the email, according to an early excerpt provided to CNN. "And I believe we have to hold on to our conservative values, and change the things that hold us back… I am excited about this campaign, and honored to have the opportunity to share my vision for a more prosperous South Carolina with the hard-working people of our great state."
Barrett was first elected to Congress in 2002 and won re-election in 2006. Prior to that, he served in South Carolina's House of Representatives.
Current South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, also a Republican, is in his second term in office. Term limits prevent him from seeking a third term.
South Carolina's Attorney General Henry McMaster and Lieutenant Gov. Andre Bauer are also considering gubernatorial bids and are likely primary opponents to Barrett.