WASHINGTON (CNN) - A preliminary report on the mysterious deployment of an evacuation chute aboard a Barack Obama campaign plane last summer appears to close the book on one potentially embarrassing possibility - that Secret Service agents inadvertently tampered with the chute mechanism during preflight security checks.
"An internal (Secret Service) investigation ... revealed that no (Secret Service) personnel or ... support personnel interfered with or altered the aircraft's ... tailcone evacuation slide," a National Transportation Safety Board report says.
Then-candidate Obama was on the MD-81 charter aircraft at the time of the July 7, 2008, incident, accompanied by his staff, Secret Service personnel, reporters and the plane's crew. An airline mechanic was also on board and was seated in the rear of the aircraft not far from the evacuation slide in the plane's tailcone.
But neither the flight crew nor the mechanic heard the chute deploy shortly after the plane took off from Chicago's Midway airport.
The pilot first noticed that something was amiss when the plane's nose-up pitch continued to increase, even without his input, the safety board said. The pilot regained control using the control column and stabilizer pitch trim inputs.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee Friday proposed a graduated tax on wealthy Americans to pay for health care reform, to several Democratic sources tell CNN.
The new tax would kick in for individuals who make over between $280,000 to $400,000 per year and for married couples who make from $350,000 to 500,000 per year, imposing a 1 percent tax on their adjusted gross income.
The tax rate would increase to a higher percentage for individuals making between $400,000 to 800,000 and for couples making $500,000 to $1 million per year.
Individuals making $800,000 or above and couples making $1 million or more per year would be taxed at an even higher rate.
(CNN) - New Jersey Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie says he won't invite Sarah Palin to join him on the campaign trail.
"This is about New Jersey issues and New Jersey, and I don't think having Gov. Palin here would do me, or frankly the state, a whole lot of good in the sense that we need to talk and focus on what the New Jersey issues are," Christie said during a radio interview on New Jersey 101.5 FM. CNN confirmed his comments with Christie's campaign.
Following Palin's stunning announcement that she would be stepping down as Alaska governor later this month, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele issued a statement saying that she "will be very helpful to the Party this year as we wage critical campaigns in Virginia and New Jersey."
But in Virginia, where Republican Bob McDonnell is running in a tight race against Democrat Creigh Deeds, McDonnell's campaign this week would not say if the 2008 vice presidential nominee had been invited to join him on the trail. In an interview earlier this week with ABC News.com, McDonnell praised Palin but stopped short of actually inviting her to campaign in Virginia.
CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) - Sen. Roland Burris, D-Illinois, announced Friday that he will not run for a full six-year term next year.
"Being a United States senator today requires not only a significant time commitment to performing the job, but almost equal commitment to raising funds to run competitively for the office," he told a crowd of people at the Chicago South Loop Hotel.
"In making this decision I was called to choose between spending my time raising funds or spending my time raising issues for my state," he said.
"I believe that the business of the people of the state of Illinois should always come first."
As Burris emerged to speak, the crowd had greeted him with cheers, urging him to run.
(CNN) - President Obama presented Pope Benedict XVI a letter from Sen. Edward Kennedy during their meeting at the Vatican Friday, and asked the Pontiff to pray for the senator, who is being treated for brain cancer.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters the president called the Massachusetts Democrat after the meeting. Gibbs said the two spoke for about 10 minutes as Air Force One left Rome heading for Ghana, "telling him he had delivered the letter on his behalf to the Pope."
The letter was described as personal. According to Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough, "the contents of the letter were not known to anyone I know of except Senator Kennedy."
McDonough said Obama and the Pope discussed Kennedy at the end of their half-hour discussion. He told reporters the president "asked that the Holy Father pray for ...Sen. Kennedy, who as we all know is ill, and whose brother obviously broke an important barrier in our country by being the first Catholic president," according to a transcript released by the White House.
The 77-year-old Kennedy was diagnosed with the brain tumor after suffering seizures in May 2008.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The highly controversial warrantless surveillance program initiated by President George W. Bush began within weeks of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to a newly released report to Congress compiled by the inspectors general of the nation's top intelligence agencies, the Pentagon, and the Justice Department.
The report, mandated by Congress, provides context to information that has been leaked in press accounts and buttressed by congressional testimony and in books authored by former officials involved in the surveillance effort.
The report notes that several members of Congress - including then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Nancy Pelosi - were briefed on the program on October 25, 2001, and a total of 17 times before the program became public in 2005.
Among other things, the report also cites a Justice Department conclusion that "it was extraordinary and inappropriate that a single DOJ attorney, John Yoo, was relied upon to conduct the initial legal assessment of the (surveillance program)."
"The lack of oversight and review of Yoo's work ... contributed to a legal analysis of the (program) that at a minimum was factually flawed," it says.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Most Americans say that President Barack Obama's struggle to quit smoking doesn't change their views of him, according to a new national poll.
The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Friday also indicates that only a third say that they would like to see Obama give up cigarettes completely.
"Obama has admitted that he still smokes on occasion, but nearly nine in 10 Americans say that doesn't affect their view of him and only 12 percent think that indicates something negative about Obama himself," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Eighty-five percent believe that shows how hard it is to quit cigarettes."
One third of those questioned in the survey say that they would prefer that Obama never smoke again, with 18 percent feeling that an occasional cigarette is OK and 48 percent saying they would not mind if Obama smoked every day.
The poll suggests no ideological divide over the president's habit.