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Other News: New Details on Madoff, Clinton Tours Asia

February 20, 2009 at 6:05 PM EST
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JIM LEHRER: Also today, a court-appointed trustee reported money manager Bernard Madoff bought no securities for clients for 13 years. Instead, he said money from investors went to pay off other investors in a so-called Ponzi scheme. Madoff is accused of a $50 billion dollar fraud. The trustee said he’s recovered about $1 billion so far.

Secretary of State Clinton arrived in China and called for a pragmatic approach to that country. Before landing in Beijing, she promised to raise human rights issues, Taiwan, and Tibet, but she cautioned those long-standing disputes should not block progress elsewhere.

Clinton said the U.S. and China should look for agreement on broader issues, including climate change, the global economy, and security threats.

The U.S. needs more time to review plans for a missile defense shield in Europe; that was the word today from Defense Secretary Gates to Poland and the Czech Republic. The U.S. already has deals with those countries to host the system, despite Russian opposition.

Speaking in Poland, Gates said U.S. policy on Russia is in flux.

ROBERT GATES, secretary of Defense: I basically told them that we needed some time for this administration to review the plans for the third site, to look at it in the context of our relationship with both Poland and the Czech Republic, our relationship with the NATO alliance, the commitments we have made as members of the alliance in terms of European missile defense, and also in the context of our relationship with the Russians.

JIM LEHRER: Gates said the missile shield might be less pressing if Russia helps prevent any missile threat from Iran.

A U.S. Army medic has been found guilty of murder in the deaths of four Iraqi detainees. The verdict was returned at a U.S. military court martial in Germany. Sergeant Michael Leahy was sentenced to life in prison. He was one of six American soldiers accused of killing the Iraqi prisoners in 2007.

Israel may be a step closer to forming a new government, led by conservative Benjamin Netanyahu. That’s after President Shimon Peres tapped him to form a ruling coalition. In turn, Netanyahu appealed to his centrist rivals to join him.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Likud party leader (through translator): I turn first of all to the leader of Kadima, Tzipi Livni, and head of the Labor Party, Ehud Barak, and I call on them and say: Let’s join hands. Let’s work together to secure the future of the state of Israel. And I ask to meet with you first and to discuss with you about a broad unity government for the good of the nation and the state.

JIM LEHRER: Livni appeared to leave the door open to joining a coalition, but she advocated rotating the position of prime minister. Otherwise, Netanyahu could turn to hard-liners opposed to any peace-making with the Palestinians. He has six weeks to put together a ruling coalition.

The governor of Illinois has joined calls for fellow Democrat Roland Burris to step down as U.S. senator. Burris is under fire over disclosures he tried to raise money for Gov. Rod Blagojevich. That was before Blagojevich was ousted on allegations he tried to sell the Senate appointment. His successor, Gov. Pat Quinn, spoke in Chicago.

GOV. PAT QUINN, D-Ill.: I don’t think it’s in the public interest or the common good to have a U.S. senator who has to spend an undue amount of time going over and over matters with respect to how he obtained the office. So I would ask my good friend, Sen. Roland Burris, to put the interests of the people of the land of Lincoln first and foremost, ahead of his own, and step aside and resign from his office.

JIM LEHRER: In Washington, a White House spokesman said Burris should take time this weekend to explain his conflicting statements or re-think his future.

Federal water managers may cut off the water to large farmers in California for the first time in 15 years. It’s due to a worsening drought, made worse by patchy snow and rainfall so far this year. As a result, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said deliveries of surface water will likely have to stop. The state estimates a cut-off would cost $1 billion dollars in farm revenue.