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News Wrap: Director of National Intelligence Will Step Down

May 20, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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HARI SREENIVASAN: There was word late today that Dennis Blair will resign as director of national intelligence. A number of reports said the retired Navy admiral could make the announcement tomorrow. Blair is the third person to serve as DNI, overseeing the nation’s intelligence agencies. He drew criticism over the handling of the airliner bombing attempt over Detroit last Christmas.

The Senate moved today to clear the way for final passage of financial regulation reform. Democrats got the 60 votes they needed to wind down debate. That sets up a final vote on the most sweeping rewrite of financial rules since the Great Depression.

This afternoon, President Obama welcomed the outcome.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Over the last year, the financial industry has repeatedly tried to end this reform with hordes of lobbyists and millions of dollars in ads. And, when they couldn’t kill it, they tried to water it down with special interest loopholes and carve-outs aimed at undermining real change. Today, I think it is fair to say that these efforts have failed.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The bill would make it easier to liquidate large firms that fail, and it would create a new consumer protection agency, among other things. A final vote could come by tomorrow.

BP said today it is siphoning more of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but it conceded there is more than 210,000 gallons of oil spilling every day. It didn’t say how much more. The company had been using that estimate for nearly a month, this as more of the rust-colored ooze washed ashore into marshlands in Louisiana at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The region is home to a variety of wildlife.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration demanded that BP release all measurements of the leak, samples of air and water quality, and trajectories of the oil plum.

The head of Massey Energy defended his company today, in the wake of a West Virginia mine disaster. Twenty-nine workers died at a Massey mine explosion last month, but at a Senate hearing today, CEO Don Blankenship rejected sharp criticism of his firm.

DON BLANKENSHIP, chairman, President & CEO, Massey Energy: Let me state for the record, Massey doesn’t place profits over safety. We never have and we never will, period. From the day I became a member of Massey’s leadership team 20 years ago, I have made safety the number-one priority. The result has been a 90 percent reduction in lost-time accidents.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Some senators, like West Virginia’s Robert Byrd, took exception. Byrd said the coal mine had an alarming record. The fatal explosion is under investigation.

Three American hikers being held in Iran were reunited with their mothers today. Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer, and Josh Fattal were detained last July, after crossing the unmarked border between Iraq and Iran. Iranian state television showed today’s emotional reunion at a hotel in Tehran. And the hikers spoke in public for the first time since their arrest.

SARAH SHOURD, detained American hiker: Shane and Josh are in the room together, but I’m alone. And that’s the most difficult thing for me. But I see them twice a day. So, we have good food. And we have medical care, which is appreciated. And we have reading materials and television.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Iranian officials have accused the three Americans of spying. The hikers and the U.S. State Department have denied that.

In Afghanistan, search planes spotted the wreckage of an Afghan commercial airliner. The plane crashed into mountains 25 miles north of Kabul on Monday. All 44 people on board were feared dead. NATO officials reported the plane had broken into four pieces across a steep mountainside. Poor weather and rugged terrain hampered the search until now.

The capital of Thailand was quieter today, after Wednesday’s bloody crackdown on protesters. The government reported order had mostly been restored in Bangkok. Still, troops in the city continued rooting out small pockets of demonstrators. And some holdouts torched a bank, as sporadic violence continued. Meanwhile, three more leaders of the anti-government protests surrendered today.

A daring art heist in Paris has triggered a worldwide alert. Five paintings, including works by Picasso and Matisse, were stolen overnight from the Paris Museum of Modern Art. They’re valued at more than $100 million. Investigators searched for clues today at the site. The mayor of Paris said parts of the museum’s alarm system had been broken for the past few days. And the deputy culture secretary said an inquiry was under way.

CHRISTOPHE GIRARD, deputy culture secretary, Paris City Hall (through translator): There is a security system. There are three people in the museum at all times. So, they were there. But the security system was outsmarted, as they saw nothing. So, they didn’t react to anything. But all will be revealed during the investigation.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Officials said surveillance video showed a single masked intruder.

Those are some the day’s major stories — now back to Jim.