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News Wrap: Obama Confident in Secret Service Director Over Scandal’s Handling

April 17, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Congress vented more outrage and heard more details today involving wasteful spending at the General Services Administration. Witnesses at the second of four hearings this week included Robert Peck, who’s now been fired from the GSA. He insisted he had not known taxpayers would foot the $1,900 bill for a party he threw at a Las Vegas training conference.

The GSA inspector general, Brian Miller, said the trouble goes deeper than that conference. He told the hearing, “Every time we turned over a stone, we found 50 more, with all kinds of things crawling out.”

The head of the Secret Service won support today for his handling of a scandal involving prostitution. A spokesman said President Obama has confidence in Director Mark Sullivan. At least one Republican senator made a similar statement. Sullivan is investigating allegations that 11 agents and some military personnel got involved with prostitutes in Colombia, ahead of the president’s arrival there last week.

President Obama is asking Congress to let federal regulators crack down on speculators who manipulate the oil market. He said today he wants to strengthen supervision of markets and increase penalties for illegal activity. It was his latest response to the soaring price of gasoline.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We can’t afford a situation where speculators artificially manipulate markets by buying up oil, creating the perception of a shortage, and driving prices higher, only to flip the oil for a quick profit. We can’t afford a situation where some speculators can reap millions, while millions of American families get the short end of the stick.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Republicans dismissed the president’s appeal. House Speaker John Boehner said regulatory agencies already have the tools they need to police the oil market.

And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Obama plan is just a political ploy.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky.: The president’s goal here isn’t to do something about a problem. It’s to make people think he’s doing something about the problem until the next crisis comes along. And that’s the larger problem, that we have got a president who is more concerned with looking like he’s doing something than in actually doing what’s needed to tackle the challenges we face.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Amid that debate in Washington, the price of oil was up today, finishing above $104 a barrel.
Wall Street had a good day, after strong earnings from Coca-Cola and several other major firms. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 194 points to close at 13,115. The Nasdaq rose 54 points to close at 3,042.

Also today, a majority of Citigroup shareholders voted against a — multimillionaire-dollar pay for top executives. The vote was not binding, but it was the first such protest by shareholders at any major Wall Street bank. For the record, Citigroup is a corporate underwriter of the NewsHour.

In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai appealed to the Taliban to halt their attacks and do more to bring about peace.

Insurgents linked to the Taliban carried out an 18-hour assault on Kabul over the weekend that killed dozens of people.

Militants also attacked cities in three eastern provinces.

Karzai addressed the Taliban as brothers as he spoke in Kabul today.

HAMID KARZAI, president of Afghanistan (through translator): Taliban brothers, with the attacks in Kabul which happened in your name, whether you did it or not, whether foreigners did it or you did it yourself, what benefit did it bring to Islam and to Muslims? What benefit did you bring to Muslims and Afghans? On both sides, you killed Muslims and you killed Afghans, damaging their economy, killing young people and damaging their religion.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Karzai also insisted that a long-term agreement with the U.S. specify how much aid his government will receive. He said he wants a written pledge of at least $2 billion a year.

British leaders pressed today for a full investigation in the murder of a British businessman in China. The Chinese have suspended a Communist Party leader, Bo Xilai, and named his wife as a suspect. Another top Chinese official faced questions about the case as he visited London.

We have a report from Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News.

LINDSEY HILSUM: It was ostensibly a meeting about cultural ties, but the prime minister also had to ask, Li Changchun, number five in the Chinese Communist Party hierarchy, about the murdered British businessman Neil Heywood.

He died in a Chongqing hotel last November, possibly of cyanide poisoning. Today, the foreign secretary was eager to avoid accusations that the government had failed to press the Chinese about Mr. Heywood until it became a scandal.

WILLIAM HAGUE, British foreign secretary: We have demanded an investigation. The Chinese authorities have agreed to conduct such an investigation. There’s been a further discussion about that this afternoon.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Heywood’s body was found in the Nanshan Lijing Holiday Hotel on November the 15th and cremated without autopsy.

LIU WEIMIN, spokesman, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (through translator): The Heywood case has entered the judicial process. And China is conducting an investigation. Investigations take time. I believe China will handle the case based on law and release information in real time.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Bo Xilai’s family were resented for their wealth and flamboyance, his son Bo Guagua seen here on a Chinese talk show and receiving an award while at Oxford University.

Bo Guagua, who got his place at Harrow School thanks to Neil Heywood, is a student at Harvard. But he hasn’t been seen for several days now. Neil Heywood’s Chinese widow, Wang Lulu, isn’t talking to journalists. His car, with its 007 license plate, is still in the driveway of their Beijing home. And his death is still a mystery.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Those are some of the day’s major stories.