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News Wrap: Congress passes defense bill with military sexual assault provision

December 20, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: A new defense spending bill costing nearly $633 billion now awaits a presidential signature. The Senate passed it last night. It includes a provision to curb sexual assaults by stripping commanders of the power to overturn court-martial convictions. Today, the president ordered the military to report in one year on what’s been done to deal the problem.

The economy grew more than first estimated in the third quarter, at an annual rate topping 4 percent.The Commerce Department reported today it’s the strongest growth since late 2011. And, on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 42 points to close at 16,221. The Nasdaq rose more than 46 points to close above 4,104. For the week, the Dow gained 3 percent. The Nasdaq rose more than 2.5 percent.

The one-time tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky walked out of a Russian prison today after serving 10 years on corruption charges. President Vladimir Putin pardoned his political foe this morning, as he’d promised yesterday.

In Moscow, Khodorkovsky’s daughter welcomed news of his release.

ANASTASIA KHODORKOVSKAYA, daughter of Mikhail Khodorkovsky (through interpreter): Of course, I understand that I will be able to believe this completely only when I see my dad, and am able to give him a hug and say something. But, for now, I have a deep feeling of persuasion that this is really happening

JUDY WOODRUFF: From Russia, Khodorkovsky flew to Berlin, where he plans to be reunited with his family. It was unclear if he plans to return to Russia or engage in any political activity.

New clashes erupted in the Central African Republic today. Christian mobs attacked Muslim neighborhoods across the capital city of Bangui. At least 30 people were killed. Sectarian violence has raged since Muslim rebels overthrew the government of the mostly Christian country earlier this year. Now French and African troops have intervened to try to restore order.

An investigation into the Secret Service has found no evidence of widespread misconduct. That’s based on a survey of the agency’s staff and some 200 personal interviews. The Department of Homeland Security opened the probe after 13 agents and officers were accused in a prostitution scandal linked to a presidential visit to Colombia.

The Senate today confirmed a business turnaround specialist to head the Internal Revenue Service for the next five years. John Koskinen takes over as the IRS plans to play a major role in implementing the health care law. It’s also recovering from a scandal over singling out conservative groups for audits.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was hospitalized early this morning. His press office says the Nevada Democrat was feeling ill, but tests found everything was normal. He was released late this afternoon. Reid is 74 years old. He suffered a mild stroke in 2005.