News Wrap: Pakistani Prime Minister Convicted, Gets ‘Symbolic’ Sentence
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KWAME HOLMAN: The Supreme Court of Pakistan has convicted Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani of contempt. It stemmed from his refusal to pursue a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari. The ruling carried only a symbolic sentence of less than a minute in detention, allowing Gilani to stay in power.
In Afghanistan, three U.S. troops were killed today in a bomb attack in the east. NATO also announced a man wearing an Afghan army uniform shot and killed a U.S. service member late Wednesday in the south. The gunman was killed when coalition forces returned fire. There have been at least 16 such attacks this year against American or other foreign forces.
The U.S. Secret Service widened its investigation of a prostitution scandal today. The probe was extended to include previous presidential travel overseas.
The latest allegations predate the scandal that exploded two weeks ago, ahead of the president’s trip to Colombia. The Secret Service now says it’s pursuing a report by Seattle television station KIRO. According to that account, agents hired strippers and prostitutes in March 2011 in advance of President Obama’s visit to El Salvador.
The station reported a local contractor said agents drank to excess and brought prostitutes to their hotel.
At the White House today, spokesman Jay Carney reiterated the president’s view.
JAY CARNEY, White House press secretary: He believes that every American who travels abroad representing the United States should behave himself or herself in accordance with the highest standards of probity and dignity.
KWAME HOLMAN: Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported senior agency managers have tolerated similar behavior during official trips. The report said agents spent a long night drinking and going to strip clubs during a 2009 trip to Argentina for former President Clinton.
SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY JANET NAPOLITANO: The allegations are inexcusable, and we take them very seriously.
KWAME HOLMAN: Just yesterday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano condemned the Colombian incident, and assured senators there likely was no pattern of misconduct.
JANET NAPOLITANO: What the director is doing is really reviewing training, supervision, going back, talking to other agents, really trying to ferret out whether this is a systemic problem. If it is, that would be a surprise to me.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn said today the new reports show the need for a wider probe.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN, R-Texas: It does concern me, and that’s why we need a thorough investigation, not just by the White House, not just by DHS, but by Congress.
KWAME HOLMAN: So far, eight Secret Service agents have been forced out, and one has lost his security clearance, as a result of the Colombian episode. Three were cleared of wrongdoing. The Pentagon still is investigating a dozen military personnel who were implicated.
In economic news, first-time claims for unemployment benefits fell only slightly last week. And a rolling average was the highest in three months. But Wall Street shrugged off the news, and focused instead on upbeat earnings reports. The Dow Jones industrial average gained nearly 114 points to close at 13,204. The Nasdaq rose nearly 21 points to close at 3,050.
The political fight over student loans heated up today. House Speaker John Boehner blasted President Obama for traveling to college campuses in three battleground states this week. At each stop, the president pressed Republicans to support holding down interest rates on student loans. But Boehner accused the president of campaigning on the taxpayers’ dime and manufacturing an issue, to boot.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: Here’s the president wasting time on a fake fight to try to gain his own reelection. And these are the types of political stunts, and, frankly, they aren’t worth and worthy of his office. This is the biggest job in the world, and I have never seen a president make it smaller.
KWAME HOLMAN: In response, White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted this week’s trip was for legitimate presidential business and not campaigning in disguise.
JAY CARNEY: The president was arguing on behalf of a policy that he believes is essential. He was calling on Congress and will continue to call on Congress to act to fix a problem that, if not fixed, will negatively effect millions of students across the country. And he will continue to do that as part of his job.
KWAME HOLMAN: The House votes tomorrow on a Republican measure to prevent interest rates from doubling on federal student loans in July. The $6 billion to cover the cost would come from a public health fund under the president’s health care reform law. Democrats favor paying for the bill by imposing new taxes on owners of some privately held corporations.
The government of Syria and the opposition traded blame today over an explosion that killed at least 16 people. It happened Wednesday in the city of Hama. The blast apparently flattened part of a residential area. Activists posted video of the explosion and blamed intense shelling by government forces.
State TV ran graphic images of bodies. It said opposition bombmakers accidentally set off the blast.
Israel’s military chief said today various countries are prepared to strike Iran to stop it from building nuclear weapons.
Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz spoke in Jerusalem. He didn’t name the countries, but he did say this.
LT. GEN. BENNY GANTZ, Israeli army chief: There’s no doubt that the Iranians are seeking for military nuclear capability. There is no doubt that they should never get there, and there is no doubt that they will never get there.
The military force is ready to use, not only our force, but other forces as well. We all hope that there will be no necessity to use this force, but we are absolutely sure of its existence.
KWAME HOLMAN: Yesterday, Gantz said he believes the Iranian regime will decide, on its own, not to build a nuclear bomb. Israel’s political leaders have taken a more wary view of Iran’s intentions, but Gantz denied today there’s any internal rift over the issue.
Those are some of the day’s major stories.