In other news Wednesday, Jack Lew, nominee for Treasury Secretary, defended his time as CEO of Citigroup, during which he invested in a Citi fund registered in the Cayman Islands. Also, the Obama administration called for Congress to close gaps in the nation's cyber security.
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The president's nominee to be secretary of the treasury, Jack Lew, fended off criticism today of his time at Citigroup. He was CEO from January of 2008 until early 2009, when he joined the Obama administration. During his tenure, he invested in a Citi fund that was registered in the Cayman Islands, well known as an offshore tax haven.
Republicans pressed Lew on the issue at his Senate confirmation hearing today.
JACK LEW, Treasury Secretary-Designate:
My benefit was really very small, in the sense that I took a loss when I sold the investment. I always reported all income. I always paid any taxes that were due. I very strongly believe that we should have tax policies that make it difficult, if not impossible, to shelter income from taxation.
Lew is expected to win confirmation in the full Senate. That vote could come late this month.
The Obama administration is now calling for Congress to close gaps in the nation's cyber-security. The president signed an executive order on Tuesday increasing government efforts to share information on threats. It also urges voluntary efforts by industry. Congress has struggled to reach consensus on the issue due to legal and privacy questions.
This was a mixed day on Wall Street, as stocks searched for direction. The Dow Jones industrial average lost more than 35 points to close below 13,983. The Nasdaq rose 10 points to close near 3,197.
The U.S. and the European Union have agreed to begin talks on a transatlantic free trade zone. The announcement today said an agreement would add thousands of jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.
In Brussels, the president of the European commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, voiced optimism.
PRESIDENT JOSE MANUEL BARROSO, European Commission:
A future deal between the world's two most important economic powers will be a game-changer. Together, we will form the largest free trade zone in the world. So this negotiation will set the standard, not only for our future bilateral trade and investment, including regulatory issues, but also for the development of global trade rules.
Talks will begin in June. Officials said the goal is to finalize an agreement within two years.
In Afghanistan, a NATO airstrike triggered new outrage today, after reports that it killed 10 civilians, along with four insurgents. It happened overnight during an operation in Kunar Province, near the Pakistani border. Afghan leaders said the civilians were in a house next door to where Taliban leaders were gathering. President Hamid Karzai condemned the airstrike. The international coalition said only that it's investigating.
Pope Benedict XVI was greeted with cheers today at his final public mass before stepping down. The 85-year-old pontiff celebrated Ash Wednesday services at St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, marking the start of Lent.
We have a report from James Mates of Independent Television News.
It wasn't quite a rock star's welcome, but wasn't far short of it, as thousands of pilgrims crowded into the audience hall at the Vatican for Pope Benedict's first public appearance since announcing his resignation.
As he tried to speak, he was drowned out by applause, finally managing to thank them and the wider Catholic world for their sympathy and understanding.
POPE BENEDICT XVI:
I have decide renounce the duty the lord gave me on April 19, 2005. I did in this in full liberty for the good of the church, after praying for a long time and after examining my conscience in front of God.
All way, worshipers have been queuing for events in the Vatican, culminating with this evening's mass in St. Peter's Basilica.
Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, is anyway one of the Catholic Church's holiest days. But events of the last 48 hours have given this evening particular significance. Before Lent is out, the Vatican tells us we will have a new pope.
No longer able to process the length of St. Peter's, Pope Benedict is wheeled through the basilica at the head of the College of Cardinals, from whose number is successor will be chosen. He spoke today of no longer having the physical and spiritual force his ministry requires.
The pope will officially resign on Feb. 28.
Those are some of the day's major stories.