- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2008

SENATE

HUD nominee wins confirmation

The Senate has confirmed President Bush’s new housing secretary, elevating Small Business Administration Administrator Steven Preston to be the administration’s point man on the slumping housing market and subprime lending crisis.

Mr. Preston is likely to be lead negotiator as Congress and the White House work on legislation to allow the Federal Housing Administration to insure up to $300 billion in refinanced mortgages, including many in which the mortgages exceed the value of their homes.

In a statement Thursday, Mr. Bush said Mr. Preston’s understanding of financial markets and his management skills qualifies him to lead the Housing and Urban Development Department.

The confirmation came as the Senate approved a host of other nominations. An unrelated spat between Democrats and Republicans had scuttled efforts to approve Mr. Preston before the Senate’s Memorial Day break.

HOMELAND SECURITY

U.S. to re-examine terror suspect case

The Bush administration said Thursday it is re-examining the conclusions of an investigation that found the United States acted appropriately in seizing a Canadian engineer suspected of al Qaeda ties and sending him to Syria, where he reportedly was tortured.

The Homeland Security Department’s internal watchdog told lawmakers his office has new information that contradicts an earlier conclusion in the case of Maher Arar.

Inspector General Richard Skinner released two versions of the investigative reports, one of them classified, to lawmakers ahead of a congressional hearing. The probe found that U.S. immigration officials acted properly in deporting Mr. Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen.

He was detained by immigration agents on Sept. 26, 2002, as he stopped over in New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport en route home from a vacation. U.S. officials accused him of links to al Qaeda and sent him by private jet to Syria. The Canadian government and Mr. Arar say he was tortured there.

After nearly a year in a Syrian prison, he was released without charges and returned to Canada.

SENATE

Panel: Pentagon held back Iran intelligence

Pentagon officials concealed from U.S. intelligence agencies potentially useful tips from Iranian agents in 2001 and 2002, including one that Tehran purportedly sent hit teams to Afghanistan to kill Americans, a Senate committee reported Thursday.

The Iranians also told Pentagon employees at a December 2001 meeting in Rome of a purported tunnel complex used to store weapons and covertly move personnel out of Iran after Sept. 11, 2001, according to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. In addition, the Iranians told of a long-standing relationship with the Palestine Liberation Organization and the growth of anti-government sentiment inside Iran.

The information was questionable, the report suggests, citing the sources: a discredited former arms dealer who was peddling a plan to overthrow the Iranian government and a former U.S. official whose leads had failed to yield any substance for the CIA.

Nonetheless, the report sheds new light on the mistrust that Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had for the CIA after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

CONGRESS

Cherokees fight defunding effort

TULSA, Okla. | The Cherokee Nation is beginning a public relations campaign in response to federal lawmakers who say the tribe should be denied benefits unless it recognizes descendants of its former black slaves.

The campaign includes two Web sites discussing a 2007 referendum in which Cherokees decided to remove about 2,800 freedmen descendants and other non-Indians from tribal rolls, said nation spokesman Mike Miller.

The sites also address what is at stake if the congressional lawmakers have their way: denial of $300 million in federal money to the country’s second-largest American Indian tribe. The money pays for health clinics, Head Start programs, elderly care, housing assistance and supports 6,000 jobs.

But Marilyn Vann, president of Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, criticized the campaign, saying, “Anybody with money can put information out there that’s not correct.”

U.S. Rep. Diane Watson, a California Democrat who claims Indian blood and Oklahoma ties, introduced legislation last year to cut off federal funding to the nation unless it recognized the freedmen descendants.

JUSTICE

Mukasey says no to Enron-like probe

Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said Thursday the housing mortgage crisis appears concentrated in certain areas, and there is no need for the Justice Department to create an Enron-type task force.

“I have a sense that it is a problem that arises in particular markets, many of them, a lot of them in the same way,” Mr. Mukasey told reporters at the Justice Department.

Mr. Mukasey said that using a task force, like the high-profile one set up early in the decade to prosecute crimes stemming from the collapse of Houston-based energy firm Enron Corp., would not be a proper response to the mortgage crisis.

Mortgage fraud cases are being handled by local federal prosecutors, who focus on how the problem arose. Mr. Mukasey said he has not heard any complaints that the FBI needs more money or does not have enough agents to pursue mortgage fraud cases.

The Securities and Exchange Commission, which has been working with the FBI in some of the investigations, will make public as early as this month several enforcement actions involving subprime mortgage-related probes, two sources told Reuters news agency last week.

SENATE

Byrd back home from hospital

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, who at 90 is the oldest member of the U.S. Senate, was released from a hospital Thursday after three days of treatment for a mild infection, his spokesman said.

“Senator Byrd will complete the course of his antibiotic treatment as prescribed by his doctors at his home and is expected to return to his official Senate duties upon his doctors’ approval,” said spokesman Jesse Jacobs.

Mr. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat and the longest-serving senator ever who was first elected in 1958, was admitted to the hospital Monday night with a fever after he appeared sluggish.

CAMPAIGN

McCain defends Everglades vote

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. | Sen. John McCain faced tough questions Thursday about why he opposed a measure to restore the Everglades that had broad support from Florida officials.

Mr. McCain sided with President Bush, who vetoed the bill that included the Everglades funding along with hundreds of other local water projects, such as dams and beach restoration. The Democratic-led Congress overrode Mr. Bush’s veto.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee faced the question at a town hall-style forum with newspaper editors. He asked the questioner, Miami Herald Managing Editor Rick Hirsch, if the Everglades restoration bill was part of an overall or “omnibus” spending bill.

“It was,” Mr. Hirsch said.

“So you just answered your own question,” said Mr. McCain, who plans a tour of the Everglades on Friday. “I am committed to the preservation of the Everglades. I do not, have not, am proud not to have, voted for omnibus spending bills.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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