- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 6, 2009

LABOR

Biden skips event picketed by union

Steering clear of a messy labor dispute, the White House Friday said Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other members of President Obama’s Cabinet have scrapped plans to attend a national mayors’ annual conference June 12-16 in Rhode Island rather than cross a picket line of local firefighters.

Even as the White House was announcing its decision, the mayoral group was advertising that its confirmed guests included Mr. Biden, senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and other administration officials.

The labor dispute pits Providence Mayor David Cicilline against local firefighters over contract matters. The firefighters, backed by the International Association of Fire Fighters, have announced plans to stage a picket line outside the event.

HOMELAND SECURITY

Intelligence pick withdraws name

President Obama’s pick to be the top intelligence chief at the Homeland Security Department withdrew from consideration Friday after questions were raised about his role in the CIA’s interrogations of terrorism suspects.

Philip Mudd was scheduled next week to face senators considering his nomination as undersecretary of intelligence and analysis at Homeland Security.

At issue was the extent of Mr. Mudd’s involvement in the controversial interrogation program while he was a senior official at the CIA during the Bush administration. The interrogation methods have been harshly criticized by Democratic lawmakers and by Mr. Obama.

“I know that this position will require the full cooperation with Congress, and I believe that if I continue to move forward I will become a distraction to the president and his vital agenda,” Mr. Mudd said.

SOTOMAYOR

High court nominee a jackpot winner

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor hit the jackpot for more than $8,000 last year.

Financial disclosure forms released Friday show the judge listed $8,283 in “jackpot game winning” on November 23. The forms don’t say where or how Judge Sotomayor won the money, which was listed under non-investment income.

Judge Sotomayor must fill out disclosure forms yearly as a judge on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. The forms came out a day after she delivered a massive dossier of documents, opinions and speech texts to the Senate ahead of her Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

U.S. Appeals Court judges made $179,500 in 2008. Judge Sotomayor’s forms show she made an extra $25,830 as a lecturer at Columbia Law School in New York City.

Like many Americans, the judge has more than one credit card. In fact, she holds an American Express, a Visa, a MasterCard and a Discover card, according to her forms. She also disclosed savings and checking accounts at Citibank, both of which had less than $50,000.

ENVOY

Mitchell may visit Syria as ties thaw

U.S. envoy George Mitchell may visit Syria next week, a stop that would suggest a further improvement in long-strained U.S.-Syrian ties, the Obama administration said Friday.

Relations between the two countries have been rocky for years in part because of U.S. accusations that Syria permits insurgents to cross its territory into Iraq, supports violent Palestinian groups and interferes in neighboring Lebanon.

Mr. Mitchell, the U.S. Middle East envoy, heads Sunday to Oslo, where he is expected to attend a meeting of Palestinian aid donors, and then to see Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and Egyptian officials in the region, the State Department said.

On Wednesday, U.S. and Syrian officials said Washington was sending a military delegation to Syria soon to discuss Iraq. At that time, a U.S. official said Mr. Mitchell might accompany the delegation if the time is right to revive Israeli-Syrian peace talks.

PROBE

Murtha favored firm with defense dollars

Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, steered millions of dollars in defense work to a campaign donor and the Pentagon went along with it, despite the fact that two convicted drug dealers had been deeply involved with the company, court records show.

Records filed in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh starting in 2005 raise questions about whether the government ever checked into the background of William Kuchera of Windber, Pa., a Murtha constituent who has been doing government work for more than 20 years.

The records point to the political peril of Mr. Murtha and other members of Congress directing federal funds to particular contractors, an oft-criticized process known as “earmarking” that has added hundreds of billions of dollars to the defense budget in recent years.

The companies owned by Mr. Kuchera and his brother - Kuchera Defense Systems and Kuchera Industries Inc. - have received $53 million in federal contracts in this decade alone, records show.

According to the court records, Mr. Kuchera was convicted of marijuana distribution in 1982 in Wisconsin.

In addition, a man who describes himself as an early partner in Mr. Kuchera’s business in the 1980s is a convicted cocaine dealer who has served two terms in prison, according to the records.

ABORTION

Government probes doctor’s slaying

The Justice Department on Friday opened an investigation into the killing of Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller to see whether the accused gunman had accomplices.

The department will investigate possible federal crimes in connection with Dr. Tiller’s slaying at his church on Sunday in Wichita, Kan. State prosecutors have already ruled out seeking the death penalty against the accused gunman, but federal prosecutors did not rule out doing so as they announced their own investigation.

The department will seek to determine if the killing violated a 1994 law creating criminal penalties for violent or damaging conduct toward abortion providers and their patients.

Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams said his investigation of the case would continue and run parallel to the federal effort.

Police have charged 51-year-old Scott Roeder with Dr. Tiller’s death. After the killing, U.S. marshals began providing security to some abortion providers and clinics around the country.

c From wire dispatches and staff reports

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