- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 3, 2009

LOCKERBIE

Senator seeks probe of Libyan’s release

Congress should investigate whether a lucrative oil contract might have played a role in the release of the only man convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg said Wednesday.

The New Jersey Democrat said a congressional committee “must expose the truth” and “uncover whether justice took a back seat to commercial interests.”

On Aug. 20, Scottish authorities released from prison Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who is dying from prostate cancer, on compassionate grounds. At the time, Scottish officials said doctors had determined that al-Megrahi had less than three months to live.

Al-Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence agent, served eight years of a life sentence for his role in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed all 259 people on board and 11 people on the ground.

His release and warm homecoming in Libya sparked an international uproar, including rebukes from victims’ families, President Obama and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III.

In London, the Sunday Times has reported that the British government decided that releasing the convicted bomber would be in the overwhelming interests of the United Kingdom, as a major oil deal between Libya and BP was being negotiated.

CONGRESS

Former congressman Hefner dead at 79

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. | Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Hefner, a Southern Baptist gospel singer and radio station owner who served in Congress for 24 years from North Carolina, has died. He was 79.

Nancy Hefner said her husband died at a Huntsville, Ala., hospital from a brain aneurysm Wednesday.

Mr. Hefner joined the U.S. House of Representatives in 1975 and served for 12 terms. He was the dean of North Carolina’s U.S. House delegation when he decided not to seek re-election in 1998. He represented the 8th Congressional District, which comprises several south-central counties.

Mr. Hefner is also survived by two daughters, Stacye and Shelly.

TRADE

Ex-official looks to be WTO envoy

Former U.S. trade official Michael Punke appears to be President Obama’s choice to be the next ambassador to the World Trade Organization, industry officials said Wednesday.

“We hear it from pretty credible sources,” said one industry official, who asked not to be identified. “It sounds like it’s him. We’re just waiting for the White House to make the official announcement.”

A White House spokesman said he had no comment. U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said Tuesday that he expected Mr. Obama to announce his choice for the position soon.

Mr. Punke would take over from longtime U.S. trade diplomat Peter Allgeier, who has stepped down as ambassador to the WTO after several years in Geneva, where day-to-day negotiations in the long-running Doha round of world trade talks take place.

Mr. Punke was a senior policy adviser in the U.S. trade representative’s office in the mid-1990s after a two-year stint in the White House under President Clinton.

SENATE

Former baseball player interested in seat

BOSTON | Curt Schilling, the former major league pitcher who won the allegiance of Bostonians by leading the Red Sox to the 2004 World Series, said Wednesday that he has “some interest” in running for the seat held for nearly 50 years by Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

Mr. Schilling, a registered independent and longtime Republican supporter, wrote on his blog that while his family and video game company, 38 Studios, are high priorities, “I do have some interest in the possibility.”

“That being said, to get to there, from where I am today, many, many things would have to align themselves for that to truly happen,” he added.

Any other comment “would be speculation on top of speculation,” Mr. Schilling said. “My hope is that whatever happens, and whomever it happens to, this state makes the decision and chooses the best person - regardless of sex, race, religion or political affiliation - to help get this state back to the place it deserves to be.”

Mr. Schilling told New England Cable News that he has been contacted “by people whose opinion I give credence to,” but he did not elaborate. He declined to comment when the Associated Press called his office.

The 42-year-old former ballplayer lives in suburban Medfield and campaigned for President George W. Bush in 2004 and Sen. John McCain in 2008.

MAIL

Post office closure list down to 413

The U.S. Postal Service has narrowed the number of offices facing possible closure to 413.

Struggling with a sharp decline in mail volume caused by the recession and the movement of traditional mail to the Internet, postal officials say, the agency could have a deficit as large as $7 billion this year.

Being on the list doesn’t guarantee closing, but the list of offices selected for a closer look had neared 700 at one point.

The post office has about 37,000 retail outlets across the country, and Postmaster General John E. Potter has said he wants to keep as many open as possible.

A list of offices that may close can be found at www.usps.com/ communications/ newsroom/stationbranchop.pdf.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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