- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 1, 2010

ILLINOIS

Blagojevich, wife spent lavishly on clothes

CHICAGO | Rod and Patti Blagojevich were awash in more than $200,000 in consumer debt when the former Illinois governor was arrested, following a lavish, six-year shopping spree on custom-tailored suits and other luxury clothing, a federal agent testified Thursday.

Mr. Blagojevich and his wife spent more than $400,000 on clothes, mainly for themselves and not their children, from 2002 through December 2008 when he was arrested, Internal Revenue Service agent Shari Schindler said at Mr. Blagojevich’s federal corruption trial.

“Sometimes they used credit cards to pay for other credit cards,” Miss Schindler said.

Prosecutors were plainly suggesting that the staggering mound of debt facing the impeached Illinois governor and his wife could explain his alleged plan to get a Cabinet post or high-paying labor union or foundation job in exchange for filling the U.S. Senate seat Barack Obama was leaving to become president.

They spotlighted Mr. Blagojevich’s urgent concern about money, later playing a tape of an angry, profanity-laced tantrum in which the governor tells advisers, “We’re struggling here.”

“I’m stuck,” Mr. Blagojevich says, his voice rising. “The whole world is passing me by, and I’m stuck in the job of governor.” Somebody asks who is passing him by.

“Everybody!” he shouts. “Everybody!”

“I’ve got to figure out a way to take some financial stress off my family,” he says, sounding increasingly frantic. He says he thinks he is letting his family down. “I can’t afford college for my daughter.”

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

Merwin named 17th U.S. poet laureate

A writer who stopped using punctuation in the 1960s and spent much of the past 30 years secluded in Hawaii will become the nation’s next chief poet.

The Library of Congress announced Thursday that William S. Merwin will become the 17th U.S. poet laureate this fall. He succeeds Kay Ryan, who has held the post since 2008.

The 82-year-old Mr. Merwin is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. He won in 2009 for “The Shadow of Sirius” and in 1971. He studied poetry at Princeton University and has written more than 30 books.

The one-year appointment as poet laureate is meant to raise national appreciation of poetry. It comes with a $35,000 stipend and a $5,000 travel allowance.

Most of the work will be conducted from Mr. Merwin’s home in Hawaii.

HOUSE

Republicans object to adding to deficit

The House approved Thursday an extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed amid signs of a continued weak U.S. jobs market, but its fate appears uncertain in the Senate.

The House voted 270-153 to restore benefits for more than 1 million people whose payments ran out in early June. The measure would extend the federal long-term jobless-aid program through November and retroactively restore benefits to eligible people.

But the Senate has rejected several attempts to extend jobless benefits amid worries about record budget deficits, and it is not scheduled to address the issue again until mid-July.

“For every job available, there are five unemployed workers,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sander Levin. “This issue is fundamentally an emergency for our country and our economy.”

Republican opponents argued that the $34 billion cost should be offset by taking unspent money from last year’s economic-stimulus program.

VETERANS AFFAIRS

Secretary: Medical mistakes ‘unacceptable’

ST. LOUIS | The Veterans Administration said Thursday that the chief of dental services at a St. Louis VA Medical Center has been placed on administrative leave after the hospital urged nearly 2,000 veterans to return for blood tests because inadequately sterilized equipment may have exposed them to viral infections during dental procedures.

An independent board will also investigate how employees failed to properly sterilize the dental equipment that potentially exposed veterans to infections, including hepatitis and HIV, the administration said.

“The mistakes made at the St. Louis VA Medical Center are unacceptable, and steps have been and continue to be taken to correct this situation and assure the safety of our veterans,” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said.

The VA sent letters out Monday to 1,812 veterans who had dental procedures at the St. Louis center from Feb. 1, 2009, through March 11 of this year, saying reviews determined that some sterilization steps in preparing dental instruments were not in compliance with standards.

Officials say the infection risk is extremely low, and no illnesses have been uncovered so far out of about 100 veterans who have come in for blood work that will screen for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV.

JUSTICE

U.S. upset Cyprus let suspect get away

The Justice Department expressed disappointment Thursday that Cyprus allowed a suspected Russian spy to go free on bail - and promptly disappear.

“As we had feared, having been given unnecessarily the chance to flee,” Christopher Metsos “did so,” said Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the department’s National Security Division.

Mr. Boyd said “we’re disappointed that Christopher Metsos was released on bail” after his arrest.

U.S. prosecutors charge that Mr. Metsos served as paymaster for the 10 reputed Russian deep-cover spies arrested Sunday near New York, Boston and Washington.

In Cyprus, authorities searched airports, ports and yacht marinas, and examined surveillance video from crossing points on the war-divided island.

They feared that the suspect may have slipped into the breakaway north of the island, a diplomatic no man’s land recognized only by Turkey.

Mr. Metsos was arrested Tuesday in Cyprus on an Interpol warrant while waiting to board a flight for Budapest.

A Cypriot judge freed him on $33,000 bail. Mr. Metsos failed to appear Wednesday for a required meeting with police, causing the manhunt.

“The investigation is in the hands of the Cypriot government,” a spokesman for the American Embassy said, when asked if the United States had contacted authorities in northern Cyprus about the fugitive.

SENATE RACE

Paul campaign raises more than $1 million

LOUISVILLE | Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul has raised more than $1 million in campaign contributions in the past three months.

Mr. Paul’s campaign spokesman, David Adams, told the Associated Press on Thursday the campaign took in $1.1 million during the quarter that just ended. He declined to say how much cash the campaign has on hand.

The money includes totals from a Washington event sponsored by Sen. Mitch McConnell and a 24-hour Internet “Moneyblast.” The total from the past three months exceeds the amounts Mr. Paul raised in the previous two quarters.

Mr. Paul is running against Democratic state Attorney General Jack Conway for the seat of Republican Sen. Jim Bunning, who’s retiring. Mr. Conway’s spokeswoman did not immediately return a call seeking comment on Mr. Conway’s fundraising.

From wire dispatches and staff reports