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Political Scene

- - Wednesday, January 5, 2011

PRESIDENCY

Bachmann 'not ruling out' bid for president

MINNEAPOLIS | U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota is the keynote speaker at a GOP event in the early presidential caucus state of Iowa later this month, and a spokesman said Wednesday that the tea party favorite has "not ruled out" a bid for president.

"Nothing's off the table for her," said Andy Parrish, Mrs. Bachmann's chief of staff. "She's looking forward to traveling to Iowa for the fundraiser, and you know, she's looking forward over the next year to traveling and sharing the story of why we can't re-elect Barack Obama as president."

Mr. Parrish wouldn't say when Mrs. Bachmann would decide. But he said she won't be affected by the decisions of fellow Minnesota Republican Tim Pawlenty, the state's former two-term governor, or former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, whom Mrs. Bachmann has previously called a good 2012 prospect.

Mrs. Bachmann did not immediately respond to a request for comment made to her office.

Mrs. Bachmann, who has drawn a national following with frequent guest appearances on cable and network news shows, broke fundraising records with an $11 million haul en route to winning her third term in Minnesota's 6th Congressional District. She also founded the congressional Tea Party Caucus.

Mrs. Bachmann, 54, is a native of Waterloo, Iowa, but as a child moved with her family to Minnesota. On Jan. 21, she will deliver the keynote speech at the Iowans for Tax Relief PACs Taxpayers Watchdog Reception in Des Moines - an event co-hosted by Rep. Steve King and other prominent Iowa Republicans.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE

O'Donnell lawyer: Campaign reviewing spending

An attorney for former Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell has told federal regulators the campaign could not afford finance professionals to oversee its early spending and is now trying to reconcile bank records with its federal spending reports.

In a letter to the Federal Election Commission posted to the agency's website Wednesday, lawyer Cleta Mitchell says the Delaware Republican's campaign is reviewing all reports filed over the two-year election cycle and hopes to submit necessary amendments by the end of the month.

Ms. O'Donnell - a tea party favorite who lost to Democrat Chris Coons in November - has faced scrutiny over her campaign practices, including allegations that she used political donations to pay personal expenses. The Associated Press reported last week that the Justice Department is investigating her spending, assigning two FBI agents and two federal prosecutors to the case.

The FEC also has sent the campaign five letters since the election questioning the candidate's financial reporting and requesting additional information.

Ms. Mitchell's letter essentially asks the agency for patience, and hints that major amendments could be coming.

"The committee did not have the funds prior to the 2010 primary in September 2010 to retain professional compliance vendors and counsel," Ms. Mitchell wrote in the letter, dated Dec. 21. Since the election, however, the campaign's compliance team "has undertaken the task of going back to the beginning of the election cycle to reconcile all entries in the bank account to the FEC reports."

COUNTERTERRORISM

Center being formed to target militants

Current and former U.S. officials say the Obama administration has opened a new top-secret military command center near the Pentagon to target militants in hot spots around the world.

Run by the military's elite Joint Special Operations Command at a classified address near the Pentagon, the new center brings military, intelligence analysts and legal experts under one roof to target al Qaeda. Two current and two former U.S. officials insisted on anonymity to discuss the classified matters.

The officials said the new center would be a significant step in streamlining targeting operations previously scattered between the U.S. and overseas battlefields and giving the elite military officials closer access to Washington decision-makers and counterterrorism experts.

LOBBYING

Ex-Hill aide gets halfway house, home detention

A former aide to Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi was sentenced Wednesday to 75 days in a halfway house and 75 days of home detention in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal after swapping legislative favors for more than $25,000 in event tickets and other gifts.

U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts told Ann Copland that "for two years, you corrupted the solemn trust" placed in her as a public employee and "you ingratiated yourself with lobbyists," conduct the judge said warranted a sentence serving as a deterrent to others in government.

Copland had asked to be placed on probation while prosecutors recommended a sentence of 10 to 16 months behind bars, a range set under federal guidelines. The judge sentenced Copland to two years of probation as well as the time in a halfway house and home detention.

Lobbyists working with Abramoff asked for several favors from Copland, including having Mr. Cochran sign a letter to the Small Business Administration on behalf of a Mississippi Indian tribe and helping to get legislative language passed that would benefit the tribe.

Copland pleaded guilty to conspiring with Abramoff and his associates to commit honest-services fraud. At the time of her plea in February 2009, Copland signed a document admitting that Abramoff's lobbying team provided her with gifts in order to influence her in the performance of her official actions.

NATIONAL DEBT

White House warns GOP on debt-limit fight

The White House warned congressional Republicans Wednesday not to undermine "the full faith and credit" of the United States, as lawmakers tied raising the U.S. debt limit to federal spending concessions.

Republicans, who took control of the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday after winning big against President Obama's Democrats in November elections, say they will only agree to lifting the $14.3 trillion limit on federal borrowing in return for spending concessions.

The debt limit was last increased in February, and the Treasury expects to bump up against that existing threshold in the first or second quarter of 2011, unless it is lifted.

"It's important for Congress ... not to play politics with this, not to play games; to find a way to raise that debt limit, understanding that we have to ... take some serious steps to get our fiscal house in order," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said at a news briefing.

U.S. debt and the deficit jumped as the government rushed to aid ailing banks and U.S. auto companies during the crisis, which inflicted the deepest U.S. recession since the 1930s' Great Depression, further crimping revenue from taxes.

Some analysts worry the additional borrowing by the U.S. government that this has caused will at some point undermine investor confidence in the dollar, forcing up long-term U.S. borrowing costs and in turn hobbling growth.