- - Sunday, February 12, 2012

UTAH

Man charged in plot to kill governor

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah man police say threatened to assassinate Gov. Gary R. Herbert is facing multiple felony charges.

Brian Biff Baker was charged Friday in Salt Lake City’s 3rd District Court with felony counts of drug and weapons possession, along with a misdemeanor count of threatening elected officials.

Court records show no hearings are set in the case. The 52-year-old Mr. Baker is being held in the Salt Lake County jail. Bail is set at $25,007. It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Baker had an attorney.

Court papers say Mr. Baker was conducting surveillance on the governor’s mansion in Salt Lake City.

The records also say that Mr. Baker on Feb. 2 had sent text messages to a friend stating that he was in the bushes and intended to kill the governor. The recipient of the texts reported the messages to police and Mr. Baker was arrested the same day, court papers say.

In his messages, Mr. Baker said he had been casing the place and that authorities would utter an expletive “when the explosions start … should be funny as hell, it’s a dangerous mission,” a police affidavit filed in support of the charges states.

The texts also included a threat to kill a police officer who had driven past the mansion more than once during Mr. Baker’s period of surveillance, the affidavit states.

Police also say Mr. Herbert was at home during the time Mr. Baker was conducting surveillance and was removed from the premises for safety reasons.

Investigators enlisted the help of the message recipient to get Mr. Baker to come to a nearby gas station, where he was arrested. Police found containers of ammunition, a large knife, explosives, illegal fireworks and small plastic bags of methamphetamine in Mr. Baker’s truck, court papers say.

Security camera video from the area around the mansion also showed Mr. Baker conducting his surveillance, the papers state.

Court records show Mr. Baker has a criminal history dating back to 1997 that includes felony convictions for robbery, forgery and drug possession.

On Jan. 31, Salt Lake County prosecutors also filed a retail theft charge against Mr. Baker. A hearing in that case is set for Monday.

WHITE HOUSE

Lew: Matter of time before Assad falls

President Obama’s chief of staff says it’s only a matter of time before the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad collapses.

Jacob Lew says the U.S. and its allies have brought “serious financial pressure” on Syria and that Mr. Assad’s government is “feeling it.”

While the violence continues as rebels try to topple Mr. Assad, Mr. Lew says the transition “from tyranny to democracy is very hard.” Mr. Lew says the Syrian people “have to handle this in a way that works in Syria.”

Mr. Lew told “Fox News Sunday” that “the brutality of the Assad regime is unacceptable and has to end.” He says the U.S. is pursuing “all avenues that we can” and that “there is no question that this regime will come to an end. The only question is when.”

MILITARY

Navy names ship after Arizona’s Giffords

Gabrielle Giffords, the recently retired congresswoman from Arizona who was shot in an assassination attempt 13 months ago, returned to Washington on Friday for double honors. The Navy named a ship after her, and she saw President Obama sign into law the last piece of legislation she wrote.

In a ceremony at the Pentagon, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus unveiled an artist’s rendering of the USS Gabrielle Giffords, a littoral combat ship. The craft is among the Navy’s most versatile and can operate in shallower coastal waters than larger ships.

“God bless the USS Gabrielle Giffords and all who sail in her,” Mr. Mabus said at the ceremony.

Ms. Giffords was shot in the head in January 2011 as she met with constituents outside a supermarket in Tucson, Ariz. Twelve others also were wounded in the rampage that left six dead, including a federal judge, a Giffords aide and 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who had an interest in government and politics and wanted to hear Ms. Giffords speak.

At Friday’s ceremony, Mr. Mabus announced that Christina Taylor’s mother, Roxanna, is the ship’s “sponsor.” Green’s initials will be welded into the ship’s keel.

In the months since she was shot, Ms. Giffords, 41, has been treated in Houston as well as Arizona as she re-learned how to walk and speak. Her progress had seemed remarkable, but she resigned from Congress last month to concentrate on her recovery. Giffords stepped down on the day the House passed her bill by a vote of 428-0.

The legislation Mr. Obama signed Friday increases the penalties for using ultralight aircraft when smuggling drugs into the country. The small, single-seat planes are an increasingly favored tool smugglers use to fly at night and then release their haul without detection.

Mr. Obama said he told Ms. Giffords he expected to see more of her in the months and years to come.

“I’m confident that, while this legislation may have been her last act as a congresswoman, it will not be her last act of public service,” Mr. Obama said in a statement.

WHITE HOUSE

U.S. to discuss human rights when Xi visits

The White House said it won’t recoil from raising grave human rights concerns during a getting-acquainted visit this week by China’s likely future leader.

China Vice President Xi Jinping’s trip will be for him to understand issues that are important to America, including the situation in Tibet, and freedom of speech and religion, said Daniel Russel, the White House senior director for Asian affairs.

“We don’t sacrifice the important issues for the sake of having a comfortable visit,” Mr. Russel said.

Mr. Xi is slated to succeed Hu Jintao as Communist Party leader this fall, then become the nation’s president in spring 2013. Mr. Hu made a similar visit to the United States in 2002 before he took the reins of the world’s most populous nation.

Mr. Xi arrives Monday at the invitation of Vice President Joseph R. Biden and will also meet with President Obama in the Oval Office and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta at the Pentagon. He will spend four full days in the United States, also traveling to Iowa and California.

NEW YORK

State senator, wife attacked at casino

NIAGARA FALLS — A state senator and his wife said Saturday they were attacked and beaten at a Niagara Falls casino hotel after the lawmaker tried to break up an argument between two men, one of whom accused him of hating the Indian tribe that owned the resort.

Sen. Mark Grisanti said he suffered bruised ribs in the Friday night altercation. His wife, Maria, was more seriously hurt. She was diagnosed Saturday morning with a concussion and possible broken nose.

“It’s just been horrible,” Mrs. Grisanti said after returning home from the hospital Saturday afternoon. She said she feared for her life during the attack.

The fight happened after a fundraising gala for the Seneca Diabetes Foundation at the Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel Events Center. The Grisantis attended because their daughter was part of the entertainment for the night, performing with the Buffalo singing act, the Scintas. They were in a lobby area around 11:30 p.m. when they encountered two men arguing loudly.

Mr. Grisanti said he thought the men were about to come to blows, so he asked them to calm down.

“I probably just should have walked away,” he said.

One of the men demanded to know his name. When he identified himself, he said the man hurled a curse word, accused him of hating the Seneca Nation and punched him in the chest. Then, Mr. Grisanti said, a woman with the man socked him in the side of the head.

As the men scuffled, Mrs. Grisanti said she was attacked by two women who appeared to be with the man fighting with her husband. She said she was thrown to the ground and then punched while one of the women pulled her hair out and repeatedly slammed her head on the floor.

Niagara Falls police confirmed there was a melee at the casino.

In a statement read over the phone, police Superintendent John Chella said detectives were “reviewing the situation and investigating any and all facts to determine what exactly took place.”

• From wire dispatches and staff reports