- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 11, 2009

DEFENSE

Lawmaker cites drug wars in Mexico

The top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee criticized the Defense Department on Tuesday for not making the situation in Mexico as big a priority as Afghanistan.

Rep. Jerry Lewis of California said the situation in Mexico is far more important than Afghanistan at this point. “We need to raise this to a higher level,” Mr. Lewis told the Associated Press.

Speaking at a homeland security subcommittee hearing, Mr. Lewis praised the Homeland Security Department for using unmanned aerial vehicles along the border, but he slammed the Defense Department for not providing helicopters to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border.



“You can’t chase these people around in trucks,” Mr. Lewis said during the hearing.

Since 2008, about 7,000 people have been killed in the drug wars, and violence is spilling over into U.S. cities in some parts of the country.

SCANDAL

Senator’s ex-aide pleads guilty

A longtime former aide to Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi pleaded guilty Tuesday to swapping legislative favors for event tickets and other gifts from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s firm.

Ann Copland wiped tears from her eyes as she admitted taking the gifts in exchange for helping one of Abramoff’s top clients, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

E-mails disclosed in court documents that Copland sent to Abramoff’s firm show she was particularly demanding in what she wanted from the lobbyist.

At one point, she sent a long list of ticket requests that included several concerts, hockey, ice skating and the circus. At other times, she sent e-mails from inside the firm’s luxury box seats complaining about the food and drinks.

Among the e-mails filed in court was one from lobbyist Todd Boulanger to his boss that says they should go out of their way to keep Copland happy because “she’s more valuable to us than a rank-and-file House member.”

Copland worked for Mr. Cochran for 29 years, then abruptly left his office last spring after Abramoff prosecutors netted a dozen convictions in the scandal.

In Tuesday’s hearing, Copland admitted she understood that Senate rules prohibit staffers from soliciting gifts from lobbyists, but still secretly did so.

GUANTANAMO

Taliban lieutenant is former detainee

U.S. officials said the Taliban’s new top operations officer in southern Afghanistan is a former prisoner at the Guantanamo detention center.

Pentagon and CIA officials said Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul was among 13 prisoners released to the Afghan government in December 2007. He is now known as Mullah Abdullah Zakir, a name officials say is used by the Taliban leader in charge of operations against U.S. and Afghan forces in southern Afghanistan.

One intelligence official told the Associated Press that Rasoul’s stated mission is to counter the growing U.S. troop surge.

SENATE

Franken confers with D.C. cohorts

Democrat Al Franken is in Washington attending meetings this week, including the Senate Democratic Caucus lunch.

The former “Saturday Night Live” comic and liberal satirist traveled to Washington on Tuesday. He’s locked in a legal battle to determine whether he or Republican Sen. Norm Coleman will win the Minnesota Senate race.

More than four months after Election Day and two months after a statewide recount concluded, Mr. Franken holds a 225-vote lead out of about 2.9 million votes cast in the state. Mr. Coleman’s legal team is seeking to overturn Mr. Franken’s margin in court.

Both Democrats and Republicans view the Senate seat as vital. Democrats would like Mr. Franken’s vote on key issues to help thwart Republican filibusters, and Republicans would like more room to maneuver against Democratic legislation.

CONSUMERS

Maytag recalls some refrigerators

Maytag Corp. said Tuesday that it has voluntarily recalled about 1.6 million refrigerators because of an electrical problem that could create a fire hazard.

The problem has led to 16 incidents ranging from smoke damage to major kitchen damage, Maytag said.

The company and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said the recall - the nation’s largest involving refrigerators, according to federal authorities - involves some Jenn-Air, Amana, Admiral, Magic Chef, Maytag, Performa by Maytag and Crosley side-by-side and top-freezer refrigerators. They were sold from January 2001 through January 2004 at department and appliance stores and by homebuilders.

The refrigerators, which sold for between $350 and $1,600, came in black, bisque, white and stainless steel. Those with bottom freezers are not included in the recall.

The recall notice said an electrical failure in the relay component that turns on the refrigerator’s compressor can cause overheating and pose a serious fire hazard.

Maytag, a unit of Whirlpool Corp., said 41 refrigerator ignition incidents have been reported, with 16 resulting in various degrees of damage.

Consumers were advised to contact Maytag to find out whether their refrigerator is included in the recall and to set up a free in-home repair. Its toll-free number is 866/533-9817.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama to create women’s council

The White House plans to create a group of specialists to advise President Obama on women’s issues.

Mr. Obama plans to name friend and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett as the head of the group. A White House spokeswoman said Obama official Tina Tchen will run the group’s day-to-day operations.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the creation of the group is timed to Women’s History Month. Mr. Obama plans to sign the executive order creating the White House Council on Women and Girls on Wednesday.

SENATE

Panel to vote on Kirk Wednesday

The Senate Finance Committee plans to vote Wednesday on the nomination of former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk to be U.S. trade representative, the panel said.

Committee approval would set the stage for a full Senate vote on Mr. Kirk’s nomination.

Mr. Kirk told the Finance Committee on Monday he would place a large emphasis on enforcing existing trade agreements, but did not have a “fever” to negotiate new deals.

Mr. Kirk is expected to win Senate approval despite mistakes found in his tax returns that will require him to pay about $10,000 in back taxes.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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