- The Washington Times - Monday, April 12, 2010

JUSTICE

Nominee tripped up by terror stance

President Obama’s nominee to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel has withdrawn her bid for confirmation, after several Republicans objected to her criticism of the Bush administration’s terrorist-interrogation policies.

Dawn Johnsen’s withdrawal — a setback for the Obama administration — was announced late Friday by the White House on a day the capital’s legal and political elites were absorbed by the news that Justice John Paul Stevens would retire from the Supreme Court.

The Senate Judiciary Committee had recommended confirming Miss Johnsen, a professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law, on party-line votes. But several Republicans objected to her sharp criticisms of terrorist-interrogation policies under President George W. Bush, and the full Senate never voted on her nomination.

The decision about who should lead the little-known office became a political flash point because of the controversies surrounding Bush-era interrogations of terrorism suspects.

During the Bush administration, lawyers at the OLC wrote memos approving interrogation techniques that human rights advocates call torture. Those methods included waterboarding, or simulated drowning.

Lawyers who worked on those legal opinions were investigated for years, but ultimately the Justice Department decided their actions were the result of poor judgment, not professional misconduct.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama ditches pool reporters

President Obama quietly breached years of protocol on Saturday morning by leaving the White House without the press with him.

About two hours before reporters were supposed to be in position to leave with the president, Mr. Obama left the grounds of the White House. Members of the press were told he was attending one of his daughter’s soccer games in Northwest Washington.

The White House press corps traditionally travels with the president anywhere he goes, inside and outside the country, to report on the president’s activities for the benefit of informing the public and for the historical record.

After Mr. Obama left, a press aide hastily gathered members of the press who happened to be at the White House early. They rushed to a van and left the White House to catch up with the president.

Too late. By the time, the press van appeared to arrive at the president’s location, the press was told he was already departing. Time to go back to the White House.

Reporters and photographers didn’t have a chance to see him or his vehicle to verify his presence at any location.

SECURITY

Inspections lacking at explosives labs

A government watchdog says it has found serious safety problems at the agency that regulates the transport of explosives and other hazardous materials.

The Transportation Department’s inspector general said in a memo that for at least a decade, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration did not inspect or conduct safety reviews of the four private laboratories it pays to test explosives.

Explosives must be tested before they can be transported.

NUTRITION

Food industry says help not needed

The U.S. food industry is willing to let the White House take the lead on making foods healthier in schools, but said Friday it could improve what is sold on store shelves without government intervention.

“The school environment is a special environment, where having a government play a role in setting the standards for what’s sold makes sense,” Scott Faber, a vice president at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, told reporters.

“I think the public marketplace is a different environment,” he said.

The Obama administration has launched an initiative, led by first lady Michelle Obama, to combat growing levels of obesity among children. She has urged food makers to work faster to reformulate or repackage food to make it healthier for children.

“They respect our ability to find ways to produce more products that offer consumers more choices, including choices with less sodium, less sugar, less fat,” Mr. Faber said.

The food industry group said its members improved the nutritional value of more than 10,000 products between 2002 and 2006 and plans in May to update that total to include changes through 2009.

Obesity rates among U.S. children have doubled in the past 20 years, and almost a third of American children are either overweight or obese.

TRANSPORTATION

N.Y. senator fights airline carry-on fee

Sen. Charles E. Schumer said Sunday he’s trying to get the federal government to prohibit airlines from charging a fee for carry-on baggage, calling it a “slap in the face to travelers.”

The New York Democrat is making a personal plea to the Treasury Department to rule that carry-on bags are a necessity for travel, which would make them exempt from a separate fee outside the ticket price.

Mr. Schumer said carry-on bags often contain medications and other necessities, particularly for families. Carry-on fees artificially avoid higher ticket prices and the taxes applied to tickets, Mr. Schumer said.

The fee, however, is legal. The first airline to try it, Spirit Airlines, announced last week it would charge up to $45 for a carry-on, but that it was also reducing the cost of most tickets by $40.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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