Security firm denies CIA link
The private security company once known as Blackwater is disputing a New York Times report that Blackwater USA security guards participated in clandestine CIA raids against suspected insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A spokesman for the company, now called Xe Services, said, “Blackwater USA was never under contract to participate in covert raids with CIA or Special Operations personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else.”
The newspaper reported the “snatch-and-grab” raids took place regularly between 2004 and 2006, when the insurgency in Iraq was escalating and security throughout the country was deteriorating.
A U.S. official confirmed to the Associated Press that Blackwater provided security and moved around with CIA teams on missions in war zones, but he denied they performed CIA missions.
The former Blackwater, based in Moyock, N.C., changed its corporate name after a series of controversies involving the use of force by its employees, including a September 2007 shooting in Baghdad that left 17 civilians dead.
Senate primed for weekend vote
A massive year-end spending bill cleared a key obstacle in the Senate on Friday.
By a 60-36 vote, the Senate defeated a Republican procedural move that would have unraveled the $1.1 trillion measure. The bill bundles six spending bills into a 1,000-plus-page “omnibus” spending package.
The bill would finance 10 Cabinet-level agencies for the coming year and help fund the Medicare and Medicaid health care programs.
A vote to stop a Republican filibuster is scheduled for Saturday morning, and the final bill could be voted on before Monday. Friday’s vote demonstrates that Democrats will have the 60 votes needed do so.
ACORN funding cut ruled unconstitutional
NEW YORK | The government’s move this fall to cut off funding to ACORN was unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Friday, handing the embattled group a legal victory.
U.S. District Court Judge Nina Gershon issued the preliminary injunction against the government, saying it is in the public’s interest for the organization to continue receiving federal funding.
ACORN, or the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, claimed in its lawsuit that Congress’ decision to cut off its funding was unconstitutional because it punitively targeted an individual organization.
Judge Gershon said in her ruling that ACORN had been “singled out by Congress for punishment that directly and immediately affects their ability to continue to obtain federal funding, in the absence of any judicial, or even administrative, process adjudicating guilt.”
Governor’s wife files for divorce
Jenny Sanford, a former Wall Street vice president who helped launch the political career of her husband, Gov. Mark Sanford, filed for divorce Friday - more than five months after his tearful public confession of an affair with an Argentine woman.
“This came after many unsuccessful efforts at reconciliation, yet I am still dedicated to keeping the process that lies ahead peaceful for our family,” Mrs. Sanford said in a statement. The divorce complaint was filed in Charleston County Family Court.
In a statement, the governor blamed himself and said he and his wife would “work earnestly to be the best mom and dad we can be to four of the finest boys on earth.”
Mrs. Sanford’s announcement came after a week of wrenching twists, including a decision by a legislative panel Wednesday to turn aside an impeachment push in favor of a formal rebuke for the governor’s conduct.
Obama extends holiday greetings
Marking the seasonal Jewish celebration, President Obama said Friday that Hanukkah’s lessons should inspire everyone to be thankful for what they have.
The eight-day celebration, which began at sunset Friday, commemorates the rededication of the temple by Jewish rebels known as the Maccabees after their victory over the Syrians. The holiday is marked by the kindling of the lights of a menorah.
Mr. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama extended wishes Friday to Jews around the world who are observing Hanukkah.
Mr. Obama said the story of the Maccabees and the miracles they witnessed is a reminder that faith and perseverance are powerful forces that can sustain people through difficult times.
Bo gets own Christmas stocking
Bo, the White House dog, has his very own Christmas stocking.
First lady Michelle Obama revealed the new family tradition in an interview with Oprah Winfrey for her “Christmas at the White House” special, scheduled to air Sunday night on ABC. Miss Winfrey’s company, Harpo Productions, released excerpts of the interview Friday.
She did not give any details about what might be going into Bo’s stocking, only saying that Santa loves Bo.