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WORLD BRIEFLY: Obama takes action on controversies

Thursday, May 16, 2013 | 9:33 p.m. CDT

Here are today's top national and world news stories from The Associated Press.

Damage control: Obama takes action on trio of controversies, but Republicans still unsatisfied

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama, seeking to regain his footing amid controversies hammering the White House, named a temporary chief for the scandal-marred Internal Revenue Service on Thursday and pressed Congress to approve new security money to prevent another Benghazi-style terrorist attack.

The efforts did little to satisfy Republicans, who see the controversies as an opportunity to derail Obama's second-term agenda. House Speaker John Boehner suggested the White House had violated the public's trust, and he promised to "stop at nothing" to hold the administration accountable.

"Nothing dissolves the bonds between the people and their government like the arrogance of power here in Washington," Boehner said. "And that's what the American people are seeing today from the Obama administration — remarkable arrogance."

The targeting of conservative political groups by the IRS and new questions about the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year — along with the Justice Department's seizure of journalists' phone records — have consumed the White House for nearly a week. Of the three controversies, the president's advisers see the IRS matter as the most likely to linger. At least three congressional committees are planning investigations into the agency that touches the lives of nearly every American.

Obama, who was criticized by both opponents and allies for his measured initial response to the IRS targeting, vowed to ensure the agency acts "scrupulously and without even a hint of bias."

IRS memo: Second top agency official announces plans to leave amid tea party controversy

WASHINGTON — As second top Internal Revenue Service official has announced plans to leave the agency amid the controversy over the targeting of tea party groups.

An internal IRS memo says Joseph Grant, commissioner of the agency's tax exempt and government entities division, will retire June 3. Grant joins Steven Miller, who was forced to resign as acting IRS commissioner on Wednesday.

As part of his duties, Grant oversaw the IRS division that targeted tea party groups for additional scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status.

Grant joined the IRS in 2005.

Jurors in Jodi Arias trial brought to tears as victim's family describes effect of his murder

PHOENIX — Jurors deciding the fate of convicted murderer Jodi Arias were brought to tears Thursday, visibly shaken by dramatic statements from the victim's family members as they described how their lives were ripped apart by the killing.

Travis Alexander's younger brother Steven told the panel he was hospitalized for ulcers, lost sleep and separated from his wife.

He paused to choke back tears and regain his composure as he recounted the phone call he got from his sister the day his brother's body was found.

"She told me, 'Steven, Travis is dead,'" he said. "I thought I was dreaming."

Steven Alexander described how his brother had survived motorcycle and car crashes and seemed to be "bulletproof."

Afghan woman recounts how U.S. soldier killed her husband in rampage; case set for court-martial

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Sitting on a dirty straw mat on the parched ground of southern Afghanistan, Masooma sank deeper inside a giant black shawl. Hidden from view, her words burst forth as she told her side of what happened to her family sometime before dawn on March 11, 2012.

According to Masooma, an American soldier wearing a helmet equipped with a flashlight burst into her two-room mud home while everyone slept. He killed her husband, Dawood, punched her 7-year-old son and shoved a pistol into the mouth of his baby brother.

"We were asleep. He came in and he was shouting, saying something about Taliban, Taliban, and then he pulled my husband up. I screamed and screamed and said, 'We are not Taliban, we are not government. We are no one. Please don't hurt us,'" she said.

The soldier wasn't listening. He pointed his pistol at Masooma to quiet her and pushed her husband into the living room.

"My husband just looked back at me and said, 'I will be back.'" Seconds later she heard gunshots, she recalled, her voice cracking as she was momentarily unable to speak. Her husband was dead.

North Texas walloped by system carrying 10 tornadoes, one likely had winds up to 200 mph; six dead

GRANBURY, Texas — Ten tornadoes touched down in several small communities in North Texas overnight, leaving at least six people dead, dozens injured and hundreds homeless. Emergency responders were still searching for missing people Thursday afternoon.

The National Weather Service gave a preliminary estimate of Wednesday night's violent system, saying a tornado in Granbury had wind speeds between 166 mph and 200 mph. Other tornadoes damaged nearby Cleburne and Millsap.

Granbury, about 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth, Texas, bore the brunt of the damage, as the exceptionally powerful tornado tore through two neighborhoods around 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Resident Elizabeth Tovar said fist-sized hail heralded the tornado's arrival and prompted her and her family to hide in their bathroom.

"We were all, like, hugging in the bathtub and that's when it started happening. I heard glass shattering and I knew my house was going," Tovar said, shaking her head. "We looked up and ... the whole ceiling was gone."

American Airlines to let passengers with just a personal carry-on item board sooner

FORT WORTH, Texas — If you're traveling light, you can board earlier on American Airlines.

The airline said Thursday that people carrying just a personal item that fits under the seat — no rolling suitcases — will be allowed to board before most other passengers.

American said that the change will speed up the boarding process and allow flights to take off sooner, helping the airline improve its on-time performance.

Airlines have been seeing a buildup in boarding times since they began charging fees for checked baggage as more people fight for limited space in overhead bins.

American tested the new boarding procedure at several airports earlier this year and began applying it to all flights Thursday. Passengers carrying just a personal item — a purse, backpack or computer bag that will fit under the seat — will board right after Group 1 premium passengers and before boarding groups 2, 3 and 4.

Watchdog: Justice Department didn't provide names of some terrorists in witness protection program

WASHINGTON — The government has allowed terrorists into America's witness protection program and has failed to provide the names of some of them for the watch list that's used to keep dangerous people off airline flights, the Justice Department's inspector general says.

As a result of the department's failure to share information with the Terrorist Screening Center, some in the witness protection program who were on a "no-fly" list were allowed to travel on commercial flights, the department's watchdog said.

The FBI-managed screening center is the clearinghouse for information about known or suspected terrorists.

In a briefing for reporters Thursday, the Justice Department said it has remedied the problem with a restrictive travel policy that prohibits program participants with no-fly status from traveling on commercial flights. The department declined to say how many people in the program actually flew.

While people involved in terrorism cases have long been eligible for federal witness protection, the Justice Department wouldn't say how many have been in the program. The inspector general's report said it was "a small but significant number."

A mockumentary is wrapped as NBC's 'The Office' shuts down Thursday after eight comic years

NEW YORK — As "The Office" airs its series finale after eight years on NBC, the time feels right to salute the show that spawned it.

I'm talking, of course, about the BBC-produced, British version of "The Office," starring a previously unknown scamp named Ricky Gervais, who also served as its co-creator, -writer and -director.

For viewers who stumbled on that scruffy, off-kilter little comedy way back in 2001, "The Office" was a sensation and its doughy leading man someone clearly worth watching.

Soon it gave rise to the NBC version, which premiered in March 2005 and concludes Thursday at 9 p.m. EDT with a 75-minute finale that will gather the cast along with guest stars, past regulars and maybe even Steve Carell (the network isn't saying for sure), who left as series lead two seasons ago.


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