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EARLYBIRD

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Pressure for interrogation investigation grows as report says techniques were prepared before being approved. Plus: Harman calls for inquiry into wiretapping.

National Security: Obama Supports Independent Investigation Of Torture

"President Obama" on Tuesday "declined to rule out legal consequences for Bush administration officials who authorized the harsh interrogation techniques applied to 'high-value' terrorism suspects," the Washington Post reports. "Obama also said that if Congress is intent on investigating the enhanced interrogation practices, an independent commission might offer a better means to do so than a congressional panel, which he indicated is more likely to split along partisan lines than to produce constructive results."

• "Intelligence and military officials under the Bush administration began preparing to conduct harsh interrogations long before they were granted legal approval to use such methods -- and weeks before the CIA captured its first high-ranking terrorism suspect, Senate investigators have concluded," the Post also reports.

 

• "In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned," the New York Times reports. "No one involved -- not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees -- investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques."

• "European prosecutors are likely to investigate CIA and Bush administration officials on suspicion of violating an international ban on torture if they are not held legally accountable at home, according to U.N. officials and human rights lawyers," the Washington Post reports.

Congress: Harman Calls For Wiretapping Probe

• "Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) on Tuesday barreled into the second day of her fledgling scandal -- touched off by reports of a wiretapped conversation she had in 2005 with a suspected Israeli agent -- by... aggressively denying charges she did anything inappropriate and calling on the Justice Department to probe the wiretap and the leak behind the news accounts," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

 

• Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, "signaled Tuesday that he is giving serious consideration to a proposal that would split the lucrative contract to build the Air Force's next fleet of aerial refueling tankers between the two rivals vying for the work," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "Inouye, who also chairs the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, told reporters that he plans to hold subcommittee hearings on the proposal, which has been publicly pushed by key House Democrats but soundly rejected by" Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

• "If you want to comb through the details of a senator's quarterly campaign finance reports online, it's going to take a month to get the information -- and a boatload of government money to make it available," Politico reports. "While presidential candidates and members of the House of Representatives file their financial disclosures electronically, the Senate still does it the old-fashioned way."

White House: Summit Planned With Pakistan, Afghanistan Leaders

• "The presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan will travel to Washington early next month for meetings with" Obama "as the administration struggles against daunting hurdles to implement its new strategy for the region," the Washington Post reports. "The visits, on May 6 and 7, will elevate to summit level a trilateral exchange begun by the administration with senior aides from each government in late February."

• "Obama on Tuesday became the latest Democratic president to emulate John F. Kennedy's call for national service as he signed legislation to triple the size of the Americorps program and called on Americans to volunteer time to improve their communities," the New York Times reports.

 

• "Obama is losing a member of his press shop just shy of his first 100 days in office," the Washington Times reports. "Ellen Moran, White House communications director, will become chief of staff for Commerce Secretary Gary Locke."

Economy: Major Companies See End To Downturn

• "For the first time since the recession began more than a year ago, a host of major companies on Tuesday said the economy is approaching a bottom," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "But their tentative optimism triggered a debate with other firms that say it's far too early to call a floor."

• "In a report released Tuesday, the I.M.F. estimated that banks and other financial institutions faced aggregate losses of $4.05 trillion in the value of their holdings as a result of the crisis," the New York Times reports. "Of that amount, $2.7 trillion is from loans and assets originating in the United States, the fund said. That estimate is up from $2.2 trillion in the fund's interim report in January, and $1.4 trillion last October."

• "The Treasury Department is considering giving banks and investors billions of dollars in fresh incentives to modify troubled mortgages and save homeowners from foreclosure, sources familiar with official deliberations said," Reuters reports. "Under one scenario, investors in second liens would receive a cash payment if they agree to ease the terms of troubled loans and accept a smaller return on their mortgage investment, the sources said."

• "A Congressional panel is expected to approve legislation" today "that would curb high credit card fees and penalties assessed by many banks that have benefited from the federal government's financial bailout program," Reuters reports. "The pro-consumer bill, which would mean sweeping changes for banks that issue cards, is an important test of the political will of Democrats who are pushing for U.S. financial regulation reform."

World: Fidel Castro Says Brother Was Misinterpreted

• "Former Cuban President Fidel Castro said" Obama "misinterpreted remarks by his brother and successor, Raul, and bristled at the suggestion that the island should free political prisoners or cut taxes on remittances from abroad as a goodwill gesture to the U.S.," the AP reports.

• "Iran welcomes 'constructive' talks with world powers on its nuclear program but will press ahead with work to develop atomic energy, an official statement said on Wednesday," Reuters reports. "The statement was Tehran's response to an invitation by six world powers, including the United States, to discuss the nuclear row, according to state television."

• "A day after breaching an earthen defense, the Sri Lankan military on Tuesday advanced into what appeared to be the last sliver of the northeastern coast held by Tamil rebels, as tens of thousands of civilians were trapped in a situation the International Committee of the Red Cross called 'nothing short of catastrophic,'" the New York Times reports.

Politics: Dems Have Chance At 60, Cornyn Warns

• "The man in charge of electing more Republicans to the Senate said it will be difficult to stop the Democrats from winning a 60-seat majority in 2010," The Hill reports. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said: "Everybody who runs could be the potential tipping point to get Democrats to 60. We've not only got to play defense; we've got to claw our way back in 2010. It'll be a huge challenge."

• "Arizona Sen. John McCain, who once favored amnesty for illegal immigrants, is hearing thunder on his right as Minuteman Civil Defense Corps founder Chris Simcox prepares a Republican nomination challenge to his Senate seat," the Washington Times reports.

Technology: Obama Plans New Military Command For Cyberwarfare

• "The Obama administration plans to create a new military command to coordinate the defense of Pentagon computer networks and improve U.S. offensive capabilities in cyberwarfare, according to current and former officials familiar with the plans," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The initiative will reshape the military's efforts to protect its networks from attacks by hackers, especially those from countries such as China and Russia."

• "NSA Director Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, speaking at the RSA Security Conference in San Francisco, told the audience of security professionals on Tuesday that the NSA does 'not want to run cyber security for the United States government,'" Wired reports.

Lobbying: Bill Would Ban Donations From Earmark Designees

• "Two reform-minded Democrats will introduce a bill" today "to address the growing controversy around the corruptive influence of earmarks and campaign donations from the companies that receive them," The Hill reports. Reps. Paul Hodes, D-N.H., and Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., "who are in their second terms, are co-sponsoring a measure that would prevent lawmakers from taking campaign contributions from entities for which they have requested earmarks, as well as the entities' lobbyists and employees."

• "Environmental groups are storming the airwaves this week, taking out significant ad buys in key states to push climate change legislation and increased investment in renewable energy, even as the issues face a tough fight in the Senate," Politico reports. "The ads come before any significant global warming legislation has been formally introduced in Congress."

• "The economic downturn means lobby shops and clients alike are scrutinizing their books and watching their bottom lines, according to an analysis of termination reports filed with the Secretary of the Senate," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "According to records filed by Tuesday morning, firms filed roughly 1,500 termination contacts with the Senate through March 31, ending lobbying campaigns that ranged from pro bono work to sophisticated in-house lobbying blitzes costing thousands of dollars per day."

Energy & Environment: GOP Short On Alternatives To Dem Climate Change Ideas

• "As hearings over climate change legislation commence this week in the House, Republicans have made known their distaste for the Democratic solution to the problem," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Their own solutions, though, remain unclear."

• "Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Lisa Murkowski raised concerns Tuesday about proposals from the panel's chairman that would require utilities to produce 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. The Alaska Republican "also insisted that nuclear energy should be included in the definition of renewable energy sources, challenging its exclusion from the 'green energy' list offered by Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman," D-N.M.

• "A proposal in Congress to cut U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions by putting a price on carbon could raise prices for electricity by 22% and natural gas by 17% in 2030, according to a study by the Environmental Protection Agency," the Wall Street Journal reports. "But the impact on consumers would be modest, provided the government returns the bulk of the money raised by a carbon cap-and-trade system to households, the analysis showed."

Transportation: Banks Reject Treasury's Request For Chrysler Debt Forgiveness

• "A group of big banks and other lenders rebuffed a Treasury Department request that they slash 85% of Chrysler LLC's secured debt, proposing instead to eliminate about 35% in exchange for a minority stake in the restructured car maker and a seat on its board," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The lenders' counteroffer marks a significant act of brinksmanship as the banks and the Obama administration's auto task force duel over concessions to avoid liquidating the country's third-largest car company."

• "Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus," D-Mont., "said Tuesday he would move to limit eligibility for paper companies to receive an alternative fuels tax credit that has sparked an outcry from environmental groups and Canadian competitors," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "The controversy stems from a tax tweak in late 2007 that opened up a 50 cents-per-gallon tax credit for development of renewable transportation fuels to other energy sources, including the 'black liquor' wood byproduct used by paper mills for decades."

Health Care: Dems May Use Reconciliation To Pass Reforms

• "Democrats appear to have the votes for a budget measure that would allow reform of the nation's healthcare system with just 51 Senate votes," The Hill reports. "Centrist Democrats said they could support the special reconciliation budget process to push ahead healthcare reform, even though many of them voted to ban the use of reconciliation rules for climate change regulations earlier this month."

• "An unusual internal meeting scheduled for Wednesday at the Food and Drug Administration may signal how agency officials intend to handle the many controversies swirling around its embattled device division," the New York Times reports. "Dr. Donna-Bea Tillman, director of the agency's office of device evaluation, sent an e-mail message on April 10 announcing an 'all-hands meeting' to discuss the strategic direction of the device center."

• "Congress moved a step closer Tuesday to filling a critical vacancy in President Obama's Cabinet when a Senate committee approved the nomination of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to head the Department of Health and Human Services," the Washington Times reports. Baucus "said he would press for a speedy confirmation for Mrs. Sebelius before the full Senate, although several Republicans are determined to block the vote."

Commentary: Is 'Card Check' Dead?

Newt Gingrich calls out one specific provision of the Employee Free Choice Act in Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section, while another commentator declares the bill dead by way of K Street pressure.

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