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White House in damage control mode over spying on Americans

Moving to tamp down a public uproar spurred by the disclosure of two secret surveillance programs, the nation’s top intelligence official is declassifying key details about one of the programs while insisting the efforts were legal, limited in scope and necessary to detect terrorist threats. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, in an unusual late-night statement Thursday, denounced the leaks of highly classified documents that revealed the programs and warned that America’s security will suffer. He called the disclosure of a program that targets foreigners’ Internet use “reprehensible,” and said the leak of another program that lets the government collect
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Does anyone from New Jersey want to run for the Senate?

For politicians, there are few more desirable career opportunities than an open seat in the U.S. Senate. But in New Jersey, where Frank Lautenberg‘s death this week created such a spot — to be filled in a special election in just four months — more officials are announcing they’re out of the race than in it. So far, Republican Steve Lonegan and Democratic U.S. Rep. Rush Holt are the only ones who have said that they are in. A couple more prominent Democrats, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, also are expected to enter the race. On
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IRS agents say supervisors directed targeting of conservatives

Two Internal Revenue Service agents working in the agency’s Cincinnati office say higher-ups in Washington directed the targeting of conservative political groups when they applied for tax-exempt status, a contention that directly contradicts claims made by the agency since the scandal erupted last month. The Cincinnati agents didn’t provide proof that senior IRS officials in Washington ordered the targeting. But one of the agents said her work processing the applications was closely supervised by a Washington lawyer in the IRS division that handles applications for tax-exempt status, according to a transcript of her interview with congressional investigators. Her interview suggests
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Misfired email revealed IRS targeting of right-wing groups

A misfired email from a U.S. Internal Revenue Service employee in Cincinnati alerted a number of Washington IRS officials that extra scrutiny was being placed on conservative groups in July 2010, a year earlier than previously acknowledged, according to interviews with IRS workers by congressional investigators. Transcripts of the interviews, reviewed by Reuters on Thursday, provided new details about Washington managers’ awareness of the heightened scrutiny applied by front-line IRS agents in Cincinnati to applications for tax-exempt status from conservative groups with words like “Tea Party” in their names. A political furor over the practice has engulfed the tax agency
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White House defends intentional invasion of American citizens’ privacy

The White House on Thursday defended the National Security Agency’s need to collect telephone records of U.S. citizens, calling such information “a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats.” While defending the practice, a senior Obama administration official did not confirm a newspaper report that the NSA has been collecting the telephone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a top secret court order. The order was granted by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25 and is good until July 19, Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported Wednesday. The order requires Verizon, one of the
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IRS officials living large at taxpayers’ expense?

Internal Revenue Service officials can expect a grilling when they face lawmakers over the latest controversy to rock the agency: lavish spending at employee conferences. The IRS, however, is planning a robust defense at a congressional hearing Thursday. The agency has already imposed strict regulations to prevent expensive conferences in the future. And on Wednesday, the new acting head of the agency placed two officials on administrative leave for accepting free food at a party in a private suite at an IRS conference in 2010. Pending a review, the two officials could lose their jobs, the agency said. “When I
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Education back in spotlight on Capitol Hill

From pre-kindergarten to No Child Left Behind, from broadband-wired schools to college loans, students in every age group are suddenly finding the spotlight on Capitol Hill. After months of relative neglect, education issues are getting the attention of lawmakers from both parties — as well as President Barack Obama — just as the school year is ending and, for many college students, the cost of education is about to go up. Interest rates on new subsidized Stafford loans are set to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent if Congress doesn’t act by July 1, but talks between Democrats and
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Rice moving from U.N. to national security advisor in latest Obama team shakeup

President Barack Obama’s top national security adviser Tom Donilon is resigning and will be replaced by U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, marking a significant shakeup to the White House foreign policy team. A White House official confirmed the personnel changes Wednesday morning ahead of a planned announcement by the president later in the day. Donilon has been a key foreign policy adviser to Obama since he first took office. But the 58-year-old had been expected to depart sometime this year, with Rice seen as the likely candidate to replace him. Rice, a close Obama confidante, came under
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Congress moving to crack down on military sexual assaults

Lawmakers outraged by sexual assaults in the military are moving swiftly to address the problem, tackling legislation that would strip commanders of their authority to overturn convictions in rape and assault cases. The House Armed Services Committee plans to consider a sweeping, $638 billion defense policy bill for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. Debate over numerous provisions on sexual assault, the war in Afghanistan, missile defense and the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is expected throughout the day Wednesday. A final panel vote is likely late into the evening. The House committee’s action comes one day after
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Rubio trying to round up support on immigration bill

Senate debate on a far-reaching immigration bill is becoming a test of Sen. Marco Rubio‘s influence over fellow Republicans, as the Florida conservative works to sell GOP lawmakers on landmark legislation that also may help determine the fate of his presidential ambitions. Rubio, a tea party favorite who’s acted as the bill’s emissary to the conservative community, has spent recent weeks meeting individually with Republican senators to discuss strengthening the legislation in ways that could get them on board. That included supporting changes sought by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who outlined a tough border security amendment Wednesday in The Dallas
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