Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Published:

Petraeus scandal widens to probe of top US general's 'flirtatious' emails to 2nd woman in case

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The sex scandal that felled CIA Director David Petraeus widened Tuesday to ensnare the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, in a suddenly public drama involving a Tampa socialite, a jealous rival, a twin sister in a messy custody dispute and flirty emails.

The improbable story -- by turns tragic and silly -- could have major consequences, unfolding at a critical time in the Afghan war effort and just as President Barack Obama was hoping for a smooth transition in his national security team.

Obama put a hold on the nomination of Afghan war chief Allen to become the next commander of U.S. European Command as well as the NATO supreme allied commander in Europe after investigators uncovered 20,000-plus pages of documents and emails that involved Allen and Tampa socialite Jill Kelley. Some of the material was characterized as "flirtatious."

Allen, 58, has insisted he'd done nothing wrong and worked to save his imperiled career.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has recommended to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that he keep Allen in his post as commander in Afghanistan, Dempsey's spokesman, Col. David Lapan, said Tuesday.

___

Remaking national security team is bigger challenge for Obama after scandal topples CIA chief

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Barely a week after winning re-election, President Barack Obama suddenly confronts a deepening challenge in assembling a new national security team, his task complicated by a scandal that has cost him a CIA chief and raised doubts about his Afghanistan war commander.

Hard questions from Congress, potentially bitter confirmation hearings and a scandal of infidelity and inappropriate emails are suddenly shaping the fight ahead. The White House portrayed a president focused on the economy and confident in his military and intelligence leadership, but clearly not thrilled.

When asked if the personnel troubles were an unwelcome distraction, presidential spokesman Jay Carney said: "I certainly wouldn't call it welcome."

Obama was already expecting to have to replace his chief diplomat, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and perhaps his defense secretary, Leon Panetta. Those two alone -- plus Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who is also leaving -- help shape Obama's thinking and represent him before the world.

Now Obama is without his CIA director, David Petraeus, the once acclaimed military general in Iraq and Afghanistan who resigned in disgrace last week over an extramarital affair.

___

10 Things to Know for Wednesday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and stories that will be talked about Wednesday:

1. OBAMA'S SECOND TERM OFF TO A BUMPY START

The scandal ensnaring two U.S. generals is unfolding at a critical time in the Afghan war -- and just as the White House was hoping for a smooth transition.

___

Fiscal cliff? Drive over it, some Democrats say, and then force GOP to deal with weaker hand

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Some Democrats are pushing an unorthodox idea for coping with the "fiscal cliff": Let the government go over, temporarily at least, to give their party more bargaining leverage for changes later on.

The idea has plenty of skeptics, and the White House regards it frostily. But it illustrates the wide range of early negotiating positions being staked out by Republicans and Democrats as lawmakers gathered Tuesday for their first postelection talks on how to avoid the looming package of steep tax hikes and program cuts.

Just as brazen, in the eyes of many Democrats, is the GOP leaders' continued insistence on protecting tax cuts for the rich. President Barack Obama just won re-election, campaigning on a vow to end those breaks.

Democrats and Republicans appear heading toward another round of brinkmanship that will test who blinks first on questions of major importance. It's a dance that has infuriated many Americans, shaken financial markets and drawn ridicule from foreign commentators.

In late 2010, after big GOP midterm election wins, Obama backed off his pledge to raise taxes on the rich. In the summer of 2011, House Republicans pushed Congress within a hair of refusing to raise the debt ceiling, leading to the first-ever downgrade of the government's credit rating. And last December, it was the Republicans' turn to blink, yielding to Obama's demand to extend a payroll tax break.

___

France 1st in West to recognize new opposition group as sole representative of Syrian people

BEIRUT (AP) -- France on Tuesday became the first Western country to formally recognize Syria's newly formed opposition coalition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

The U.S. also recognized the leadership body announced in Qatar on Sunday as a legitimate representative, but stopped short of describing it as a sole representative, saying the group must first demonstrate its ability to represent Syrians inside the country.

"We look forward to supporting the national coalition as it charts a course for the end of Assad's bloody rule, and marks the start, we believe, of a peaceful just and democratic future for the people of Syria," said U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner in Washington.

Under intense international pressure to form an opposition that includes representatives from the country's disparate factions fighting to topple President Bashar Assad, the anti-government groups struck a deal Sunday in Doha, Qatar, to form a coalition headed by former Muslim preacher Mouaz al-Khatib.

The coalition includes representatives from the main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, which was harshly criticized by many, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, for being cut off from rebels fighting the war on the ground and for failing to forge a cohesive and more representative leadership.

___

After storm, NYC police officers, firefighters leave work to find recovery chaos back home

NEW YORK (AP) -- When Sandy's storm surge plowed into the seaside neighborhood of Breezy Point, New York City police Officer and volunteer firefighter Tim O'Brien was part of the small band of first responders who kept the flood from becoming a slaughter.

As the tide lifted beach homes off their foundations and started a terrifying fire that devoured more than 100 buildings, he was among the rescuers who tried to contain the inferno and hauled boats through the streets to carry residents to higher ground. Dozens of people were literally dragged to safety clinging to the sides of fire trucks.

Only when it was over did he have a chance to tally his personal losses. His own apartment house in the Rockaways had been severely damaged in the flood. His parents' home was inundated, too. So was his mother-in-law's.

"It's heartbreaking," he said. "We all grew up down here."

Superstorm Sandy devastated people of every walk of life, but it has upended things in a unique way for first responders. Many are spending their working hours helping a battered city get back on its feet, only to return home to find destruction as bad as any in the city.

___

Attorneys wrap up preliminary hearing in case of US soldier accused of Afghanistan massacre

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. (AP) -- Army prosecutors on Tuesday asked an investigative officer to recommend a death penalty court-martial for a staff sergeant accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers in a predawn rampage, saying that Staff Sgt. Robert Bales committed "heinous and despicable crimes."

Prosecutors made their closing arguments after a week of testimony in the preliminary hearing. Prosecutors say Bales, 39, slipped away from his remote base at Camp Belambay in southern Afghanistan to attack two villages early on March 11. Among the dead were nine children.

The slayings drew such angry protests that the U.S. temporarily halted combat operations in Afghanistan, and it was three weeks before American investigators could reach the crime scenes.

"Terrible, terrible things happened," said prosecutor Maj. Rob Stelle. "That is clear."

Stelle cited statements Bales made after he was apprehended, saying that they demonstrated "a clear memory of what he had done, and consciousness of wrong-doing."

___

Sandy, 'fiscal cliff' and election revive global warming talk; even carbon tax reconsidered

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Climate change is suddenly a hot topic again. The issue is resurfacing in talks about a once radical idea: a possible carbon tax.

On Tuesday, a conservative think tank held discussions about it while a more liberal think tank released a paper on it. And the Congressional Budget Office issued a 19-page report on the different ways to make a carbon tax less burdensome on lower income people.

A carbon tax works by making people pay more for using fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas that produce heat-trapping carbon dioxide.

The idea was considered so radical that in 2009, when President Barack Obama tried to pass a bill on global warming, that he instead opted for the more moderate approach of capping power plant emissions and trading credits that allowed utilities to pollute more. That idea, after passing the House, stalled in the Senate in 2010 and has been considered dead since.

Even so, the Obama administration has no plans to push for a carbon tax now, said a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity because there are no discussions about the issue.

___

Man who accused Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash of having sex with him as a teen boy recants

NEW YORK (AP) -- A man who accused Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash of having sex with him when he was a teenage boy has recanted his story.

In a quick turnabout, the man on Tuesday described his sexual relationship with Clash as adult and consensual.

Clash responded with a statement of his own, saying he is "relieved that this painful allegation has been put to rest." He had no further comment.

The man, who has not identified himself, released his statement through the Harrisburg, Pa., law firm Andreozzi & Associates.

Sesame Workshop, which produces "Sesame Street" in New York, soon followed by saying, "We are happy that Kevin can move on from this unfortunate episode."

___

Person familiar with deal says Marlins trade Reyes, Buehrle, Johnson to Blue Jays

MIAMI (AP) -- The Miami Marlins' spending spree a year ago didn't work, so now they're trying another payroll purge -- shedding their biggest stars and their multimillion-dollar salaries in one blockbuster deal.

Rebranded in a new ballpark at the start of 2012, the Marlins were up to their old ways Tuesday, swapping high-priced talent for top prospects. Miami traded All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes, left-hander Mark Buehrle and ace right-hander Josh Johnson to the Toronto Blue Jays, a person familiar with the agreement said.

The person confirmed the trade to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the teams weren't officially commenting. The person said the trade sent several of the Blue Jays' best young players to Miami.

The stunning agreement came less than a year after the Marlins added Reyes, Buehrle and closer Heath Bell in an uncharacteristic $191 million spending binge as they moved into a new ballpark. The acquisitions raised high hopes, but the Marlins instead finished last in the NL East.

The latest paring of salary actually began in July, when the Marlins parted with former NL batting champion Hanley Ramirez, second baseman Omar Infante and right-hander Anibal Sanchez, among others. Bell, the team's high-profile bust, was traded to Arizona last month.