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White House starts investigation into outing of CIA spy

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The White House began an investigation into who was responsible for mistakenly outing the top U.S. spy in Afghanistan.

Chief of Staff Denis McDonough has asked White House counsel Neil Eggleston to look into what happened and report back with recommendations on "how the administration can improve processes and make sure something like this does not happen again," according to White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.

The White House outed the CIA's top official in Afghanistan after President Obama slipped into the country on a surprise trip to visit U.S. troops.

The name of the CIA's station chief in Kabul was on a list of senior officials attending a military briefing for Obama that a White House press aide gave to the media. The aide reportedly received the list from the military.

In an interview on CNN, Tony Blinkin, the president's deputy national security adviser, declined to say whether the station chief will be forced to leave his post in Kabul or what will happen to him.

“Rest assured that the security of this person is our first priority,” he said.

Exposing the identity of a senior CIA official is a grave mistake that will complicate the agent's career for years, if not indefinitely.

White House spokesman Jay Carney has repeatedly deflected questions about whether individuals responsible for exposing the station chief's identity will be held accountable.

The disclosure appears to be the result of a simple blunder. Reporters who accompany the president on his travels routinely must serve "pool duty" — the process of chronicling the president's movements and details of his daily interactions and remarks to write up and pass along to thousands of journalists, including foreign media.

White House aides gave the journalist assigned to pool duty, the Washington Post's Scott Wilson, the list that inadvertently included the station chief's name.

After Wilson emailed his report, which included the station chief's name, to the White House press aides, they looked it over before sending it to thousands of journalists. The White House soon recognized the mistake and issued a second list that omitted the station chief's name and title.

— Susan Crabtree, White House Correspondent

 

HOUSE PANEL: JUSTICE DEPT. SECRETLY STIFLING 'OBJECTIONABLE' BUSINESSES

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has compiled a scathing report on the Department of Justice's “Operation Choke Point” program that critics believe is aimed at “targeting industries deemed objectionable” by the Obama administration.

The report, released by panel Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., accuses the Justice Department of abusing its authority by working to put the payday lending industry and other merchants out of business.

According to the report, the Justice Department “secretly” discouraged banks from conducting business with groups deemed to be “high risk” for triggering a federal investigation.

The program, according to Issa’s report, has “forced” banks such as Bank of America to end relationships with many legitimate businesses, in particular Internet payday loan companies.

The operation is being used to target a widening list of businesses that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. says are conducting "high risk" activities, the report found, and eventually could be used to stop merchants that sell firearms, credit repair services, dating services, coins, pharmaceuticals and even magazine subscriptions from obtaining financial services from banks.

The House report quoted an internal Obama administration memo in which “senior officials” acknowledged Operation Choke Point was hurting the payday loan industry but said that eliminating such businesses would be a “significant accomplishment” for consumers.

Payday loan businesses have been criticized for luring desperate borrowers with quick, high-interest loans that often leave them in perpetual debt.

The report accuses the Justice Department of acting without legal authority because only private banks and loan companies are involved and not federal institutions.

According to documents obtained by the committee, the Justice Department has “radically and inappropriately expanded its own authority” to conduct the operation.

— Susan Ferrechio, Chief Congressional Correspondent

 

FANS THROW FLAG ON REDSKINS' CAMPAIGN AIMED TO SHAME REID

A Twitter-based publicity stunt by the Washington Redskins intended to pour cold water on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's push to get the football club to drop its nickname backfired, as many fans instead tweeted agreement with the Nevada Democrat.

The team, using its official Twitter account, asked fans to tweet Reid to "show your #RedskinsPride and tell him what the team means to you." But the hashtag instead became a depository for negative comments aimed at the club and the nickname, which many — including Reid — say is offensive to American Indians.

"Lifelong 'Skins fan and I strongly believe it is time to change the name. Thx @Redskins for reminding me to tweet!," Chris Shue wrote.

Reid, who has been increasingly vocal in his opposition to the Redskins nickname, wrote NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell earlier this month to urge the league to endorse a name change for the team. The letter was signed by 49 other Senate Democrats.

Redskins President Bruce Allen shot back at Reid, saying in a letter to the senator last week that his team "is a positive, unifying force for our community in a city and region that is divided on so many levels."

Allen added that "the term Redskins originated as a Native American express of solidarity" and that the team's logo was designed by Native Americans.

— Sean Lengell, Congressional Correspondent

 

GDP SHRINKS IN FIRST QUARTER

The economy shrank in the first quarter of the year, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported.

Real gross domestic product contracted at an annual rate of 1 percent, the BEA reported in its revised estimate of economic output for the quarter. Previously, it had estimated that the economy grew 0.1 percent.

The BEA will release a third and final estimate, but Thursday's negative number is unlikely to be revised away, meaning that 2014 is off to a disappointing start, given many top government officials' hopes that the year would bring the long-awaited acceleration in growth that has been elusive after the financial crisis. Growth had sped up through the end of 2013, with the fourth quarter growing at 2.6 percent and the third quarter at 4.1 percent.

The recovery, which officially began in the second half of 2009, has stalled out once before, when it contracted by 1.3 percent in the first quarter of 2011. Growth also slowed to just 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Among top officials, Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen has blamed the "pause" in growth in the beginning of 2014 on "the unusually cold and snowy winter weather." In Senate testimony in early May, Yellen suggested that "with the harsh winter behind us, many recent indicators suggest that a rebound in spending and production is already underway, putting the overall economy on track for solid growth" — including faster growth in 2014 than in 2013.

Most government and private-sector forecasters attribute the weak first quarter to poor weather, and continue to see the economy gaining momentum throughout the rest of the year.

— Joseph Lawler, Economics Writer

 

HEALTH CARE SPENDING HIGHEST SINCE 1980

Health care spending didn't rise as dramatically as originally estimated in the first quarter of this year, according to data released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, but the revised 9.1 percent growth rate was still the highest pace since 1980, as Americans gained insurance coverage through President Obama's health care law.

Last month, in a preliminary estimate, BEA said health care spending grew 9.9 percent in the first quarter.

The pace of health care spending growth is a central issue to the nation's long-term fiscal condition, as health programs — led by Medicare and Medicaid — are the the largest components of the federal budget. When President Obama pitched his health care law, he argued it would slow the growth in health care spending. And for the past several years, Obama and supporters have credited the Affordable Care Act with reducing health care spending — a phenomenon that many economists had chalked up to the weaker economy.

— Philip Klein, Senior Writer

 

COST FOR OBAMAS' AFRICA TRIP TOPS $10 MILLION

The evolving “official” tab for the Obama family vacation to Africa in 2013 has reached $10.3 million, with the government releasing official new expense details of more than $2 million, according to a government watchdog group.

The Department of Homeland Security provided new documents detailing $2.2 million in lodging, entertainment and security costs for the first family's U.S. Secret Service entourage.

According to the documents revealed by Judicial Watch, simply providing hotel rooms for the Secret Service during the seven-day excursion cost $953,788.18. And even though they canceled a safari for the first family in Tanzania, the Secret Service spent more than $11,000 to prepare for it.

So far, the government has provided Judicial Watch with documents accounting for $10.3 million in official costs for the Africa trip, including Air Force One flight time, car rentals and some hotel fees. Missing are the costs of housing the first family and staff, costs of prepositioning armored limos and helicopters and other travel expenses.

Media reports have pegged the total bill of the June 27-July 3 trip at $60 million-$100 million. Judicial Watch has been charting the costs of presidential travel for years.

Over the president’s time in office, the group has documented official Obama trip costs at $44.4 million.

“The Obamas clearly either do not understand the value of a dollar — or understand it all too well when someone else is picking up the tab,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Keep in mind that this outrageously lavish excursion came at the very same time that the president was shutting down White House tours and blaming it on the sequester. As one congressional critic noted at the time, the White House could have 1,350 weeks of tours for the cost of the Obama family’s trip to Africa.”

The documents came as a result of Freedom of Information Act requests.

— Paul Bedard, Washington Secrets Columnist

 

REPORTS: EXPORTING CRUDE WOULD ADD JOBS, LOWER GASOLINE PRICES

Allowing crude oil to be exported would add thousands of jobs to energy-producing states, lower gasoline prices and create incentives for domestic drilling that would cut oil imports by $67 billion annually, according to a pair of new reports.

The twin reports come as the Obama administration is considering revisions to the 39-year-old federal rules that effectively ban crude oil exports. They come in response to a hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, boom that has unlocked light, sweet crude that producers say U.S. refineries aren't equipped to handle.

Doing so would spur $746 billion of investments between 2016 and 2030, adding 1.2 million barrels of oil production per day and reducing gasoline prices 8 cents per gallon annually, according to a report by economic consulting firm IHS. A separate report by ICF International, produced for the American Petroleum Institute, said 18 states each would add more than 5,000 jobs in 2020, with Texas leading with about 41,000 jobs.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, speaking at an energy conference in South Korea, cited the refinery mismatch as the reason for the assessment. Gulf Coast refineries are designed to handle heavier crude from abroad, and it's often not economical for them to take the lighter varieties coming from the Bakken shale formation in Montana and North Dakota.

Booming oil production has given rise to the fresh debate about the export ban. Oil production hit 7.4 million barrels per day last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and is projected to hit 8.4 million barrels per day this year. Currently the second-largest oil producer, the U.S. could become No. 1 by 2020, according to the International Energy Agency.

But ending the restriction would face resistance from some independent refiners that have benefited from a spike in refined petroleum product exports, and some critics say allowing exports would raise gasoline prices. Republicans, typically allies of the oil and gas industry, are split on the issue, citing concerns about energy security.

— Zack Colman, Energy and Environment Writer

 

OBAMA CALLS FOR END TO 'SUCK-IT-UP' SPORTS CULTURE

President Obama said the “suck-it-up” mantra surrounding sporting events has to stop.

“That doesn’t mean you’re weak — it means you’re strong," Obama said of athletes acknowledging concussions, while he announced new private-public funding to study head injuries in sports.

The president admitted that he likely suffered from mild concussions in his youth but kept playing anyway.

The White House summit on concussions in youth sports comes after Obama declared that if he had a son, he wouldn't want him to play professional football.

In some of the nation’s marquee sporting events, athletes are still trying to mask head injuries.

Paul George, the leading scorer for the National Basketball Association's Indiana Pacers, said recently that he should not have revealed his concussion symptoms during the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat.

“I probably should have kept that to myself,” he told reporters. “It just made a mess. That's something that, going forward, just keep that between myself and the training staff."

George played the final six minutes of Game 2 against the Heat despite a blow to the head. He was later diagnosed with a concussion.

Such thinking is what Obama and a growing number of sports leagues are attempting to combat.

However, critics fear that the concussion initiative, which is receiving tens of millions of dollars in funding, will get lost in the billions of dollars at stake in professional and youth sports.

Obama said he didn’t want to discourage children from playing sports, which has become an area of refuge for him.

"When I need to relax or clear my head,” said Obama, an avid golfer and basketball player, “I turn to sports."

— Brian Hughes, White House Correspondent

 

PEOPLE MAG REVEALS OBAMA'S SECRET LUNCH WITH HILLARY CLINTON

The White House confirmed that Hillary Clinton had a secret lunch with President Obama after People magazine tweeted about it.

"The president enjoyed an informal, private lunch with Secretary Clinton at the White House this afternoon," a White House official said.

The lunch was not on the president's schedule and only came to light because a People magazine reporter who was interviewing Hillary Clinton earlier in the day tweeted a selfie with Clinton and disclosed that she hoped she wasn't making her late for her meeting with Obama.

“PEOPLE's @sswestfall chats w/@HillaryClinton before her mtg at the WH. Hope we didn't make her late for @barackobama!

People magazine deleted the tweet for roughly an hour before posting a modified version clarifying that the meeting was a lunch.

The magazine's Twitter account has 5.54 million followers.

Roll Call's Steven Dennis, the reporter who had White House press pool duty, lodged a complaint with the White House press office about the lack of transparency and the White House's failure to disclose the lunch to the media.

— Susan Crabtree, White House Correspondent

 

OMB: 13-YEAR HIGH FOR NEW AND COSTLY FEDERAL RULES

The number of complicated federal regulations with an economic impact of $100 million or more has hit a 13-year high for the “spring” season, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

The group that tracks regulations, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said Obama has issued 376 expensive rules in his first six years compared with 287 for President George W. Bush.

“And,” said CEI's Clyde Wayne Crews Jr., “this is not even counting the 'pen and phone' rule-making happening off the books.”

OMB publishes a spring and fall “Unified Agenda of Federal Regulations” that details what's in the regulatory pipeline. The agency's latest spring report, said Crews, shows 3,348 rules, a slight increase from the fall 2013 report of 3,305.

Those dubbed “economically significant” and that will affect the economy by $100 million or more rose from the fall report’s 191 rules to 197. According to the report, 129 are active, 38 have been completed and 30 are long-term.

Regulations can have a major impact on the economy, one reason why OMB has been reviewing older rules with an eye on eliminating the least effective ones.

In his latest report on the price of regulations, Crews said that U.S. households “pay $14,974 annually in regulatory hidden tax.”

— Paul Bedard, Washington Secrets Columnist

 

OBAMA PLANS TO CUT U.S. PRESENCE IN AFGHANISTAN

President Obama plans to cut the U.S. presence in Afghanistan dramatically by the end of the year and withdraw all troops by the end of 2016.

With the combat mission in Afghanistan ending in December, Obama made clear that the U.S. is open to continued efforts after 2014 in two “narrow missions” — training Afghan forces and supporting counter-terrorism operations against al Qaeda.

"The bottom line is, it's time to turn the page on a decade of war in which so much of our foreign policy was focused on Afghanistan and Iraq," Obama said.

At the beginning of his presidency, 180,000 troops were in Afghanistan and Iraq, and by the end of this year, there will be fewer than 10,000, Obama said. Currently 32,000 servicemen are in Afghanistan.

"This new chapter in America's foreign policy" and the shift in resources will allow the U.S. to respond "more nimbly to the changing threat of terrorism" around the world, Obama said, noting that "it's harder to end wars than to begin them."

The U.S. will only sustain a military presence after 2014 if the Afghan government signs the Bilateral Security Agreement, a document designed to lay out the parameters of the countries' long-term strategic partnership after the drawdown of troops is completed.

Both Afghan presidential candidates recently reiterated their intentions to sign the agreement quickly if elected, the White House said.

If the BSA is signed, the U.S. would have 9,800 U.S. servicemen and women in different parts of the country at the beginning of 2015, with NATO allies and other partners.

By the end of 2015, the U.S. plans to reduce that presence by roughly half, consolidating U.S. troops in Kabul and on Bagram Airfield. One year later, by the end of 2016, the US. will further draw down to a normal embassy presence with a security assistance office in Kabul.

U.S. military leaders had requested that roughly 10,000 troops remain in Afghanistan after the end of the year.

Republicans on Capitol Hill said they were pleased that Obama decided to keep 9,800 troops there until the end of 2015 but criticized the announcement for detailing the U.S. exit strategy.

“I’m pleased the White House met the military’s request for forces in Afghanistan," said Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. "However, holding this mission to an arbitrary egg-timer doesn’t make a lick of sense strategically."

— Susan Crabtree, White House Correspondent

 

NEW YORK MEDIA FED UP WITH DE BLASIO'S BLOCKADE

A report published by the Associated Press voices new frustration with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio over his lack of openness.

Citing a large number of meetings and events being off-limits to the media, the AP report suggests there's a "larger trend of government officials limiting access to the media."

"In nearly five months in office," the report reads, "de Blasio barred the media from 53 events and limited access to 30 more." In the "limited access" scenario, the coverage was limited to a press pool, usually one reporter, one photographer and one TV crew, the report says.

"The press is a stand-in for the public" and so the limited press hurts de Blasio's constituency, AP said.

Kathleen Carroll, AP's executive editor, criticized attempts by public officials to shut out or limit the press and criticized de Blasio's actions saying the mayor's "most-used rubber stamp" is the one that says "closed to the press."

The events being labeled "off-limits" to the press weren't exactly top secret or matters of national security. The media were prohibited from attending a meeting between de Blasio and the NBA commissioner, as well as a meeting between de Blasio and the Russian band Pussy Riot.

— Spencer Brown, Special to the Examiner

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