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Entries in Congress (39)

Wednesday
Nov142012

Petraeus Will Testify Behind Closed Doors on Benghazi

KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Former CIA Director David Petraeus has agreed to testify at a closed-door session of Congress to answer questions about September's terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya.  Still, he will likely also be asked about new revelations that his alleged mistress, Paula Broadwell, is suspected of storing classified military material at her home.

Petraeus had been reluctant to testify following his resignation as CIA chief, but pressure had been growing in Congress for him to appear.

The former general has agreed, sources told ABC News, to testify on Thursday.

A source familiar with the case also told ABC News that Broadwell admitted to the FBI that she took documents from secure government buildings.  The government demanded that they all be given back, and when federal agents descended on her North Carolina home Monday night, it was a pre-arranged meeting.

Prosecutors are now determining whether to charge Broadwell with a crime.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Sep142012

Congress Takes Aim at Phony Vets in New Stolen Valor Act

Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. government got a step closer to punishing those who lie about military service for profit when the House of Representatives passed a revamped version of the Stolen Valor Act Thursday.

The legislation, which will go on to a similar vote in the Senate, would make it illegal for anyone to "knowingly" misrepresent their service "with the intent to obtain anything of value." Under the Stolen Valor Act of 2011, offenders would be subject to fines and short prison sentences, some of which can be lengthened if the guilty party lied about serving in a combat zone, serving with a special operations contingent or winning the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor.

The new act was introduced after the U.S. 9th Circuit Court struck down a previous version of the law, calling it unconstitutional.  That version was broader and criminalized the act of telling a lie about military honors or wearing unearned military awards, regardless of whether it was for profit.

The case moved up to the U.S. Supreme Court after an appeal, and the nation's highest court agreed with the 9th Circuit Court's decision -- that the law, as written, was a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.  Basically, it violated the right to lie.

"The Act by its plain terms applies to a false statement made at any time, in any place, to any person," Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his written opinion in June.  "… [T]he sweeping, quite unprecedented reach of the statute puts it in conflict with the First Amendment... Permitting the government to decree this speech to be a criminal offense, whether shouted from the rooftops or made in a barely audible whisper, would endorse government authority to compile a list of subjects about which false statements are punishable."

The new law is designed to assuage those concerns and specifically targets people who intend to profit from their lies, making the act more akin to fraud.

"Our service men and women who have been decorated -- some of them posthumously -- for their exemplary service and heroic sacrifice defending our nation and the freedoms we enjoy as Americans deserve the valor they displayed to be defended against those who would seek to benefit from lying about military decorations," said Rep. Joe Heck (R.-Nevada), who introduced the new bill.  "The Stolen Valor Act of 2011 achieves this objective while ensuring we protect the constitutional liberties for which they fought."

The cases of military fakers spans across the country and, as a result, a small cadre of real veterans have donated their time to tracking down and publicly shaming the so-called phonies.

"It's not the barroom loudmouth that anyone is interested in," Don Shipley, a former SEAL who has been given unique access to the SEAL personnel database so he can root out Navy special warfare fakers, told ABC News in February.  "People tend to believe what they're told, they use that... They do an awful lot of damage."

Doug Sterner, also a veteran and a private watchdog who tracks military phonies, told ABC News after the Supreme Court decision that he put his hope in the new version of the bill.

"I've lost at things before. I pick myself up and I keep going because that's what we as soldiers [do] -- and I'm an old soldier... We don't dwell on our losses, but we keep fighting to get a victory," Sterner said on Friday.

In July, the White House announced its own strategy to hit back against military imposters: a website that tracks the names of actual medal winners from across the services.

"It may no longer be a crime for con artists to pass themselves off as heroes, but one thing is certain -- it is contemptible," President Obama said in an announcement after the Supreme Court decision.  "So this week, we will launch a new website, a living memorial, so the American people can see who's been awarded our nation's highest honors.  Because no American hero should ever have their valor stolen."

Regardless of whether the new bill is eventually signed into law, Shipley said he and others like him won't stop going after those he says dishonor his brothers in arms.

"It really doesn't matter in the long run," he said.  "We'll come back at them again and again."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Aug022012

Activists Demand Open Hearing on Air Force Sexual Assaults

U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ken Wright(WASHINGTON) -- Survivors of sexual assault in the military delivered a petition with more than 10,000 signatures to Congress Thursday demanding an open hearing on the sexual abuse scandal at Lackland Air Force base just minutes before the House Armed Services Committee began a closed-door briefing on Lackland.

More than 30 female trainees say they were raped or sexually assaulted by their instructors at Lackland, the Air Force recruiting center in San Antonio, Texas. Twelve different instructors are under investigation for their conduct, including Staff Sgt. Luis Walker, who was convicted of rape and sexual assault and sentenced to 20 years in prison on July 20.

Thursday morning, the House Armed Services Committee held a closed door briefing with Air Force Secretary Michael Donley about the ongoing investigations into the sexual assaults at Lackland Air Force Base. Right before it started, the sexual assault survivors, including the whistleblower who exposed the Navy's Tailhook scandal in 1991, delivered their petition demanding an open hearing to the office of Committee Chairman Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R.-Calif.

One of the victims, Air Force veteran Jennifer Norris, said she had been scared to speak up because she was afraid she would "lose her career." "And eventually I did," said Norris. "I was labeled a troublemaker. In a sense I was fired for being raped."

Tailhook whistleblower Paula Coughlin-Puopolo started the online petition demanding an open hearing last month. Coughlin-Puopolo was a Navy lieutenant in 1991 when she says she was forced to run a gauntlet and assaulted at the Tailhook conference, a meeting of a naval aviators group at the Las Vegas Hilton. According to a Defense Department report, three women and seven men alleged they had been harassed or assaulted during the conference.

Coughlin-Puopolo said Thursday she had joined other assault victims with hopes of discovering the "scope of the problem."

"With these signatures and the support of all of the military it's a possibility that we can actually discover the scope of the problem, turn the lights on to a culture the military does not want to see the problem; and that's why this petition is very specific to asking for an open door hearing," said Coughlin-Puopolo.

In addition to the 10,000-plus signatures, 78 members of Congress have also called on Rep. McKeon to open a Lackland hearing. That Thursday's proceedings were closed came as a surprise to at least one member of the House. "It's a closed briefing?" asked Rep. Allen West, R.-Fla., who was trying to bring two guests. "I did not know that."

According to a press release from Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group for survivors of sexual assault in the military, last year there were an estimated 19,000 military rapes and sexual assaults, but only 3,200 victims reported the attacks and out of those only 191 cases resulted in court martial conviction.

In a statement by the Armed Services Committee, Rep. McKeon and Ranking Member Rep. Adam Smith, D.-Wash., stated they understood the concerns the closed briefing had generated, but are "committed to making sure that sexual offenders are prosecuted and victim's rights are protected."

"In sensitive cases such as these, open hearings can jeopardize ongoing prosecutions and investigations. This is another step in our long-standing oversight of this issue. It is by no means the final step," the statement read.

Meanwhile, on the Senate side of the Hill, Sen. John Cornyn, R.-Texas, has removed the "hold" he had on the nomination of Gen. Mark Welsh to be Chief of Staff of the Air Force after meeting with him Thursday.

Cornyn had previously blocked Gen. Welsh, saying his hold would "remain until I feel the Air Force is adequately addressing the unacceptable situation at Lackland and taking corrective steps to reform their training program to prevent this from happening again."

Following Thursday's meeting, Sen. Cornyn said, "It's clear Gen. Welsh shares my grave concerns over the situation at Lackland. Gen. Welsh demonstrated a genuine resolve to improve Air Force-wide policies to prevent a recurrence of the grossly unacceptable conduct that took place at Lackland."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jul262012

Police, Gun Control Advocates Push Washington for Action

David De Lossy/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Police and gun control advocates Thursday sounded a louder call for politicians to take a stand against gun violence -- despite Congress’ lack of political will to touch the issue, or the White House’s affirmation that President Obama had no plans to put new gun laws on the books.

“We have refused to accept silence from the candidates for the highest office in our land,” Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told reporters Thursday at the National Press Club.

“The American people have shown overwhelmingly that they are ready to have a real conversation about how to prevent gun violence, and we are demanding the same from our elected representatives: Not to play politics but to lead.”

The nation’s largest anti-gun violence group, the Brady Campaign, was founded by President  Reagan’s press secretary, Jim Brady, who was confined to a wheelchair after he took a bullet to the head in the Reagan assassination attempt in 1981.

The group supports broadening the Brady Law, enacted in 1994, which requires federally licensed firearms dealers to run background checks on would-be buyers to weed out felons, drug addicts or others who might prove dangerous. But Thursday, the group put policy on hold and instead urged Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney to take the lead in discussing ways to end gun violence, whatever they might be.

“It is time for all of us to come together -- Republicans, Democrats, blue states, red states, people who own guns and people who don’t -- to have a meaningful national conversation about what we can do about it,” Gross said. “I think it’s shameful that our political leaders would play politics when there are lives that can be saved.”

More than 30 people die of gun-related violence every day in the U.S., according to the Brady Campaign. If that number holds steady, 48,000 Americans will be victims of gun violence during the next presidential term.

“We truly believe, as a nation, we are better than this,” Gross said.

Less than a week after a movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo., left 12 dead and 58 injured, a national group of police associations also took to Washington, D.C., to drum up support for more gun control measures.

The National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, a group of nine national police associations, Thursday echoed its demands for background checks on all firearms purchasers.

“America, we are not doing enough to keep guns out of the wrong hands,” said James Johnson, Baltimore county chief of police and incoming chairman of the partnership. “We are long past the point of saying ‘enough is enough.’ The mantra has grown old. It’s time to take action to keep firearms from dangerous people.”

The Brady Law applies only to federally licensed gun dealers -- which accounts for 60 percent of all U.S. firearm transactions, according to the partnership. People who buy assault-style guns or high-capacity ammunition online, or through a classified ad, for example, might not be subject to those background checks.

Aurora shooting suspect James Holmes did pass background checks to purchase his guns legally, partnership president Hubert Williams acknowledged. But broadening the law would help close a “gaping hole” that illegal buyers can still exploit, he said.

“We’re not asking for new laws. We’re asking for existing laws to be enforced on all people that are purchasing these weapons,” Williams said. “We’re just saying that the law has a loophole in it that needs to be plugged.”

Gross, of the Brady Campaign, said it’s important for politicians to talk about gun control -- but just paying lip service isn’t enough.

“A speech is not a plan. An endorsement of a measure is not a solution,” he said. “We want a plan with solutions.”

Second Amendment advocates point to data stating the vast majority of firearms used in crimes are not legally purchased, and, most notably, criminals don't follow gun laws of any kind.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jun272012

Congress to Honor Montford Point Marines with Gold Medal

John Foxx/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Throughout the years, the Montford Point Marines received little recognition and few accolades for their contribution to U.S. history.

More than 19,000 black Marines trained at Montford Point Camp, a facility set up exclusively for blacks during World War II after President Franklin Roosevelt desegregated the Marine Corps.  About 13,000 of them served overseas during the war.

Over the years, the vast majority of the men have passed away.  Those who survived have grown old and gray.

On Wednesday, 63 years after the camp where they trained closed its doors, 368 surviving Montford Point Marines will finally be recognized by Congress with the nation’s highest civilian honor, the congressional gold medal.

“It’s a long time coming,” retired Sgt. Ruben McNair, 86, told ABC News last fall when he visited the Capitol to watch the House vote on the gold medal resolution.  “Something you look forward to, wonder if you are going to make to live long enough to see it.”

William McDowell, representative of the Montford Point Marines, will accept the medal on behalf of all the honorees during the ceremony.  The top congressional leaders from both parties are all scheduled to deliver remarks at the Capitol ceremony.

The Montford Point Marines will also be the guests of honor at a parade hosted by the Commandant of the Marine Corps at the Washington Marine Barracks on Thursday morning.

Just one congressional gold medal was struck at the U.S. Mint, a common practice when a group is honored.  Sources say that medal will remain at the U.S. Mint until its final location is chosen, although each Montford Marine will receive a bronze replica medal at the parade on Thursday.

Rep. Corrine Brown, the lead sponsor of the gold medal resolution passed by Congress last October, said that Wednesday’s ceremony “will go a long way towards correcting this past injustice, as this Gold Medal will forever anchor their role in the history of our nation’s great military.”

“Certainly, it is necessary to honor all of America’s war heroes’ selfless service and sacrifice, and in particular, those who served at Montford Point,” Brown, D-Fla., wrote in a statement.  ”They answered our nation’s call at a time when our society was deeply divided along racial lines.  As such, many of their contributions went unrecognized and many times they were not given the respect and recognition they deserved as Marines, as Americans, and as patriots.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
May152012

Roger Clemens' Former Trainer Faces Grilling by Defense

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Roger Clemens' former strength coach will take the stand again on Tuesday in the government's perjury trial against the former major league pitcher.

Clemens is accused of lying to Congress in 2008 about his use of performance enhancing drugs.  The seven-time Cy Young Award winner was indicted in August 2010 on six counts of obstruction of Congress, perjury and false statements.

During his first day of testimony, Brian McNamee contradicted what Clemens told Congress, detailing to jurors the first time he injected the pitcher with steroids in the spring of 1998.

“Roger pulled down his pants, exposing his right buttocks," McNamee told the Washington, D.C., courtroom on Monday.  "He bent his leg and started to flex his butt and said, ‘I'm ready.  Just make sure there's no air bubbles in it, right?’”

“I injected him and plunged the fluid into his buttocks,” McNamee said.  “It looked like it was a clean strike.”

The trainer went on to say that he injected Clemens eight to 10 more times that season.

On Tuesday, McNamee will continue his testimony, and will likely be due for an intense grilling when it comes time for cross-examination.

The lead defense attorney intends to portray the former strength coach as a liar -- an alcohol abuser who betrayed his boss for money and fame, and to escape criminal charges.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
May142012

Roger Clemens' Trainer to Testify at Former Pitcher's Trial

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The government's key witness in its trial against former major league pitcher Roger Clemens, who's accused of lying to Congress about his use of performance enhancing drugs, will testify Monday in a Washington, D.C. courtroom.

Clemens' former trainer Brian McNamee is expected to take the stand and say he injected the seven-time Cy Young Award winner with  steroids and human growth hormones.  McNamee saved the bloody gauze pads and needles he claims to have used on the pitcher.

Clemens has stated that the injections he received from McNamee were vitamin b12 and lidocaine.

Prosecutors intend to use McNamee's testimony and the evidence to prove Clemens lied to Congress.

The former pitcher was indicted in August 2010 on charges of obstruction of Congress, perjury and false statements.  He is accused of making the false statements to congressional investigators in a Feb. 5, 2008 deposition.  The perjury charges, meanwhile, arose from his Feb. 13, 2008, testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Clemens insists he did not lie under oath.  His lawyers say McNamee is a liar and his evidence is tainted.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar282012

Lawmaker Cut Off for Wearing Hoodie on House Floor

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Illinois Democrat Bobby Rush took to the House floor Wednesday to make a statement about the killing of Florida teen Trayvon Martin, wearing a hoodie in defiance of the dress code on the House floor.

Rush, a 10-term lawmaker from Chicago, began his remarks concealing a grey hoodie beneath a suit jacket.

“The death of Trayvron Martin is indeed an American tragedy,” he began. “Too often this violent act that resulted in the murder of Trayvon Martin is repeated in the streets of our nation.”

Rush said he applauded “the young people all across the land who are making a statement about hoodies, about the real hoodlums in this nation, particularly those who tread on our laws wearing official or quasi-official clothes.”

Rush then took off his jacket and said, “Racial profiling has to stop, Mr. Speaker.”

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“Just because someone wears a hoodie,” he said as he pulled the hood over his head, “does not make them a hoodlum.”

At this point, the Speaker pro tempore, Rep. Gregg Harper, slammed the gavel in an attempt to break Rush’s speech and warn him about breaking the dress code.

“The Bible teaches us, Mr. Speaker,…” Rush said, as he was cut off repeatedly by Harper. Still, he continued to recite scripture through Harper’s instructions and banging of the gavel.

“‘The spirit of the lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor,’” Rush preached, quoting Luke 4:18. “‘He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and to recover sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free.’ I urge all who hear these words to heed these lessons. May God bless Trayvon Martin’s soul, his family, –”

At this point, Rush’s microphone was cut off and he finally left the well of the chamber. Harper then warned members against breaking the dress code.

“The chair will ask the Sergeant at Arms to enforce the prohibition on décor,” Harper announced. “The chair must remind members that clause 5 of rule 17 prohibits the wearing of hats in the chamber when the House is in session. The chair finds that the donning of a hood is not consistent with this rule. Members need to remove their hoods or leave the floor.”

Martin’s parents visited Capitol Hill Tuesday to participate in a forum organized by House Judiciary Democrats on racial profiling and hate crimes. Rush, a former member of the Black Panthers during the late 1960s and early 1970s, also attended the briefing.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Mar232012

Hoodies on the Hill: Congressional Staffers Rally for Trayvon Martin

Photodisc/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A large group of Capitol Hill staffers gathered Friday on the U.S. Capitol steps to rally in support of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old unarmed boy gunned down in Sanford, Fla. last month.

About 250-300 aides rallied Friday afternoon in support of “Hoodies on the Hill.” Participants were encouraged to wear hooded sweatshirts and to bring Skittles candy and iced tea, the two items Martin was carrying when he was killed by a 28-year-old man as he walked back to his father’s girlfriend’s House.

“We have a mandate to ensure that young boys like Trayvon live their lives and that they’re successful and that they have the opportunity we have today,” said Brandon Andrews, a congressional staffer who said he was representing African American men on the Hill.

Senate Chaplain Barry Black, a black retired commander in the Navy, led the group in prayer, invoking Martin Luther King, Jr. and telling the crowd of his own experiences with racial stereotyping.

The organizer of the rally, Ify Ike, said she posted ‘Hoodies on the Hill’ as her Gchat status Thursday and had encouragement from a friend to make her vision happen.

“Basically we just worked together to get other groups to galvanize and to stand for life,” Ike, who works as a fellow at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, said. “Regardless of what side of the aisle we stand on, we all are here today to say that we do respect life. Trayvon did matter. Trayvon was a good kid. Trayvon’s hoodie was not what made him suspicious. Trayvon’s skin should not have made him suspicious.”

One man sang Sam Cooke’s 1964 civil rights song A Change is Gonna Come before the crowd then joined together and sang We Shall Overcome.

Earlier Friday, President Obama made his first public comments on the shooting, calling for “some soul searching” and suggesting that if he had a son, “he’d look like Trayvon.”

“It took some courage for the president to talk on the issue, shows the national significance of it,” Jerron Smith, a congressional aide from Cleveland, Ohio, said at the rally. “It was just important that he made comments supporting the family and I think everybody should ask for justice and peace in this situation.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Feb282012

Congress Honors Slave Labor That Built Capitol

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Capitol Tuesday added a physical acknowledgment of the role slave labor played in the construction of the building.

Leaders from both parties and both houses of Congress unveiled a commemorative marker in the Capitol Visitors Center to pay tribute to those who put the building up.

The marker features a single block of sandstone, once part of the Capitol’s East Front portico, placed in reverse position so that the original chisel marks, done by those who built the building, are clearly visible.

The construction of the Capitol relied heavily on slave labor. “Through the unveiling of this marker today, we finally permit countless and nameless souls to rest,” Rep. John Lewis said at the ceremony Tuesday afternoon. “We honor the work, the dedication, the artistry, the imagination and the contribution of men and women in chains who help us, even at this hour, to sanctify the U.S. Capitol as our ‘Temple of Liberty.’”

“The history of the capitol, like the history of our nation, should be complete,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said, “because we have always aspired to something better that work may never be complete. But as long as we remain true to our purpose as a nation, liberty and dedicated to the provocation that all men are created equal, we will continue as it must.”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said that the marker is a memorial to the “tragedy and sin” of slavery.

“For too long, the sacrifice of men and women who built this temple of democracy were overlooked; their toil forgotten; their story ignored or denied; and their voices silenced in the pages of history,” Pelosi said. “Yet today, we join together to strive to right this wrong of our past, to honor the sacrifice of these laborers, to lay down a marker of gratitude and respect for those who built the walls of the Capitol.”

The bicameral, bipartisan leadership collectively pulled a rope to unveil the large new marker.

“These laborers went unrecognized for generations,” Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, said, “and all those honored by this marker have done our Capitol and our country a great service.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







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