The majority of seats on a new committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi attacks will be held by Republicans, a congressional aide said on Tuesday, despite Democrats' insistence that the panel must be evenly divided in order to conduct a nonpartisan investigation. A senior House of Representatives leadership aide told Reuters that the new House Select Committee will include seven Republicans and five Democrats. But Republicans control a majority - 233 - of the 435 seats in the House, and thus would typically have more members on a House panel. Republicans have led the charge to investigate the administration's handling of the assaults on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, which killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans on September 11, 2012.
The White House was briefly put on lockdown Tuesday after a car trailed an official motorcade past a perimeter barrier. The Secret Service, which is in charge of the president's security, said an unauthorized driver followed an authorized motorcade past a security barrier at 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, about 200 meters from the White House.
By Steve Holland and Patricia Zengerle WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Benghazi is back. The controversy over the deadly 2012 attack in the Libyan city has resurfaced with Republicans accusing the White House of creating a political smokescreen in the aftermath of Benghazi to protect President Barack Obama's re-election. Republicans hope to gain election-year traction on the issue, but could face a voter backlash if they push it too hard. Until a 2012 email on Benghazi from top Obama foreign policy aide Ben Rhodes surfaced last week, the events surrounding the attacks on a U.S. compound in Benghazi had largely faded from media attention.
The United States on Tuesday warned China that a decision to move a deep-sea oil rig into disputed waters in the South China Sea was a "provocative" step which it was monitoring closely. "We're looking carefully into this matter," State Department deputy spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. "Given the recent history of tensions in the South China Sea, China's decision to operate its oil rig in disputed waters is provocative and unhelpful to the maintenance of peace and stability in the region." Vietnam has labeled China's decision "illegal" and demanded the rig be withdrawn.
The United States has raised concerns with Brunei about a new penal code introduced by the sultan which would include Islamic sharia law penalties such as stoning to death, US officials said Tuesday. But the State Department is not following a growing boycott of a luxury hotel chain linked to all-powerful Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. "Our ambassador has relayed our concerns privately to the government of Brunei," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. "It's our understanding that the boycott specifically targets the Dorchester Collection of hotels which issued a statement that it does not tolerate any forms of discrimination of any kind," Psaki said.
US President Barack Obama branded the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria by suspected Boko Haram Islamists "heartbreaking" and "outrageous" and called for an international response. This week, Boko Haram chief Abubakar Shekau claimed responsibility, saying his extreme Islamist group was holding the schoolgirls as "slaves" and threatening to "sell them in the market", in a video obtained by AFP. "It's a heartbreaking situation, outrageous situation," Obama said in an interview with US broadcaster ABC on Tuesday. Obama confirmed that Nigeria had accepted a US offer to send a team of experts to help find the missing girls, saying "we’ve already sent in a team to Nigeria," consisting of "military, law enforcement, and other agencies."
Sixteen major US news organizations came together Tuesday to accuse the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of curtailing freedom of the press by restricting the use of drones. In a brief to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the news organizations -- including The New York Times and The Washington Post -- argued that drones are a First Amendment concern. The brief was filed in the context of the dismissal by an NTSB administrative judge in March of a $10,000 civil penalty that the FAA slapped on European drone entrepreneur Raphael Pirker for a promotional video he made in 2011 over the campus of the University of Virginia. Other news organizations that co-signed the brief include the Associated Press news agency, the Gannett, Hearst, McClatchy and Tribune newspaper groups, and Advance Publications, owner of the New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Vogue magazines.
By Brett Wolf and Emily Flitter ST LOUIS/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Senator Chuck Grassley is taking steps to make sure federal authorities are probing hiring practices of the Treasury Department's anti-money laundering arm, FinCEN, after the division was caught illegally screening job candidates. Grassley, an Iowa Republican and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he planned to reach out to the Office of the Inspector General, which oversees Treasury's operations, to see if it will proceed with an investigation recommended by an independent agency, the Office of Personnel Management. During a routine audit earlier this year, OPM discovered that the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network had been screening candidates for jobs in its enforcement division in a quest to hire only lawyers for the positions, according to several sources familiar with the matter. "The investigations should cover whether Treasury officials, in fact, knew about FinCEN's practices and didn't do anything, and if so, why not," he added.
The United States on Tuesday unveiled its first sanctions against the world's newest nation, South Sudan, targeting military leaders from both sides of the four-month civil conflict. The two men, one from government forces and one from the rebels, were "responsible for perpetrating unthinkable violence against civilians," US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters. The move against Marial Chanuong, also known as Marial Chinoum, a commander of the South Sudanese presidential forces, and Peter Gadet, a leader of the anti-government forces, comes only days after Kerry visited Juba and called for both sides to lay down their arms.
The United States will send a team of military and police experts to Nigeria to help find more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls, amid a growing wave of outrage over their abduction. US Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday he had made the offer in a phone call to Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan, which the Nigerian leader accepted. Washington has also offered to set up a coordination cell at its embassy in Abuja with US military personnel, law enforcement officials as well as experts in hostage situations. "President Goodluck Jonathan was very happy to receive this offer and ready to move on it immediately," Kerry told reporters, after talks with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
The United States on Tuesday denounced moves by pro-Russian separatist groups in eastern Ukraine to organize what it called a "bogus" referendum. US Secretary of State John Kerry slammed the efforts to organize a referendum on May 11 in the eastern cities of Donetsk and Luhansk as "contrived." "We flatly reject this illegal effort to further divide Ukraine. And its pursuit will create even more problems in the effort to try to de-escalate the situation," he told reporters, after meeting with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
President Barack Obama is expected to meet Syrian opposition leader Ahmad Jarba during his visit to the United States this week, a senior US official told AFP Tuesday. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said "we expect that the president will meet" Jarba during his visit. He did not give further details on the likely timing of the meeting, with Obama scheduled to travel outside Washington to Arkansas and California between Wednesday and Friday. Jarba's office last week said he would head to the United States for an eight-day visit from May 7, seeking sophisticated weapons for rebels battling the ruling regime.
The United States on Tuesday denounced moves by pro-Russian separatist groups in eastern Ukraine to organize what it called a "bogus" referendum. Comparing Sunday's plebiscite to an earlier vote that preceded Moscow's annexation of Crimea, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: "This is the Crimea play-book all over again." "The United States notes with concern efforts by pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk to organize a bogus independence referendum ," Psaki told reporters. Kiev and its Western backers see Moscow's main aims as making sure the planned "referendum" goes ahead, while sabotaging nationwide presidential election due to be held two weeks later.
Newly proposed rules for highly skilled immigrants to the United States, including a provision to allow their spouses to work, are aimed at making it easier to keep those talented science, technology and engineering workers in the country, officials said on Tuesday. "These individuals are American families in waiting," Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said.