---- — Investigator says he told top Treasury officials of IRS probe
WASHINGTON — Senior Treasury officials were made aware in June 2012 that investigators were looking into complaints from tea party groups that they were being harassed by the Internal Revenue Service, a Treasury inspector general said Friday, disclosing that Obama administration officials knew there was a probe during the heat of the presidential campaign.
J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, testified alongside ousted IRS head Steven Miller, who did little to subdue Republican outrage during hours of intense congressional questioning. Both defiant and apologetic, Miller acknowledged agency mistakes in targeting tea party groups for special scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status, but he insisted that agents broke no laws and that there was no effort to cover up their actions.
Miller only stoked the criticism of many Republicans, who are assailing the administration on a sudden spate of other controversies, as well, even as some Democrats tried to contain the political damage.
“I don’t know that I got any answers from you today,” Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., told Miller. “I am more concerned today than I was before.”
At one point in the day’s hearing, Treasury IG George said he had told the department’s general counsel about his investigation on June 4, 2012, and Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin “shortly thereafter.” But, George cautioned, those discussions were “not to inform them of the results of the audit. It was to inform them of the fact that we were conducting the audit.”
House GOP raps Dems for taking IRS union cash
WASHINGTON — Seeking maximum political gain from the string of controversies swirling around the White House, Republicans are on the attack against Democratic lawmakers who accepted donations from the union that represents Internal Revenue Service employees.
But here’s the rub: About a dozen current and former Republican lawmakers took the same cash.
Among them is Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a GOP establishment favorite running to claim a Democratic-held Senate seat next year in West Virginia. Capito took $2,000 from the union last September, Federal Election Commission records show.
On Facebook and search engine StumbleUpon, House Republicans are running paid ads blasting Democrats for feigning “faux outrage” over the IRS scandal, in which the agency apologized for unfairly targeting tea party groups, while furtively holding on to donations from the agency. They’re calling on Democrats to give the cash back.
“Scandal widens,” the National Republican Congressional Committee’s policy director, Jordan Davis, wrote on Facebook.
Military to recertify all who have roles in prevention programs
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Friday ordered the military to recertify all 25,000 people involved in programs designed to prevent and respond to sexual assault, an acknowledgement that assaults have escalated beyond the Pentagon’s control.
He said this step, which also applies to the military’s approximately 19,000 recruiters and must be completed by July 1, is one among many that will be taken to fix the problem of sexual abuse and sexual harassment within every branch of the military.
At a news conference with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Hagel said he believes alcohol use is “a very big factor” in many sexual assault and sexual harassment cases, but there are many pieces to the problem.
He and Dempsey spoke one day after all of the military’s leadership were summoned to the White House to discuss the sexual assault problem with President Barack Obama, who has expressed impatience with the Pentagon’s failure to solve it.
At his Pentagon news conference, Hagel said it has become clear to him since taking office in February that holding people accountable for their actions is important, but simply firing people is not a solution. He said he gets a lot of advice on that.
Nearly 50 injured as trains collide in Connecticut
FAIRFIELD, Conn. — Public safety officials in Connecticut say about 50 people have been hurt after two commuter trains collided outside New York City. Four of those injuries were deemed serious.
No fatalities were reported following Friday evening’s collision near Fairfield on the Metro-North Railroad.
The rail line referred to it in a news release as a “major derailment.”
A spokesman for public safety officials in nearby Bridgeport says about 250 people were on the two trains that collided after one derailed.
The railroad says a train that departed New York City’s Grand Central station en route to New Haven derailed. A westbound train on an adjacent track then struck the derailed train.
Office pools popular for record Powerball jackpot drawings
In workplaces across the nation, Americans are inviting their colleagues to chip in $2 for a Powerball ticket and a shared daydream.
The office lottery pool is a way to improve your odds and have a little fun with co-workers. And besides, who wants to be the only person at work the next day when everyone quits?
With $600 million on the line, this is the time to play. It’s the largest-ever Powerball jackpot and the second-largest world jackpot of all time. And it could get even bigger before Saturday’s drawing.
The Multi-State Lottery Association recognizes the popularity of work pools, especially when the stakes are so high. In the last few years, lottery officials have offered tips for organizing pools.
“The appeal is they can stretch the value of their $2,” said Norm Lingle, executive director of the South Dakota Lottery and chairman of the Powerball Executive Committee.
Simpson’s ex-lawyer contradicts testimony on guns, strategy
LAS VEGAS — O.J. Simpson’s former lawyer defended himself point-by-point Friday against allegations he botched the former football star’s armed-robbery trial, and he testified Simpson actually knew his buddies had guns when they went to a hotel room together to reclaim some sports memorabilia.
Yale Galanter took the stand at an often combative hearing on Simpson’s claim that his conviction should be thrown out on the grounds that his attorney did a poor job representing him.
Galanter denied giving Simpson the go-ahead to retrieve the photos and footballs he believed had been stolen from him. He denied keeping Simpson in the dark about plea bargain offers that carried only a few years in prison. He said his client agreed all along with the decision not to put him on the stand.
And he disputed Simpson’s testimony from earlier this week when the former NFL star said he didn’t know anyone in the hotel room had taken along guns.
“When you look at the entire trial, I don’t think I could have fought harder, done more,” Galanter said of his handling of the case. “I put every ounce of blood, sweat and soul into it.”
Pa. coffee run leads to arrest for hitchhiker
ELIZABETH, N.J. — Two cups of coffee ended life on the run for an Internet sensation known as Kai the hatchet-wielding hitchhiker.
An employee at a Starbucks in Philadelphia is credited with recognizing 24-year-old Caleb “Kai” McGillvary, whose fledgling celebrity took a turn toward notoriety when authorities announced this week that he was wanted in the beating death of a New Jersey lawyer three times his age.
The unlikely pair met amid the neon lights of New York City’s Times Square over the weekend and headed back to the squat brick home of 73-year-old Joseph Galfy Jr. on a quiet cul-de-sac in suburban Clark, N.J., authorities say. On Monday, Galfy was found beaten to death in his bedroom, wearing only his socks and underwear. McGillvary was arrested Thursday shortly after leaving the Starbucks and charged with killing Galfy.
McGillvary gained a measure of fame in February after intervening in an attack on a California utility worker. In an interview viewed millions of times online, he described using a hatchet he was carrying to repeatedly hit a man who had struck a worker with his car, fending off a further attack, and thus became known as “Kai the hatchet-wielding hitchhiker.”
Galfy’s funeral was held Friday in a small stone chapel in Warren, N.J. He was buried in East Hanover.
Cuba’s LGBT community holds week of shows
HAVANA — A week of drag shows, colorful marches and social and cultural events in Havana culminates Friday with celebrations of the International Day Against Homophobia.
Hundreds of activists have taken part in the activities organized by a sex education center headed by first daughter Mariela Castro.
“Join (us) to educate families about their great social responsibility to ensure that there is no discrimination of any kind,” Castro said.
The schedule included a gala bash at the capital’s cavernous Karl Marx theater, with drag performers on stage with the popular musical group Los Van Van. Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel attended.
Gays were persecuted for decades after the 1959 Cuban Revolution, sometimes sent to grueling rural work camps along with others considered socially suspect by the Communist government.
Ex-Groupon CEO Mason ‘takin’ care of business’ with motivational album
NEW YORK — Former Groupon CEO Andrew Mason is diving into several new ventures, including indulging his inner rock star with an album of “motivational business music.”
Mason said Thursday on his blog that he recently spent a week in Los Angeles and recorded a collection of seven songs called “Hardly Workin’.”
Mason said he wants to present business wisdom to younger people and that the songs will help them understand ideas that are critical to becoming productive and effective employees. He said many of Groupon’s employees are young and many didn’t have much familiarity with business, and didn’t want to read books on the subject.
Mason plans to start a new company in the fall. He didn’t disclose details but said he’ll be moving to San Francisco from Chicago. He also said he is taking an advisory position at Y Combinator, a selective incubator program that supports development of entrepreneurial companies. Mason said he will spend one day every week at the firm’s offices and will advise new startups.
Mason did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Technology media website TechCrunch said it had confirmed with Mason that he was serious about the album.