Republican candidates gathered in Charleston, South Carolina Thursday night for their final debate before Saturday’s primary. The debate capped a busy day that saw the departure of Texas Governor Rick Perry, Rick Santorum’s defeat of Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucus recount, and new details of Newt Gingrich’s infidelities during his second marriage. In their remarks, Gingrich, Romney and Santorum each touted their right-wing credentials and took aim at President Obama.
Newt Gingrich: “It is imperative that we defeat Barack Obama. This is, I believe, the most dangerous president of our lifetime. And if he is re-elected after the disaster he has been, the level of radicalism of his second term will be truly frightening.”
Mitt Romney: “Our president said, I think in a very revealing way, that he wants to fundamentally transform America. He’s wrong. We need to restore the values that made America the hope of the earth.”
Rick Santorum: “South Carolina, you’ve been told in the past you’ve got to settle for a moderate because they can win. And you said, when the last time we had a situation like this in 1980, you said, 'No, we're going to take the strong conviction conservative.’”
The latest Republican debate was held as Newt Gingrich’s second ex-wife spoke out for the first time since their 1999 divorce. Speaking to ABC News, Marianne Gingrich said Newt Gingrich asked her if she would consent to being in an open marriage so he could continue seeing his mistress at the time, Callista, who is now his current wife.
Marianne Gingrich: “I said to him, ’We’ve been married a long time.’ And he said, 'Yes, but you want me all to yourself. Callista doesn't care what I do.’”
Brian Ross: “What was he saying to you, do you think?”
Marianne Gingrich: “He was asking to have an open marriage, and I refused.”
Brian Ross: “He wanted an open marriage.”
Marianne Gingrich: “Yeah, that I accept the fact that he—he has somebody else in his life.”
Brian Ross: “And you said?”
Marianne Gingrich: “'No. No. That is not a marriage.'”
Marianne Gingrich said Newt Gingrich made the request shortly after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Gingrich’s previous wife, whom he had left to marry Marianne two decades earlier, has said Gingrich asked her for a divorce while she was in the hospital recovering from cancer. During the South Carolina debate, Gingrich lashed out at moderator John King of CNN for asking him about his ex-wife’s claims.
Newt Gingrich: “I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office, and I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that. To take an ex-wife and make it, two days before the primary, a significant question in a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.”
Earlier in the day, Newt Gingrich received a boost after Texas Gov. Rick Perry dropped out of the race and gave Gingrich his support.
Gov. Rick Perry: “As I have contemplated the future of this campaign, I have come to the conclusion that there is no viable path forward for me in this 2012 campaign. Therefore, today, I am suspending my campaign and endorsing Newt Gingrich for president of the United States. I believe Newt is a conservative visionary who can transform our country. We’ve had our differences, which campaigns will inevitably have, and Newt is not perfect, but who among us is?”
Perry was initially considered a front-runner but plummeted in the polls after a series of poor debate performances, including one where he could not remember one of the three government agencies he had vowed to abolish if elected.
A second military officer has recommended a court-martial for the alleged Army whistleblower Bradley Manning, who is accused of leaking classified documents and video to WikiLeaks. The decision by Colonel Carl Coffman mirrors that of a lower-ranking officer who presided over Manning’s pretrial hearing last month. The recommendation now goes to the commander of the Military District of Washington who will make a final decision on whether Manning should stand trial. Manning faces a sentence of up to life in prison or possibly the death penalty.
Hundreds of people rallied in northwestern Afghanistan on Thursday in protest of the reported killing of six civilians in a NATO raid. Protesters say the dead included a woman and a child.
In news from Afghanistan, France has announced it is suspending the training of Afghan troops after an Afghan soldier shot dead four French soldiers and wounded 16 others earlier today.
Protests are being reported across Syria today amid ongoing killings of opposition activists by the regime of Bashar al-Assad. At least seven deaths have been reported today following the killing of around 30 people on Thursday. The Arab League, meanwhile, has extended its month-long monitoring mission to Syria until members gather for a meeting on Sunday in Cairo.
The chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, has arrived in Israel for talks expected to focus on Iran. Dempsey’s visit comes shortly after Iran accused Israel and the United States of responsibility for the killing of a nuclear scientist in a targeted bombing.
At the United Nations, Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee said Iran believes the scientist may have been killed with information supplied by the United Nations.
Mohammad Khazaee: “There is high suspicions that these terrorist circles used the intelligence obtained from United Nation bodies, including the sanction list of the Security Council and interviews carried out by IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] with our nuclear scientists, to identify and carry out their malicious acts. The late Ahmadi-Roshan had recently met with IAEA inspectors, a fact that indicates that these U.N. agencies may have played a role in leaking information on Iran’s nuclear facilities and scientist.”
In Morocco, five people in the capital, Rabat, set themselves on fire earlier this week to protest a lack of job opportunities for university graduates. Three were hospitalized. Self-immolation has spread as a form of protest in North Africa since a Tunisian man, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in December 2010, eventually losing his life, but inspiring the outbreak of the Tunisian uprising.
U.S. authorities have shut down one of the world’s largest file-sharing websites and arrested its owners on a number of charges, including illegally sharing pirated material. The action against Megaupload is said to be one of the largest-ever criminal copyright cases brought by the U.S. government. The site’s owners and operators were arrested in New Zealand as part of a raid spanning nine countries. The shutdown came just one day after the global online protests against a pair of anti-piracy bills in Washington. In response to the operation against Megaupload, hackers with the group “Anonymous” shut down the websites of the the U.S. Justice Department, Recording Industry Association of America, Motion Picture Association of America, and Universal Music.
New figures show suicides among active-duty U.S. soldiers hit another record high last year. The Army says 164 active-duty troops took their own lives in 2011, the highest number ever recorded. Violent sex crimes among active-duty troops also rose nearly 30 percent, with more than half the victims active-duty female soldiers between the ages of 18 and 21.
U.S. officials have confirmed long-held suspicions former Liberian president Charles Taylor worked for the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies. Taylor helped raise speculation after claiming U.S. officials had helped him escape a maximum security prison in Boston in 1985. According to the Boston Globe, the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency has now acknowledged Taylor served as a CIA informant during his emergence as a warlord in the 1980s. Taylor is currently awaiting a verdict at The Hague on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and violations of international humanitarian law during Sierra Leone’s civil war.
President Obama was in New York City on Thursday for a busy night of fundraising. Obama greeted supporters at a Manhattan restaurant and at the home of the film director Spike Lee, where guests dined at a cost of $38,000 per plate. Obama then appeared at Harlem’s historic Apollo Theater, where he sang a line of the soul legend and event performer Al Green’s hit song, “Let’s Stay Together.” A crowd of around 100 protesters with Occupy Wall Street and other groups demonstrated outside of the Apollo.
In breaking news from Afghanistan, the Taliban has claimed responsibility for the downing of a NATO helicopter. Six U.S. marines were killed in the crash.
A federal judge has blocked Vermont from forcing the closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant when its license expires in March. The Vermont Senate voted to deny the company a new operating license in 2010, but the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission extended the plant’s license in the days following last year’s Fukushima nuclear crisis. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge J. Garvan Murtha overruled Vermont’s effort, saying only federal authorities can regulate nuclear safety. The Vermont Yankee plant is one of the oldest in the country and has had a series of radioactive tritium leaks. Vermont officials are expected to appeal the ruling.