The four leading Republican presidential candidates gathered in Florida Monday night for a debate ahead of the state’s primary one week from today. With the race now seen as wide open in the wake of Newt Gingrich’s victory in South Carolina, Mitt Romney sharpened his attacks against Gingrich as an “influence peddler in Washington,” a claim Gingrich denied.
Mitt Romney: “In the 1990s, he had to resign in disgrace from this job as speaker. I had the opportunity to go off and run the Olympic Winter Games. In the 15 years after he left the speakership, the Speaker has worked—been working as an influence peddler in Washington.”
Newt Gingrich: “There’s a point in this process where it gets unnecessarily personal and nasty, and that’s sad. The fact is, I’ve had a very long career of trying to represent the people of Georgia and, as speaker, the people of the United States. I think it’s pretty clear to say that I have never, ever gone and done any lobbying.”
Newt Gingrich has taken heat for earning at least $1.6 million in fees from the mortgage giant Freddie Mac after he left office. On Monday, documents were released showing a portion of Gingrich’s work included reporting to Freddie Mac’s top lobbyist. The disclosed contract failed to specify the nature of Gingrich’s tasks for Freddie Mac.
Mitt Romney has released tax forms showing he payed an effective tax rate of 15.4 percent last year and an even lower rate of 13.9 percent the year before—substantially lower than the rate of most working Americans. Overall, Romney reported income of $43.6 million for 2010 and 2011, virtually all of it from investments. Romney’s charitable contributions included $4.1 million to the Mormon Church.
The Romney-Gingrich rivalry is set to intensify ahead of the Florida vote with a new infusion of cash from outside backers. On Monday, it was revealed Gingrich supporter Miriam Adelson will donate $5 million to the pro-Gingrich super PAC “Winning Our Future,” which has run a series of ads attacking Romney. Adelson’s husband, the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, recently gave Winning Our Future another $5 million.
As Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich come under intensified focus, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul both challenged the pair’s respective “conservative” credentials.
Rick Santorum: “On the three issues that got the Tea Party started, that are the base of the conservative movement now in the Republican Party, and there is no difference between President Obama and these two gentlemen. And that’s why this election here in Florida is so critical, that we have someone that actually can create a contrast between the President and the conservative point of view.”
Rep. Ron Paul: “Nobody has defined what being conservative means. I think that is our problem. Conservative means we have a smaller government and more liberty. And yet, if you ask what have we done, I think we’ve lost our way completely. Our rhetoric is still pretty good, but when we get in charge, we expand the government.”
President Obama is set to counter Republican attacks and preview his own re-election campaign with tonight’s State of the Union address, the last State of the Union of his first term.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled police must obtain a search warrant in order to track a suspect’s movements with GPS. On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled for the first time that police monitoring through attaching a GPS to a suspect’s vehicle is a constitutionally protected search. The ruling marked a defeat for the Obama administration, which had fought to overturn an appeals court ruling that warrants are required. In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union called the decision “an important victory for privacy,” adding: “The Court acknowledged that advancing technology, like cell phone tracking, gives the government unprecedented ability to collect, store and analyze an enormous amount of information about our private lives.”
A retired CIA agent who publicly confirmed the torture of al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah has been charged with leaking classified information. John Kiriakou, who served from 1990 to 2004, is best known for a 2007 ABC News interview detailing how Zubaydah was waterboarded in CIA custody. On Monday, Kiriakou was indicted on allegations of revealing the identity of covert officer, leaking classified information and lying to a CIA publications review board. The Justice Department says Kiriakou disclosed the identities of CIA officers involved in Zubaydah’s interrogation to journalists. He is the sixth person the Obama administration has charged under the Espionage Act in its crackdown on government whistleblowers. Kiriakou faces up to 20 years in prison.
The prosecution of the last of the U.S. marines charged in the 2005 Haditha massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians has ended in a plea deal that will result in at most three months behind bars, and possibly no jail time at all. The victims, including women and children, were killed when the marines burst into their homes and shot them dead in their nightclothes. On Monday, the marines’ squadron leader, Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, pleaded guilty to negligence as part of a deal that will wipe out charges of involuntary manslaughter. During his trial, a fellow marine testified that Wuterich called for violent retaliation against Iraqi civilians if they were attacked. Wuterich allegedly told his men, “If we ever get hit again, we should kill everyone in that vicinity.” Under the plea deal, Wuterich will face a maximum of three months confinement, a pay cut for three months and a reduction in rank. He was the last defendant to face charges for the Haditha killings. Six other marines have had their charges dropped or dismissed, while another soldier was acquitted.
In news from Iraq, at least six people have died and 23 have been wounded in a pair of car bombings in Baghdad. Both attacks came in the neighborhood of Sadr City, the latest in a wave of attacks on Shia areas.
Egyptians are preparing to mark the first anniversary of the revolution that led to the ouster of longtime ruler and U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak. Protests are scheduled for Wednesday to celebrate the revolution, while calling on Egypt’s military rulers to hand over power. On Monday, Egyptian lawmakers held the opening session of the first elected parliament since Mubarak’s fall.
The Obama administration is reportedly considering the repatriation of non-Afghan prisoners held at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan before handing over control of their detention to the Afghan government. The foreign prisoners were either arrested in Afghanistan or rendered to Afghanistan after being seized in other countries.
The European Union has enacted sanctions banning imports of Iranian oil and freezing Iranian central bank assets as part of an international effort to pressure Iran over its alleged nuclear activities. Earlier today, Britain warned it could further deploy troops to the Gulf if Iran follows through on a threat to close the Strait of Hormuz. In Washington, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Iran will face continued sanctions.
Jay Carney: “This process will continue to intensify so that Iran understands fully that the pressure will not let up and the isolation will not stop until they decide to make the right choice, which is to abide by their commitments internationally and to come clean, if you will, on their international—on their nuclear aspirations.”
Newly released documents show the New York City Police Department screened an anti-Muslim video to officers-in-training far more frequently than it’s previously disclosed. The NYPD drew criticism one year ago following the disclosure officers were shown the 72-minute “The Third Jihad” video in the NYPD’s required counterterrorism training courses. “The Third Jihad” is said to depict gruesome imagery coupled with the argument that Muslim leaders and organizations in the United States are part of a plot of global jihad. The NYPD has claimed the video was only shown “a couple of times” to a handful of officers. But according to the New York Times, police records show the video was in fact played “on a continuous loop” for nearly 1,500 officers and possibly more for up to one year.
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