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Friday, March 23

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Editor's Note: The CNN Wire is a running log of the latest news from CNN World Headquarters, reported by CNN's correspondents and producers, and The CNN Wire editors. "Posted" times are Eastern Time.

New document raises questions about Gonzales' participation in attorney firings; DOJ announces internal probe

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A newly released document raises more questions Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' participation in the process of firing U.S. attorneys late last year.

The document -- a page from Gonzales' calendar -- is one of 283 pages released by the Justice Department late Friday.

The document indicates a Nov. 27, 2006, meeting in which the rollout of the general plan for carrying out the dismissals was discussed, Justice Department officials told reporters Friday.

The officials said that the participants in the meeting -- which included Gonzales and his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson -- do not remember if the final list of attorneys to be fired was signed off at the meeting.

The officials contend that Gonzales' attendance at this meeting is not contradictory to what he has previously said -- that he was not involved in the details of the firings or in selecting the specific prosecutors.

Also on Friday, the Justice Department announced that two internal watchdog offices will investigate the firings of the eight U.S. Attorneys "although there is no evidence to suggest" any U.S. attorney was dismissed for improper reasons.

-- From CNN's Kevin Bohn and Carol Cratty (Posted 9:45 p.m.)

Armey warns president about standing on 'thin ice'

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, himself a veteran of "executive privilege" fights with the Clinton White House, said Thursday that President Bush is on "thin ice" with his refusal to let top aide Karl Rove and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers testify in the fired prosecutors controversy.

"My own view, (executive privilege) is very thin ice," Armey told CNN.

Now chairman of the conservative activist "Freedom Works" organization in Washington, Armey said he remembers how Democrats struggled to justify preventing testimony from presidential aides during the Clinton years.

According to the Congressional Research Service, 31 of Clinton's top aides testified before Congress on 47 different occasions. Those included deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes, senior presidential adviser George Stephanopoulos and special assistant for national security affairs Samuel Berger.

-- From CNN Radio's Bob Costantini (Posted 6:48 p.m.)

2008 White House hopefuls making dash for cash

WASHINGTON (CNN) --Voters across the country may not even realize it, but the burgeoning pack of 2008 White House wannabes is entering the last week of an intense, no-holds-barred competition, months before the first ballot is cast -- a frantic dash for cash.

The Federal Election Commission requires presidential candidates to report their fund-raising totals quarterly. So, they are scrambling to raise as much money as they can before the latest reporting period closes, on March 31, to create a positive buzz -- or, at the very least, avoid the perception they're lacking momentum.

"The scorekeepers, the press, the pundits, the party strategists are all looking on this as a key indicator -- how much money have they raised in the first quarter?" said Thomas Mann, a political scholar at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think-tank.

Or, as Shelia Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics puts it, "This is the truly the March Madness of campaign funding." --From CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider (Posted 6:24 p.m.)

Sampson to testify before Senate committee

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Kyle Sampson, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' former chief of staff, has agreed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, his lawyer said in a letter to the committee chairman Friday.

"Mr. Sampson looks forward to answering the committee's questions," Bradford Berenson said in a two-paragraph letter. "We trust that his decision to do so will satisfy the need of the Congress to obtain information from him concerning the requested resignations of the United States attorneys."

Sampson, one of several officials who faced a possible subpoena to testify, will appear voluntarily before the committee at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Sampson resigned over the matter, which has sparked calls for the resignation of Gonzales. The White House has said that Gonzales will testify before the committee, but a date for his testimony has not been set. (Posted 4:34 p.m.)

Probe of E. coli outbreak finds several possible sources of contamination

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A nationwide outbreak of E. coli poisoning that sickened at least 205 people has been traced to pre-packaged spinach from a single California field, processed on a single day last summer, according to a report released Friday. But exactly how that field became contaminated is impossible to say, it said.

The report found several possible causes of the contamination -- including tainted water, cow feces in a nearby field, and wild pigs roaming in the area -- but said it's impossible to definitively say which was at fault.

The outbreak last summer caused illnesses in 26 states and led to three deaths.

It ignited a six-month investigation by California's Department of Health Services (CADHS) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (Posted 4:32 p.m.)

Ambassador: Iranian leader won't speak to U.N. before nuclear vote

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will not travel to New York ahead of a U.N. Security Council vote on new sanctions for his country because his flight crew did not receive their U.S. visas in time, Tehran's U.N. ambassador, Javad Zarif, said Friday.

Ahmadinejad had asked to speak to the council before Saturday's balloting, and was granted a visa Friday morning through the Swiss Embassy. The Swiss act as liaison between Iran and the United States on such matters because there are no diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The new resolution comes after the United Nations' atomic energy watchdog agency said last month it could not verify that Iran's uranium enrichment program was strictly for peaceful purposes, as Iran has said. (Posted 4:17 p.m.)

Spokesman: DNA tests run on Pakistani contingent

MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica (CNN) -- Jamaican police took DNA samples Friday from the entire Pakistani contingent to the Cricket World Cup -- players, managers and trainers -- in their investigation into the strangling death of the Pakistani team's coach earlier this week, a spokesman for the team told CNN.

Pervez Mir said the DNA testing was supposed to have taken place Thursday, before the team left Kingston for Montego Bay, but police agreed to allow the tests to take place Friday so the team would not miss its flight.

A Jamaican government helicopter flew the tests back to Kingston when they were completed, Mir said.

Before departing Kingston for Montego Bay on Thursday, all members of the Pakistani contingent gave statements to police and were fingerprinted.

Jamaican police announced Thursday that Pakistani coach Bob Woolmer, 58, was strangled to death. He was found unconscious in his hotel room on Sunday and declared dead at a hospital soon afterward. (Posted 4:10 p.m.)

Spokesman: Marine unit leaving Afghanistan during shooting probe

(CNN) -- A U.S. Marine Special Operations Company of about 120 members is being "redeployed out of Afghanistan" during an investigation into accusations that some of them indiscriminately fired on civilians after a suicide bombing attack on its forces, Marine spokesman Maj. Cliff Gilmore said Friday.

At least eight Afghans were killed and 35 were wounded in the March 4 incident along a highway near Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan. No U.S. forces were seriously wounded.

At the time, authorities said it wasn't clear if all the casualties resulted from the explosion, Taliban gunfire or return fire from troops in the convoy.

Zmarai Bashiri, a spokesman for Afghanistan's Interior Ministry, said after the attack, "The American forces became emotional (after the car bombing) and opened fire on Afghans in the area because they feared another bomb attack." --(Posted 3:25 p.m.)

Suspect arrested in case of teen found handcuffed to tree

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A 26-year-old man is expected to be arraigned as early as Friday afternoon in connection with a 13-year-old boy who was found in his underwear and handcuffed to a tree in a wooded area of Staten Island.

The suspect, William Marcus, was arrested Thursday night after being questioned by police.

He is expected to be charged with kidnapping, robbery, sexual assault, unlawful imprisonment of a minor, criminal possession of a weapon and endangering the welfare of a child, officials said. --From CNN's Chris Kokenes (Posted 2:30 p.m.)

Bush calls House passage of war spending bill 'political theater'

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush slammed the U.S. House on Friday for its narrow passage of an emergency $124 billion supplemental war spending bill that sets a deadline for removal of troops from Iraq of Aug. 13, 2008.

"Today a narrow majority in the House of Representatives abdicated its responsibility by passing a war spening bill that has no chance of becoming law," Bush said, referring to his promised veto if a bill including a deadline reaches his desk.

"Democrats in the House, in an act of political theater, voted to substitute their judgment for those of our military commanders on the ground in Iraq."

The bill is unlikely to pass the Senate with the deadline included. (Posted 2:12 p.m.)

White House press secretary to have growth removed from abdomen

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters Friday a small growth has been found in his abdomen, and he will undergo surgery Monday to have it removed.

He said there is no word yet on the nature of the growth, which was discovered during a recent series of CAT scans and MRIs. PET scans have been negative, he said, but the growth is being removed "out of an aggressive sense of caution." --Posted 1:47 p.m.)

Rat poison chemical found in recalled pet food, labs say

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A chemical used in rat poison was found in recalled pet food that has killed several animals and sickened hundreds of others, the food laboratory of New York state and the Animal Health Diagnostic Center at Cornell University said in a news conference Friday.

The center found the chemical aminopterin, a derivative of folic acid, in studies of several recalled cans of wet pet food manufactured and distributed by Menu Foods Inc., of Ontario, which had recalled 60 million cans last week after the reports of sickened animals.

Aminopterin is a banned chemical in the United States, and can cause renal failure in animals, according to the center.

Menu Foods would not comment on the findings, but said it will hold a news conference at 4 p.m. ET in Toronto. --By CNN's Caleb Silver (Posted 1:30 p.m.)

House narrowly approved bill putting deadline on Iraq pullout

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House of Representatives on Friday passed a spending bill that includes a firm deadline -- August 31, 2008 -- for combat troops to leave Iraq.

President Bush, who has already said he would veto the bill, was scheduled to make a statement at 1:45 p.m. ET.

The measure also is unlikely to pass the Senate.

The vote was 218-212, with two Republicans -- Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., and Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md. -- voting in favor. Fourteen Democrats voted against.

Before the vote, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told CNN that Democrats had the numbers to pass the bill. To get the votes, the leadership had to win over anti-war Democrats who felt that the measure didn't go far enough. But some of the war's most liberal critics remained unmoved by their arguments. (Posted 1:14 p.m.)

Snow says he will have growth removed from abdomen

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters Friday a small growth has been found in his abdomen, and he will undergo surgery Monday to have it removed.

He said there is no word yet what the growth is. Snow said it was discovered during a recent series of cat scans and MRIs.

Snow told reporters the pet scans have been negative, but it is being removed "out of an aggressive sense of caution." He said he appreciates expressions of concern, but said, " please do not leap to conclusions about this because we don't know what this is. We know it's coming out, and I know I'll be back soon." -- From CNN Steve Brusk (Posted 1:06 p.m.

Vilsack to endorse Clinton next week

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., will be endorsed for president Monday by former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a source close to Vilsack told CNN Friday.

Vilsack, who was the first major Democrat to officially declare his own presidential bid in November only to abandon it in February because of lackluster fund-raising, will formally declare his support for Clinton at a Des Moines news conference.

Vilsack's endorsement could be key in the early presidential proving ground of Iowa, where he served two terms as governor. --By CNN's Lauren Kornreich (Posted 1:02 p.m.)

FAA says it is speeding approval of technology aimed at letting pilots see if they are on the wrong runway

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Federal Aviation Administration Friday announced it is speeding approval of technology that will for the the first time give pilots a moving map display on their laptops in the cockpit that will show precisely where their plane is on the airport surface.

"They'll know whether they're on the right or wrong runway," explained spokesman Paul Takemoto.

Takemoto says the FAA is streamlining the current certification process, so the technology will be much easier and cheaper to get and will be available to airlines by the end of the year.

Aviation safety officials say if in place, the technology would have prevented the August 2006 crash of Comair Flight 5191 in Lexington, Kentucky after it took off on the wrong runway. 43 people died in the incident.

The new system will not show the location of other aircraft on the ground. (Posted 1 p.m.)

Iraq's deputy prime minister wounded in assassination attempt

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie was wounded and nine people were killed Friday when a suicide bomber self-detonated near him inside his compound. A security adviser said the attacker was a friend of one of al-Zubaie's guards.

The blast was characterized by al-Zubaie's office as an assassination attempt.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki visited al-Zubaie at the hospital, where he was informed by doctors that the deputy prime minister was in stable condition, and would not have to be transferred outside Iraq for further treatment, according to a written statement from al-Maliki's office.

The statement called the bombing a "criminal incident."

Officials said that among those who died was a brother or cousin of al-Zubaie, an adviser and members of the deputy minister's security team. Fifteen other people were wounded, and al-Maliki also visited some of them.

Al-Zubaie was being treated at the 28th Combat Support Hospital in the Green Zone. Gen. Qassim Atta, spokesman for the new Baghdad security plan, said the deputy prime minister required surgery. (Posted 12:03 p.m.)

On the air, AG parries questions on fired U.S. attorneys

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- During a media blitz long in the planning to tout a new ad campaign urging teenagers not to post private information on the Web, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had to face questions about the circumstances surrounding the fired U.S. attorneys.

Gonzales and the president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children did a series of interviews with TV and radio stations from across the country Friday morning trying to tout the release of new public service announcements.

An anchor from WUSA-TV began her interview with Gonzales asking, "Wouldn't it help your president and your party as they approach the 2008 elections if you did step down for the good of your party?"

He responded, "Let us wait and see what the facts are. You know, the question is whether these political appointees -- were they removed for improper reasons. We have already provided a lot of information to the Congress. We are going to make DOJ officials available to come and be interviewed and to testify. We want to get to the bottom of what happened here." --From CNN Senior Producer Kevin Bohn (Posted 11:40 a.m.)

Cargo plane crashes in Somali capital

MOGADISHU, Somalia (CNN) -- A cargo plane carrying Ukrainian engineers and equipment to service a plane at the Mogadishu airport crashed in flames early Friday near the Indian Ocean, airport security authorities said.

There was no immediate information on casualties.

The plane came down on the northeast side of Somalia's capital city on the third day of heavy fighting between Ethiopian-backed government forces and insurgents. (Posted 11:30 a.m.)

Democrats expect victory in House on Iraq pullout bill

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Debate was under way Friday in the House on a spending bill that includes a firm deadline -- August 31, 2008 -- for combat troops to leave Iraq.

Democrats now believe they have enough votes to pass the resolution, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told CNN, and a vote is expected around midday Friday.

But the measure is unlikely to pass the Senate, and President Bush has said he would veto the bill if it contains such a provision. (Posted 10:42 a.m.)

British Marines 'seized' by Iran

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Fifteen British Royal Marines on patrol in the Persian Gulf were "seized" Friday morning by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy as they were inspecting a merchant vessel, the British Ministry of Defense said.

The Marines were "engaged in routine boarding operations of merchant shipping in Iraqi territorial waters" when Iranian forces surrounded them, the ministry said in a written statement.

The marines are from the HMS Cornwall, part of Task Force 158. Nick Lambert, commodore of the ship, said his marines were inside Iraqi territorial waters when they were arrested. There was no fighting, and no use of weapons, he told a BBC pool reporter on the ship. "It was entirely peaceful."

"We've been assured from the scant communications that we've had from the Iranians at the tactical level that the 15 people are safely in their hands."

Coalition authorities and "up to the highest levels" of the British government are working to secure the marines' release, he said. (Posted 9:33 a.m.)

U.S. Marine killed during combat in Anbar province

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (CNN) -- A U.S. Marine assigned to Multi-National Force-West was killed Thursday during combat operations in Anbar province, the military said Friday.

The Marine's name was not released.

The death toll of U.S. military personnel in the 4-year-old Iraq war is 3,233.(Posted 9:17 a.m.)

Attacks against civilians and Iraqi soldiers left 5 dead, 7 wounded

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Gunmen launched targeted attacks on Iraqi army officials, bus passengers and a procession of Shiites Thursday, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official told CNN.

Gunmen sprayed a crowd gathered outside a bus station in Baghdad's southeastern Jadida district with bullets Thursday morning. One person died and three were wounded.

Hours later gunmen opened fire on a procession of Shiite Muslims in southern Baghdad's Dora district, killing one and wounding three.

According to the official gunmen also opened fire on an Iraqi army official while he stood outside his house in the Shiite city Diwaniya, about 112 miles (180 km) south of Baghdad.

North of Baghdad gunmen killed a former Iraqi army officer as he drove his car in Mosul. In western Baghdad a car bomb explosion killed an Iraqi soldier and wounded another at an army checkpoint in the Yarmouk district.

Iraqi police found 25 bodies of slain people throughout Baghdad, the Interior Ministry said. -- CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report (Posted 6:55 a.m.)

Iraq - U.S. forces confiscate myriad of weapons, explosive devices in security sweeps

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- U.S. soldiers and Iraqi security forces uncovered half a dozen weapons caches and freed a hostage Friday morning in the second day of security sweeps through two Baghdad neighborhoods, a U.S. military statement said.

The operation, coined Arrowhead Strike 9, includes about 1,100 U.S. soldiers and 500 Iraqi soldiers and police. The forces are concentrating their efforts in the southern Ghazaliya and Ameriya neighborhoods to crack down on al Qaeda and illegal militias as part of the bigger Baghdad security plan.

In one of the houses searched, soldiers rescued a man who was being held hostage and had been shot three times in the leg. The military said he was evacuated to a coalition forces medical facility. (Posted 5:49 a.m.)

Death toll in Mozambique blast tops 70, about 600 injured

MAPUTO, Mozambique (CNN) -- At least 72 people died and 600 were injured in Thursday afternoon's explosion at the Mozambique's national weapons depot, a defense official said Friday.

According to Lazaro Nacuacua with the Defense Ministry, a preliminary assessment indicates the blast was triggered by high temperatures in the capital this week. (Posted 5:35 a.m.)

Restraining order covers reputed black book in D.C. area prostitution ring

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Prosecutors won a restraining order from a federal court against the distribution of a list of clients a woman compiled as part of an alleged large-scale prostitution ring that they say served the nation's capital from 1993 until last year.

A judge ordered the protection Thursday for "all records reflecting clients or customers of the enterprise" named in a multi-count racketeering and money-laundering indictment against Deborah Jeane Palfrey.

Prosecutors believe she ran a California-based service called Pamela Martin & Associates that involved more than 100 women, and used forwarded local phone numbers in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and elsewhere to take calls from customers. --From CNN's Paul Courson (Posted 5:12 a.m.)

U.S. soldier killed in roadside bomb attack in Baghdad

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A U.S. soldier conducting "route clearance operations" with a military unit was killed in a roadside bomb attack in western Baghdad on Thursday, the U.S. military announced Friday.

Another Multi-National Division-Baghdad soldier was killed in the same area of Baghdad on Wednesday while conducting security operations.

Thursday's death increases the toll of U.S. military personnel who have died in the four-year-old Iraq war to 3,230. (Posted 4:22 a.m.)

Police investigating cricket coach's death as murder

KINGSTON, Jamaica (CNN) -- Jamaican police are now treating the death of Pakistani cricket coach Bob Woolmer as a murder, according to a statement from Jamaican police commissioner Lucius Thomas.

The statement was read to reporters Thursday night. It said that the pathology report indicated Woolmer died of "manual strangulation."

"We are now treating this as a case of murder," the statement said.

Police announced Tuesday that Woolmer's death was suspicious two days after he died. Woolmer, 58, was found unconscious in his hotel room and was taken to a hospital, where he was declared dead. (Posted 7:50 p.m.)


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