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    Saturday, March 8, 2008

    Reuters - FBI begins criminal inquiry into Countrywide: paper

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    FBI begins criminal inquiry into Countrywide: paper

    Sunday, Mar 09, 2008 2:7AM UTC

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - The FBI has begun a criminal inquiry into the largest U.S. mortgage lender, Countrywide Financial Corp, for suspected securities fraud as part of investigations into the mortgage crisis, The New York Times reported in Sunday editions.

    Citing unnamed government officials with knowledge of the case, the Times said the investigation into whether Countrywide misrepresented its financial condition and the soundness of its loans in securities filings was at an early stage and it was not clear if any charges would result.

    A Countrywide spokeswoman, Susan Martin, told the newspaper that "we are not aware of any such investigation." The probe was first reported on Saturday in The Wall Street Journal.

    The Countrywide inquiry follows a broader investigation by the FBI into 14 companies as part of a review of the practices of the mortgage industry, the Times said.

    Investigators had been looking at possible accounting fraud or insider trading connected to loans made to borrowers with subprime credit, the Times said.

    Countrywide already faces federal and state investigations of its lending practices, as well as several lawsuits by investors and mortgage holders.

    The Securities and Exchange Commission is conducting about three dozen civil investigations into how subprime loans were made and how securities were valued, the Times said.

    State investigations include one by the Illinois attorney general, who earlier this month subpoenaed units of Countrywide Financial and Wells Fargo & Co in a probe of whether the companies violated federal lending and civil rights laws by steering minority borrowers into more expensive loans.

    In that probe, Countrywide said it would fully cooperate with authorities.

    Countrywide, drowning in a pool of bad home loans, is in the process of being acquired by Bank of America for about $4 billion. It reported a loss of about $422 million in the fourth quarter of 2007.

    (Reporting by Christine Kearney; editing by Todd Eastham)

    Reuters - Bush vetoes bill outlawing CIA waterboarding

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    Bush vetoes bill outlawing CIA waterboarding

    Saturday, Mar 08, 2008 6:53PM UTC

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush on Saturday vetoed legislation passed by Congress that would have banned the CIA from using waterboarding and other controversial interrogation techniques.

    Lawmakers included the anti-torture measure in a broader bill authorizing U.S. intelligence activities.

    "Because the danger remains, we need to ensure our intelligence officials have all the tools they need to stop the terrorists," Bush said in his weekly radio address. He added that the vetoed legislation "would diminish these vital tools."

    House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said Democrats would try to overturn Bush's veto and said U.S. moral authority was at stake.

    "We will begin to reassert that moral authority by attempting to override the president's veto next week," Pelosi said.

    Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts called Bush's veto "one of the most shameful acts of his presidency."

    It is unlikely that Democrats, the majority party in Congress, could muster enough votes to overturn Bush's veto. The bill passed the House and Senate on partisan votes, short of the support needed to reverse the president.

    The House approved the legislation in December and the Senate passed it in February despite White House warnings it would be vetoed.

    CIA Director Michael Hayden told Congress last month that government interrogators used waterboarding on three suspects captured after the September 11 attacks.

    The simulated drowning technique has been condemned by many members of Congress, human rights groups and other countries as a form of illegal torture.

    The U.S. Army Field Manual prohibits waterboarding and seven other interrogation methods and the bill would have aligned CIA practices with the military's.

    In a message to CIA employees on Saturday after Bush's veto, Hayden said the CIA would continue to work strictly within the law but said its needs were different from that of the U.S. Army and that the CIA needed to follow its own procedures.

    "There are methods in CIA's program that have been briefed to our oversight committees, are fully consistent with the Geneva Convention and current U.S. law, and are most certainly not torture," Hayden said.

    In his remarks, Bush did not specifically mention waterboarding.

    But he said: "The bill Congress sent me would not simply ban one particular interrogation method, as some have implied. Instead, it would eliminate all the alternative procedures we've developed to question the world's most dangerous and violent terrorists."

    (Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Eric Beech)

    CNN - March roars in with deadly storms

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    March roars in with deadly storms

    A heavy winter storm walloped Ohio's capital city with more than 20 inches of snow, while blizzard conditions shut down highways and stranded air travelers across the state and parts of Indiana on Saturday.

    High winds whipped the snow into 3-foot-tall drifts in some places and cut visibility to less than a quarter mile, the National Weather Service said.

    "It's horrible out there right now," said 58-year-old Carman Bonfiglio, a FedEx Corp. driver who was stranded at a truck stop in Sunbury, about 20 miles northeast of Columbus.

    "Trucks are just spinning right here. In my days of driving I've never seen anything like it."

    The storm, which rolled in Friday, dumped 20.4 inches of snow on Columbus, breaking the city's previous record of 15.3 inches set in February 1910, the weather service said. Cincinnati and Cleveland also received about a foot of snow.

    In Indiana, 14 inches of snow fell in Milan, which is about 60 miles southeast of Indianapolis, said the weather service said.

    Roads were impassable, prompting the county to declare a local emergency banning all vehicles except for emergency vehicles from the roads, authorities said. Watch cars spin out of control on icy roads in West Virginia

    "The winds are starting to pick up now, so we expect some of them to be pretty treacherous," Ripley County sheriff's Deputy Brian Maynard said of the roads.

    It was a continuation of the storm that on Friday piled up snow a foot deep in Arkansas and blacked out thousands of homes and businesses from that state to the Great Lakes.

    Louisville, Kentucky, and parts of Tennessee got up to a foot, while northern Mississippi got 5 to 7 inches of snow, the weather service said. See snowy scenes through I-Reporters' eyes

    Secondary roads and bridges were snow-covered and icy in Tennessee and Kentucky on Saturday morning, but much of that had melted by the afternoon when temperatures climbed into the upper 30s.

    One Ohio traffic death was blamed on the weather Friday, with two in western New York state and one in Tennessee. Two people were killed as tornadoes struck several Florida communities.

    At Port Columbus International Airport, a plane skidded a few hundred feet off a runway while landing late Friday, but no one was hurt, airport spokeswoman Angie Neal said.

    Many flights into and out of Ohio were delayed or canceled on Saturday. Watch 'delay after delay' in Ohio

    All flights in and out of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport were canceled Saturday, airport spokesman Todd Payne said. Crews struggled all day to clear the runways.

    "There was really no reason to keep it open," Payne said. "We have 30-mile-an-hour sustained winds."

    The airport, which has about 250 daily flights on the weekends, was scheduled to reopen at 5 a.m. Sunday, but flight delays were possible, he said.

    The University of Cincinnati men's basketball team, unable to make its departure flight, postponed its game at No. 13 Connecticut until Sunday.

    Hundreds of other weekend events were canceled, including Ohio girls high school basketball championship games in Columbus and several Kentucky boys basketball tournament games. The University of Louisville canceled Saturday classes.

    A warm up was not expected until Tuesday, when the forecast called for temperatures in the lower 40s, the weather service said.

    Flooding could be a concern if it warms up too quickly, said Nancy Dragoni, director of the Ohio Emergency Management Agency.

    "We're hopeful that there'll be enough time for some of the water to go down in the rivers and creeks and streams so we can absorb the snow when it melts," she said.

    In New Jersey, a heavy rain storm affected lines at the state lottery's main office in Trenton, delaying the midday drawings for the Pick 3 and Pick 4 games.

    The storm also shut down lottery machines around the state until service was restored about 4 p.m., agency spokesman Dominick DeMarco said.

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