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WASHINGTON: No criminality in attorney firings

The Justice Department's actions during the Bush administration were inappropriately political, but not criminal, when it fired a U.S. attorney in 2006, prosecutors said Wednesday in closing a two-year investigation without filing charges. The decision closes the books on one of the lingering political disputes of the Bush administration, one that Democrats said was evidence of GOP politics run amok and that Republicans have always said was a manufactured controversy. Investigators looked into whether the administration improperly dismissed nine U.S. attorneys, and in particular New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, as a way to influence criminal cases. The scandal added to mounting criticism that the administration had politicized the Justice Department, a charge that contributed to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Iglesias was fired after the head of New Mexico's Republican Party complained to the White House that he was soft on voter fraud. Harriet Miers, then White House counsel, told lawmakers that presidential adviser Karl Rove was "very agitated" over Iglesias "and wanted something done about it." Rove has said he played no role in deciding which U.S. attorneys were fired. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) led Democratic attacks in the matter on Gonzales and the Bush White House. Yesterday, Schumer accepted the verdict of the investigation. "But we should not forget that this was one of the most tawdry moments in the history of the Justice Department," he said.

ILLINOIS: He won't talk on the stand

Rod Blagojevich's surprise decision not to testify after all at his corruption trial is a gamble that spared the ousted governor a possible ordeal on the witness stand, but it could backfire with the jury. The defense team rested its case Wednesday without calling a single witness. Blagojevich will not face embarrassing questions about spending $200,000 on suits while going deep in debt, using profanities for some of the nation's top leaders and hiding in a bathroom to avoid meetings. "I think the cross-examination would have been devastating," said Ron Safer, former head of the criminal division of the U.S. attorney's office. "But I think the silence is also devastating." Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to scheming to sell or trade President Barack Obama's former Senate seat.

MIDWEST: Wild plane ride in turbulence

Passengers were thrown from their seats, drinks and loose items flew through the cabin and oxygen masks dropped from overhead when a United Airlines jetliner took a harrowing drop amid severe turbulence. A woman was thrown out of her seat and hit her head against the ceiling. Another hit her head on the wall, leaving a crack near a window. "Everyone was quite panicked," Kaoma Bechaz, 19, said yesterday, one day after United Flight 967 hit turbulence over southwest Missouri. At least 22 people were hurt, none seriously. The flight had left Washington with 255 passengers and was headed for Los Angeles. At 34,000 feet it hit turbulence 90 miles from Kansas City, Mo. The plane was diverted to Denver, where it landed safely around 7:45 p.m.

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