TPM News

The federal probe into the circumstances that triggered the near-collapse of AIG in 2008 has "hit a brick wall," unnamed sources have told CBS News.

Joseph Cassano, the AIG exec at the center of the probe, will sit down next week with DOJ lawyers, in what will likely bring an end to the investigation. Cassano is former head of AIG Financial Products, the unit of the company responsible for the disastrous credit-default swaps that led to the firm being bailed out to the tune of $180 billion.

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White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked today about Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele's claim that he has a slimmer margin of error because he's black.

"That is a fairly silly comment to make. I think Michael Steele's problem isn't the race card, it's the credit card," Gibbs told reporters.

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Responding to a question this morning from TPMDC's Christina Bellantoni, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said he hasn't heard yet from President Obama on Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens saying he'll "surely" retire while Obama is in office.

However, that doesn't mean Obama is unprepared.

"If somebody retires from the Supreme Court we will be ready," Gibbs said.

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On their first recess break since passing historic health care reform legislation, members of Congress have not faced anything like the crowds and anger from anti-reform advocates they faced last summer, when guns, shouts and even fist fights became a part of more than a few town hall meetings. A review of local press coverage from the past week shows that the rage that met members on the weekend the House passed the health care bill has, for the most part, not followed them home.

Any number of factors could be responsible for the toned-down crowds over the past week. Conservative groups that organized protesters to pack town halls before the vote are largely staying out now that the legislative battle is lost for their side. Perhaps Democratic plans to mitigate the threat of protest at town halls have worked.

Either way, the town hall seemed to return to its roots last week -- rather than a place for insults and misdemeanor assault charges, the meetings between constituents and their members are once again about relatively poor attendance and wonky Q&A sessions.

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Conservative activists, presidential hopefuls and Republican officials descend on New Orleans Thursday for the 3-day Southern Republican Leadership Conference -- the first big test of 2012 mettle since President Obama scored his health care victory. It's also the first major GOP event in a city devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which contributed to the end of Republican rule in Washington.

From Sarah Palin to Mike Pence the Republicans who may challenge Obama two years from now will attempt to win over conservatives at one of the premiere events for the GOP. Just about everyone considering a bid will appear, except former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is finishing out his book tour. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty will address the conference via video. Pawlenty is opting to attend a welcome-home ceremony for soldiers returning from Iraq instead.

Timing is everything in politics, and this event could set the tone for how the GOP will challenge Obama in the next year. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, Republicans dedicated hours of the event to promising to "kill" the health care bill. Now that it's passed and Democrats are enjoying an uptick in popularity, it's going to be time to refocus on a new line of attack. It's also possible there will be either a refinement of the "repeal" message, or that that conference will showcase Republican divisions on the topic.

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The federal probe into Sen. John Ensign's sex and lobbying scandal is said to be focused on whether the Nevada senator structured financial transactions in order to evade reporting requirements. That's according to "a reliable source familiar with the deliberations occurring inside the Justice Department," reports Jon Ralston of the Las Vegas Sun.

Ralston's report suggests that the $96,000 payment from Ensign's parents to the Hamptons -- which was called a gift, but appears to have been an unreported severance payment from the senator -- may have run afoul of "structuring" laws. If that's accurate, it raises another question: could Ensign have dragged his mother and father -- a wealthy and well-connected casino entrepreneur -- into legal jeopardy with him?

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Roll Call: Budget Fight Looms, Dems Must Decide On Reconciliation Roll Call reports that Democrats will have to decide whether to use budget reconciliation again for big policy initiatives. On the one hand, it may be the only way to claim another major legislative victory in the face of Republican opposition. But on the other hand, the health care bill involved weeks of careful preparation and vetting of provisions with House Democrats and the Senate Parliamentarian, in order to write an acceptable bill that would not violate reconciliation rules.

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama will receive the presidential daily briefing at 9:30 a.m. ET, and the economic daily briefing at 10 a.m. ET. The First Family will attend the Easter Egg Roll at 10:45 a.m. ET, with the President and First Lady delivering remarks. Obama will throw out the first pitch on opening day at Nationals Park, at 12:55 p.m. ET. Obama will meet with senior advisers at 5:15 p.m. ET.

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Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, in his first interview since the committee was caught spending $2,000 at a bondage-themed nightclub in L.A., told Good Morning America that he was "very angry" when he found out about the charges.

"I was very angry, and we dealt with it. We got to the bottom of it, the employee was summarily dismissed for going against our internal policies in finance," Steele said. He added that the committee was limiting what kind of events its finance department could host.

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Stevens To Retire From SCOTUS While Obama Is President Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has declared that he will retire during President Obama's time in office. "I will surely do it while he's still president," said Stevens. He also said: "I can tell you that I love the job, and deciding whether to leave it is a very difficult decision. But I want to make it in a way that's best for the court."

Specter: Stevens Should Wait Until Next Year To Retire Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) hoped that Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens would wait until next year to retire, when Specter thinks there could be a less toxic political environment. "I think the gridlock in the Senate might well produce a filibuster, which would tie up the Senate on a Supreme Court nominee," Specter said. "I think if a year passes there's a much better chance we can come to a consensus."

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