National Briefs: Austin to head U.S. Centcom

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WASHINGTON -- Gen. Lloyd Austin, the last U.S. commander in Iraq, has been tapped to lead the U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East and the Afghan war, the Pentagon announced Thursday.

If confirmed, Gen. Austin, 59, who is currently serving as the vice chief of staff of the Army, will oversee the drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan as the United States ends its combat mission there by the end of 2014.

Gen. Austin would replace Gen. James Mattis at the Tampa, Fla.,-based command. Centcom has made unwanted headlines in recent weeks because of the social ties maintained by top commanders there with Jill Kelley, a socialite who sparked an investigation that uncovered an extramarital affair by former CIA chief David Petraeus.

U.S. attorney quits

WASHINGTON -- The top federal prosecutor in New Orleans, the longest-serving U.S. attorney in the country, resigned Thursday amid an investigation into possible prosecutorial misconduct by two of his top deputies.

Jim Letten, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, announced his resignation at a news conference.

The resignation comes eight months into a scandal that led to a Justice Department investigation of Mr. Letten's top deputy and a second veteran prosecutor in connection with anonymous online criticism of the target of a federal inquiry.

The two prosecutors, former first assistant U.S. attorney Jan Mann and former assistant U.S. attorney Sal Perricone, acknowledged using aliases to post comments on the website of the Times-Picayune newspaper that were highly critical of the owner of a local landfill that was under federal investigation, according to court papers.

Mr. Perricone, a member of Mr. Letten's inner circle, resigned and Mr. Mann was demoted.

Anti-union bill advances

LANSING, Mich. -- The Michigan state House passed the first right-to-work bill late Thursday afternoon in a 58-52 vote, but the bill can't move on to the Senate until the next session day -- possibly Friday, if a session is scheduled -- because of a procedural move by Democrats who are seeking reconsideration.

Right-to-work legislation makes it illegal to require financial support of a union as a condition of employment.

Trenton mayor indicted

TRENTON, N.J. -- The mayor of New Jersey's capital, his brother and a friend were indicted by a federal grand jury on bribery and fraud charges tied to a city-owned lot and a plan to build a parking garage on it.

Trenton Mayor Tony Mack, 46, a Democrat, Ralphiel Mack, 40, and Joseph Giorgianni, 63, were accused of participating in a scheme to accept $119,000 in bribes in exchange for helping two individuals acquire the parcel, U.S. prosecutors said today in a statement.

All three men are expected to plead not guilty.

Stem cell agency faulted

LOS ANGELES -- California has transformed into a powerhouse player in stem cell research, but the taxpayer-funded institute responsible for that needs an overhaul, a report released Thursday found.

The review by the Institute of Medicine lauded the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine .

But the report found too many members of the governing board represented schools that won funding and recommended a restructuring to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest.



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