National briefs / Deficit trends downward

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WASHINGTON -- The U.S. budget deficit improved markedly in March, a sign that the deficit is on course to fall below $1 trillion for the first time in five years.

The U.S. government ran a budget deficit of $106.5 million in March, the Treasury Department said Wednesday.

That's almost 50 percent below the deficit of $198.2 billion in March 2012.

For the fiscal year to date, the deficit of $600 billion is 23 percent lower than in the first six months of the past fiscal year.

Interior pick confirmed

WASHINGTON -- Sally Jewell, CEO of outdoor retailer Recreational Equipment Inc., won easy Senate confirmation Wednesday to be the nation's next interior secretary.

The Senate approved her nomination, 87-11, with all the no votes coming from Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was among those who opposed Ms. Jewell.

At Interior, she will oversee more than 500 million acres of national parks and other public lands, plus more than 1 billion acres offshore. The lands are used for energy development, mining, recreation and other purposes.

WikiLeaks case ruling

FORT MEADE, Md. -- A military judge cleared the way Wednesday for a member of the team that raided Osama bin Laden's compound to testify at the trial of an Army private charged in a massive leak of U.S. secrets to the WikiLeaks website.

Col. Denise Lind ruled for the prosecution during a court-martial pretrial hearing for Pfc. Bradley Manning at Fort Meade, near Baltimore.

Prosecutors say the witness, presumably a Navy SEAL, collected digital evidence showing that the al-Qaida leader requested and received from an associate some of the documents Pvt. Manning has acknowledged sending to WikiLeaks.

Captive firefighters saved

SUWANEE, Ga. -- A gunman who was having financial problems held four firefighters for hours in a suburban Atlanta home, demanding his cable and power be turned back on, before being shot dead when SWAT members stormed the house, authorities said Wednesday.

The hostages had cuts and bruises from explosions officers set off to distract the gunman before moving in, but they will be fine, a fire official said.

Earlier Wednesday, five firefighters responded to what seemed like a routine medical call and were eventually taken hostage by the unidentified suspect inside the house, police said. The gunman released one of the firefighters to move a fire truck but held the other four.

Imposter guilty of murder

LOS ANGELES -- A German immigrant who spent decades posing as an heir to the fabled Rockefeller oil fortune and using other identities was found guilty Wednesday of first-degree murder in the death of a man whose bones were found buried nearly 20 years ago at a suburban Los Angeles home.

Christian Gerhartsreiter, 52, was convicted in the heavily circumstantial case that went to trial 28 years after the disappearance of newlyweds John and Linda Sohus.

Political comeback?

NEW YORK -- Former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, who resigned over a sexting scandal in 2011, says he's weighing a run for New York City mayor this year.

The Democrat told The New York Times Magazine in a story posted online Wednesday that "it's now or maybe never for me" but acknowledged that it's a long shot because some people "just don't have room for a second narrative about me."

nation


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