Nation briefs 2/11/04

Price tag complicates passage of highway bill

WASHINGTON -- President Bush and some Senate conservatives are balking at the price tag of a major highway bill, dimming prospects for legislation that normally is embraced by Congress because it brings money and jobs to every corner of America. The Senate's six-year, $318 billion highway and mass transit bill, in its second week on the Senate floor, faces a Republican filibuster, White House opposition and possible linkage to an energy package that was rejected last year.

White House aides testify before CIA leak grand jury

WASHINGTON -- At least four current and former officials involved in the White House communications operation have testified before a grand jury investigating the leak of an undercover CIA officer's name, people familiar with the probe said Tuesday. Press secretary Scott McClellan and Adam Levine, who formerly worked in the press office, testified before the panel on Friday. A deputy in McClellan's office, Claire Buchan, said she appeared before the panel on Jan. 30. One person close to the investigation said that Levine was questioned mainly about White House press office procedures.

Ex-Illinois governor's aide charged in bid scheme

CHICAGO -- A longtime top aide to former Illinois Gov. George Ryan was charged Tuesday with taking part in a scheme to rig bids for government contracts. Scott Fawell, already serving prison time for racketeering, was accused of providing inside information to a St. Louis contractor that enabled the company to reduce its bid and land a government contract for an expansion at the McCormick Place exposition center on Chicago's downtown lakefront. Also charged were Fawell's top assistant, two former employees of the contractor, and a Chicago lobbying firm and one of its former employees.

NASA rover sets one-day distance record on Mars

LOS ANGELES -- The Spirit rover shattered a one-day distance record on Mars, rolling nearly 70 feet across the planet's rocky surface, NASA said Tuesday. The drive covered more than three times the greatest distance that NASA's tiny Sojourner rover ever traveled in a day on its own 1997 mission to Mars, mission manager Jim Erickson said. Spirit drove "blind" about half the distance, following a planned route to a stopping point. For the second half of the short trip, the rover drove to a second stopping point, autonomously executed a turn, and then rolled onward before stopping, Erickson said.

-- From wire reports