Blagojevich inquiry expands

CHICAGO - The federal investigation of Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich has expanded to include his decision to shut a state-run maximum-security prison.

FBI agents and investigators from U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's office interviewed State Sen. Dan Rutherford, whose district includes the Pontiac Correctional Center, about the circumstances surrounding Blagojevich's announcement in May that the prison would close, Rutherford said yesterday.

"Information came to me that caused me to pause," Rutherford, a Republican, said on his Web site. "Since the closure of Pontiac was announced, it was obvious the decision was not made as a planned effort to improve the correctional system."

Randall Samborn, a spokesman for Fitzgerald, declined to comment. Blagojevich, a Democrat, is charged with trying to auction the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama, and with pressuring state contractors, private institutions and the Chicago Tribune for cash or other favors.

- Bloomberg News

Minn. court won't toss 100 ballots

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled against Republican Norm Coleman yesterday in his U.S. Senate recount battle with Democrat Al Franken, refusing to order election officials to throw out more than 100 ballots Coleman's campaign says may have been double-counted.

Franken says he holds a lead of 35 to 50 votes out of nearly 3 million cast. Coleman's campaign argued to the court that in 25 precincts, voters whose ballots were damaged were given duplicate ballots, allowing them to vote twice. Most of those were Franken voters, Coleman said.

The decision leaves it to state election officials to continue their review. More than 1,000 absentee ballots must also be sent to state election officials by Jan. 2, the same court ruled earlier yesterday.

- Bloomberg News

Bush calls troops to offer thanks

WASHINGTON - President Bush made nine Christmas Eve phone calls yesterday to U.S. military personnel around the world to express gratitude for their service, the White House said.

"He thanked the members for their continued sacrifices that they are making in serving our country overseas and away from family," spokeswoman Dana Perino said by e-mail. The soldiers, representing all branches of the armed forces, are in Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba, the Arabian Gulf or on domestic military bases, the White House said.

Bush made the calls from Camp David in Maryland, where he and his family, including his parents, are spending Christmas. He and Laura Bush are to travel tomorrow to Crawford, Texas, and return to Washington on Jan. 1.

- Bloomberg News

Elsewhere:

Barack and Michelle Obama

will twirl their way through 10 official inaugural balls on Jan. 20, the Presidential Inaugural Committee said yesterday. Six of the balls will be held at the Washington Convention Center, with others at Union Station, the Washington Hilton, the National Building Museum, and the D.C. Armory.

Fumes from a chemical

used to deice planes got into the passenger cabin of an Alaska Airlines jet yesterday at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, irritating the eyes of people on board, officials said. Paramedics treated 26 people, and seven, including all five crew members, decided to go to a hospital, an airline spokeswoman said.

City court workers,

including a judge, in the Atlanta suburb of Douglasville will undergo sensitivity training after police arrested a Muslim woman for refusing to remove her religious headscarf before attending a hearing. She was released in less than a day.