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Obama: Snowden can ‘make his case’ in court, Olympics boycott bad idea

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Barack Obama said Friday that he rejects calls to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, over Moscow’s handling of Edward Snowden and anti-gay laws that have generated scrutiny. Obama said he is “looking forward to gay and lesbian athletes” winning medals for the United States, and believes Russia’s team will be weaker if it ha no gays or lesbians competing.

[Earlier update, 3:43 p.m. ET]

— President Barack Obama said in a news conference Friday that he wants a Federal Reserve chairman who keeps an eye on inflation as well as other key aspects of the economy. He said both Larry Summers and Janet Yellen are “highly qualified” candidates for the job, and he will make a decision on who will replace Ben Bernanke in the fall.

[Earlier update, 3:33 p.m. ET]

— President Barack Obama said Friday that NSA leaker Edward Snowden can return to the United States and appear in court and “make his case,” if he “believes what he did is right.” Obama said there were “other avenues,” through whistle-blower protections, he could have taken instead of leaking national security surveillance information directly.

— President Barack Obama said Friday that his decision to not go to Moscow next month for a summit was not solely related to Russia’s decision to grant temporary asylum to the admitted NSA leaker Edward Snowden. He said the United States must “take a pause” in dealing with Russia to assess where things stand. He added that his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin is often productive, and that Snowden is not a patriot for exposing surveillance secrets.

[Earlier update, 3:25 p.m. ET]

— President Barack Obama said at a news conference Friday that it is “important to ask questions” about privacy amid leaks and other revelations about government surveillance programs that have prompted scrutiny. “It’s not enough for me, as president, to have confidence in these programs. The American people have to have confidence as well,” he said.

— President Barack Obama said Friday at a news conference that he’s taking steps to improve public confidence in national security surveillance.

These include working with Congress to pursue appropriate improvements of the telephone surveillance program; reforming the secret court that approves that initiative; improving transparency to provide as much information as possible to the public, including the legal rational for government collection activities; and appointing a high-level, independent group of outside experts to review surveillance technologies.

[Original story published at 2:19 p.m. ET]

Source: Obama to talk about measures to shine light on U.S. surveillance

President Barack Obama is set to announce new measures Friday to increase transparency and restore public trust in government surveillance programs, an administration official told CNN’s Jessica Yellin. According to the same official, House aides have been briefed on the plan.

Since Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, leaked secret documents to the media, critics have called the NSA’s domestic surveillance — including a program that monitors the metadata of domestic phone calls — a government overreach. Many of those same critics have asked the Obama administration and Congress to reign in the programs.

On top of what Obama is expected to announce, the White House news conference is likely to be an exercise in what he wants to talk about — his economic message — and what he feels he has to talk about — terrorism and the U.S.-Russia relationship — before he leaves Washington for a family vacation.

For the last few weeks, Obama has traversed the country to push his economic message that the White House says will be its focus going into the fall. And if the White House had its way, that’s how Obama would open the news conference.

“The White House is itching for this fight over the economy,” said Candy Crowley, CNN’s chief political correspondent.

But it has been more than three month since the president took questions from reporters in the White House briefing room, and much has transpired since then, including Russia accepting the asylum request for Snowden and closing embassies in Africa, the Middle East and Asia because of a heightened terror threat.

If he headed out to his Martha’s Vineyard vacation without addressing the issues, “it would be seen as a mistake,” Crowley said. “The most immediate topic, I think, on his plate, has got to be what’s going on in terms of terrorism and the closing of the embassies.”

Last week, officials shuttered 22 U.S. embassies and consulates for the day on Sunday amid fears of an al Qaeda attack. On Sunday afternoon, the State Department said it had extended embassy and consulate closures in 15 of the locations until Friday and later added four other posts to the list. The decision was seen as unprecedented from many in the diplomacy and intelligence communities.

Even in light of the terrorism warning and shuttered embassies, however, the White House stuck with its economic message this week, much as it has done in prior speeches.

In his first speech in the economic refocusing series in Galesburg, Illinois, in July, Obama pledged he would use the rest his presidency advocating for working-class Americans. “The one thing I care about is how to use every minute of the remaining 1,276 days of my term to make this country work for working Americans again,” he said to a cheering crowd. “That’s all I care about. I don’t have another election.”

A few days later, this time in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Obama proposed a “grand bargain” with Republicans, saying he would cut corporate tax rates — something Republicans have long supported — if the GOP would agree to bolster the country’s manufacturing sector and network of community colleges by investing in each.

Republicans have panned these speeches. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the economic refocus caused “a collective bipartisan eye roll,” while House Speaker John Boehner called the refocus “an Easter Egg with no candy in it.”

The news conference is another opportunity for Obama to push his economic agenda while Congress is away.

“I think he wants to set the table for the big fights in the fall, and he’s been doing that out on the road, and here is a chance for him to do it in the White House briefing room,” Crowley said.

After Congress returns to Washington after its five-week summer recess, one of the first things lawmakers must do is fund the government past September 30, when the 2013 fiscal calendar ends. Because of marked differences between the House and Senate on spending, that is expected to be a major fight.

On top of that, most budget experts expect that the debt ceiling — the limit on the amount of national debt the United States is allowed to carry — will need to be raised sometime between mid-October and mid-November.

The lines are drawn — Obama told Democrats on Capitol Hill last week that he won’t negotiate on the debt ceiling, and some Republicans, like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, have threatened to shut down the government over the debt ceiling and budget bills as a way to continue their attack on Obamacare.

“There are some Democrats, some in the media and some Republicans who portray a shutdown as a horrible calamity,” Cruz said at a recent Heritage Foundation speech. “I think the term ‘shutdown’ is a misnomer. It’s actually a partial, temporary shutdown. We have seen them before.”

And then there is Russia’s harboring of Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked government secrets to the media. Obama has commented on the ongoing issue but has not made a public statement on the country’s decision to grant Snowden temporary asylum.

Earlier this week, the White House canceled a much-discussed visit to Moscow next month for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, citing a lack of progress in bilateral relations since Putin regained the presidency a year ago. Although the president will still travel to Russia, he will not meet directly with Putin.

White House officials acknowledge that Russia’s decision to grant Snowden asylum was a factor in the decision.

Obama has faced criticism for not being tougher with Russia in the past, but as Crowley points out, the country is too important on a number of issues to ignore.

“One of his (Obama’s) legacies is that he would like to bring down those nuclear arsenals,” Crowley said. “You can’t do that unless the other person’s at the table, and that’s Russia.”

CNN’s Jessica Yellin, Elise Labott and CNNMoney’s Jeanne Sahadi contributed to this report.