The Note’s Must-Reads for Friday, March 28, 2014

By Jayce Henderson

Mar 28, 2014 3:27am

The Note’s Must-Reads are a round-up of today’s political headlines and stories from ABC News and the top U.S. newspapers. Posted Monday through Friday right here at www.abcnews.com

Compiled by ABC News’ Jayce Henderson, Janine Elliot and Matthew Busekroos

PRESIDENT OBAMA AND POPE FRANCIS
POLITICO’S Carrie Budoff  Brown “Letter from Rome: A president, a Pope and one black cat” VATICAN CITY – President Barack Obama sat opposite Pope Francis at his spare desk adorned with a crucifix, looking very much like the visitor he was. The balance of power — an intangible element that the president is accustomed to controlling — appeared subtly tipped in the pontiff’s favor. Obama looked reserved, even a bit nervous, repeatedly expressing his appreciation to the 77-year-old pontiff, who broke into a fatherly smile in return. LINK

NEW JERSEY Gov CHRIS CHRISTIE
ABC News’ Abby D. Phillips: “Chris Christie: ‘They Love me in Iowa’” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is already feeling confident about his chances in at least one presidential battleground: Iowa. Despite the potential political damage he suffered from the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal, Christie told ABC News’ Diane Sawyer in an exclusive interview today that voters — even presidential primary voters — still love his brash style. “I think they love me in Iowa too,” Christie said in the interview, which  aired on World News with Diane Sawyer tonight. LINK

ABC News’ Chris Good: “Bridge Scandal Brought Chris Christie ‘Closer to My Family’” The bridge scandal that has embroiled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie caused some “soul searching” that led him to spend “a lot more time at home than I ever have,” the governor told ABC’s Diane Sawyer in an exclusive interview. “It’s brought me closer to my family. It’s brought me to reevaluate some of the way I spend my time. I think you can get caught up in this world and this life so easily,” Christie said. The governor said he’s rediscovered something about his home life: “I really like my family.” Christie and his wife, Mary Pat, have four children, born between 1993 and 2003. LINK

Wall Street Journal’s Heather Haddon: “Lawyers’ Report Clears Christie Over Bridge Lane Closures” A report from lawyers hired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie absolved him of any role in orchestrating lane closures at the George Washington Bridge last year, and also cleared his senior staff from the controversy. At the same time, the report released Thursday said that two former aides to the Republican governor planned the closures, and misled his senior staff into thinking that the lanes were realigned as part of a traffic study. “Our findings today are a vindication of Gov. Christie,” said Randy Mastro, a lawyer with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, a Manhattan-based firm that conducted the review. The lane closures in September caused five days of traffic jams in Fort Lee, N.J., on the western side of the bridge linking New Jersey and Manhattan. LINK

USA Today’s Martha T. Moore: “Bridgegate won’t end with Christie-backed report An internal investigation released Thursday declared that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had no involvement in a politically motivated traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge last year. But the governor must still clear two probes from likely less-friendly investigators: the Democratic-controlled state Legislature and federal prosecutors. Lawyers hired by the Christie administration to investigate the so-called “Bridgegate scandal” said Thursday their research shows the governor did not know of the scheme — as Christie has maintained since December. “Our findings today are a vindication of Gov. Christie,” lawyer Randy Mastro, who headed the investigation, said at a news conference Thursday. LINK

The Hill’s Rebecca Shabad: “Christie denies he ‘inspired’ scandal: ‘I don’t believe that I did’” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) denied Thursday that he “inspired” the George Washington Bridge scandal that created a traffic jam on the world’s busiest bridge last September. He made the comment in his first TV interview since the scandal unraveled in January, which aired on ABC’s “World News With Diane Sawyer” Thursday evening. “I spent a lot of time the last 11 weeks thinking about what did I do if I did anything to contribute to this,” Christie said. “I don’t believe that I did.” LINK

The Los Angeles Times’ Joseph Tanfani: “Chris Christie lawyers clear him, blame aides in bridge dispute” Lawyers hired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have cleared him of wrongdoing in the massive traffic jam at the foot of the George Washington Bridge, concluding that it was just one more “crazy idea” by one of Christie’s loyalists, motivated by a deep and mysterious grudge against a Democratic mayor. The report, immediately dismissed by Democrats as an attempt to extricate Christie from a political jam,  had some fresh revelations: It said David Wildstein, who ordered the four-day closure of bridge access roads in Fort Lee, claimed to other aides last year that he told Christie about the traffic problems while they were happening; the governor has insisted he never found out until after they were over. LINK

The New York Daily News’ Edgar Sandoval and Larry McShane: “Chris Christie advisers had a ‘personal relationship’ ahead of Bridgegate scandal: report” A taxpayer-financed report giving $1 million of Bridgegate absolution to Gov. Chris Christie was blasted Thursday as everything from a whitewash to a work of fiction. The 344-page review compiled by the governor’s hand-picked counsel blamed the punitive traffic jam solely on Christie’s ex-deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly and former Port Authority executive David Wildstein. In addition to sparing any other administration or PA officials, the report flatly dismissed Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s claim of a Hurricane Sandy relief shakedown by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. LINK

AFFORDABLE CARE ACT
ABC News’ Erin Dooley: “White House Touts 6 Million Obamacare Signups Despite Missed Goal”   Four days ahead of the March 31 Obamacare enrollment deadline, the White House announced today that more than 6 million Americans have signed up for health insurance through the federal and state marketplaces. It’s  a milestone that President Obama touted on a conference call with health care navigators. But 6 million is not the number the administration had originally envisioned. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicted in May that 7 million people would enroll in Obamacare by the end of March. LINK

Wall Street Journal’s Louise Radnofsky and Colleen McCain Nelson: “Health-Law Sign-Ups Top Six Million, White House Says”  The White House said the Affordable Care Act crossed a key threshold as it announced Thursday that more than six million people have signed up for private health coverage through state and federal insurance exchanges. The number, released days before the Monday deadline for most people to enroll for this year, surpasses the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s revised estimate that six million people would enroll in private health plans for 2014—down from its initial forecast of seven million. LINK

USA Today’s Kelly Kennedy: “HHS hits 6 million health care enrollment mark” More than 6 million people have enrolled in the federal and state health exchanges, President Obama announced Thursday. This means the administration has met its latest goal, as projected by the Congressional Budget Office, to ensure the insurance system is sustainable. Obama made the announcement on a conference call with health care navigators and volunteers while he was traveling in Italy. He thanked them for their help. The latest milestone comes after the troubled opening of the federal exchange Oct. 1. Software problems and other issues rendered the site virtually unusable for weeks, and it took a surge of technology support to have it fixed by Nov. 30.  LINK

RUSSIA
Wall Street Journal’s Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes: “Russian Buildup Stokes Worries Russian troops massing near Ukraine are actively concealing their positions and establishing supply lines that could be used in a prolonged deployment, ratcheting up concerns that Moscow is preparing for another major incursion and not conducting exercises as it claims, U.S. officials said. Such an incursion could take place without warning because Russia has already deployed the array of military forces needed for such an operation, say officials briefed on the latest U.S. intelligence. LINK

Bloomberg’s Kathleen Hunter “U.S. House Poised to Clear Sanctions Called Putin Warning” The U.S. House of Representatives is ready to clear legislation that would provide aid to Ukraine and impose additional sanctions on Russian officials for the annexation of Crimea. The House’s next opportunity to act on the bill, which the Senate passed yesterday with broad bipartisan support, would be in a session scheduled for 11 a.m., Washington time, today. The measure includes about $1 billion in loan guarantees and authorizes $150 million in direct assistance to Ukraine. It would impose sanctions against Ukrainians and Russians deemed responsible for corruption and violence. LINK

Sen TED CRUZ
The Washington Times’ Seth McLaughlin: “Ted Cruz reveals his comic side in speeches” When Sen. Ted Cruz was in the middle of his 21-hour filibuster, he had already read “Green Eggs and Ham” to his children via C-SPAN, found himself killing time and needed a way to praise his fellow filibusterist, Sen. Mike Lee. So he tapped into his actor’s training and summoned up his best Darth Vader impression. It was the impressionistic coming-out for the Texas Republican, who has since trotted out his versions of Jay Leno, Winston Churchill and fictional swordsman Inigo Montoya from the movie “The Princess Bride.” LINK

ABC NEWS VIDEO:
President Obama Meets Pope Francis for First TimeLINK
California Governor Accused of Bribery, Gun TraffickingLINK
Internal Review Clears Chris Christie of Wrongdoing in Bridge ScandalLINK
Chris Christie Says Staffers Did ‘Inexplicably Stupid ThingsLINK
Bridge Scandal Brought Chris Christie Closer to His Family”  LINK
Chris Christie: ‘They Love Me in Iowa’LINK

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