TRNS News Notes is brought to you by Victoria Jones. Victoria Jones is the Chief White House correspondent and global analyst of the Washington DC based Talk Radio News Service, where her insight and analysis are made available to over 400 news talk radio stations around the country and internationally.


In the News

  • Man charged: plot to attack U.S. Capitol – ISIS?
  • House GOP hits Obama on immigration
  • GOP retreats to Sweetest Place on Earth
  • Cameron to press Obama on tech
  • Al Qaeda role in Paris attack?
  • Obama to call for paid leave today
  • U.S. airstrikes in Syria: fail?
  • Secret Service bumps top brass
  • Iran nuke talks underway – again


Man Charged: Plot to Attack U.S. Capitol – ISIS?
• Days after NYPD officials warned of a threat against police officers and soldiers in the U.S., Canada, Great Britain and France by ISIS, federal authorities charged an Ohio man with plotting an attack on the U.S. Capitol inspired by the militant group (CBS, me)

• A criminal complaint from the FBI said Christopher Lee Cornell, 20, who went by the alias Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah, met with an undercover informant multiple times as he allegedly planned the attack on members of Congress and others at the Capitol. The FBI said Cornell had been posting Twitter statements and videos indicating support for ISIS and for violent jihad

• Cornell met with the informant twice in Cincinnati in Oct, and said weapons were needed for an attack, the FBI said. He also showed jihadist videos and info about making bombs on his laptop computer, the FBI said. At one point, Cornell wrote: “We already got a thumbs up from the Brothers over there and Anwar al Awlaki before his martyrdom and many others,”

• They met again twice in Nov and Cornell said he considered members of Congress enemies and wanted to attack the Capitol, the FBI said. Cornell told the informant he planned to detonate pipe bombs at and near the Capitol, and use rifles to shoot and kill employees. He made plans to get guns and make pipe bombs, and saved up money for the attack – FBI

• Tuesday, Cornell and the informant discussed the final steps to go ahead to Washington DC, and on Wednesday, Cornell bought a a pair of M-15 semiautomatic rifles and 600 rounds of ammunition for the mission, the FBI said. Cornell was arrested after he bought the guns, prosecutors said

• The IRS’s taxpayer advocate says services to taxpayers are likely to drop to their worst levels since 2001, brought about by five years of budget-cutting. If you call, you’ll likely be on hold for 30 minutes – that is if they don’t hang up on you, what they euphemistically call a “courtesy disconnect” (NYT, me)
House GOP Hits Obama on Immigration
• Launching a fresh attack on President Obama’s immigration policies, the House voted 236 to 191 Wednesday to block immigration actions he took last year, passing the bill after adding a series of amendments gutting most of his immigration policy (AP, Hill, TRNS, me)

• But 10 Republicans, mostly from suburban swing districts, voted against the final bill after 26 had voted against a proposal to end Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects hundreds of thousands of “dreamers” from deportation

• Before the votes began, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) made a rare speech on the House floor in support and quoted 22 times when Obama said he didn’t have the authority to unilaterally rewrite immigration law. “We are dealing with a president who has ignored the people, ignored the Constitution, and even his own past statements,” Boehner said

• Rep Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) said the amendments to undo Obama’s actions would hurt Republicans. “The fruits of your action today will only cause anger and outrage and the mobilization of an immigrant community throughout this nation that will be the death knell to the future of your party as an institution.”

• House approval of a spending bill for Dept of Homeland Security is just the opening act in a debate expected to stretch into late Feb, when funding for the dept expires. A senior GOP lawmaker suggested Wed that House and Senate leaders might file a lawsuit, as state Republican attorneys general have done. The bill still has to get through the Senate – no Dems support
• The Republican Party will choose its presidential nominee in July 2016, a full month before the GOP traditionally picks its candidate. Money, Money. The Republican convention in Cleveland will be held the week of 18 July – TRNS will be there, covering it
GOP Retreats to Sweetest Place on Earth
• Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wants voters to know that Republican control of Washington isn’t “scary.” But this week, Rep Randy Weber (R-TX) compared President Obama to Adolf Hitler. And No. 3 House Republican Steve Scalise faced a barrage of questions about why he once opposed a bill to apologize for slavery (Politico, me)

• And just before Republicans departed for a retreat meant to close the giant chasm between the two chambers, the House GOP voted to wipe away programs to defer deportations – including of young people brought to this country illegally as children. Some Senate Republicans are balking at the package

• With Republicans controlling both chambers for the first time in eight years, the retreat today and Friday to Hershey PA is specifically meant to dampen expectations about what will happen in Republican Washington, according to multiple sources involved in the planning


• Both chambers’ leaderships also want to provide lawmakers with a “reality-based outlook” on what McConnell can get through the Senate. Sen James Lankford (R-OK), a former member of House leadership, said, “There’s not a great understanding in the House about how the Senate moves day to day.” (or doesn’t move)

• House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) plans to arrive at the retreat armed with a laundry list of legislative priorities that he hopes can get through both chambers. Topics include energy policy, regulatory reform, tax policy, changes to Obamacare and using budget reconciliation to avoid Senate filibusters. Immigration is incredibly tricky for the party

• Sens Rand Paul (KY), Marco Rubio (FL) and Tim Scott (SC) are skipping the two-day gathering. Sen Ted Cruz (TX), a frequent headache for both Senate and House leadership, will attend. Former British PM Tony Blair (who was a Labor PM – not Conservative – not sure you could tell) and comedian Jay Leno are among the speakers
• A CIA inquiry has cleared spy agency employees of wrongdoing in a dispute with the Senate Intelligence Committee over allegations CIA officials inappropriately accessed (stole) docs prepared by Senate investigators probing the agency’s use of torture (huge surprise there). Committee member Sen Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is livid (Reuters, me)
Cameron to Press Obama on Tech
• Conservative British PM David Cameron plans to lobby President Obama this week to more publicly criticize U.S. tech companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, that offer encrypted communications that can’t be unscrambled to more closely monitor their content and share potential terror threats with govt intel agencies (FT, WSJ, Hill,TRNS, me)

• Tech companies have criticized the Obama admin for its efforts to mine social media networks and email for intel info in the wake of Edward Snowden’s disclosures of the scope of NSA monitoring. And while Obama has aggressively sold new cybersecurity legislation this week, his bills have included privacy protections

• Obama and Cameron vowed in a joint op-ed published today in the Times of London that they wouldn’t allow terrorists to “muzzle free speech following last week’s terror attack on Charlie Hebdo. “…We will not be cowed by extremists,” they wrote. “We will defeat these barbaric killers and their distorted ideology.”

• Cameron and Obama are scheduled to meet for a working dinner tonight, as well as additional meetings and a presser Friday. The leaders are also expected to discuss the state of the economy, trade issues, and other topics, including counterterrorism, Ebola, Russia and the war against ISIS. Cameron faces a general election in May
• Five Guantanamo Bay detainees have been transferred, the DoD announced Wed. Four were sent to Oman and one was transferred to Estonia.  They were not released to their home country of Yemen because the govt there can’t ensure they won’t join al Qaeda elements. Currently 122 prisoners left at Guantanamo (CNN, me)
Al Qaeda Role in Paris Attack?
• Cherif Kouachi most likely used older bother Said’s passport in 2011 to travel to Yemen, where he received training and $20,000 from al Qaeda’s affiliate there, presumably to finance attacks when he returned home to France, American counterterrorism officials said Wednesday (NYT, me)

• In a video and written statement Wednesday, al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen formally claimed responsibility for the deadly assault. It said the target had been chosen by the Qeda leadership but it didn’t specify which leaders

• Cherif Kouachi claimed to a French TV station before his death last week that he’d gone to Yemen in 2011 and was financed by Anwar al Awlaki. American authorities now believe Cherif most likely had contact with Awlaki in Yemen, possibly in person. But it’s still unclear what specific guidance the Qaeda branch gave to the Kouachis about carrying out an attack

• The statement by AQAP called the Kouachi brothers “two heroes of Islam.” But it referred to the actions of Amedy Coulibaly, who attacked a police officer the day of the assault and was killed by police after holding hostages in a kosher supermarket, a coincidence and didn’t take responsibility for them. Coulibaly said he was a supporter of ISIS
• The new edition of Charlie Hebdo magazine sold out quickly on Wednesday and two million more issues were printed. Long lines are reported at news stands in Paris this morning (me, TRNS)
Obama to Call for Paid Leave Today
• President Obama today will again call on Congress to pass legislation to let workers earn up to seven paid sick days each year. He’ll also urge cities and states to pass similar laws and outline a plan to help states create paid leave programs. Just three states – California, Rhode Island and New Jersey – provide such a benefit (AP, Reuters, me)

• WH senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said Obama will also take steps to provide federal employees with at least six weeks’ paid sick leave when a new child arrives, and propose that Congress offer its employees six weeks off, too. More than 40 million U.S. private sector workers don’t have any type of paid sick leave, Jarrett said

• While some companies offer paid family leave to attract talent, the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act only requires that employers provide unpaid leave for medical and family reasons. The U.S. is also the only developed country in the world that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave (stunning)

• The Congress that expired at the end of last year didn’t pass legislation sponsored by Rep Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) to allow workers to earn up to 56 hours of paid sick leave. Under the proposal, they would earn an hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours they work. The WH made the announcement on LinkedIn (really?)

• Both houses of the new Congress are controlled by Republicans. The chances for passage in the next two years appear slim to none, given that DeLauro first introduced the bill in 2005. She said Wed she’ll reintroduce it soon with Sens Patty Murray (R-WA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) as prime co-sponsors
U.S. Airstrikes in Syria: Fail?
• Hundreds of U.S. bombing runs and missile strikes in Syria have not put ISIS forces on the defensive. Instead, ISIS fighters have enlarged their hold in Syria since the U.S. started hitting the group’s Syrian strongholds in Sept, according to the new estimates by the DoD and independent analysts (WSJ, me)

• ISIS’s ability to grab more territory in Syria is one outgrowth of the U.S. decision to focus its military efforts on Iraq, where the militant group has seized major parts of the country and declared them part of a new Islamic Caliphate. The U.S.-led military effort has pushed ISIS forces out of some key battlegrounds in Iraq

• “Certainly ISIS has been able to expand in Syria, but that’s not our main objective,” said one senior defense official. “I wouldn’t call Syria a safe haven for ISIL, but it is a place where it’s easier for them to organize, plan and seek shelter than it is in Iraq.”

• The U.S. strategy also has created difficulties for battling ISIS in some areas within Iraq, including Sinjar, where the militants have targeted the country’s minority Yazidi community, methodically raping, torturing, enslaving and killing thousands, according to the UN

Forces on the Ground?
• While U.S. airstrikes have helped Iraqi forces make gains in Sinjar, ISIS fighters have been able to find sanctuary across the nearby border with Syria, said Jennifer Cafarella, a Syria analyst with the Institute for the Study of War, an independent group that’s been an advocate of a more muscular U.S. military role in the Middle East

• ISIS hasn’t only retained power in its strongholds in northeastern Syria, it has made gains in western Syria and near the govt controlled capital of Damascus, she said. “The current air campaign will not be successful in denying or removing ISIS from the Syrian theater without coordinating with forces on the ground,” she said

• Pentagon officials agree with that assessment and say that the military strategy has to remain focused on Iraq until American plans for arming and training thousands of Syrian rebels gets traction. The current plan could take years to have a significant impact in Syria (do they have years? what does that mean?)

• Col Patrick Ryder, a CentCom spox, said, “Gaining territorial control in Syria has never been our mission. That wasn’t the objective of our airstrikes.” He said coalition strikes in Syria are primarily “shaping” operations meant to weaken their hold in neighboring Iraq (sounds like whack-a-mole)

• The new GOP-controlled Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing in early February for Ashton Carter to be the next defense secretary. Sen John McCain (R-AZ), the new chair, is likely to challenge the focus of the campaign

Secret Service Bumps Top Brass
• The Secret Service has decided to remove four of its most senior officials while a fifth has decided to retire, the biggest management shake-up at the troubled agency since its director resigned in Oct after a string of security lapses, including a fence jumper, according to people familiar with internal discussions (WaPo, NYT, me)

• The departures would gut much of the Secret Service’s upper management, which has been criticized by lawmakers and admin officials in recent months for fostering a culture of distrust between agency leaders and its rank-and-file, and for making poor decisions that helped erode quality

• Acting Director Joseph Clancy on Tuesday informed the four assistant directors who oversee the Secret Service’s core missions of protection, investigations, technology and public affairs that they must leave their leadership positions. The assistant director in charge of training said last week that he would retire

• A scathing report by a DHS-appointed panel in December concluded that the agency was suffering from low morale among the rank-and-file and was “starved for leadership.” Clancy said that the latest moves were based on the panel’s independent review and on “my own assessments.”

• So far, Clancy has taken no action to address what the report said was one of the biggest dangers to the president’s security: the fence around the WH. The report said the fence must be “changed as soon as possible.” It should be made several feet higher and horizontal bars on it should be replaced with vertical ones to make it more difficult to climb over
Iran: Nuke Talks Underway – Again
• SecState John Kerry and Iran’s FM Jawad Zarif held intensive talks on Tehran’s disputed nuclear program Wednesday, returning for an evening session before handing off to their deputies. Iran and six world powers have renewed their quest for an elusive nuclear deal after negotiators failed for the second time in November to meet a self-imposed deadline

• Wendy Sherman, acting deputy SecState, and deputy FM Abbas Araqchi are to lead their delegations at today’s talks, to be followed on Sunday 18 Jan by wider talks between Iran and major world powers (Reuters, me)

• As the two sides met in Geneva, Iran’s judiciary indicted American journalist Jason Rezaian and sent his case to be tried in a hardline Revolutionary Court, the official IRNA news agency reported late Wednesday

• Speaking to reporters before talks began, Zarif said the meeting would help gauge whether both sides were ready to advance towards a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. “I think it will show the readiness of the two parties to move forward and to speed up the process,” Zarif said

• Zarif also sought to explain why Iranians are dismayed by the cover of Charlie Hebdo’s 14 Jan edition, which features a tearful Prophet Muhammad. “We believe that sanctities need to be respected. We won’t be able to engage in a serious dialogue if we start disrespecting each other’s values,” Zarif said

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ William McDonald, Nicholas Salazar and Loretta Lewis contributed to this report


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