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

  • Secret Service Director exits: “Noble thing to do”
  • Pierson not Obama’s first choice for job
  • Pierson: “Be more like Disney World”
  • Pierson: Stoic – but not really
  • Pols’ reax
  • Ebola in the U.S.A. – Patient flew United
  • Obama today: “America’s economic greatness”
  • Midterms Madness: Voters and issues
  • Obama & Netanyahu: Settlements talk
  • Hong Kong: China warns of “chaos”
  • Hong Kong: Who is Jason Wong?
  • Ferguson: Grand jury misconduct?
  • Pols: Bring Marine back from Mexico


Secret Service Director Exits: “Noble Thing To Do”

• Director of the Secret Service Julia Pierson offered her resignation Wednesday during a meeting with DHS Sec Jeh Johnson, the agency that oversees the Secret Service. “After that discussion, I felt this was the noble thing to do,” Pierson said, because it would “take pressure off the organization.” (NYT, Bloomberg, Hill, Politico, TRNS, TRNS, me)

• The resignation came less than a day after lawmakers from both parties blasted Pierson’s leadership and said they feared for the lives of the president and others in the protection of the agency


• In a statement, Johnson said he had appointed Joseph Clancy, a former agent in charge of the President Protective Division, to become the Secret Service’s acting director. Clancy is currently heading up Comcast’s security. (the name Joe Clancy is perfect and sounds like an FBI agent in a 1950’s radio program )


• President Obama concluded that new leadership and a new direction was needed at the Secret Service “in light of recent and accumulating reports about the agency,” WH spox Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday


• Without directly saying so, Earnest strongly suggested that the September incident in which an armed man was allowed to ride in an elevator with Obama during an event at the CDC in Atlanta – and the fact that the WH had learned of it “just minutes” before it was reported Tuesday – tipped the scales against Pierson



• “I think you could assume that is part of the recent and accumulating reports” that caused the president to change his mind, Earnest said. Pierson “believed it was in the best interests of the agency to which she has dedicated her career,” Earnest said, and the president agreed. Obama spoke by phone with Pierson Wed and thanked her for her service


• Johnson said that he was directing his DHS deputy to oversee an internal review of the 19 September fence jumping incident. And bowing to growing demands by lawmakers for an outside inquiry, Johnson said he’s appoint a “distinguished panel of independent experts” to report recommendations to him by 15 November


• Pierson, a 30-year veteran of the Secret Service, was supposed to have been the one to repair the agency’s reputation after scandals involving drinking and prostitution during foreign trips


• But her tenure’s been rocked by more serious allegations that her agents and officers haven’t been performing their primary job competently. And earlier this year, she dealt with a scandal when three agents were sent home and put on admin leave after a night of parting in Amsterdam. One passed out drunk in a hall in a hotel


• On Wednesday, the intruder who jumped the WH fence, Omar Gonzalez, pleaded not guilty to charges of unlawfully entering a restricted govt building while carrying a weapon, carrying a dangerous weapon in public and unlawfully possessing ammunition


Pierson Not Obama’s First Choice for Job

• Marc Ambinder at GQ writes that a new director to be brought in 2013 after the Colombia prostitution scandal was supposed to mop up. Julia Pierson wasn’t President Obama’s first choice for the job

• A senior WH official said that Obama had settled on Robert O’Connor, a recently retired asst director of investigations seen as widely popular with rank and file and “no bull$#it”, who’d spent time outside the agency. But when his name leaked to Reuters, a rival candidate – not Pierson – instigated an internal campaign to undermine him


• The allegation was that he had rubbed black agents the wrong way, and he was abrupt and imperious. The allegations reached Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s adviser, who was handling the search. She didn’t know if the rumor was true, but found it poisonous that candidates were jockeying. O’Connor didn’t want to put his family through controversy and turned down the job


• Obama then offered Pierson the job. He told her his trust in her would have to be built on a foundation of honesty: if there are threats, tell me about them. If you make mistakes, let me know first (we know how that worked out)


“Be More Like Disney World”

• Seems like Secret Service agents are throwing Julia Pierson under the bus. Carol Leonnig at WaPo, who’s broken many of the recent stories with great reporting, writes that in the past spring, Pierson was irate at what she considered the excessive security measures her team had planned for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, which Obama hosted this summer


• She demanded it dismantle extra layers of fencing and reopen closed streets, according to two agency supervisors


• Supervisors who’d mapped out the security plan said they were taken aback when Pierson, who worked during high school at Disney World as a costumed character and park attendant, said: “We need to be more like Disney World. We need to be more friendly, inviting.”


• Pierson rejected an internal study’s recommendations that the WH have a total of about 100 countersurveillance officers to patrol the perimeter of the complex. She suggested cutting the recommended number by a third. And she’d agreed to shrink the number of officers from the uniformed division who guard the WH complex



• On a presidential trip this spring to the Netherlands, Pierson told several counterassault team members at posts in the president’s hotel to move to more remote locations and put their weapons in bags, causing the sharpshooters to worry that their reaction time would be hampered in an emergency


• And this week, Pierson ordered that a downtown Washington street be left open near a hotel where Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu was staying. Secret Service teams have insisted on the closure for years because Netanyahu is considered one of the world’s most sought-after international targets


• But Pierson agreed to changes because of DC Mayor Vincent Gray’s concern that the street’s closure during an earlier visit caused severe gridlock, said a spox for Gray (D)


Pierson: Stoic – But Not Really

• “I think it’s in the best interest of the Secret Service and the American public if I step down,” embattled Secret Service Director Julia Pierson said to Bloomberg News in an interview Wednesday. “Congress has lost faith in my ability to run the agency. The media has made it clear that this is what they expected.” (You’re going because the media say so?)


• “I can be pretty stoic about it, but not really,” she said. “It’s painful to leave as the agency is reeling from a significant security breach.” (Bloomberg, me)


• “I’m disappointed that I didn’t have an opportunity to implement structural and operational changes in the agency,” Pierson said. “I had a vision for the future. It’s 31 years of service and a firm understanding of the organization.” (future job interview stuff?)


• Pierson said she spoke to Homeland Security Sec Jeh Johnson at his office Wednesday. “We met in person and after that discussion I felt this was the noble thing to do,” she said, because it would “take pressure off the organization.”


Pols’ Reax

• “It had to happen,” Rep Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), said of Pierson’s departure. “She lost the confidence of the men and women in the Secret Service. The situation was getting worse not better. She wasn’t candid with Congress nor was she sharing vital details with the president.” (WaPo, Hill, me)


• “The

[House] Oversight Committee will continue to examine clear and serious agency failures at the Secret Service that have been exposed. While serious questions surround the Secret Service, Director Pierson served her country with honor and has my gratitude for her efforts,” said committee chair Rep Darrell Issa (R-CA)


• “I absolutely respect her decision, and now we have to ensure that we focus on the difficult work of fully restoring the Secret Service to its rightful status as the most elite protective service in the world,” said Oversight Committee ranking member Rep Elijah Cummings (D-MD)


• Retired Marine Gen John Allen, who’s been appointed by the president to build an international coalition to fight ISIS, said on CNN Wed that training moderate Syrian rebels “is going to take a while. It could take years, actually. And so the – we have to manage our expectations.” (CNN, Hill, me)



Ebola in the U.S.A.: Patient Flew United

• Thomas Eric Duncan, an ill Liberian man who later tested positive for Ebola, wasn’t admitted to Dallas Presbyterian Hospital despite saying he had traveled from Liberia, allowing him to continue interacting with people before he returned days later and was placed in isolation (WaPo, AP, me)


• Duncan traveled to the U.S. on 20 Sept on United Airlines Flight 951 from Brussels, changing at Dulles International to Flight 822 to Dallas, according to the airline. United said in a statement that there was no risk to any passengers because the patient wasn’t symptomatic until several days after his trip


• Dallas County health officials say they’re continuing to monitor Duncan’s family members and are checking for symptoms twice each day. The state health dept said they have no other suspected cases at this point


• Duncan interacted with 12 to 18 people. Five were “school-aged children,” Texas Gov Rick Perry (R) said in a presser Wed. These children are being watched at home for any signs of the illness. Health officials are trying to track down anyone who may have come into contact with Duncan after he began showing symptoms


• The CDC has sent a team of 10 people to Texas to work with state and local depts to track anyone who had close contact with Duncan. It seems that when Duncan went to the hospital the first time with a fever and some abdominal pain, the fact that he had come from Liberia was not written down by staff


• President Obama is expected to reiterate his ongoing commitment to immigration reform tonight at the annual gala held by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. He will say he intends to fix as much of the U.S. immigration system as he can by using his presidential powers (Reuters)



Obama Today: “America’s Economic Greatness”

• President Obama will deliver a speech on “America’s Economic Greatness” in Chicago today as the WH looks to refocus attention on the economy ahead of the midterm elections. “The president will make the case for what has always fueled America’s leadership and that’s America’s economic greatness,” WH senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said in an email to supporters


• Obama will “take a step back from the rush of current events (I’ll bet) to explain what we’ve done to recover from the Great Recession and what we need to do to ensure that more middle-class Americans feel that progress in their own lives.” (Hill, me)


• Won’t be easy. Consumer confidence went down in September, even though the country has enjoyed months of gains in employment and in the stock market. Oh, and the market closed down a point and a half Wednesday


• During a 60 Minutes interview last weekend, Obama acknowledged that many Americans “don’t feel” the economic recovery. “The reason they don’t feel it is because incomes and wages are not going up,” he said


• But Obama said the economy was improving and that he’s spending the next six weeks campaigning on his record. “Hopefully, they get a chance to hear the argument, because all I’m doing is presenting the facts.”


• Kansas Democrats won’t be forced to field a candidate in the state’s pivotal Senate race, a state court ruled Wed, dealing a blow to Republicans hoping to protect Sen Pat Roberts – and possibly their odds of winning the majority in November (Politico)


Midterms Madness: Voters and Issues

• It’s October and in some places, voters are already voting. What’s important? Economy: Top of voters’ list of important issues, according to new AP-GfK poll. 19% say economy, 12 cite the next on the list: terrorism and national security. Likely voters give Republicans a narrow edge as the party more trusted to handle the economy – 36%-31% (AP, me)


Health care: Though 8 in 10 call health care an important issue for them personally, just 5% named health care as the top issue facing the country. Overall, 25% support the health care program, 40% oppose it and 34% are neutral


Immigration: About two-thirds of likely voters call illegal immigration a serious problem for the U.S. today and 8% name it or border security as the top issue. Only 35% say they approve of President Obama’s handling of the issue


The threat of terrorism: About 8 in 10 likely voters say terrorism is a key issue for them, with Republicans more apt than Democrats to consider it important. No difference by gender. Republicans have a 16-point advantage among likely voters as the party more trusted to protect the country, 39% vs 23%

Social issues: Democrats held their strongest advantages in the poll on issues such as abortion or same-sex marriage, yet these same issues land near the bottom of voters’ priority lists. On most important issue, neither issue scored even 1% of responses. Female voters are more likely to call both issues important

• Vid: Wonder why Republicans continue to make ads like this one, yet another turnoff for women voters? A takeoff of the TV show Say Yes to The Dress. A college Republican spox said it’s just the first of several ads for a “generation that has their earbuds in and their minds turned off.” (ThinkProgress, me)


Obama & Netanyahu: Settlements Talk

• President Obama and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu met at the WH Wednesday, against the backdrop of a radically altered landscape in the Middle East that Netanyahu said he believed could help revive the moribund peace process with the Palestinians (NYT, Hill, Fox, me)


• But the president, who has an often-difficult relationship with Netanyahu, told him that the Israeli govt’s approval of plans for new Jewish housing in East Jerusalem would impede the prospects for peace and jeopardize Israel’s relations with Arab nations, according to a senior admin official


• Speaking in the Oval Office before the meeting, Netanyahu said the threat of ISIS, and the efforts of the U.S. to marshal a coalition of Arab nations to fight it, had produced a “commonality of interests between Israel and leading Arab states.” Maybe it could be the foundation for the renewal of peace talks with the Palestinians, Netanyahu said at the UN on Monday


• But Obama appeared focused less on the opportunities than on the threats from the string of crises in the region. In addition to raising the issue of settlements, he said Israel’s recent military offensive against Hamas in Gaza underscored that the current conflict between Israelis and Palestinians was unsustainable


• Netanyahu warned the president against signing a nuclear deal with Iran that would leave it on the cusp of producing a nuclear bomb. Obama offered no new details on the nuclear talks, which have hit serious snags on the number of uranium centrifuges Iran would be allowed to retain. Deadline for the deal is 24 November


••• Vox reports that Anatoly Makarov, a senior Russian Foreign Ministry official, is saber-rattling. He says Moscow has a responsibility to protect ethnic Russian citizens “regardless of where they live,” and explicitly extends protections to ethnic Russians in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Potentially very serious


Hong Kong: China Warns of “Chaos”

• In a front-page commentary today, People’s Daily, the main newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, said, “If matters are not dealt with according to the law, Hong Kong society will fall into chaos.” (NYT, BBC, AFP, South China Morning Post, People’s Daily, WSJ, Reuters, me)

• Citing China’s national leadership, the paper issued a resounding “no” to the demands of tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong. They are demanding an open democratic vote for the city’s leader, or chief executive, and many have also demanded the resignation of the current leader, Leung Chun-ying


• President Obama and Susan Rice, his national security adviser, raised the protests while meeting Wednesday at the WH with Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister. In a statement, the WH said Obama and Rice had told Wang they were monitoring the situation and “expressed their hope that differences between Hong Kong authorities and protesters will be addressed peacefully.”


Hong Kong: Who is Joshua Wong?

* In Hong Kong, students say they will start occupying govt buildings if Leung doesn’t quit by tonight. There’s a heavy police presence outside govt buildings. Crowds this morning were low. Organizers have attributed that to sheer exhaustion and predict numbers will begin to swell again


• Leung has no intention of quitting, according to a source. He plans to ride out the rallies and has been told by Beijing not to use violence. A Hong Kong govt source said the plan is to wait out the protesters


• Joshua Wong, a 17-year-old student activist, has emerged as an unlikely teenage leader of the protests. He emerged as an activist two years ago when he rallied students against a govt plan to introduce “patriotic education” in schools


• He played a pivotal role in setting off the demonstrations of the past week, leading a surprise charge on a govt building that resulted in his arrest and prompted thousands to take to the streets ahead of schedule. Local newspapers with close ties to Beijing have sought to smear him as a tool of the U.S. Hong Kong media treat him as a star


• Vid: Police behaving badly – Tallahassee police officer Terry Mahan has been put on leave after tasering a 62-year-old black woman in the back while she was walking away from him. Police were responding to calls about drug deals. Mahan also appears to have lied in his police report about the incident (taser about 2:30) (TPM, me)


Ferguson: Grand Jury Misconduct?

• The St Louis County prosecutor’s office is investigating an accusation of misconduct on the grand jury that’s hearing the case against the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. Grand jury proceedings are confidential. A breach could mean the prosecutor’s office would need to start over with a new group


• An account of possible jury misconduct surface Wednesday morning on Twitter, when several users sent messages about one juror who may have discussed evidence in the case with a friend (looks pretty bad)


• In one message, a person tweeted they’re friends with a member of the jury and “There isnt enough at this point to warrant an arrest #Ferguson.” The same person has also tweeted messages of support for Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown and who’s being investigated by the grand jury


• Ed Magee, spox for county prosecutor Robert McCulloch, confirmed that info on the Twitter feed came from an activist, Shaun King. McCulloch told WaPo last week that both FBI and county police investigations into the shooting are “pretty much done.”


• Meanwhile, Ferguson is grappling with continuing protests amid the wait over whether Wilson will face charges. The attorney for Brown’s family, Ben Crump, said: “If it’s found to be true and the grand jury has to be dismantled, McCulloch should be taken off of the case immediately and replaced with a special prosecutor.”


• Michael Dunn, 47, who’s white, was convicted Wednesday in the 2012 fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Jordan Davis amid a dispute at a gas station over loud rap music blaring from a car. It’s Dunn’s second trial (NYT, me)


Pols: Marine in Mexican Prison

• Jill Tahmooressi testified to a House subcommittee Wednesday that her son, Marine Sgt Andrew Tahmooressi, is being wrongfully held in Tijuana after being arrested for possessing weapons and ammunition on the border. She said he’s suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and facing brutal treatment


• Tahmooressi teared up as she read emails from her son: “April 14th, ‘Mom, I tried to kill myself because the guards and the inmates were going to rape, torture and execute me for personal information. I needed to protect you.'” she read aloud in one email (Hill, AP, TRNS, Fox, me)


• Tahmooressi said her son made a wrong turn that took him to the border of Mexico, while legally having weapons in his vehicle. He was arrested by Mexican authorities. Tahmooressi said President Obama has never called her about her son’s detention


• That drew a public rebuke from another witness, Montel Williams, the former TV host who is also a retired Navy lieutenant commander. “I think the president needs to pick up the phone,” Williams said to applause in the hearing room. “Make the call.” Williams has become a champion of veteran mental health issues


In Jail For a Wrong Turn?

• Concerned Veterans of America CEO Pete Hegseth said Tahmooressi is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, as well as combat trauma sustained during two deployments to Afghanistan, and needs to receive treatment as soon as possible


• Rep Matt Salmon (R-AZ), who chaired the hearing, said Tahmooressi “has spent 6 months in prison for what amounts to a wrong turn.”


• Salmon said the U.S. has been generous in dealing with southern border crossings and now needs Mexico to return the favor. “But frankly, compassion goes both ways. Mexico does not have the ability to provide Sgt Tahmooressi with the care he needs. Our war hero needs to come home.”


• Salmon contrasted Tahmooressi’s situation with that of Sgt Bowe Bergdahl who was held captive in Afghanistan. The Obama admin swapped five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo for his release. “Clearly, President Obama couldn’t find time between negotiating with terrorists to call our ally, the Mexican president, to appeal to him on behalf of our Marine,” he said

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Victoria Jones

TRNS’ Nicholas Salazar and James Cullum contributed to this report