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
  • Admin official criticizes Israeli ambassador
  • Netanyahu invitation: Democrats <3 Obama
  • Israel / Hezbollah clash: 3 killed
  • Loretta Lynch: AG confirmation hearings
  • ISIS hostages: Deadline looms
  • Castro says: Give back Guantanamo Bay
  • 2016ers saying things
  • Super Bowl security tight

 

Admin Official Criticizes Israeli Ambassador: Netanyahu

• The Obama admin, after days of mounting tension, signaled Wednesday how angry it is with Israel that PM Benjamin Netanyahu accepted Republican leaders’ invitation to address Congress on Iran without consulting the WH. Officially authorized criticisms of diplomats from major allies are unusual (NYT, me)

• There was unusually sharp criticism by a senior admin official who said that the Israeli ambassador, Ron Dermer, who helped orchestrate the invitation, had repeatedly placed Netanyahu’s political fortunes above the relationship between the U.S. and Israel. Official wouldn’t be named and the WH declined to comment

• In a telephone interview late Wednesday, Dermer said, “I have no regrets whatsoever that I have acted in a way to advance my country’s interests.” “My understanding was that it was the speaker’s prerogative to do, and that he would be the one to inform the admin. The prime minister feels very strongly that he has to speak on this issue.”

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• Dermer is an American-born former Republican political operative who is so close to Netanyahu that he’s often called “Bibi’s brain.” (so he’s likely to know the way DC works, then, and how the invitation protocol was supposed to work)

• WH officials were at first wary that Dermer would politicize relations between Washington and Jerusalem, but over time cultivated a working relationship with him after concluding that there were advantages in his closeness to Netanyahu. This last week has borne out their initial concerns

• Dermer relayed the invitation to Netanyahu from Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) without notifying top officials in Washington or Jerusalem. American and Israeli officials say that Dermer, in the course of a lengthy meeting with SecState John Kerry just before Netanyahu’s speech was announced, never mentioned it

• In response, the WH has called the invitation a breach of diplomatic protocol and announced that Obama wouldn’t meet with Netanyahu when he visits because it’s so close to the Israeli elections. But that policy has been ignored in the past. On Capitol Hill, Democrats have called the invitation a political stunt to undermine the president

 

Netanyahu Invitation: Democrats <3 Obama

• The decision by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to accept an unusual invitation from House Republicans to address a joint meeting of Congress has had the unintended effect of helping the president rally Democrats as his admin negotiates a delicate nuclear deal with Iran (NYT, me)

• “It didn’t show a lot of class,” Sen Joe Manchin (D-WV), usually a frequent critic of the WH, said of Speaker John Boehner’s invitation and the acceptance. Manchin was one of 10 Democrats who signed a letter agreeing not to vote on a sanctions bill until after the 24 March deadline to have a nuclear deal framework of an agreement in place with the Iranians

• Other Democrats were also quickly lining up behind the president. A group of House Democrats will formally ask Boehner to delay his invitation to the prime minister until after the March deadline passes. Three Democratic lawmakers were circulating a letter to the speaker among their colleagues Wednesday. It was picking up signatures

• The letter accuses the speaker of harming American foreign policy and undermining Obama. “As members of Congress who support Israel, it appears that you are using a foreign leader as a political tool against the president,” said the letter

• Getting lawmakers to go on the record criticizing Netanyahu will be complicated, however, because many Democrats fear antagonizing the prime minister, the powerful pro-Israel interests aligned with him, and Jewish voters in their districts
• President Obama said Wednesday that outgoing SecDef Chuck Hagel is a true American patriot who devoted his life to the U.S. Obama, VP Joe Biden and top military brass praised Hagel at a farewell ceremony. Obama said the country is grateful for military progress on Hagel’s watch (TRNS)

 

Israel / Hezbollah Clash: 3 Killed

• Two Israeli soldiers and a Spanish UN peacekeeper were killed Wednesday as Hezbollah militants traded fire with Israeli forces on the Lebanese border. After Israeli forces were hit by missile fire, they responded by firing shells into southern Lebanon (BBC, NYT, TRNS, me)

• The UN Security Council discussed the fighting at an emergency meeting. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu held an emergency security meeting and said the attackers would “pay the full price.” Both sides appear to want to respond hard enough not to seem weak, but not so hard that it will spur a war

• The cross-border violence erupted when Israeli military vehicles were struck by anti-tank missiles in the Shebaa Farms area, a disputed tract of land where the borders of Israel, Syria and Lebanon meet. Two soldiers died in the attack

• Hezbollah said it was in retaliation for an Israeli air strike that killed six of its fighters and an Iranian Revolutionary Guard general in the Syrian Golan Heights 10 days ago. Seven other Israeli soldiers were injured. Just over an hour later, mortars hit an Israeli military position on Mt Hermon

• Israel struck back with combined aerial and ground strikes on Hezbollah operational positions along the border. Netanyahu’s office accused Iran, Hezbollah’s backer, of being behind a “criminal terror attack” by the Shia Islamist movement. Iran had previously vowed revenge for the death of its general
• President Obama will tonight address a three-day House Democratic retreat in Philadelphia. Democratic leaders said the annual issues retreat will give lawmakers a chance to come together on middle-class focused policies and paycheck growth (and regroup after the midterms shellacking) (Politico, me)

 

Loretta Lynch: AG Confirmation Hearings

• “If confirmed as attorney general, I would be myself. I would be Loretta Lynch,” the nominee told her Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday as Republicans showered criticism on the current occupant of the job, Eric Holder. They said Holder was contemptuous of the job and too politically close to President Obama (AP, Politico, Hill, NYT, TRNS, Roll Call, me)

• On immigration, Lynch, the top federal prosecutor for the eastern district of New York, faced numerous questions from Republicans on the Judiciary Committee critical of the admin’s new policy granting work permits and temporary deportation relief to some 4 million people who are in the country illegally

• Lynch said she had no involvement in drafting the measures, but called them “a reasonable way to marshal limited resources to deal with the problem” of illegal immigration. She said DHS was focusing on removals of “the most dangerous of the undocumented immigrants among us.”

• Lynch stated without hesitation under questioning from Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that she considers the death penalty an effective punishment and has sometimes sought it in her district. That was a rhetorical shift from Holder, who has expressed personal reservations about the punishment

• Vid: AG nominee Loretta Lynch: “Waterboarding is torture, Senator” – before the Senate Judiciary Committee, in response to a question from Sen Patrick Leahy (D-VT)

• Lynch said that current NSA intel-gathering programs are “constitutional and effective.” Questioned by Graham and other senators who are concerned that the use of civilian courts to try terrorists would give them too many rights, she said both military tribunals and civilian trials should be available for such prosecutions

• She was asked whether she would support efforts to legalize marijuana. She said emphatically that she wouldn’t. She refused to endorse a viewpoint offered by Obama in a New Yorker article last year that marijuana wasn’t more dangerous than alcohol. “I certainly think the president was speaking from his personal experience and personal opinion.” (under bus)

• She said that one of the most important issues facing the country is “the need to resolve the tensions that appear to be discussed and appear to be rising between law enforcement and the communities that we serve.” She said the best way to deal with the problem is to get all parties to meet and talk, “helping them see that, in fact, we are all in this together.”

• “I believe in the promise of America because I have lived the promise of America,” Lynch said. Committee member Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) later called Lynch’s views on immigration “dangerous” and questioned whether she should get a vote. The hearing continues today with a number of witnesses
• EU foreign ministers are due to meet in Brussels today to discuss imposing further sanctions on Russia following an upsurge in fighting in east Ukraine. The meeting was called after pro-Russian rebels attacked the port of Mariupol at the weekend, killing 30 people (BBC)

 

ISIS Hostages: Deadline Looms

• Japan says it’s investigating a new voice recording of hostage Kenji Goto, who is being held by ISIS militants. The person in the recording says a Jordanian pilot held by ISIS will be killed unless an Iraqi prisoner held by Jordan is freed by sunset today (BBC, AP, me)

• Jordan has offered to free Iraqi prisoner, Sajida al-Rishawi, in exchange for pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh. ISIS has made no reference to securing Goto’s release. Sunday, ISIS said it had killed another Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, after demanding $200 million in ransom

• Then on Tuesday, a video was released in which a voice claiming to be that of Goto said Jordan had 24 hours to free Iraqi al Qaeda militant al-Rishawi. There was no mention of a ransom. She was sentenced to death in Jordan in relation to bomb attacks in the capital, Amman, in 2005, which killed 60 people. She’s considered a low-level failed suicide bomber

• It’s not clear whether either Kasasbeh or Goto would be released under the latest alleged threat. “This heinous terrorist act is totally unforgivable,” PM Shinzo Abe said in Japan’s parliament today

• Goto, 47, is a well-known freelance journalist and documentary film-maker who went to Syria in October, reportedly to try to get Yukawa released. Al-Kasasbeh was captured on 24 December after his plane crashed in northern Syria
• The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to delay the executions of three Oklahoma death row inmates until the justices rule on whether the state’s protocol for lethal injection is constitutional. The decision Wednesday came one day before the first execution – for Richard Glossip – was scheduled to take place (AP)

 

Castro Says: Give Back Guantanamo Bay

• Cuban President Raul Castro demanded on Wednesday that the U.S. return the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, lift the half-century trade embargo on Cuba and compensate his country for “human and economic” damages before the two nations re-establish normal relations (Miami Herald, AP, me)

• Castro told a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States that Cuba and the U.S. are working toward full diplomatic relations but “if these problems aren’t resolved, this diplomatic rapprochement wouldn’t make any sense.”

• Castro and President Obama announced on 17 Dec that they would move toward renewing full diplomatic relations by reopening embassies in each other’s countries. The two govts held negotiations in Havana

• Obama has loosened the trade embargo with a range of measures designed to increase economic ties with Cuba, but the WH has said withdrawal from the 45-square-mile U.S. Navy base behind a Cuban minefield in southeast Cuba isn’t part of the bargain

• The U.S.’ unaltered goal is reforming Cuba’s single-party political system and centrally planned economy. Cuba has said it welcomes the measures but has no intention of changing its system. Castro on Wednesday demanded that the U.S. end the transmission of anti-Castro radio and TV broadcasts
• Pigs flying over the Capitol alert: Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) praised Michelle Obama on Twitter Wed: “Kudos to @FLOTUS for standing up for women &refusing to wear Sharia-mandated head-scarf in Saudi Arabia. Nicely done.” He linked to an AP story on the different restrictions local women face, compared with visiting Westerners (Hill, me)
2016ers Saying Things

• Mitt Romney took pot shots at Hillary Clinton during a speech in Mississippi Wednesday night, saying that as SecState she “cluelessly pressed a reset button for Russia, which smiled and then invaded Ukraine, a sovereign nation. The Middle East and much of North Africa is in chaos.” (Hill, AP, Politico, Fox, me)

• When pressed on what he would do differently this time from his last campaign, Romney told his questioner, former lieutenant governor Amy Tuck, “That’s another question I won’t answer.”

• Sen Rand Paul (R-KY) said in a Snapchat interview on CNN Wednesday that “drones should only be used according to the Constitution.” He added that if a drone flies over his house, “they better beware, because I’ve got a shotgun.”

• Former Gov Rick Perry (R-TX) spoke about his indictment on abuse of power charges on Fox News’ “Hannity” Wednesday. “What I tell people is, I wear this as a badge of honor – standing up for the rule of law and the Constitution.”

• Even Sean Hannity was confused by Sarah Palin’s bizarre, rambling speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit at the weekend. “Did the teleprompter go down, did you have trouble with the copy, was there any moment in the speech where you had any difficulty because people had been so critical?” he asked her. In response, Palin took a swipe at the media…

 

• The Air Force plans to replace the president’s iconic Air Force One with another new Boeing 747, it said Wednesday. The costs are not clear. The aircraft requires high levels of customization to accommodate secure communications, sensors, countermeasures, inflight refueling and other upgrades (Politico, Roll Call, me)

 

Super Bowl Security Tight

• Fans attending Sunday’s Super Bowl in Arizona will face tight restrictions on what they can take into the stadium as a huge security operation swings into action. Homeland Security Sec Jeh Johnson met top local law enforcement officials in Phoenix Wednesday and will visit the University of Phoenix stadium in nearby Glendale

• Ticket-holders are being told to get there early for a rigorous security screening procedure that will involve metal detectors and a pat-down search. At a presser, NFL Chief Security Officer Jeffrey Miller said, “Most items cannot be carried into the stadium.” (Reuters, Hill, me)

• Deadly shootings in Paris and the recent arrest of suspects in Belgium, Greece and Germany have heightened fears of more attacks around the world, and social media accounts linked to

Middle East militant groups have carried a number of threats to attack high-profile U.S. events

• Meanwhile, ahead of the Super Bowl, the FAA issued a warning reminding the public that it’s illegal to fly a drone over the big game or any other professional football event. Breaking the law could land a drone pilot in jail, the FAA cautioned, as well as saddled with fines for “careless and reckless” use of an aircraft. No drunk droning, then

• And just days ahead of the Super Bowl, Rep Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) introduced legislation Tuesday that would strip both the NFL and the NHL of their tax-exempt status. “Organizations like the NFL and NHL are for-profit businesses making millions of dollars each year. These are not charities nor are they traditional trade organizations,” Chaffetz said

• Hysterical vid: Marshawn Lynch does a fake presser for Skittles where he actually enjoys talking to the media and answers questions, such as: if he could transport himself to the field by jet pack or blimp, which would it be? Watch to find out – this is gooood

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Nicholas Salazar, James Cullum and United Nations Desk contributed to this report

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