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

  • Govt funding runs out: Hello Congress?
  • Democrats incensed over Dodd-Frank curbs
  • Donors to parties get tenfold increase
  • Senate CIA torture report: Fallout – Cheney
  • Fallout: Hayden slams report
  • State Dept slow to release Hillary Clinton files
  • Benghazi panel chair defends inquiry
  • Senators warn AG on fake cellphone towers


Congress Limps Towards Spending Bill Deal
• Congress limped Wednesday toward a rare bipartisan agreement on a $1.1 trillion spending bill to keep most of the govt operating through next year, but dysfunction once again threatened to derail it (NYT, Roll Call, TRNS, NJ, Hill, me)

• Issues: a provision that rolled back Wall Street regs and could deliver a big bounty to big banks, and another that would allow big donors to wield even more influence over political parties. Conservative Republicans continued to argue the bill didn’t do enough to try to scale back President Obama’s executive action on immigration

• Even so, top aides and lawmakers on the GOP whip team privately say they believe between 150 and 175 Republicans will support the bill. And senior House Democrats predict that some of their members will help make up for the Republican defection to get the bill across the finish line. About 50-60 Republicans are expected to vote “no”

• The objections mean that Congress will probably need to pass a short-term funding measure to keep govt operations running beyond today – the current deadline – while the final disputes are sorted out. By Wednesday night, Democratic opposition to the bill had hardened on the two provisions. Speaker Boehner (R-OH) told Minority Leader Pelosi (D-CA) he would not budge

• House Democratic leadership plans to meet this morning ahead of the vote. But House Democrats late Wednesday evening were not formally whipping against the measure. The Senate will likely vote Friday or at the weekend. Almost no one expects a shutdown
Democrats Incensed Over Dodd-Frank Curbs
• A Dodd-Frank reform bill provision which would overturn a rule making it more difficult for banks to use federally guaranteed funds for certain derivatives trading has outraged several Democrats, including the law’s author, retired Rep Barney Frank (D-MA), who’s calling on his former colleagues to defeat the govt spending bill (Hill, WaPo, TRNS, me)

•  On the Senate floor Sen Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) called the spending bill “the worst govt for the rich and powerful.”  She said the changes in the bill “would let derivatives traders on Wall Street gamble with taxpayer money and get bailed out by the govt when their risky bets threaten to blow up our financial system.”

• While House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Wednesday stopped short of saying she would vote against the measure without changes, Rep James Clyburn (D-SC), the third ranking House Democrat, said he would oppose the bill as is, and Rep Steny Hoyer (D-MD) called the Dodd-Frank portion “very dangerous” to taxpayers

• The WH didn’t commit Wednesday to signing the measure if Congress passed it but praised the bipartisan effort behind it. A vote on the spending bill is scheduled for this morning in the House

Donors to Parties Get Tenfold Increase
• A last-minute provision buried in the spending deal would increase the amount individuals could donate to national parties tenfold by allowing wealthy contributors to give additional sums to separate party arms for financing presidential conventions and other matters. A couple could give as much as $3.1 million in one election cycle, up threefold. Some restrictions on usage

• Under the measure, a donor who gave the maximum $32,400 this year to the DNC or RNC would be able to donate another $291,600 on top of that to the party’s additional arms – a total of $324,000, ten times the current limit. In addition, a donor could give an additional $453,600 a year to a party’s various congressional campaign committees (WaPo, NJ, Hill, me)

• The late addition of the language in the spending deal stunned and dismayed advocates for tighter campaign finance rules, who noted that the prospect of such an expansion of party fundraising hadn’t been publicly discussed before it was slipped into the final pages of the 1,603 page bill

• House Budget Committee ranking member Rep Chris van Hollen (D-MD) said Wednesday that he will vote against the bill, partly because of the campaign finance provisions
• Palestinian minister Ziad Abu Ein died after a confrontation with Israeli troops at a protest in the West Bank Wednesday. Several witnesses said he had been hit and shoved by soldiers. The Israeli military is investigating. Palestinian, Israeli pathologists disagree on cause of death (BBC)
Senate CIA Torture Report: Fallout
• Former VP Dick Cheney said he hadn’t read the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture but said, “The report’s full of crap, excuse me,” on Fox News Wednesday, after calling the report a “terrible piece of work” and “deeply flawed.” He said President George W. Bush “knew the techniques” and “was fully informed.”

• Outgoing Sen Mark Udall (D-CO) gave a blistering speech on the Senate floor Wednesday in which he revealed the main conclusions of a classified internal report by former CIA director Leon Panetta on the interrogation program – mainly that the program had used coercive techniques and that the agency misled the public on how effective they were

• Udall, an Intelligence Committee member, also called for the firing of CIA director John Brennan, and claimed that the agency “has lied to its overseers and the public,” and charged that the WH “continues to try to cover up the truth.” (CSM, NYT, TRNS, Hill, TRNS, Politico, CNN, BBC, Reuters,TRNS, WaPo, me)

• WH spox Josh Earnest said in the briefing Wednesday, “Mr Brennan worked here in the WH for four years as the president’s top homeland security adviser. And Mr Brennan has continued his service as the director of the CIA. The president believes that he has done an exemplary job in both of those roles.”

• President Obama told Telemundo-MSNBC that the methods detailed in the report are “contrary to who we are.” He said that some of the events in the report released Tuesday “constituted torture” while also saying that CIA interrogators “do a really tough job and they do it really well.”

Fallout: Hayden Slams Report
• Former CIA director Michael Hayden told the BBC Wednesday that the report “reads far more like a prosecutorial screed than it does some reasoned document as to what went on.” Nearly 10% of the report discusses Hayden and what it calls his “inaccurate” 2007 testimony to the committee

• Afghan President Asraf Ghani said in a presser on Wednesday that the report was “shocking.” “There is no justification for such acts and human torturing in the world.” He vowed to investigate how many Afghans had suffered abuse at U.S. detention centers

• The U.S. closed the Bagram detention detention facility Wednesday and no longer has custody of any detainees in Afghanistan, the DoD said, closing a controversial chapter of Washington’s long “war on terror.”

• The UN high commissioner for human rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, said in a statement Wednesday, “The convention lets no one off the hook – neither the torturers themselves, nor the policy-makers, nor the public officials who define the policy or give the orders.”

• The Justice Dept isn’t reopening an investigation into the CIA’s treatment of suspected terrorist detainees despite the report. Investigators “did not find any new information that they had not previously considered in reaching their determination” to dismiss the previous investigations,” the DoJ said
• Time’s choice for Person of the Year 2014 are the Ebola Fighters. “For tireless acts of courage and mercy, for buying the world time to boost its defenses, for risking, for persisting, for sacrificing and saving, the Ebola fighters are Time’s 2014 Person of the Year.”
State Dept Very Slow to Release Hillary Clinton Files
• State Dept has failed to turn over govt docs covering Hillary Clinton’s tenure as SecState that the AP and others requested under Freedom of Info Act ahead of her presumptive presidential campaign. They include one request AP made four years ago and others pending for more than one year (AP, me)

• State denied the AP’s requests, and rejected the AP’s subsequent appeals, to release the records sought quickly under a provision in the law reserved for journalists, requesting federal records about especially newsworthy topics. In requests, AP cited the likely prospect of Clinton entering the 2016 race

• Wednesday, the conservative political advocacy group Citizens United sued State for failing to disclose flight records showing who accompanied Clinton on overseas trips. State is among the govt’s worst performing federal agencies under FOIA

• There’s no direct evidence that political considerations in a Democratic presidential admin have delayed the release of files about the party’s leading contender for 2016. But the agency’s delays, unusual even by govt standards, have stoked perceptions about what could be taking so long (careful language there…)

• At stake is the public’s access to thousands of documents that could help understand and define Clinton’s activities as the nation’s chief diplomat under Obama. An example: Clinton’s and the agency’s roles in the Osama bin Laden raid and National Security Agency surveillance practices – requested

• Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai and Indian child rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi received the Nobel Peace Prize awards Wednesday at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway (TRNS, BBC)
Benghazi Panel Chair Defends Inquiry
• Rep Trey Gowdy (R-SC), chair of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, said at a committee hearing Wednesday his panel will produce a comprehensive account of the 11 Sept 2012 attack, regardless of what other investigations have found. He said he would like to call former SecState Hillary Clinton to testify (NYT, Hill, TRNS, Politico, me)

• “I remain keenly aware there are those on both sides of the aisle who have concluded all questions have been answered. … It is worth noting some of those very same folks who now tell us to move on did not believe we should have investigated Benghazi in the first place.” “We may answer some
[questions] more than once,” Gowdy said in his opening statement

• The hearing came two-and-a-half weeks after the GOP-controlled House Intelligence Committee released the sixth Benghazi report. The report came to a similar conclusion as others, saying that the admin has not intentionally misled the public about what had happened. Also that the military had not given an order to “stand down” forces that could have responded

• Ranking member Rep Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said that “when it comes to Benghazi, people are unaware questions have been answered” or are “unwilling” to listen to answers. He said committee Democrats had urged Gowdy to accept the findings of the House Intelligence Committee report

• Gowdy and GOP Rep Jim Jordan pressed witness Gregory Starr, asst secretary for diplomatic security, on why the U.S. was still in Benghazi after other countries had left because of a threat against the British ambassador. Starr replied that he wasn’t the appropriate witness to answer foreign policy questions that predated his current post

• Vid: Boehner spox Michael Steele confronts press over their “horsesh*t” questions on Wednesday (fast filming and great get by TRNS)

Senators Warn AG on Fake Cellphone Towers
• Eleven Democratic senators on Wednesday warned AG Eric Holder and Homeland Security Sec Jeh Johnson that the practice of using fake cellphone towers to pick up information about people’s location and identity may violate the constitutional right to privacy in addition to disruption of cellphone service (Hill, me)

• The U.S. Marshals Service, DEA and DHS may all be affixing the “Stingray” or “dirtbox” services to airplanes, the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the officials, and using them to pick up the signals of thousands of people’s cellphones on the ground. The devices mimic cellphone towers

• “These devices potentially violate the Fourth Amendment and represent a significant intrusion into the private lives of thousands of Americans,” they wrote. “While we want law enforcement agencies to use cutting-edge tools to catch criminals and protect our borders, Americans should not have to sacrifice their privacy rights in the process.”

• The govt’s use of the tracking devices has long been under attack from civil liberties advocates, but Wednesday’s letter significantly raises the issue’s profile on Capitol Hill.  The letter follows a report in WSJ last month detailing how the Marshals Service used the devices to track people from the sky

• Vid: New trailer for “Mad Max: Fury Road” looks pretty good…

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Victoria Jones

TRNS’ Justin Duckham, William McDonald, Luke Vargas, Leah Schwarting and Loretta Lewis contributed to this report


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