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

  • Spending bill squeaker
  • Rifts! Objections!
  • CIA chief on defense
  • 2003 CIA cable blows up Iraq-9/11 link
  • Senate panel approves limited fight against ISIS
  • Medicare: Providers must recognize gay couples
  • Sony’s hacking nightmare


Spending Bill Squeaker
• With just over an hour to spare, the Senate late Thursday night approved a two-day extension of govt funding by voice vote at the end of a dramatic day where Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and President Obama muscled a $1.1 trillion cromnibus package through the House in a 219-209 vote (Hill, NYT, TRNS, Roll Call,TRNS, me)

• “The Senate will vote on the long-term spending bill as soon as possible, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said Thursday night. “As soon as possible could be tomorrow, it could be two days after cloture is filed on it, it could be a lot of different times. But we’re going to work hard to expedite things.” (I’ll bet – suitcases already packed)

• Some Republicans don’t support the bill because they say it doesn’t go far enough to stop President Obama’s executive order on immigration, although it only funds the Dept of Homeland Security through 27 Feb, setting up another fun fight early next year

• Democrats, meanwhile, have blasted riders attached to the plan that would repeal parts of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, increase campaign contribution limits and stop the District of Columbia from legalizing marijuana (although senior Dems almost certainly worked with Republicans)

• What’s in the cromnibus spending bill? WaPo skimmed it so you don’t have to. A-Z from abortion to Yucca Mountain via potatoes, sage grouse, light bulbs, heroin and Eric Cantor (really, Eric?)

Rifts! Objections!
• A last-ditch visit to the Democratic conference by WH chief of staff Denis McDonough didn’t appear to change many minds. “It was respectful but skeptical,” one source in the room said. “Before he arrived there was considerable annoyance at the WH. Pelosi quieted that agitation to ensure he was treated politely.”

• Even so, only 57 House Democrats supported the measure in a rare rift between Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Pelosi said she was “enormously disappointed” with the admin’s endorsement of the bill. Obama and VP Joe Biden worked the phones Thursday afternoon to try to secure Dem votes

• There are also objections in the Senate over the cromnibus, which is one reason why Reid had to pass the short-term continuing resolution to avoid a govt shutdown

• Sen Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) had spearheaded the Democrats’ opposition because of the Dodd-Frank reform, while Sen Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has raised complaints on the immigration issue. Senate Democrats will likely need some Republicans to support the long-term measure in order for it to pass – final vote could be delayed as long as Monday

• The cromnibus will have to wait, however. Reid is still in talks with Sen Tom “Dr No” Coburn (R-OK), who is delaying a final vote on the defense bill because of an objection over an attached federal lands measure, about speeding up the process (#gottaloveDrNo)

• Hillary Clinton is considering the details of how to launch her presidential bid, with a formal announcement likely to be in spring 2015. Clinton and her aides are also considering cutting off talks with outside groups ahead of her run – would establish a formal barrier because of rules preventing coordination between a campaign and outside groups (WaPo)
CIA Chief on Defense
• CIA director John Brennan on Thursday, speaking from CIA headquarters, strongly defended CIA officers who carried out brutal interrogation tactics against al Qaeda suspects, describing agency interrogators as “patriots” and admonishing only those who went “outside the bounds” of Dept of Justice rules (NYT, WaPo, WSJ, TRNS, Politico, me)

• Unlike President Obama, Brennan pointedly refused to say that the methods – including waterboarding, shackling prisoners in painful positions, and locking them in coffin-like boxes – amounted to torture

• Although Brennan said the CIA was out of the interrogation business, he offered no assurances that anything prevented the govt from authorizing the same techniques in the face of another crisis. “I defer to the policy makers in future times,” he said (fascinating)

• While Brennan acknowledged that hard work went into the Senate report, he criticized the investigation as “flawed,” partisan,” and “frustrating,” and pointed out numerous disagreements that he had with the report’s damning conclusions about the CIA’s now-defunct prison program


• Brennan said, using CIA shorthand for enhanced interrogation techniques: “We have not concluded that it was the use of EITs within that program that allowed us to obtain useful information from detainees subjected to them.”

• “The cause and effect relationship between the use of EITs and useful information subsequently provided by the EIT is, in my view, unknowable,” Brennan said. WH officials insist that the director – who has long been one of Obama’s closest advisers – remains in favor with the president

• In his remarks, Brennan acknowledged that in a limited number of cases CIA officers has used “interrogation methods that had not been authorized, were abhorrent and rightly should be repudiated by all.” But the “overwhelming majority of officers” carried out responsibilities “faithfully and in accordance with the legal and policy guidance they were provided.”

• Some of the most shocking examples contained in the Senate Intelligence Committee report involved CIA interrogations that were within the wide boundaries established by the Justice Dept



• The report gave an excruciating account of the 2002 interrogation of Abu Zubaydah in Thailand. The interrogation sessions became so extreme that some CIA officers began choking up with tears and requested to be transferred out of the facility if the torture continued

• The report gives several instances of unauthorized tactics. At a secret prison in Afghanistan known as the Salt Pit – “dungeon” as one CIA officer said – a detainee died of hypothermia after being doused with water and left chained, half-naked, to a cold concrete floor

• Sen Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Intelligence Committee, offered a running – often critical – commentary on Twitter during Brennan’s remarks. Examples: “Study definitively proves EITs did not lead to bin Laden. Page 378. #ReadtheReport” / “No evidence that terror attacks were stopped, terrorists captured or lives saved through use of EITs #ReadtheReport”

• Brennan – who was a senior CIA officer at the beginning of the Bush admin – has said in the past that he objected to the interrogation methods when they were in place, but sidestepped the issue on Thursday. “I was not in the chain of command,” he said

• Mitt Romney has sounded at least open to the idea of a 2016 run in recent conversations, according to more than a dozen people who’ve spoken to him in the last month. In his private musings, he’s sounded less than upbeat about most of the potential candidates in the Republican field (Politico)
2003 CIA Cable: Blows Up Iraq-9/11 Link
• A recently released CIA cable appears to debunk a key claim used by the Bush admin to justify the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. It discounts intelligence that said Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 ringleaders, met with an Iraqi official in the Czech Republic a few months before the attacks (me, CNN)

• The Bush admin – which maintained that Atta had met with Iraqi agent Ahmad al-Anian in Prague in April 2001 – had used the report to link the September 11 attacks to Iraq. CIA director John Brennan included a portion of the cable in a letter to Sen Carl Levin (D-MI). Levin, the retiring chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, made the letter public Thursday

• The 13 March 2003 cable reads: “there is not one USG (counterterrorism) or FBI expert that…has said they have evidence or ‘know’ that (Atta) was indeed (in Prague). In fact, the analysis has been quite the opposite.” An invasion force led by the U.S. entered Iraq one week later

• In a 2001 interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, then-VP Dick Cheney said, “It’s been pretty well confirmed that (Atta) did go to Prague, and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in (the Czech Republic) last April, several months before the attack.” Cheney repeated those claims, based on a single source, as the nation prepared for war

• The FBI and CIA had both warned that they were “skeptical that Atta was in Prague,” according to Brennan’s letter. He noted that both organizations had said previously that “identifications” such as the one initially made by the single source who reported the meeting “could be faulty and would require further evidence.”
Senate Panel Approves Limited Fight Against ISIS
• The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted Thursday to authorize the military campaign against ISIS, a party-line decision that raises difficult questions for Republicans and intensifies a debate over war powers that has split President Obama from many in his own party (NYT, me)

• The 10-to-8 vote put on display an unusual alliance between some Democrats and some Republicans as well as contemplations about morality, obligation, constitutional prerogatives and the proper balance of power between branches of govt

• All Democrats voted in favor of the measure that would authorize Obama’s war against ISIS, but greatly restrict the use of ground forces and limit the operation to three years before Congress has to revisit it


• Opposed were all the Republicans, seven of whom warned of binding the hands of the commander in chief. One Republican, Sen Rand Paul (KY), voted against the measure for a different reason, which, he said, is that the restriction didn’t go far enough

• What seemed to bother many senators was the idea that Congress, by failing to agree earlier on a resolution to set parameters on the military campaign against ISIS, had abdicated its powers. Many spoke of re-exerting Congress’s constitutional authority to act as a check against the president

• How a war powers resolution will be handled by the new Republican Congress is still being worked out. Likely incoming chair Bob Corker (R-TN) has said he’d like to continue the discussions but would prefer to wait until the admin presents lawmakers with a formal plan of action



• Pope Francis recently said to a little boy whose dog had died, “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.” (yaaaay) Theologians cautioned that Francis had spoken casually, not made a doctrinal statement (NYT)
Medicare/Medicaid: Providers Must Recognize Gay Couples
• Medicare and Medicaid are proposing to broaden decision-making rights for same-sex couples in light of a 2013 Supreme Court ruling in U.S. v Windsor that struck down a ban on federal benefits for gay and lesbian spouses (Hill, me)

• The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a proposed rule Thursday requiring that providers and suppliers in the programs recognize same-sex spouses as a condition for participation

• If finalized, the regulation would apply to hospitals, long-term care facilities, ambulatory surgical centers, hospice providers and community mental health centers

• “Our goal is to provide equal treatment to spouses, regardless of their sex, whenever the marriage was valid in the jurisdiction in which it was entered into, without regard to whether the marriage is also recognized in the state of residence or the jurisdiction in which the healthcare provider or supplier is located,” the reg stated

• Currently, some docs outlining conditions of participation for Medicare and Medicaid providers rely on state-based terminology that might not guarantee equal treatment for same-sex couples

Sony’s Hacking Nightmare
• Embarrassing, racially tinged emails about President Obama’s imagined movie tastes, leaked by hackers and published by internet gossip sites, prompted public apologies Thursday from Sony Pictures Entertainment’s movie chief and one of its top producers (NYT, Buzzfeed, Deadspin, me)

• Saying he was “profoundly and deeply sorry,” film producer Scott Rudin said in a statement after the disclosure of his private email banter with Amy Pascal, Sony’s co-chairwoman, “I made a series of remarks that were only meant to be funny, but In the cold light of day, they
[remarks] are in fact thoughtless and insensitive – and not funny at all.”

• Pascal said in her own statement, “The content of my emails to Scott were insensitive and inappropriate but are not an accurate reflection of who I am. Although this was a private communication that was stolen, I accept full responsibility for what I wrote and apologize to everyone who was offended.”

• “What should I ask the president at this stupid Jeffrey [Katzenberg – Dreamworks Animation] breakfast?” Pascal asked Rudin. “Should I ask him if he liked “Django?” Rudin responded: “12 Years [a Slave].” Pascal quickly continued with other films such as, “Or the butler. Or think like a man? [sic]” Rudin’s response: “Ride-along. I bet he likes Kevin Hart.”

• 8 pics and 2 Vines of President Obama being dorky with Santa Claus (Buzzfeed)

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Victoria Jones

TRNS’ Celina Gore, Loretta Lewis and Washington Desk contributed to this report


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