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

  • Obama warns Putin: 4-way talks today
  • Kayla Mueller, ISIS hostage, is dead
  • ISIS: 20,000 foreign fighters to Syria
  • Obama’s request for war powers today
  • Netanyahu defends Congress speech
  • Alabama gay marriage chaos
  • DHS: GOP on GOP – “your problem”
  • Obama’s Buzzfeed interview
  • Jon Stewart leaving Daily Show
  • Brian Williams suspended: 6 months

 

Ukraine: Obama Warns Putin Ahead of Talks

• President Obama warned President Putin in a phone call Tuesday that Russia will face greater costs if it continues its “aggressive actions” in Ukraine. Putin is due to meet with the leaders of France, Germany and Ukraine at a summit in Belarus today which is expected to focus on securing a ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons. Rival agendas: (BBC, TRNS, me)

Ukraine: Restore govt authority over breakaway areas, though Donetsk and Luhansk regions could get greater self-rule; disarm rebel forces; withdrawal of Russian troops; restore Kiev’s control over Ukraine-Russia border; full prisoner exchange

Pro-Russian rebels: Separation from rest of Ukraine and recognition of “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk; no disarmament of separatist forces; amnesty for separatist leaders

Russia: Legal guarantees for rights of Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine; full autonomy for Donetsk and Luhansk in a federal system – not necessarily independence; no return of Crimea to Ukraine; withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from combat zone

EU and U.S.: Restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity; end Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine – withdrawal of all Russian troops and heavy weapons; effective monitoring of Russia-Ukraine border and demilitarized zone between the combatants; full democracy in Donetsk and Luhansk

 

• The Obama admin is considering slowing its planned withdrawal from Afghanistan for the second time. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has appealed to President Obama to “reexamine” his drawdown schedule. Army Gen John Campbell will discuss options with Obama aides at the WH today WaPo)

 

Kayla Mueller, ISIS Hostage, is Dead

• The parents of Kayla Mueller, the American aid worker abducted by ISIS, said Tuesday that they now had proofs from the militant group that she was dead, four days after it claimed she was killed in a Jordanian airstrike. The parents didn’t specify the proof. The WH announced that it had confirmed that Mueller was dead, as had American intel officials

• But two people who had been briefed on the proof said it consisted of at least three photos, all headshots. These people, anonymous because the matter is so sensitive, said two photos showed Mueller in a black Muslim head covering, but that contusions to her face were visible. The third photo showed Mueller wrapped in a white burial shroud (NYT, ITV, TRNS, TRNS, me)

• Unclear whether the injuries seen in the photos were consistent with ISIS’ assertion that Mueller, 26, died last Friday when Jordanian bombs flattened a structure in northern Syria where it said she had been held. Jordanian and American officials have challenged that assertion. “We have no definitive proof of how or when she died,” a senior U.S. official said

• “We are so proud of the person Kayla was and the work that she did while she was here with us. She lived with purpose,” the parents, Carl and Marsha Mueller, wrote from their home in Prescott AZ. President Obama has spoken with Mueller’s parents and also offered condolences in a statement

Document: Kayla Mueller’s smuggled letter to her family (NYT)

• Mueller, who had been working in Turkey for aid organizations dedicated to helping Syrian refugees, traveled into Syria by car on 3 Aug 2013 and was abducted a day later. She was apparently traveling with a Syrian man, who has been described as a boyfriend or fiance, and also as a friend or colleague. He’d been hired to repair the internet for the charity

• Employees of the charity said they’d been expecting him to come alone, and were dumbfounded to see Mueller arrive with him. At the time, Western aid workers were avoiding travel into Syria because of the high risk of kidnapping. The pair were kidnapped the next day on their way home. The Syrian man was released after a brief captivity

• In a letter to her family (above) which was smuggled out of Syria, Mueller wrote: “Please know that I am in a safe location, completely unharmed + healthy (put on weight in fact); I have been treated w/utmost respect + kindness.” A former European hostage said the women hostages weren’t beaten, and he said he believed they were not sexually molested

• Details of Mueller’s captivity remain blurry. European and Syrian hostages who have been released by ISIS said they had been held in cells adjoining hers in various locations. Men and women were held in separate cells, but in at least one compound they were able to communicate with Mueller through the wall

• Tuesday, Pentagon spox Rear Admiral John Kirby said Mueller was killed by ISIS, not in a Jordanian air strike. Asked if there was any doubt, Kirby said, “no doubt. ISIL.” He added that intel officers were still unsure the exact cause of Mueller’s death
• It took a few attempts, but the the WH and State Dept Tuesday eventually clarified President Obama’s suggestion that last month’s deadly shooting at a Kosher supermarket in Paris was random. WH spox Josh Earnest wrote that the admin’s view “has not changed. Terror attack at Paris Kosher market was motivated by anti-Semitism.”

 

ISIS Hearing: 20,000 Foreign Fighters to Syria

• As many as 20,000 foreign fighters from around the world, including at least 3,400 from Western nations, are streaming into Syria and Iraq to join ISIS or other extremist groups, U.S. intelligence officials say in an updated estimate of a top terrorism concern (AP, me)

• Intel agencies now believe that as many as 150 Americans have tried and some have succeeded in reaching the Syrian war zone, officials tell the House Homeland Security Committee, in testimony prepared for delivery today. Some of those Americans were arrested en route, some died in the area and a small number are still fighting with extremists

• “Once in Syria, it is very difficult to discern what happens there,” according to today’s testimony of Michael Steinbeach, the FBI’s assistant director for counterterrorism. “This lack of clarity remains troubling.”

• U.S. officials fear that some of the foreign fighters will return undetected to their homes in Europe or the U.S. to mount terrorist attacks. At least one of the men responsible for the attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris had spent time with Islamic extremists in Yemen

• Francis X. Taylor, who heads the Homeland Security Dept’s intel office, says in his prepared testimony that “we are unaware of any specific, credible, imminent threat to the homeland.” However, he says, the dept is concerned that Americans who join groups in Syria could gain combat skills, violent extremist connections and become persuaded to conduct “lone-wolf” style attacks

• The State Dept has suspended its operations in Yemen and withdrawn staff due to the “deteriorating security situation.” British diplomatic staff have been withdrawn and the embassy closed. The Foreign Office said all Britons who remain in Yemen should leave immediately (BBC)

 

Obama’s Request for War Powers

• The WH circulated a proposal Tuesday that would authorize the U.S. military to fight ISIS terrorists but assure Congress there would be no “enduring offensive combat” role, officials said. They said the ambiguous wording was designed to satisfy lawmakers with widely varying views on the need for ground operations (AP, me)

• Sen Bob Menendez (D-NJ) said President Obama would seek authorization for the use of force that would expire after three years. It would end the approval for ops in Iraq that Congress passed in 2002. Menendez spoke with reporters after he and other Dem senators met with top WH aides. Obama will make the request today

• Of immediate concern was a legislative struggle – the search for a compromise that could satisfy Democrats who oppose the use of American ground forces in the fight against ISIS, and Republicans who favor at least leaving the possibility open

• Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said admin officials had told him it wouldn’t provide for the protection of U.S.-trained Syrian rebel troops on the ground in the event of an air attack by Syrian forces loyal to President Assad. Also, many Republicans have said they prefer legislation that at least permits the use of ground forces if Obama decides they may be necessary

• Among members of Obama’s party, Rep Steny Hoyer (D-MD), said during the day that some rank and file lawmakers want to set geographic limits and restrict the types of forces that can be used “so we can reconsider at some point in time, whether it’s 24 months, 36 months, 38 months.”

 

• Prince Charles has raised the plight of jailed blogger Raif Badawi with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman. The prince and the king talked privately via an interpreter at a palace in Riyadh. “The reaction from the king was not unfriendly,” a source said (Guardian)

 

Netanyahu Defends Congress Speech

• Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday defended his upcoming address to Congress on 3 March: “We have a very profound disagreement with the U.S. admin and the rest of the P5+1 over the offer that was made to Iran. This offer will enable Iran to threaten Israel’s survival.” (Hill, CNN, Politico, Buzzfeed, me

• Netanyahu appeared to be referencing the agreement in the works between the six world powers and Iran. Tehran must reach an initial framework agreement with the world powers by 24 March. If a deal isn’t reached, a majority of U.S. senators are determined to impose additional sanctions against Iran. Netanyahu is up for election on 17 March

• Netanyahu also took his case to social media Tuesday. He sent out several tweets. One said: “I’m determined to speak before Congress to stop Iran. RETWEET if I have your support.” Many of Netanyahu’s tweets are written in Hebrew, but this one was written in English and timed for the East Coast morning news cycle

• Adding to a growing list of “no” Democrats, Sen Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Senate’s most senior lawmaker, announced Tuesday that he won’t attend the speech. He called the address which was arranged by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) “a tawdry and highhanded stunt that has embarrassed not only Israel but Congress itself.”

• Progressive Caucus co-chair Raul Grijalva (D-NM) on Tuesday called the planned address an insult. “It smacks of convenience, his election is a week away in Israel.” Three liberal House Democrats are circulating a letter urging Boehner to postpone the speech until Israel’s elections have passed and the Iran talks have ended

 

• Vid: Before the Israeli elections in 2013, Netanyahu’s political coalition broadcast an ad that showed the PM addressing a joint session of Congress. The commercial’s message: “When Netanyahu speaks, the world listens.” (so not political grandstanding at all, then) (me, NYT)
Alabama Gay Marriage Chaos

• Gay couples can be wed in only some parts of Alabama after the state’s chief justice Sunday issued an order to stop judges from granting licenses. The U.S. Supreme Court Monday refused Alabama’s request to stop the marriages, after Alabama became the 37th state to legalize same-sex marriages (BBC, NYT, me)

• But some counties have followed the controversial order of conservative Chief Justice Roy Moore and will not grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Judges in other parts of the state have stopped conducting weddings altogether

• In one of the counties refusing to hold marriages, Autauga County, a female minister was arrested after offering to perform a same-sex marriage at the judge’s office. At least six couples, who had hoped to marry, filed federal lawsuits after Mobile County’s marriage license division didn’t open on Monday The case will be heard Thursday

• Judges who have refused to grant licenses say they’re confused by the conflicting orders from Moore, who cited state’s rights, and federal authorities. Some have compared Moore’s arguments of unlawful federal authority to the upheaval that gripped Alabama as black people fought against segregation in the 1960s

• Conflicting federal court rulings across the U.S. against the same-sex marriage ban have prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to hear arguments in the spring

 

• President Obama appealed Tuesday to skeptical members of the Congressional Black Caucus to give him “fast track” authority to negotiate trade deals. “There are a lot of us who are still working through it,” said Sen Cory Booker (D-NJ). Members are concerned about potential job losses of U.S. workers (AP, me)

 

Homeland Security: GOP/GOP – “Your Problem”

• The internecine Republican squabble got nastier Tuesday. In their weekly conference meeting, Senate Republicans barely discussed the issue, despite the looming deadline. “It’s clear we can’t get on the bill. We can’t offer amendments on the bill … so the next move obviously is up to the house,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters (R-KY)

• House Republicans disagree. Exiting a meeting of all committee chairmen – in which the issue was discussed – the chairmen stood firm. “You can do anything you want to up there,” said Rep Rob Bishop (R-UT) annoyedly. “They are the Senate. They are all powerful. They are all knowing.” (NJ, me)

• Others in the House are ready to move on. Rep Charlie Dent (R-PA) emphasized that with time running out, there were really only two options: If the Senate couldn’t reach agreement, the House would be forced to send over either a continuing resolution to keep the dept from shutting down or a clean DHS funding bill. The word “shutdown” is being heard from GOPers

• Sen Mark Kirk (R-IL), up for reelection in the blue state in 2016, said, “If they’re cynically trying to restart the govt-shutdown battle, they should be blamed directly. … It’s a very dangerous game. If we have a successful terrorist attack – all the dead Americans from that should be laid at the feet of the Democratic caucus.”

• At a presser Tuesday, Sen Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, “I hope that they won’t shut things down. I hope that they will fully fund DHS. It’s substantively the wrong thing for them to do and it’s politically very, very dumb for them to do. And it’s hard to see why they’re doing it.”
• President Obama will announce at a WH event today that he’s bringing home by 30 April most of the U.S. troops deployed to West Africa to fight a deadly outbreak of Ebola. He’ll also outline further steps the U.S. is taking to prevent Ebola cases at home (NYT, Hill)

 

Obama’s Buzzfeed Interview

• Putin: “He has a foot very much in the Soviet past. That’s how he came of age. He ran the KGB. Those were his formative experiences.” “So, I think he looks at problems through this Cold War lens and, as a consequence, I think he’s missed some opportunities for Russia to diversify its economy, to strengthen its relationship with its neighbors.”

• Gay marriage: “My sense is that the Supreme Court is about to make a shift, one that I welcome, which is to recognize that – having hit a critical mass of states that have recognized same-sex marriage – it doesn’t make sense for us to now have this patchwork system.” (Buzzfeed, me)

• Former aide David Axelrod was “mixing up my personal feelings with my position on the issue

[of gay marriage]. “I always felt that same-sex couples should be able to enjoy the same rights, legally, as anybody else and so it was frustrating for me not to, I think, be able to square that with what were a whole bunch of religious sensitivities out there.”

• Kayla Mueller: Telling hostages’ families that the U.S. won’t pay ransom is “as tough as anything I do.” “I don’t think it’s accurate … to say that the U.S. govt hasn’t done everything we could. We devoted enormous resources and always devote enormous resources to freeing captives or hostages anywhere in the world.”

• “I deployed an entire operation – at significant risk – to rescue not only her but the other individuals who had been held, and probably missed them by a day or two, precisely because we had that commitment.” “The one thing that we have held to is a policy of not paying ransoms with an organization like ISIL.”

 

Jon Stewart Leaving The Daily Show

• Jon Stewart, who turned Comedy Central’s The Daily Show into a sharp-edged commentary on current events, announced Tuesday that he would step down after more than 16 years as its anchor. “In my heart, I know it is time for someone else” to have the opportunity he had, Stewart told his audience (NYT, TRNS, me)

• “I’m not going anywhere tomorrow,” Stewart said at the end of his show, at times seeming close to tears, “but this show doesn’t deserve an even slightly restless host, and neither do you.” Comedy Central didn’t elaborate on the future of the show, except to say that it “will endure for years to come.”

• In becoming the nation’s satirist in chief, Stewart imbued the program with a personal sense of justice, even indignation. For a segment of the audience that had lost its faith in broadcast and print news outlets or never regarded them as sacrosanct, Stewart emerged as a figure as trusted as Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow

• During Stewart’s tenure, The Daily Show won 20 Emmy Awards, including numerous trophies for outstanding variety series and outstanding writing of a variety series. The show also became remarkable for boosting the careers of other comedic talents: Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, John Oliver and Larry Wilmore

• For a generation of TV viewers, Stewart and his “indecision” coverage of presidential and congressional elections became the satirical prism through which they viewed the American political process. Stewart was often cited as a primary source of info for a viewership that had given up on staid evening news programs of the broadcast networks

 

 

Brian Williams Suspended from NBC

• NBC news anchor Brian Williams, who exaggerated his role in a helicopter episode in Iraq, has been suspended for six months without pay, the network said on Tuesday night. “This was completely wrong and inappropriate for someone in Brian’s position,” NBC News president Deborah Turness said in a memo. Lester Holt will continue as substitute

• The suspension culminates a rapid and startling fall for Williams, 55. He has been drawing 9.3 million viewers a night for Nightly News and his position seemed unassailable. He was one of the most trusted names in America (NYT, WaPo, TRNS, me)

• But his embellishment of his helicopter story and questions about his other reporting undermined the trust viewers placed in him. He’s been pilloried on social media. Almost none of his peers in the news business came to his support. Six months is a long time to disappear from the TV landscape; analysts said it would be difficult to climb back

• Williams didn’t respond to phone calls or an email seeking comment. A friend who spoke to Williams on Tuesday described him as “shattered.” The episode has called into question not only the credibility of Williams but also the ethics and culture at NBC News. It’s not clear whether other people at NBC were aware of Williams’s version of events

• Turness said in a memo to NBC News staff that execs decided to suspend Williams because he misrepresented the Iraq episode on the Nightly News broadcast. They also were concerned about the way he portrayed the episode away from newscasts. That includes descriptions of reporting on Katrina as well as other coverage. An investigation is continuing

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______________

Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Nicholas Salazar, William McDonald and James Cullum contributed to this report

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