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Victoria Jones created and edits Quick Morning News. She is chief White House correspondent with Washington DC-based Talk Media News, where her insight and analysis are made available to over 400 news talk radio stations around the country and internationally.
 

Quick News
  • SCOTUS: Obama strikes back
  • Romney: “Bombshell” in Trump’s taxes
  • Democrats criss cross states
  • Spy agencies: Clinton’s “top secret” emails
  • Apple working on hack-proof iPhone?
  • Iran vote: Khamenei warns of West’s “plot”
  • Obama cautious on Syria plan
 
SCOTUS: Obama Strikes Back (NYT, Reuters, me)
• President Obama – enticed by a history-altering opportunity – telephoned senators and took one aside on Wednesday, took to the internet to detail his “careful deliberation” over potential nominees, and reproached Republicans for siding with “extreme” elements in their party. Hillary Clinton rallied African American voters in South Carolina (GOP dug in heels)
 
• In what appeared to be a political feint, one potential nominee’s name leaked out, Nevada’s GOP governor, Brian Sandoval, a candidate seemingly calculated to demonstrate the depths of Republican obstreperousness. Obama invited senior Republicans and Democrats to the WH today to discuss the process, then postponed Wed night – GOPers not gonna show
 
• Obama insisted that in private conversations, Republican bluster was tempered. “They’re pretty sheepish about it,” he said. “I recognize the politics are hard for them, because the easiest thing to do is to give in to the most extreme voices within their party and stand pat and do nothing, but that’s not our job,” Obama said in the Oval Office
 
• On Capitol Hill, Democrats pressed the WH to put forward a nominee quickly. “I want him to do it – find somebody quickly, get vetted and get it to us,” Sen Harry Reid (Nev), the Democratic leader, said of Obama in an interview (GOP senators, like Kelly Ayotte (NH) say they won’t even meet an Obama nominee)
 
• Democrats began orchestrating a campaign of political pressure, which at a minimum could animate the Democratic base ahead of the Nov elections, officials privately said. Senate Republicans said Sandoval’s party affiliation made no difference – they wouldn’t even consider any nominee put forward by Obama (would look a bit awkward, though)

 

Obama Gives Clues to Nominee
• In a guest post on Scotusblog, a website that covers the Supreme Court, Obama offered a window into his selection process, saying he was seeking a justice with “a keen understanding that justice is not about abstract legal theory, nor some footnote in a dusty casebook.” “Eminently qualified,” “recognizes the limits of the judiciary’s role”
 
• “It’s the kind of life experience earned outside the classroom and the courtroom; experience that suggests he or she views the law not only as an intellectual exercise, but also grasps the way it affects the daily reality of people’s lives in a big, complicated democracy, and in rapidly changing times,” Obama wrote
 
• “I think it will be very difficult for Mr McConnell to explain if the public concludes that this person is very well qualified, that the Senate should stand in the way simply for political reasons.”
 
• But in a mark of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the election year SCOTUS dispute, even the traditional WH meeting to begin planning for the confirmation process got messy. Obama on Monday invited McConnell and Senate Judiciary chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), along with top Dems, but was forced to postpone until next week – GOP scheduling…
 
• Sen Chris Murphy (D-Conn) said Republicans “are giving a middle finger to the American people and they are giving a middle finger to this president. The American people elected Barack Obama for four years and they knew what they were doing.” (second term for Democrats is three years now, Chris, get with the program)

 

• When Justice Antonin Scalia died 11 days ago at a Texas ranch, he was among high-ranking members of an exclusive, dark green robe-wearing fraternity for hunters called the International Order of St Hubertus, an Austrian society that dates back to the 1600s (more details in WaPo)
 
Romney: “Bombshell” in Trump’s Taxes (Politico, AP, Fox, Hill, NYT, me)
• Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee, said in a Fox interview Wed, that there was “good reason to believe that there’s a bombshell in Donald Trump’s taxes.” “Either he’s not anywhere near as wealthy as he says he is, or he hasn’t been paying the kind of taxes we would expect him to pay or perhaps he hasn’t been giving money to the vets or to the disabled.”
 
• Trump, who claims to be worth $10 billion, lashed back on Twitter: “Mitt Romney, who totally blew an election that should have been won and whose tax returns made him look like a fool, is now playing tough guy.” (not asking for new taxes – these are taxes already filed – no reason for any delays – so what’s the hold up, Donnie?)
 
• Speaking at a Fox News forum in Houston, Sen Ted Cruz (R-Texas) Wed night said his was “the only campaign that can beat Donald
[and] has beat Donald,” a reference to Iowa. Cruz on Wednesday got the endorsement of Texas’s GOP governor Greg Abbott ahead of next Tuesday’s primary – in which Cruz is in the lead
 
• There’s a GOP CNN debate tonight, with coverage starting at 8:30 pm ET. It’s being held five days before Super Tuesday, when Republicans will award 595 delegates in 11 state races, with 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination
 
• MIT professor and intellectual Noam Chomsky said in an interview on AlterNet that Trump’s success in the primary was due to “fear, along with the breakdown of society during the neoliberal period. People feel isolated, helpless, victim of powerful forces that they do not understand and cannot influence.” (he’s not wrong)
 
 
Democrats Cross-Cross States (CNN, AP, me)
• Hillary Clinton on Wednesday evening told about 500 people in Sumter SC that there are a “lot of Flints” out there and she wants to help them. Clinton questioned if Flint’s lead contamination issue would have happened in a “white affluent suburb of Detroit.” Bernie Sanders will stop in Flint today for a community forum on the water situation
 
• On Wednesday, Sanders criticized Hillary Clinton’s support of welfare reform in 1996. “I spoke out against welfare reform because I thought it was scapegoating people who were helpless, people who were very, very vulnerable. Sec Clinton at that time had a very different position on welfare reform – strongly supported it.”
 

• Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) endorsed Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, saying, “She’s the woman to be the first president of the United States that’s a female.”
 

• Sanders told a crowd of about 7,000 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Wednesday night that he is ready to “make history” on 1 March and win Oklahoma’s primary. “When I look out at this crowd, I don’t think there’s any way that we’re gonna lose on Tuesday,” Sanders said, to thunderous applause

 

• The U.S. and China have reached agreement on a “significantly substantive” UN resolution that would impose tougher sanctions on North Korea as punishment for its latest nuclear test and rocket launch, UN diplomats said. The Security Council is scheduled to hold closed consultations this afternoon on compliance with the sanctions (AP)
 

Spy Agencies: Clinton’s “Top Secret” Emails (Reuters, me)

• U.S. spy agencies have told Congress that Hillary Clinton’s home computer server contained some emails that should have been treated as “top secret” because their wording matched sections of some of the govt’s most highly classified documents, four sources familiar with the agency reports said – (more drip drip drip leaks)
 

• The two reports from the CIA and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency are the first formal declarations by spy agencies detailing how they believe Clinton violated govt rules when highly classified info in at least 22 email messages passed through her unsecured home server
 

• State Dept has acknowledged that the emails contained top secret info, though it says they weren’t marked that way. However, the agency reports found some emails included passages that closely track or mirrored communications marked “top secret.” Plus, additional classification markings meant access was supposed to be limited to specially cleared officials
 

• Under the law and govt rules, U.S. officials and contractors may not transmit any classified info – not only documents – outside secure, govt-controlled channels Such info shouldn’t be sent even through the govt’s .gov email network. The Clinton campaign criticized State’s decision to withhold the 22 emails, blaming it on “over-classification run amok.”

• No response to requests for comment from Clinton campaign spox or her lawyer, David Kendall. One source said the reports identified some info in messages on Clinton’s server that came from human sources, such as confidential CIA informants, and some from technical systems, such as spy satellites (sloppy at best)

 

• AG Loretta Lynch on Wednesday declined to discuss how she would make a decision about whether to prosecute Clinton over classified info on her private email server. “This will be conducted as every other case and we will review all the facts and all the evidence and come to an independent conclusion,” Lynch said during a House committee hearing (Politico)

 

Apple Working on Hack-Proof iPhone? (NYT, NYT, me)
• Apple engineers have already begun developing new security measures that would make it impossible for the govt to break into a locked iPhone using methods similar to those now at the center of a court fight about the San Bernardino shooting, according to people close to the company and security experts
 
• If Apple succeeds in upgrading its security – and experts say it almost surely will – the company would create a significant technical challenge for law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, which is currently trying to access killer Syed Farook’s company owned iPhone. The FBI would have to find another way to defeat Apple security (brought it on themselves)
 
• The only way out of this back-and-forth, experts say, is for Congress to get involved. Federal wiretapping laws require traditional phone carriers to make their data accessible to law enforcement agencies. But tech companies like Apple and Google aren’t covered, and they have strongly resisted legislation that would place similar requirement on them
 
• Each iPhone has a built-in troubleshooting system that lets the company update the system software without the need for a user to enter a password. The FBI wants to exploit that by forcing Apple to write and install new software that would make it easier for the govt to hack into the phone. This is the vulnerability Apple is working to fix (do it quick, then)
 
• Apple is under a court order from a federal judge magistrate to write and install the code sought by the FBI. Apple has promised to challenge that order. Its lawyers have until Friday to file its opposition in court. Stay tuned. Oh, and the DOJ is demanding access to at least nine other iPhones – (so it’s not just about one phone, as FBI would have you believe)

 

• Twenty five defendants charged with leading an armed occupation at a federal wildlife refuge in rural southeastern Oregon this year formally pleaded not guilty in court in Portland on Wednesday to charges that they impeded federal govt employees from performing their duties. Prosecutors said they intended to file more charges (NYT)
 

Iran Vote: Khamenei Warns of West’s “Plot” (Reuters, me)

• Iran’s top leader Ayatollah Khamenei warned voters Wednesday the West was plotting to influence elections this Friday pitting (sort of) centrists close to President Rouhani against conservative hardliners in a contest that could shape the Islamic Republic for years to come (or the Iranian people could later take matters into their own hands)
 

• Rouhani’s allies, who hope the Iran nuclear deal will hasten Iran’s opening up to the world after years of sanctions, have come under increasing pressure in the election campaign from hardliners who accuse them of links to Western powers including the U.S. and Britain – memories of the 1953 coup against the then PM, orchestrated by the U.S. and Britain
 

• On his website, Khamenei said, “When I talked about a U.S. infiltration plot, it made some people in the country frustrated.” “They complain [about] why we talk about infiltration all the time … But this is a real plot. Sometimes even the infiltrators don’t know they are a part of it.” (how does that work, then? bit impossible to disprove – maybe the point…)
 

• Supporters of Rouhani, buoyed by the nuclear deal, aim to gain influence in the elections for parliament and the Assembly of Experts, which will choose the country’s next supreme leader. Moves by hardliners to block moderate candidates and portray them as stooges of the West have soured the mood in the final days of campaigning
 

• Rouhani on Wednesday denied accusations from hardliners that the candidates close to him were affiliated with Western powers. He complained of a public discourse rife with “abuse, accusations and insults.” Half of the candidates, mostly so-called moderates and reformists, have been disqualified by a hardline watchdog body, the Guardian Council

 

• Iranian authorities have arrested 80-year-old Baquer Namazi, a U.S. citizen and the father of Siamak Namazi, who has been detained in Iran for four months, friends and family said Wed. The father is said to be in Tehran’s Evin prison. The family has for years advocated for warmer ties between the two countries. Unknown why he has been arrested (AP)

 
Obama Cautious on Syria Plan (Reuters, me)
• President Obama on Wednesday expressed caution about a plan to stop fighting in Syria. The president told reporters in DC that if some progress was made in Syria, that would lead to a political process to end the five-year-old war. “We are very cautious about raising expectations on this,” he said

• Combatants are required to say whether they’ll agree to the “cessation of hostilities” by noon on Friday, and to halt fighting at midnight Saturday. The last round of peace talks in Geneva broke up earlier this month without progress after the Syrian govt launched a Russian-backed offensive on Aleppo


 
• The Syrian govt, its war effort buoyed since September by the Russian air force, has accepted the cessation of hostilities deal. (and has no intention of sticking to it) A statement from the Saudi backed opposition HNC said it “views a temporary two-week truce as a chance to establish how serious the other side is in committing to the points of the agreement.”
 
• But it objected to Russia being a guarantor of the truce alongside the U.S., saying Russia was a direct party to the conflict, and that the plan ignored the role Assad allies Russia and Iran were playing
 
• SecState John Kerry said in DC that he had spoken to Russian FM Sergei Lavrov and their teams would meet in the next day or so to discuss the planned ceasefire. “I am not here to vouch that it’s absolutely going to work,” Kerry said (it doesn’t even seem to have decent monitoring mechanisms in place)


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Victoria Jones – Editor