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

  • Jordan executes jihadists after pilot’s death
  • ISIS video: intent / horror
  • Moussaoui: Saudi princes patrons of al Qaeda
  • Former U.S. officials seek Saudi probe
  • Vaccines: Potential 2016ers scramble
  • Senate Dems block DHS bill
  • EPA warns on Keystone
  • U.S. & Iran: Talking nukes
  • House votes to repeal Obamacare
  • Veterans’ suicide law passes
Jordan Executes Jihadists After Pilot’s Death

• Jordan has executed two convicts, including a female jihadist, following the killing of one of its air force pilots by ISIS militants. The woman, failed suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi, and al Qaeda operative Ziyad Karboli – both Iraqi nationals – were hanged at dawn today, officials said (BBC, NYT, WaPo, me)

• The executions came hours after ISIS posted a video appearing to show pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh being burned alive. He was seized after crashing during an anti-ISIS mission over Syria in December. Jordan had attempted to secure Lt Kasasbeh’s release in a swap involving Rishawi and Japanese hostage Kenji Goto. Goto was killed a few days ago

• Jordan earlier vowed an “earth-shattering” response after ISIS posted a video online showing what militants say is the pilot standing in a cage engulfed in flames. Jordanian state TV reported that Kasasbeh, a member of an important tribe, was killed a month ago. A leading authority in Sunni Islam Tuesday night called for the killing and crucifixion of ISIS militants

• Jordan’s King Abdullah hailed Kasasbeh as a hero, saying Jordan must “stand united” in the face of hardship. The king decided to cut short a visit to the U.S. after news of the pilot’s death, but he met President Obama at the WH Tuesday evening before flying home

• Obama earlier said that if the video was real, it would be “one more indication of the viciousness and barbarity” of ISIS. “I think it will redouble the vigilance and determination on the part of the global coalition to make sure they are degraded and ultimately defeated,” Obama said

• ISIS’ continued abuse of Islam knows no bounds. The video opens with the invocation: “In the name of God, the most Merciful, the most Compassionate,” which, to me, mocks God. In addition, the Qu’ran prohibits the burning of captives


ISIS Video: Intent / Horror

• The video, with its references to ISIS’ punishment of nations like Jordan that joined the American-led coalition against it, appeared to be an attempt to cow the Arab nations and other countries that have agreed to battle the militants in Syria. So far, it appeared to have had the opposite effect in Jordan, which suggested its resolve had been stiffened

• But the capture of the pilot had already hurt the coalition, with the United Arab Emirates suspending its own airstrikes in December and demanding that the group improve its search and rescue efforts for captured members (NYT, Daily Beast, me)

• By apparently killing Kasasbeh after – or even before – his govt had offered a prisoner swap, ISIS has affirmed that it has no interest in negotiating seriously, and that will likely compel govts to launch military rescue missions rather than try dialogue for their citizens’ release, a former U.S. official with extensive experience in hostage negotiations and rescues said

• Pentagon spox Rear Adm John Kirby told reporters Tuesday, “Nothing has changed about the U.S. position of not negotiating with terrorists,” when asked about the fate of the American woman aid worker being held by ISIS. “We never stop trying to know more, to learn more and to do something if it’s possible to do something.” (TRNS)


• ISIS in the video names 11 more Jordanian Air Force personnel, showing pictures of them and pinpointing their alleged residences on a satellite map. The group offers a reward of 100 “gold dinars to whoever kills a crusader pilot.” The dinar is ISIS’ “adopted” currency for its “state”

• Kasasbeh has a black eye in the video. He is put in a cage amid the wreckage of buildings presumably bombed by coalition planes. His orange prisoner suit is wet with some substance. A trail of gasoline leads to the cage. It is lit. He is set ablaze

• The camera stays on him until his blackened flesh begins to melt away from his face and he falls over. Then a backhoe dumps earth on top of the cage and rolls over it. A burned hand is shown protruding from beneath shattered concrete

• A crowded Metro-North train slammed into a SUV on the tracks at a crossing in Westchester County NY at the height of the evening rush Tuesday, creating a fiery crash and explosion that killed seven people and injured more than a dozen (NYT, NYDN)


Moussaoui: Saudi Princes Patrons of al Qaeda 
• From inside the federal supermax prison, Zacarias Moussaoui, a former al Qaeda operative, has described in testimony prominent members of Saudi Arabia’s royal family as major donors to the terrorist network in the late 1990s and claimed that he discussed a plan to shoot down Air Force One with a Stinger missile with a staff member at the Saudi Embassy in DC

• In a statement Monday night, the Saudi Embassy said that the national Sept 11 commission had rejected allegations that the Saudi govt or Saudi officials had funded al Qaeda. “Moussaoui is a deranged individual whose own lawyers presented evidence that he was mentally incompetent,” the statement said (NYT, me)

• Moussaoui received a diagnosis of mental illness by a psychologist who testified on his behalf, but he was found competent to stand trial on terrorism charges. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2006. The allegations from Moussaoui come less than two weeks after the death of Saudi King Abdullah and the succession of his brother, King Salman

• Moussaoui describes meeting in Saudi Arabia with Salman, then the crown prince, and other Saudi royals while delivering them letters from Osama bin Laden. There has long been evidence that wealthy Saudis provided support for bin Laden, the son of a Saudi construction magnate, and al Qaeda before the 2001 attacks

• Moussaoui’s testimony is part of a lawsuit filed against Saudi Arabia by relatives of those killed in the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks


• Saudi Arabia had worked closely with the U.S. to finance Islamic militants fighting the Soviet Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s and al Qaeda drew its members from those militant fighters. But the extent and nature of Saudi involvement in al Qaeda has long been a subject of dispute

• Moussaoui’s testimony, if credible, provides new details of the extent and nature of that support in the pre-2001 period. In more than 100 pages of testimony, filed Monday, he comes across as calm and largely coherent, though the plaintiff’s lawyers questioning him don’t challenge his statements

• He said he was directed in 98 or 99 by Qaeda leaders to create a digital database of donors to the group. Among those he recalled listing were Prince Turki al-Faisal, then the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the longtime Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, a prominent billionaire investor and many leading clerics

• Moussaoui said he acted as a courier for bin Laden, carrying personal messages to prominent Saudi princes and clerics. He described his training in Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, including, “We talk about the feasibility of shooting Air Force One.”

Former U.S. Officials Seek Saudi Probe

• Moussaoui said he had met an official of the Islamic Affairs Dept of the Saudi Embassy in DC when the official visited Kandahar. “I was supposed to go to Washington and go with him” to “find a location where it may be suitable to launch a Stinger attack and then, after, be able to escape,” he said. He said he was arrested before the recon mission

• Also filed on Monday in the survivors’ lawsuit were affidavits from former Sens Bob Graham (D-FL) and Bob Kerrey (D-NE) and former Navy Secretary John Lehman, arguing that more investigation was needed into Saudi ties in the 9/11 plot. Graham was co-chair of the Joint Congressional Inquiry and Kerrey and Lehman served on the 9/11 Commission

• “I am convinced that there was a direct link between at least some of the terrorists who carried out the Sept 11 attacks and the govt of Saudi Arabia,” wrote Graham, who has long demanded the release of 28 pages of the congressional report on the attacks that explore Saudi connections and remain classified

• Kerrey said in the affidavit that it was “fundamentally inaccurate and misleading” to argue, as lawyers for Saudi Arabia have, that the 9/11 Commission exonerated the Saudi govt. The three former officials’ statements didn’t address Moussaoui’s testimony

• Ashton Carter, a former Pentagon No. 2, heads to the Senate Armed Services Committee today for a 9.30 am confirmation hearing for defense secretary. Should be a smoother hearing than that of his predecessor Chuck Hagel, but he’s hardly going to get an easy ride from Republicans (Reuters)


Vaccines: Potential 2016ers Scramble

• Gov Chris Christie (R-NJ) canceled three scheduled media appearances in the UK on Tuesday amid a controversy over his measles vaccines comments Monday that “parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well. So that’s the balance that the govt has to decide.” “Is there something you don’t understand about no questions?” he said Tuesday

• Sen Rand Paul (R-KY) Monday said he’d “heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,” and that “for the most part vaccines should be voluntary.” He also shushed a CNBC reporter who was simply doing her job interviewing him (Politico, TPM, NYT, Bloomberg, Fox, me)

• On Tuesday, Paul scrambled. “I did not say vaccines caused disorders, just that they were temporally related – I did not allege causation.” (errrr) He didn’t say if he believed any vaccines should be required. In a bit of grandstanding, he tweeted a picture of himself getting a booster vaccine on Tuesday for Hepatitis A

• Gov Bobby Jindal (R-LA) said he wouldn’t send his children to a school that didn’t require vaccination and condemned anti-vaccination “fear-mongering.” Sen Marco Rubio (R-FL) told reporters on Capitol Hill that “absolutely, all children in American should be vaccinated.”

• Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) said, “Children, of course, should be vaccinated,” though he thought an exception clause for “good faith, religious convictions” was an “appropriate judgment for a state to make at a public health level.” He also said,”This issue is largely silliness stirred up by the media.” (no it’s not)

• Hillary Clinton tweeted: “The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork. Let’s protect all our kids. #GrandmothersKnowBest”  Graphic: Facts about the measles outbreak (NYT)


• Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has said that “we should not allow

[disease] to return by foregoing safe immunization programs, for philosophical, religious or other reasons when we have the means to eradicate them.” (really strong)

• In a statement, Gov Rick Perry (R-TX) touted his record raising the rate of vaccination in the state, but a Perry spox didn’t respond to questions about the circumstances in which vaccinations should be mandatory (dodging)

• Gov Scott Walker (R-WI) and Gov John Kasich (R-OH) expressed their personal support for vaccines through spox, but didn’t say anything about mandating them. In a statement, Gov Mike Pence (R-IN) encouraged families to vaccinate their children and cited state law that requires vaccination (all fence straddling)

• Representatives for former Gov Jeb Bush (R-FL), former Gov Mike Huckabee (R-AR) and former Sen Rick Santorum (R-PA) (all apparently hiding) didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment. Here’s TPM’s definitive guide to potential 2016 contenders and vaccines

• At least 13 people have died after a TransAsia plane clipped a bridge and crashed into a river near the Taiwanese capital of Taipei. Fifty eight people were onboard. The fuselage is now on its side, half submerged. Rescuers have cut it open to try to rescue survivors (BBC)

Senate Dems Filibuster DHS Bill

• Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked Republicans from taking up a House-passed bill that would fund the Dept of Homeland Security but roll back President Obama’s recent executive actions on immigration, setting up a showdown over the agency – and the admin’s immigration policies – before money for the dept runs out at the end of this month

• The $40 billion spending bill would revoke legal protections for as many as five million undocumented immigrants, including children. Democrats said that was unacceptable and Obama has promised a veto of any legislation that guts his executive immigration actions (NYT, Politico, WaPo, Roll Call, Fox, TRNS, me)

• Congressional Republicans now find themselves scrambling to fund the agency before it runs out of money on 27 Feb, while also keeping happy their most conservative members, who believe the president has overstepped his constitutional authority and that the homeland security bill is their best leverage to fight back

• GOP senators have considered short-term funding measures, a lawsuit challenging Obama’s actions and the passage of border security legislation. Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) said Tuesday that Republicans should block the nomination of Loretta Lynch as attorney general until Obama relents on his immigration policies

• Hours after the vote, DHS Sec Jeh Johnson said a shutdown at DHS would cause “terrible disruption” to average Americans at airports, customs offices and border crossings. “It is horribly unfair to ask people in the critical role of Homeland Security to come to work and not get paid because Congress can’t fund the dept.”

• President Obama is scheduled to meet this morning at the WH with a group of DREAMers who have received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The WH says it’s an opportunity for the president “to hear directly from young people whose lives have been positively affected as a result of receiving deferred action or DACA.”


EPA Warns on Keystone

• An EPA review released Tuesday of the Keystone XL pipeline emphasized that the recent drop in global oil prices might mean that construction of the pipeline could spur increased development of the Canadian oil sands – and thus increase planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions (NYT, Hill, WaPo, me)

• That review might influence President Obama’s long-delayed verdict on the pipeline, which could bring about 800,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta to the Gulf Coast. Obama has said that an important element of his decision will be whether construction would contribute significantly to climate change

• SecState John Kerry asked eight other agencies to weigh in on the project. The deadline for responses was Monday, and State hasn’t publicly released comments from all of the agencies

• Meanwhile, pressure is rising on Obama to make a decision. Next week, the House is expected to pass a bill that tries to force approval of the pipeline. Obama’s expected to veto the measure, although that wouldn’t necessarily signal that he would oppose the pipeline itself

• However, he’s recently made critical comments about the project. Some analysts have speculated that he may wish to deny the project as a way to make a symbolic statement about his broader commitment to climate change issues


• Ewww vid: Freshman Sen Thom Tillis (R-NC) argued this week that the govt shouldn’t require food workers to wash their hands after using the toilet, saying “the market will take care of that.” (C-Span)

U.S. & Iran: Talking Nukes

• With time for negotiations running short, the U.S. and Iran are discussing a compromise that would let Iran keep much of its uranium-enriching technology but reduce its potential to make nuclear weapons, two anonymous diplomats told AP (AP, me)

• That could break the decade-long deadlock on attempts to limit Iranian activities that could be used to make such arms: Tehran refuses to meet U.S.-led demands for deep cuts in the number of centrifuges it uses to enrich uranium, a process that can create material for anything from chemotherapy to the core of an atomic bomb

• Experts warn that any reduction in centrifuge efficiency is reversible more quickly than a straight decrease in the number of machines, an argument that could be seized upon by powerful critics of the talks in the U.S. Congress

• Ahead of a new round of negotiations in Munich this week, the diplomats said there’s no guarantee that the proposal can be finessed into an agreement. They said the proposal could leave running most of the nearly 100,000 centrifuges Iran is operating but reconfigure them to reduce the amount of enriched uranium they produce. The deal could include other limitations

• State Dept spox Jen Psaki said there’s a range of discussions going on, focused on cutting off the different pathways for Iran to potentially arrive at a nuclear bomb. “There are many pieces of the puzzle that need to be put together,” she said

House Votes to Repeal Obamacare…

• The GOP House on Tuesday voted for the fourth time to repeal Obamacare, but this time with instructions to several committees to replace the law with new policies. The kicker: the law doesn’t impose any deadline on committees to finish their work. Only three Republicans voted against repeal. All Democrats opposed the measure (Hill, AP, TRNS, me)

• The biggest potential roadblock for Obamacare could be at the Supreme Court, which in March will hear arguments on whether the federal govt can provide subsidies for consumers to purchase healthcare coverage in states that didn’t set up their own Obamacare subsidies. It could eliminate subsidies for people whose states chose not to set up exchanges

• Don Stewart, a spox of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), said no decision had been made yet on when the House-passed measure would hit the Senate floor. McConnell has repeatedly pledged that the Senate would vote on Obamacare repeal under his watch

• Meanwhile, President Obama gathered at the WH with beneficiaries of his health law Tuesday to argue that the persistent effort to wipe it out – nearly 60 House votes – “makes absolutely no sense” as the House was poised to take Tuesday’s vote

• Obama spoke surrounded by 10 Americans from across the country who wrote him letters about how they benefited from the Affordable Care Act. “The bottom line is that the Affordable Care Act is not an abstraction. It’s about people.”

Veterans’ Suicide Law Passes

• As a Marine serving in Iraq, Clay Hunt barely missed being killed by a sniper, yet he faced what proved to be more powerful foes after leaving the corps: depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Hunt killed himself four years ago, even as he worked to help other struggling veterans (NYT, Hill, CNN, TRNS, me)

• The Senate on Tuesday passed legislation, 99-0, named for Hunt, to improve suicide prevention and mental health treatment programs at the Dept of Veterans Affairs. The bill, which also passed the House unanimously, now goes to President Obama’s desk. He’s expected to sign it

• The legislation calls for external audits of suicide prevention programs in the VA and Defense depts. The review would determine which efforts are successful or should be eliminated. It would also create a website detailing mental healthcare services and start a pilot program to repay student loan debt for those who study psychiatric medicine and commit to work at the VA

• According to the latest govt data, an estimated 22 veterans kill themselves every day. While many are older veterans, a survey by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that two out of five of its members knew a recent combat veteran who had committed suicide

• Sen Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), one of the bill’s sponsors, said: “We owe these wounded warriors more effective psychiatric services and counseling so they can win the war against the inner demons that come home with them from service.”

• There’s going to be a second Harper Lee novel, a prequel to “To Kill a Mockingbird.” “Go Set a Watchman” will be published on 14 July. It was written over 50 years ago

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ James Cullum, Mary Jarvis and Midori Nishida contributed to this report

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