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.

Happy Spring!

In the News

  • Iran talks: Stumbling blocks
  • Possible deal details
  • Netanyahu backtracks, WH yawns
  • GOP’s Lynch deal crumbles
  • Clinton donations troubles
  • U.S. cyber offense: Lacking
  • Felon zips through fast track TSA line
  • Secret Service: Erased tapes?
  • Fracking regulations: Today
Stumbling Blocks in Iran Talks
• Iran’s negotiators in Switzerland have hardened their position that UN sanctions on their country be repealed at the front end of any deal reached by a 31 March deadline with the U.S. and other global powers, according to U.S., European and Iranian officials. It’s “a deal breaker. They don’t want it at all,” said a senior European diplomat involved in the talks (WSJ, NYT, me)

• The U.S. and European allies are demanding the UN’s sanctions be suspended or terminated in a phased time-frame over years. They believe sanctions relief should only come after Iran addresses concerns about its past nuclear work and is given a clean bill of health by the UN’s IAEA

• In addition, the U.S. and some negotiating partners are worried that allowing the Iranians to perfect more sophisticated centrifuges would make it far easier for Tehran to make a dash for a nuclear bomb if it decided to break out of an agreement or tried to do so after the accord expired – probably looking at an accord of 15 years

• The ideas the Iranians have presented to bridge the gap between the two sides, some Western officials said, don’t go nearly far enough. Iranian negotiators, an official said, had proposed that some advanced centrifuges it’s produced be stored instead of dismantled or destroyed

• The dispute is especially significant because the Iranians had told the U.S. that the second generation centrifuges they’ve developed but aren’t operating are about three to five times more efficient than the first generation models they’re using. Tehran has also designed third generation models that are even more efficient. Iranian officials expressed little optimism Thursday

Vid: President Obama’s Naw-Ruz message (Persian New Year) directed to Iran’s young people, urging them to pressure their leaders to accept the nuclear deal on the table. The message makes no mention of Iran’s appalling human rights record

Possible Iran Deal Details
• The U.S. and Iran are crafting elements of a nuclear deal that commits Tehran to a 40% cut in the number of machines it could use to make a nuclear bomb, officials told AP Thursday. In return, the Iranians would get quick relief from some crippling economic sanctions and a partial lift of a UN embargo on conventional arms (AP, Reuters, me)

• Officials said the tentative deal imposes at least a decade of new limits on the number of centrifuges Iran can operate to enrich uranium. The sides are zeroing in on a cap of 6,000 centrifuges, down from 6,500 they spoke of in recent weeks. That’s fewer than the 10,000 Tehran now runs. It’s unclear how complete the draft agreement is

• But U.S. officials insist the focus on centrifuge numbers alone misses the point. Combined with other restrictions on enrichment levels and the types of centrifuges Iran can use, Washington believes it can extend the time Tehran would need to produce a nuclear weapon to at least a year. Right now, Iran would only need two to three months

• The Senate Foreign Relations Committee won’t now vote on an Iran bill until 14 April. Separately, Some 360 House Republicans and Democrats – more than enough to override any presidential veto – sent a letter to President Obama Thursday saying that if an agreement is reached, Congress will decide on easing sanctions it has imposed

• The one-year breakout time has become a point the Obama admin is reluctant to cross in the set of highly technical talks, and that bare minimum would be maintained for 10 years as part of the draft deal. After that, restrictions would be slowly eased. The total length of the deal would be at least 15 years, possibly 20

• The House Budget Committee passed the first budget from new chair Tom Price (R-GA) Thursday on a 22-13 party-line vote. Sens Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) called it a “fairy-tale budget,” saying the math doesn’t add up (Hill, TRNS, me)
Netanyahu Backtracks, WH Unimpressed
• Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday tried to backtrack from his pre-election declaration that no Palestinian state would be established on his watch, but his new assertions appeared to do nothing to assuage an infuriated Obama admin (NYT, TRNS, TRNS, me)

• In a series of interviews with American broadcasters, Netanyahu also said he had not been trying to suppress to votes of Arab citizens with an Election Day video warning that they were being bused to polling stations in “droves,” remarks that had also caused outrage at the WH and around the world

• “I haven’t changed my policy,” Netanyahu said on MSNBC. “What has changed is the reality.” “I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but for that, circumstances have to change. To make it achievable, then you have to have real negotiations with people who are committed to peace.” He didn’t say he was ready to return to negotiations or present new ideas

• President Obama waited nearly two full days before making a congratulatory call to Netanyahu Thursday evening. In a striking indication of how bitter tensions remain, Obama told Netanyahu directly that the U.S. would have to “reassess our options” after the PM’s “new positions and comments” on the two-state solution, according to a WH official


• In Israel, Netanyahu’s apparent reversal regarding a Palestinian state on the eve of an election was largely seen as a blatant, somewhat desperate appeal to take votes from parties on his right flank – which appears to be exactly what happened. Many analysts expected him to backtrack after the ballots were counted

• But in DC, many officials have long suspected that Netanyahu was never serious about making peace with the Palestinians or about the American-brokered negotiations towards such an outcome. So when a right-leaning Israel news site asked him Monday, “If you are PM, a Palestinian state will not be established,” and he answered, “Correct”, they pounced

• President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority also pounced Thursday.”We therefore will not retreat from our position to apply international law, and so it is our right to go anywhere in the world to realize our rights according to international law,” Abbas said at a meeting of the PLO’s executive committee in Ramallah

• Netanyahu appears to be in damage-control mode. “I wasn’t trying to block anyone from voting; I was trying to mobilize my own voters,” Netanyahu told PBS’s Morning Edition today. “The Arabs in Israel are the only Arabs that have consistently had the right to participate in elections. That’s sacrosanct.”

• President Obama wasn’t calling for a law when he floated the idea of mandatory voting during a speech Wednesday, the WH said Thursday. WH spox Josh Earnest said Obama was speaking about the negative impact of money in politics and spoke “about a variety of ways this challenge could be confronted.” (Hill, me)
GOP’s Lynch Deal Crumbles
• Democrats on Thursday rejected a possible solution floated by Sen John Cornyn in a battle over abortion that’s left the Senate in a weeks-long standstill. The TX Republican suggested letting a victims fund established by an anti-trafficking bill go through the appropriations process (Hill, TRNS, me)

• But Sen Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said the deal would still be an extension of the Hyde Amendment, which is normally limited to congressionally appropriated money. “The deal that he does still violates what we believe.” The Senate will not move on a vote on AG nominee Loretta Lynch until the trafficking bill is done. She’s been waiting nearly 130 days

• Sen Pat Leahy (D-VT), ranking Judiciary Committee member, said on the Senate floor, “Cornyn’s proposal to simply funnel fees collected from traffickers in his bill through the appropriations process still presents the same problem. This is not taxpayer money; in fact, it would be some huge new step to subject non-taxpayer money to the Hyde Amendment.”

• Asked how much, if any, pressure Republicans were feeling to bring Loretta Lynch’s AG nomination up for a vote, Cornyn said: “Zero.” “We have an African-American attorney general currently serving, so there’s no vacancy. We’ve been stuck with him for a long time.” Lynch is African-American

• Meanwhile, gun rights groups are making a vigorous push to stop the Senate from confirming Lynch. Advocates are organizing petitions, drawing up letters and hitting the phones to urge Republicans to oppose Lynch. The Gun Owners of America called her “Eric Holder in a skirt” in a letter
• Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies are investigating the death of a black man who was found hanging from a tree in a small Mississippi town Thursday morning. The man was hanging by a bedsheet, and his hands were not tied. It’s not been determined if hanging was the ultimate cause of death (NYT, me)
Clinton Donations Troubles
• The Clinton Foundation swore off foreign govts when Hillary Clinton was SecState. That didn’t stop the foundation from raising millions of dollars from foreigners with connections to their home govts, a review of foundation disclosures shows (WSJ, me)

• All told, more than a dozen foreign individuals and their foundations and companies were large donors to the Clinton Foundation in the years after Clinton became SecState in 2009, collectively giving between $34 million and $68 million, foundation records show. Some donors also provided funding directly to charitable projects – at $60 million

• After Clinton left State in 2013, the foundation resumed accepting donations from foreign govts. Just after she stepped down as SecState, it received a large donation from a conglomerate run by a member of China’s National People’s Congress

• In response to questions about foreign donations, a foundation official said the individuals have given to a host of other major philanthropies (not quite the point). Spox Craig Minassian said they receive support “because our programs are improving the lives of millions of people around the globe.”


• The foundation has said that if Clinton runs for president, it would consider once again restricting donations from foreign govts. Also, under federal election law, foreign govts, individuals and corporations would be barred from giving to her campaign

• Former President Bill Clinton promised the Obama admin the foundation wouldn’t accept most foreign-govt donations while his wife was SecState. The agreement didn’t place limits on donations from foreign individuals or corporations. Couple of examples – there are more:

• Victor Dahdaleh, a London businessman whose foundation contributed between $1 million and $5 million, was acquitted last year in London on charges of bribing Bahraini officials to secure contracts for Alcoa. In the U.S., the Alcoa affiliate pleaded guilty to corruption charges. DoJ said an investigation into the matter remains open (snapshot of case only- complicated)

• Rilin Enterprises, part of a privately held Chinese construction, infrastructure and port-management company, made a $2 million foundation pledge. Company was founded and is run by Wang Wenliang, a member of the National People’s Congress, China’s formal parliamentary body. The Clinton Foundation was unaware Wang was a delegate, said a spox
• Nine people have been arrested in connection with a gun attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis that killed 23 people on Wednesday, including 20 foreign tourists. ISIS said it was behind the attack, using an audio message to praise two “knights of the caliphate.” (BBC, me)
U.S. Cyber Offense: Lacking
• The govt’s efforts to deter computer attacks against the U.S. aren’t working. “We’re at a tipping point,” said Adm Michel Rogers, the head of U.S. Cyber Command and the NSA, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. “We need to think about: How do we increase our capacity on the offensive side to get to that point of deterrence?” (WaPo, me)

• Rogers noted that the command, which launched in 2010, has focused mostly on defense. But, he said, “in the end, a purely defensive, reactive strategy will be both late to need and incredibly resource-intense.” Rogers said that President Obama hasn’t yet decided to delegate authority to him to deploy offensive tools

• Concerns over the years from the WH, State and even some within the Pentagon that the use of cyberweapons could trigger unintended consequences and might harm diplomatic relations have slowed their deployment

• Rogers said that at present he sees “a strong, direct linkage” between “individual” hackers in Iran, Russia and China and “the nation state directing” an attack or intrusion. But, he added, “one of the things we’ll be looking for” is foreign govts trying to confuse analysts by using “partners” outside govt so that the activity isn’t as easy to attribute directly to the state

• Chair Sen John McCain (R-AZ) said the November cyberattack by North Korea “has exposed serious flaws in this admin’s cyber-strategy.” Admin officials say that the financial sanctions imposed against NK officials following the attack, and the indictments last year against five Chinese military officials, show greater resolve to hold adversaries accountable

• The CIA just declassified the document that supposedly justified the Iraq invasion (can see it in this link) (Vice News)

Felon Zips Through Fast Track TSA Line

• A convicted felon and former member of a domestic terrorist organization was allowed to pass through an expedited security line designed for passengers who aren’t considered a security threat, the Homeland Security Dept’s IG said Thursday night (AP, me)

• The DHS IG’s office said in a statement that the passenger hadn’t registered for the TSA’s PreCheck program but was selected for the expedited screening through the Secure Flight program’s risk assessment rules (high risk rules?)

• The IG’s office said a TSA officer recognized the felon and alerted a supervisor but was ordered to allow the passenger to go through PreCheck anyway (because – why not). PreCheck passengers don’t have to remove their shoes or remove liquids from their carry-on luggage

• The TSA issued a written statement Thursday night saying it “takes its responsibility for protecting the traveling public very seriously.” (straight face) It said, “All passengers, including those with TSA PreCheck on boarding passes, are subject to a robust security approach that employs multiple layers of security, both sees and unseen.” (more unseen than seen)

• The agency said it was reviewing the guidelines it provides to TSA officers and supervisors to ensure they “clearly understand the procedure in the event a person or item presents a creditable threat to transportation security”
• The Obama admin is nearing a decision to keep more troops in Afghanistan next year than it had intended, effectively upending its drawdown plans in response to roiling violence in the country and another false start in the effort to open peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan govt (NYT)


Secret Service: Erased Tapes?
• Lawmakers investigating a case of two Secret Service agents suspected of drinking and driving into a WH barricade expressed frustration after viewing two videos of the incident. They complained to director Joseph Clancy that the footage didn’t help them see much of the agents’ actions that night (WaPo, me)

• When they asked for more video of the incident and of the events leading up to it, Clancy was noncommittal. He acknowledged the service’s practice of recording over surveillance video after three days. “It’s very troubling,” said Rep Stephen Lynch (D-MA), a member of the House Oversight Committee, who was present (erasing at all? really?)

• Former Secret Service officials, anonymous, said videotape from nearly all surveillance cameras on WH grounds that evening should have been preserved as a result of a serious incident that occurred the same night at roughly the same time: a bomb threat

• On 4 March, two senior agents drove their govt car onto the WH compound during an active bomb investigation. The pair had returned from a work party. Officers on duty believed they were behaving erratically. Officers complained that a supervisor on duty ordered them to let the agents go home without facing sobriety tests

• Committee chair Rep Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said it’s “just unbelievable” that tapes could have been erased as a matter of course – before the director even knew about the events. The possibility evidence is missing is more disconcerting, Chaffetz said, in the wake of a 2011 shooting that led to the addition of hundreds of surveillance cameras on the grounds and perimeter

• Vid clip: Monica Lewinsky spoke at TED2015 on Thursday. “I was branded as a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo and, of course, ‘that woman.’ It was easy to forget ‘that woman’ was dimensional and had a soul.” “When this happened to me, 17 years ago, there was no name for it. Now we call it cyber-bullying.”

Fracking Regulations: Today
• The Obama admin today is expected to issue long-awaited regulations setting new standards for hydraulic fracturing – “fracking” – in the oil and natural-gas industries, people familiar with the matter said. The drilling technology has been key to unlocking vast reserves of oil and gas across the U.S. but it’s considered controversial due to environmental concerns (WSJ, me)

• The regs will set standards for wells and disposal of wastewater – and also require companies to disclose chemicals used, Interior Sec Sally Jewell said Tuesday. “Some have already labeled these baseline, proven standards as overly burdensome to industry; I think most Americans would call them common sense.”

• The regs apply only to drilling on federal land, which account for only 11% of the natural gas and 5% of the oil the U.S. consumes, according to Interior data. Other drilling is on private or state-owned lands and won’t be subject to the regs. The rules will set a standard that will be weighed by state regulators and private companies

• Fracking is a drilling technique of injecting water and chemicals deep into shale rock formations to crack open pockets of natural gas and oil. Companies have done it for decades. The govt, in a May 2013 draft proposal, said it expects the rules to cost between $12 million and $20 million a year

• Opponents of fracking say that some people who live near fracking sites have become ill from drinking contaminated water and that others can light their taps on fire due to the amount of methane in their water. Communities with fracking have seen declines in property values and increases in crime. They say that methane leaks from fracking industry sites


• Rocking into the weekend in celebration of the rare total solar eclipse, supermoon and vernal equinox: “Total Eclipse of the Heart” – Bonnie Tyler 1982 – those shoulder pads! that hair!

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ William McDonald contributed to this report

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