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

  • Inside Clinton’s Benghazi emails
  • 2016: Ted Cruz is IN! Eh?
  • Iran: Deal or no deal?
  • Brennan warns Iran: Costs if no deal
  • SCOTUS: TX Confederacy license plates
  • Obama: Tough talk on Netanyahu
  • Obama / Ghani: Detente?
  • Kabul murder: Afghan women break burial taboo
  • Yemen: “Edge of civil war”
  • Secret Service stonewalling?

Inside Clinton’s Benghazi Emails

The roughly 300 emails from Hillary Clinton’s private account that were turned over last month to the House Benghazi committee provide no evidence that she issued a “stand down” order to halt American forces responding to the violence in Benghazi or took part in a broad cover-up of the admin’s response, according to senior American officials (NYT, me)

• But they did show that Clinton’s top aides at times corresponded with them about State Dept matters from their personal email accounts, raising questions about her recent assertions that she made it her practice to email aides at their govt addresses so the messages would be preserved, in compliance with federal record-keeping regs

• The emails haven’t been made public, and NYT wasn’t permitted to review them. But four senior govt officials offered descriptions of some of the key messages, on the condition of anonymity because they didn’t want to jeopardize their access to secret info. A spox for Clinton said she and aides had used their email accounts appropriately

• Clinton used a private email account that was housed on a server at her home in Chappaqua NY while she was SecState, which kept many of the messages secret. Strikingly, Clinton is not a verbose correspondent. At times, she sends her foreign policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, an email containing a news article, a simple instruction: Please print

Rice on Sunday Shows
• The messages shed some light on a pivotal moment in the Benghazi attack’s aftermath involving then ambassador to the UN Susan Rice. On 16 Sept, five days after the attack, Rice appeared on five Sunday shows to offer the admin’s view. Some conservatives said that Rice want on so Clinton could duck the controversy. Rice said Clinton was tired after a grueling week

• The emails don’t settle that question, the senior officials said. But they do suggest that Clinton and her aides were ultimately relieved that she hadn’t gone as far as Rice in her description of the attacks

• The day Rice appeared on the shows, Sullivan emailed Clinton a transcript of Rice’s appearance on ABC’s This Week. Sullivan appeared pleased. “She did make clear our view that this started spontaneously then evolved,” Sullivan wrote to Clinton

• But in the days that followed, the admin’s view of what occurred grew more complicated. Amid intense criticism from Republicans, who accused the WH of playing down the attack in an election year, admin officials began to call it a “terrorist attack.” Rice’s initial description of the attack as spontaneous came under intense scrutiny

Damage Control?
• Two weeks after that first email assessing Rice’s appearance, Sullivan sent Clinton a very different email. This time, he appeared to reassure the SecState that she had avoided the problems Rice was confronting. “You never said ‘spontaneous’ or characterized their motivations,” Sullivan wrote, saying he’d reviewed her public remarks since the attack

• At the time she was SecState, federal regs said agencies that allow employees to use private email addresses “must ensure that federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate agency record-keeping system.”

• Clinton spox Nick Merrill defended the aides’ use of personal mail, saying that it was “their practice to primarily use their work email when conducting state business, with only the tiniest fraction of the more than one million emails they sent or received involving their personal accounts.”

• Benghazi Committee chair Rep Trey Gowdy (R-SC) has said he suspected Clinton hasn’t turned over all her Benghazi-related emails, and has asked Clinton to turn over her server to a neutral party to examine all of her emails, including the ones she deleted. He’s also likely to asked about the aides’ use of personal email

2016: Ted Cruz Is IN! Eh?

• Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) made his intention to join the 2016 presidential race official early this morning, just minutes after midnight, with a message posted to Twitter. “I’m running for President and I hope to earn your support!” he wrote, with a link to a 30-second video. Cruz, a first-term senator, will announce at Liberty University, an evangelical Christian school in VA (NYT, Houston Chronicle, Reuters, TRNS, me)

• Cruz, the Canadian-born son of a Cuban immigrant, gained fame by trying to block funding for President Obama’s health law in 2013. His tactics resulted in a partial closure of the federal govt, a turn of events that made “Cruz” a four-letter word to his party’s leadership but endeared him to made party activists

• But in recent months, firebrand Cruz has been overshadowed by other potential Republican candidates in the early competition for donors, staff, volunteers and news coverage. Most notably, Gov Scott Walker (R-WI) has drawn attention from those interested in an alternative to former Gov Jeb Bush (R-FL)

• Cruz plans on portraying himself as not only the most doctrinaire candidate, but as the one most willing to fight for the principles of the conservative movement. Cruz’s first challenge is finding a way to stand out in a crowded field in Iowa, where the possible Republican field includes at least eight major candidates

• Cruz believes that his brand of small-govt, culturally traditional and hawkish conservatism – what he calls “three legs of the proverbial Republican stool” – will appeal to primary voters who may have questions about the fealty of the other candidates to what he sees as the pillars of the right. He aims to raise between $40 million – $50 million during the primary campaign
• Sen Rand Paul (R-KY) will declare his candidacy for 2016 on 7 April, MSNBC reported, citing multiple sources inside the Paul camp (Reuters). Former SecState Hillary Clinton is widely expected to declare her candidacy on the Democratic side in April
Iran: Deal Or No Deal?
• Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday that a political deal between his govt and six world powers was within sight, but SecState John Kerry said the two sides hadn’t yet reached “the finish line.” Talks between the U.S. and Iran are expected to resume Thursday in Lausanne, Switzerland (WSJ, me)

• In tough remarks that brought fresh cries of “Down/Death with America” from the crowd at his annual Iranian new year’s speech, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini on Saturday demanded that any deal must lift sanctions on his country immediately and accused the U.S. of wanting to spark antiregime protests in Iran

• Khameini signaled that hopes that a nuclear deal could lead to a genuine detente between Iran and the U.S. on issues like the Syria conflict and the fight against ISIS, were unrealistic. “These negotiations with the U.S. are merely nuclear and nothing else. We don’t talk about regional issues. Their goals are totally different than ours in the region,” he said (true on goals)

• Saturday, Kerry moved to play down differences between the six-power group on how to settle final issues. France has sounded a tough line in recent days. “We are united in our goal, our approach, our resolve and our determination to ensure that Iran’s program is entirely peaceful,” Kerry said of the group

• French FM Laurent Fabius warned in a radio interview Saturday that if the nuclear deal isn’t “serious enough,” countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia or Egypt could opt to seek nuclear weapons. “France wants a deal but only one that is robust … it’s the only way to avoid proliferation.”

• House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is scheduled to visit Israel in a few days. He will be leading a delegation of congressional Republicans. He will begin his visit on 31 March, which is also the deadline for the Iran talks. The visit was finalized during Israeli PM Netanyahu’s U.S. visit some two weeks ago (Haaretz, TRNS) (#wrench?)
Brennan Warns Iran: Costs if No Deal
• CIA Director John Brennan said on Fox News Sunday, “I think they
[Iran] realize there’s going to be tremendous costs and consequences and implications if they were to decide to go for a breakout.” “If they decide to go down that route, they know they will do so at their peril.” (Politico, Fox, Hill, me)

• Asked about a potential secret nuclear site in Iran, Brennan said, “I think we have confidence that we are aware of the facilities that Iran has right now.” Pressed about Iran’s role in combating ISIS: “I wouldn’t say that Iran is an ally right now,” Brennan said. “What I’m saying is, the Iranians are pursuing their interests inside of Iraq, some of which include efforts against Daesh.”

• Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Corker (R-TN) said on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday, “There is concern about the type of deal that we’re negotiating, but I don’t know of anyone [who] wouldn’t like to see this come to a good end by an arrangement that would keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”

• House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday that President Obama’s admin “has misinterpreted the entire Arab Spring.” “And now he wants to trust us on getting a deal with Iran not able to obtain a nuclear weapon.”

• A group calling itself the Islamic State Hacking Division posted online the alleged names and addresses of 100 personnel in the Air Force, Army and Navy and it called on Muslims in the U.S. to kill them. “We have made it easy for you by giving you addresses, all you need to do is take the final step, so what are you waiting for?” the web posting says in part (WSJ, NYT, me)
SCOTUS: TX Confederacy License Plates
• The Supreme Court will decide whether Texas can refuse to issue a license plate featuring the Confederate battle flag without violating the free speech rights of Texans who want one. The justices hear arguments today in a challenge brought by the Texas division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (AP, TRNS, me)

• The group sued over the state’s decision not to authorize its proposed license plate with its logo bearing the battle flag, similar to plates issued by eight other states that were members of the Confederacy and Maryland

• The First Amendment dispute has brought together unlikely allies like the ACLU, civil libertarian Nat Hentoff and conservative P.J. O’Rourke. Specialty plates are moneymakers for states, and Texas offers more than 350 varieties that took in $17.6 million last year

• A state motor vehicle board rejected the Sons of Confederate Veterans application because of concerns it would offend many Texans who believe the flag is a racially charged symbol of repression. On the same day, the board approved a plate honoring the Buffalo Soldiers, despite objections from Native Americans over the units’ roles in fighting Indian tribes in the West

TX: License Plates Are Govt Speech
• A panel of federal appeals court judges ruled that the board’s decision violated the group’s First Amendment rights. “We understand that some members of the public find the Confederate flag offensive. But that fact does justify the board’s decision,” Judge Edward Prado of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans wrote

• Texas’ main argument is that the license plate isn’t like a bumper sticker slapped on the car by its driver. Instead, the state said, license states are govt property, and so what appears on them isn’t private individuals’ speech but the govt’s. The First Amendment applies when govts try to regulate the speech of others, but not when govts are doing the talking

• Even if the court disagrees that license plates are govt speech, the state said its rejection of the Sons of Confederate Veterans license plate wasn’t discriminatory. The motor vehicle board hadn’t approved a plate denigrating the Confederacy or the battle flag so it couldn’t be accused of giving voice to one viewpoint while suppressing another, the state said

• The ACLU suggested that the court view license plates as a mix of private and govt speech. For example, drivers who seek a personal touch and buy the specialized plates know the govt has approved the issuance. Federal appeals courts around the country have come to differing conclusions on the issue – few Supreme Court cases to guide them
• Federal investigators are preparing to file criminal charges against Sen Robert Menendez (D-NJ) as early as this week, following a legal battle over how much the Constitution shields lawmakers and their aides. He’s been under investigation for possible corruption (WSJ)
Obama: Tough Talk on Netanyahu
• In a HuffPo interview Friday, President Obama said he’s operating under the assumption that PM Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t support the creation of a Palestinian state, despite the Israeli leader’s post-election efforts to recast himself as amenable to a two-state solution (HuffPo, me)

• “We take him at his word when he said that it wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership, and so that’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region.” Obama declined to say whether the U.S. would continue to block Palestinian efforts to secure statehood through the UN

• On Netanyahu’s Election Day warning about Arab Israeli voters going to the polls “in droves:” “We indicated that that kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is the best of Israel’s traditions.” “I indicated to him that given his statements prior to the election, it is going to be hard to find a path where people are seriously believing that negotiations are possible.”

• “That although Israel was founded based on the historic Jewish homeland and the need to have a Jewish homeland, Israeli democracy has been premised on everybody in the country being treated equally and fairly. And I think that that is what’s best about Israeli democracy.”

• Iran deal: “Frankly, they have not yet made the kind of concessions that are I think going to be needed for a final deal to get done. But they have moved, and so there’s the possibility.” “Our goal is to get this done in a matter of weeks, not months.”

• Sen John McCain (R-AZ) ripped Obama for taking Netanyahu at his word. “Get over your temper tantrum, Mr President,” he said on CNN. “If every politician were held to everything they say in a political campaign, obviously that would be a topic of long discussion.” (Hill, me)
Obama / Ghani: Detente?
• New Afghan President Ashraf Ghani arrives for Tuesday’s Oval Office meeting looking for a similar menu of American commitments as his predecessor, the volatile Hamid Karzai, but Ghani is well-schooled in Washington’s culture of politics and diplomacy. He spent 15 years in Washington at the World Bank. Ghani has meetings with top officials at Camp David today

• Ghani is sure to push hard to keep the current 10,000 American troops and thousands of private contractors in his country through, or perhaps beyond, 2016 when President Obama insists the U.S.’ longest war will come to an end. Ghani is also seeking long-term commitments of money and support from the U.S. – the public is skeptical of the value of that investment

• Ghani can be difficult. His broadly pro-Western outlook is balanced by a deep nationalist streak, and he’s known in Afghanistan as much for his technocratic skills as he is for his short temper. Western diplomats know well that he’s more than willing to “give us the back of his hand” when he thinks Afghanistan’s interests are being trampled by its allies

• Ghani also heads a govt that on paper is more divided than that of his predecessor, and it is considered shakier. Massive fraud during last year’s election sparked a postelection crisis that nearly turned violent and SecState John Kerry personally brokered a deal in which electoral rival Abdullah Abdullah serves as the newly created chief executive

• The main purpose of Ghani’s visit is to establish a new and productive relationship between the govts of the two countries after more than a decade of fitful relations

Kabul Murder: Women Break Burial Taboo
• The coffin of a woman, killed by a mob in Kabul on an apparently false charge, has been carried by women, marking a break with Afghan funeral customs in which men carry the coffin. Hundreds of people attended a funeral for the woman, named as Farkhunda, demanding her killers be punished (BBC, me)

• Farkhunda had been accused of burning the Qu’ran, but an official investigator said, “Farkhunda was totally innocent,” and there was no evidence for the charge. The attack on the woman, as well as the alleged failure of the police to intervene, have been widely criticized. President Ashraf Ghani said he had ordered an investigation into the killing

• Footage of the attack, filmed on cell phones, has been widely circulated. A mob, largely made up of men, attacked the woman with sticks and stones, beating her to death before setting her body alight, while police reportedly looked on. Witnesses said the crowd had accused her of burning a copy of the Qu’ran

• Gen Mohammad Zahir, an interior ministry official, told reporters that 13 people, including eight police officers, had been arrested. Earlier claims that the woman was mentally ill have been contradicted by a relative and a neighbor. Farkhunda had been training to be a teacher, a neighbor said

• The U.S. has spent millions of dollars on programs designed to empower and educate Afghan women. However, women in much of the country still suffer discrimination and attacks on them go unpunished

• President Obama late Sunday mourned the death of Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew as a “true giant of history.” “A visionary who led his country from Singapore’s independence in 1965 to build one of the most prosperous countries in the world today, he was a devoted public servant and a remarkable leader.” (Hill, me)


Yemen: “Edge of Civil War”
• The conflict in Yemen could become “protracted in the vein of an Iraq, Syria, Libya combined scenario,” the UN’s special envoy has warned. Jamal Benomar spoke as the Security Council met in New York to express support for ousted President Hadi, who fled the capital Sanaa in Feb as Houthi rebels from the north tightened their grip on the city (BBC, Hill, me)

• The rebels, who are Shia, have now taken Yemen’s third-largest city, Taiz. Instability has been growing in Yemen, where al Qaeda and ISIS sympathizers also pose a threat. Saturday, the U.S. said it was withdrawing its troops from the country because of the worsening security situation. Benomar said the country was on the “edge of civil war.”

• “We will need to bring a new sense of urgency to diplomatic efforts to hold the country together, and make serious adjustments to our counterterrorism strategy given the diminished American footprint and visibility into events there,” Rep Adam Schiff (D-CA), House Intel Committee ranking member, said in a statement Sunday

• Houthi rebels declared a new govt in Feb and said a transitional presidential council would replace Hadi. However, the Houthis are from the north, and their declaration hasn’t been recognized by southern leaders

• Sunday, Houthi leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi vowed to pursue Islamist militants from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS. Both al Qaeda and ISIS are Sunni groups and consider the Shia Muslim Houthis to be heretics. ISIS said it was behind the suicide bombings of two Houthi mosques on Friday in Sanaa, which killed 137 worshipers

• King Richard III reburial – in pictures – nobody does this stuff like the Brits. More than 500 years after his death in battle, the mortal remains of Richard III were borne to what will be his final resting place on Sunday, in part atop a horse-drawn gun carriage (Guardian, me)

Lawmakers: Secret Service Stonewalling
• Lawmakers say the Secret Service won’t let them hear from four employees who witnessed an episode outside the WH in which two high-ranking agency officials are accused of driving into a secure area without authorization (AP, me)

• Sunday, leaders of the House Oversight Committee wrote to agency director Joseph Clancy asking him again to let four agents and officers testify at a hearing Tuesday about what happened 4 March. They said Clancy agreed only to testify as the agency’s sole witness

• The committee is trying to get to the bottom of allegations that two senior agents had been drinking when they drove into the area. The agents were accused of nudging a construction barrier with their vehicle as they intruded during an investigation of a suspicious item

• Trailer: Marvel’s Avengers – Age of Ultron – in theatres 1 May (looking good)

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ William McDonald, Nicholas Salazar and Shane Farnan contributed to this report

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