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

  • Iran talks: Israel spied on U.S.
  • Netanyahu sorry for Israeli Arab comments
  • Israeli Arabs reject apology
  • “Imagine” Ted Cruz as president
  • SCOTUS: TX Confederate license plate dispute
  • Top pols press DoJ over secret spy program
  • Ghani thanks America
  • WH science fair: Obama geeks out
Iran Talks: Israel Spied on U.S.
• Soon after the U.S. and other major world powers entered negotiations last year to curtail Iran’s nuclear program, senior WH officials learned Israel was spying on the closed-door talks as part of a broader campaign by PM Netanyahu’s govt to help build a case against the emerging terms of a deal, current and former U.S. officials said (WSJ, me)

• “It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy,” a U.S. official said

• Israeli officials denied the spying and said they received their info through other means. Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer started lobbying U.S. lawmakers against a deal just before the U.S. and other world powers signed an interim deal with Iran in Nov 2013. Dermer went to Congress after seeing they had little influence on the WH

• After learning about the briefings, the WH dispatched senior officials to counter Dermer, who said the U.S. offer would dramatically undermine economic sanctions on Iran. The officials told lawmakers that Israel’s analysis exaggerated the sanctions relief by as much as 10 times, meeting participants said

Israel Tells Secrets to Congress
• In Nov 2014, the Israelis learned the contents of a proposed deal offered by the U.S. but ultimately rejected by Iran, U.S. and Israeli officials said. Israeli officials told their U.S. counterparts the terms offered insufficient protections. U.S. officials urged the Israelis to give the negotiations a chance. Netanyahu’s top advisers concluded the emerging deal was unacceptable

• Obama admin officials reject that view, saying Israel was making impossible demand that Iran would never accept. In Jan, Netanyahu told the WH his govt intended to oppose the Iran deal but didn’t explain how, U.S. and Israeli officials said

• On 21 Jan, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced Netanyahu would address a joint session of Congress. That same day, Dermer and other Israeli officials visited Capitol Hill to brief lawmakers and aides, seeking a bipartisan coalition large enough to block any deal. A spox for the Israeli embassy, Aaron Sagui, said Dermer didn’t launch a campaign on 21 Jan

• Dermer and other Israeli officials over the following weeks gave lawmakers and their aides info the WH was trying to keep secret, including how the emerging deal could allow Iran to operate around 6,500 centrifuges and that Iran would be permitted to deploy advanced IR-4 centrifuges that could process fuel on a larger scale

• Israel said their sources included the French and British govts, we well as their own intel. “Ambassador Dermer never shared confidential intel with members of Congress,” Sagui said

Netanyahu Lobbies France/Britain
• Current and former U.S. officials confirmed that the number and type of centrifuges cited in the briefings were part of the discussions. But they said the briefings were misleading because Israeli officials didn’t disclose concessions asked of Iran, including giving up stockpiles of nuclear material, as well as modifying the advanced centrifuges to slow output

• The congressional briefings and Netanyahu’s decision to address a joint session of Congress on the emerging deal sparked a backlash among many Democratic lawmakers. In early Feb, Dermer huddled separately with Sens Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to press for their support – noncommittal (i) no (ii)

• Congressional aides and Israeli officials now say Israel’s coalition in Congress is short the votes needed to pass legislation that could overcome a presidential veto, although that could change. In response, Israeli officials said, Netanyahu was pursuing other ways to pressure the WH

• This week, Netanyahu sent a delegation to France, which has been more closely aligned with Israel on the talks, and which could throw obstacles in Obama’s way. The delegation heads to London today. The Obama admin is stepping up its outreach to Paris to blunt the Israeli push

• A letter to President Obama signed by by 367 members of Congress warns that lawmakers must be satisfied that any Iranian nuclear agreement must “foreclose any pathway to a bomb” before they lift sanctions against Tehran (Hill)

Netanyahu Sorry for Israeli Arab Comments

• Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu apologized Monday for warning last week that Arab voters were “being bused to the polling stations in droves” by left wing organizations, comments that have been denounced by President Obama, American Jewish leaders and many Israelis as anti-democratic, race-baiting and fear-mongering (NYT, TRNS, me)

• “I know that my comments last week offended some Israeli citizens and offended members of the Israeli Arab community,” Netanyahu said. “This was never my intent. I apologize for this.” The uproar served as a final act for a divisive ugly campaign of personal attacks

• The apology came hours after President Reuven Rivlin announced that Netanyahu had secured the backing of 67 of the 120 parliament members elected last week and officially designated him to form the next govt. Rivlin, who has reached out to Arabs in Israel, was among those who criticized Netanyahu’s comments about Israel’s 1.4 million Arab citizens

• Monday’s apology was orchestrated by Netanyahu’s political office, not his govt office. Photos and video showed the PM and his wife surrounded by several dozen Arab, Bedouin and Druze leaders, some in traditional headgear, in a courtyard of their official Jerusalem residence

Israeli Arabs Reject Apology

• Ahmad Tibi, a Palestinian member of Israel’s parliament, said none of the people elected Tuesday on a joint list of Arab parties had been invited to the event, and that the group was made up mainly of longstanding Likud supporters (NYT, AP, Reuters, me)

• Tibi called on Netanyahu to stop progress on the so-called nationality bill approved last year, which would emphasize Israel’s Jewishness, and to retract his statement inviting Arabs who demonstrate against Israeli policies, including last summer’s war in Gaza, to leave the country

• The Arab joint list coalition which garnered 13 seats in Tuesday’s election said, according to NRG website, “Racist and separatist legislation and discriminatory policies are Netanyahu’s working plan for the new parliament, and so we are left with no option but to reject his apology and to continue our struggle for equality for the Arab population.”

• WH chief of staff Denis McDonough on Monday said in a speech to the liberal Jewish-American group J Street in DC that the WH remained rattled by Netanyahu’s election eve comment that there would be no Palestinian state created on his watch: “We cannot simply pretend that these comments were never made.”

• McDonough reaffirmed long-standing U.S. policy against Jewish settlement construction on lands claimed by Palestinians, a major sticking point in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. “We will continue to oppose settlement activities since it undermines the prospects of that peace.” McDonough’s comments drew cheers of approval from the audience

• Utah became the only state to allow firing squads for executions when Gov Gary Herbert signed a law Monday approving the method for use when no lethal injection drugs are available, even though he has called it “a little bit gruesome.” (clue?) (AP, me)
“Imagine” Ted Cruz as President
• Not that Imagine. Launching his bid for the GOP presidential nomination, Sen Ted Cruz (TX) at Lynchburg University VA Monday asked Christian conservatives to imagine a U.S. without the IRS, Obamacare or abortion rights – and to imagine they can make that happen by supporting him (AP, CNN, Reuters, WaPo, TRNS, me)

• “I believe in you. I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to reignite the promise of America. And that is why, today, I am announcing that I am running for president of the United States of America.” Cruz won’t be the sole contender for long

• Sens Rand Paul (R-KY) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) are eying campaign launches soon. And former FL Gov Jeb Bush, Gov Scott Walker (WI) and Gov Chris Christie (NJ) are expected to follow, among others

• The Canadian-born son of an American mother and Cuban-born father, Cruz would be the first Hispanic president. Divisive within his own GOP, he won praise from tea party activists for leading the effort to shut the federal govt during an unsuccessful bid to block money for the health law

• “His
[Cruz’s] reckless approach to governing would make life worse, not better, for Americans and he isn’t the type of fighter that America’s middle class families need,” Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement
• Cruz said that, despite being born in Canada, he’s still a “natural born citizen” by birth and qualified to be president. Donald Trump said on Monday: “It’s a hurdle; somebody could certainly look at it very seriously.” (#birtherismlives) (Hill)

SCOTUS: TX Confederate License Plate Dispute

• The justices on Monday heard arguments in a case of Texas’ refusal to issue a license plate bearing the Confederate battle flag. Specialty license plates brought in $17.6 million last year in Texas. The state rarely turns down a specialty plate (AP, TRNS, me)

• If the court finds the state must permit the battle flag on license plates, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked, would it be forced also to allow plates with a swastika, the word “jihad,” and a call to make marijuana legal? Yes, lawyer R. James George responded each time on behalf of the veterans group. “Speech that we hate is something that we should be proud of protecting.”

• The result of such a ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy said, probably would be the end of the state’s program of allowing many specialized license plates, and a loss of free speech

• More skeptical about the state’s argument, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito said the sheer number of messages and their wide range show that the state is “only doing this to get the money,” Roberts said. “Texas will put its name on anything.” (ouch)


• Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller said the state makes the plates and owns them. “Texas has its name on every license plate.” Car owners remain free to express any message they wish by attaching bumper stickers or painting their cars, he said

• Keller urged the court not to force Texas to recognize offensive speech. “Texas should not have to allow speech about al Qaeda or the Nazi party simply because it offers a license plate propagating the message ‘Fight Terrorism,'” Keller said

• But Roberts was unpersuaded. “If you don’t want to have the al Qaeda license plate, don’t get into the business of allowing people to buy … the space to put on whatever they want to say,” he said

• The case could be important for how the Supreme Court determines whether the speech at issue belongs to private individuals or the govt. Eleven states are supporting Texas

• George said states concerned about seeming to endorse controversial messages could print on the plates “This is not the state’s speech,” in large orange lettering. “Where is that going to fit on the license plate?” Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked (point)

• The U.S. Supreme Court Monday turned away a challenge to Wisconsin’s voter ID law, after having blocked the state from requiring photo IDs in November’s general election. The justices’ action means the state is free to impose the voter ID requirement in future elections, but it won’t be enforced in an election two weeks from now (AP)
Top Pols Press DoJ Over Secret Spy Program
• Senate Judiciary Committee top members Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) are pressing the Justice Dept for answers to questions they raised in Nov about its use of secret technology to scan U.S. cellphones using a device which mimics a cellphone tower, forcing all phones in range to identify themselves (WSJ, me)

• WSJ reported that the Marshals Service, with the CIA, field tested versions of the technology in the U.S. from 2004 to 2008. In the U.S., some of the devices are mounted on planes and flown by the Marshal Service out of five major metropolitan areas as a tool for hunting fugitives and other criminals, according to people familiar with the program

• In a densely populated area, such devices can scan tens of thousands of phones while it searches for a target’s phone, these people said. Once it finds a target, the device can steer investigators on the ground toward the suspect

• The letter to DoJ notes that both Marshals Service and the FBI maintain they don’t use the devices to collect the contents of conversations, and that data from nontargeted phones is purged “once an investigation is complete.” (when is that)

• The DoJ has declined to confirm or deny the use of such surveillance technology, saying to do so would give criminals an advantage in avoiding capture. It said its actions are legal and subject to court approval. (which court)

• Gulf Arab states will take “necessary measures” against Yemen’s Houthi rebels if a peaceful solution cannot be found to the country’s instability, Saudi Arabia’s FM said Monday. Saud al-Faisal also condemned Iranian “interference” in Yemen. The UN has warned that Yemen is on the edge of civil war (BBC)
Ghani Thanks America
• Afghanistan’s president thanked U.S. troops and taxpayers for their sacrifices in nearly 14 years of war, kicking off his visit to Washington with a stop at the Pentagon. He pledged that his impoverished country will not remain a burden to the West. “We do not ask what the U.S. can do for us,” Ashraf Ghani said in remarks (AP, TRNS, me)

• Ghani and his chief executive and former rival Abdullah Abdullah were welcomed by SecDef Ash Carter at a Pentagon ceremony. Ghani meets with President Obama in the Oval office today and addresses a joint session of Congress on Wednesday

• At the Pentagon, Carter and Ghani emphasized that Kabul’s new leaders are more reliable and appreciative of U.S. assistance, and that the U.S. alone can’t solve Afghanistan’s problems

• Obama has promised to remove the remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of his presidency. But deficiencies in the Afghan security forces, heavy casualties in the ranks of the Afghan army and police, a fragile new govt and fears that ISIS could gain a foothold have combined to persuade Obama to slow the withdrawal

• Instead of trimming the current U.S. force of 9,800 to 5,500 by the end of this year, U.S. officials say the admin now might keep many of them there well into 2016. Obama has said that after that, the U.S. would only maintain an embassy-based security force in Kabul of perhaps 1,000 troops

• Half of the households that received subsidies to help pay health insurance premiums last year under Obamacare will probably have to repay some of that money to the federal govt, according to a new analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation. And 45% of households will probably get a refund (NYT, me)

House Democrats Release Budget Plan
• House Democrats Monday unveiled a $3.7 trillion budget plan by Rep Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) for next year that mirrors President Obama’s call for $1.8 trillion in tax increases on wealthier people and corporations over the coming decade. But it would add almost $6 trillion to the national debt over that time (AP, Hill, me)

• The plan rejects deep cuts proposed by Republicans to social safety net programs and would keep the health law intact. The plan calls for a wave of new spending for infrastructure like roads and bridges and additional funding for education and medical research. It would make modest curbs on the rapid growth of Medicare

• As a result, deficits would grow from a projected $378 billion next year to $717 billion in 2025. The national debt would grow from $19 trillion to more than $25 trillion over 10 years. The Democratic plan has no chance of being adopted during House debate this week but draws a contrast between the parties

• The GOP measure manages to project balance but promises unrealistic cuts to domestic programs like transportation to do so. It also would leave in place revenues consistent with keeping more than $1 trillion in tax increases from so-called Obamacare in place

• House Republicans have decided to pursue the risky strategy of holding two separate floor votes on the GOP budget blueprint Wednesday in order to resolve a disagreement over defense spending and go to conference with the Senate

• President Obama met privately at the WH with Hillary Clinton Monday for about an hour (it was not on the schedule). They discussed “a range of topics.” (better than emailing)
WH Science Fair: Obama Geeks Out
• The small Lego machine inside the WH whirred, and in a moment it was turning the pages of a story book. One page flipped, then another, ever faster as President Obama marveled at its efficiency. While awed by all of the displays, none seemed to delight Obama more than the Lego page-turner (AP, me)

• The contraption’s eventual aim would be to allow paralyzed or arthritic patients to read books despite their disabilities. “How did you figure this out?” Obama, impressed, asked its inventors. “We had a brainstorming session,” one of the five 6-year-old Girl Scouts from Tulsa replied

• The kindergartners and first graders were among 35 young science fair winners who came to the WH Monday to showcase breakthroughs ranging from spinal implants to carbon dioxide powered batteries to a keystroke identity system that can backup computer password securities


• Obama used the science fair event to highlight private sector efforts to encourage more students from underrepresented groups to pursue education in science, technology, engineering and math. He announced more than $240 million in pledges to boost the study of those fields, known as STEM. This year’s fair is focused on diversity

• Obama allowed as to how the device might need a little adjustment given that, at the current speed, a reader might catch only three sentences a page. “It’s a prototype,” one of the Girl Scout designers replied matter-of-factly. “Have you ever had a brainstorming session yourself?” one little girl asked

• Indeed, yes, the president replied. “What did you come up with?” “I mean, I came up with things like, you know, health care,” he said, amused. “It turned out ok, but it started off with some prototypes.”

Game of Thrones first 4 seasons in 30 seconds – sort-of – no major spoilers

Get it first. Sign up here for TRNS News Notes


Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Nicholas Salazar, James Cullum and Mary Jarvis contributed to this report

The Talk Radio News Service is the only information, news booking and host service dedicated to serving the talk radio community. TRNS maintains a Washington office that includes White House, Capitol Hill and Pentagon staffed bureaus, and a New York office with a United Nations staffed bureau. Talk Radio News Service has permanent access to every breaking newsevent in the Washington, D.C. area and beyond.

Copyright © 2015 The Talk Radio News Service, All rights reserved.