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

  • U.S. ships to Yemen: Warning to Iran
  • Baltimore: 6 officers suspended after arrestee’s death
  • Loretta Lynch AG vote: Breakthrough?
  • Two arrested in migrant boat capsize
  • House: USA Freedom Act bill today?
  • Boston Marathon bombing trial: Penalty phase
  • Clinton in NH: More partisan
  • SCOTUS: Voting Rights Act
  • ISIS: 6 Minnesota men charged
U.S. Ships to Yemen: Warning to Iran

• Aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt and a guided missile cruiser were headed to waters off Yemen on Monday to join 10 other American warships as a warning to Iran about its shipments of weapons to rebels there, American officials said. Primarily a show of force, but also could interdict any supplies of Iranian arms to the Houthi rebels (NYT, TRNS, me)

• WH spox Josh Earnest Monday sharply criticized Iran’s transfer of arms to the Houthi rebels in Yemen as “destabilizing” and dismissed as “a little ironic” calls from the Iranian FM in a NYT op-ed for a diplomatic solution to the fighting there. Iran was continuing to “supply arms to one party to that dispute so that the violence can continue,” Earnest said

• Earnest also condemned what appeared to be Iran’s decision Monday to charge a WaPo reporter with espionage, calling the move “absurd.” In DC, President Obama urged the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, part of the UAE, to support the Iranian nuclear deal. WH officials conceded that the country has “significant concerns” that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon

• In response to a question about why the U.S. wasn’t tying the freedom of Jason Rezaian, the WaPo reporter, to the Iran nuke deal, Earnest said: “The effort to build the international community’s strong support for a diplomatic resolution, or a diplomatic agreement that would shut down every pathway that Iran has to a nuclear weapon, is extraordinarily complicated.”

• Cmdr Kevin Stephens, spox for the U.S. Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, said the ships were there to keep sea lanes open and to deter “any illegal activity in the area,” including the illicit transfer of weapons. The two are joining other American ships that could interdict arms shipments and evacuate civilians if necessary

 

• An Egyptian court has sentenced ousted President Mohammed Morsi to 20 years in prison for inciting the killing of protesters in 2012. He faces several more trials (BBC, me)

 

Baltimore: 6 Officers Suspended After Arrestee’s Death

• Baltimore’s top police officials, mayor and prosecutor sought to calm a “community on edge” Monday while investigating how a 25-year-old black man suffered a fatal spine injury while under arrest. Six officers have been suspended, but investigators say they still don’t know how it happened (AP, NYT, Baltimore Sun, me)

• A week after Freddie Gray was pulled off the street and into a police van, authorities don’t have any videos or other evidence explaining what happened to cause the “medical emergency” an arresting officer said Gray suffered while being taken to the local police station, Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said

• The Gray’s family lawyer, Billy Murphy, said that Gray’s “spine was 80% severed at his neck.” Autopsy results returned Monday show that Gray “did suffer a significant spinal injury that led to his death,” Rodriguez said. “What we don’t know is how he suffered that injury.”

• Police also released a more detailed timeline of how Gray was arrested and transported on 12 April. It revealed that Gray was placed in leg irons after an officer felt he was becoming “irate,” and that the van stopped on its way to the police station, even picking up another prisoner in an unrelated case, while Gray repeatedly asked for medical attention – inhaler, then medical care

• Raw vid: Baltimore police arrest and drag Freddie Gray (obscenities)

Top Cop: “No Law Against Running”

• “We probably should have asked for paramedics,” Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said. Something must have happened between the time Gray was videotaped by a bystander being dragged into the van, and the time he arrived at the station in deep distress, the deputy commissioner said

• Batts also said it’s unclear why Gray was stopped in the first place, saying only that officers “made eye contact” with Gray and another man, and the two took off running. “That’s part of the question we have to dig into,” Batts said. “if there’s more than running. There is no law against running.” Officer Garrett Miller sought a charge of carrying a switchblade

• Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she too is “angry that we are here again” after trying to overcome decades of distrust between police and citizens in Baltimore’s inner city. Batts said that he’s ordering that police review and rewrite “effective immediately” its policies on moving prisoners and providing them with medical attention

• Murphy said Monday that the presser left him with questions. “They were vague about how his spine was injured,” Murphy said. “I have even more questions than I did before. Who did it? How did they do it and why did they do it? Why all these stops? What were the police doing during those stops? What did they see?”
• The  U.S. will supply Ukraine with nearly $18 million in aid to provide shelter, food vouchers, potable water and health and sanitation in regions affected by fighting between govt forces and pro-Russia fighters. It comes as U.S. and Ukraine troops kicked off joint training exercises (AP, TRNS, me)

 

Loretta Lynch AG Vote: Breakthrough?

• The Senate is inching towards a deal to resolve a month-long dispute that’s halted a human trafficking bill and confirmation of AG nominee Loretta Lynch. Still, any public announcement may have to wait until today, when Democrats and Republicans meet as a caucus for the first time this week. If she gets a vote, she’ll likely squeak through with five GOP votes (Politico, TRNS, me)

• The bill has been stalled since Democrats noticed a provision barring a restitution fund for victims created by the bill from paying for abortion procedures. Democrats want that language scrapped, while Republicans have countered with a proposal that routes the fund’s money through the federal govt’s general fund – subject to the “Hyde amendment” restrictions

• Aides in both parties described negotiations focusing on some mid-point between those two poles. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said Monday, “There seems to be a path forward but there is no guarantee. Every day that passes without a newly confirmed AG proves once and again Republicans can’t lead and they certainly can’t govern.”

• Reid has threatened to go to the Senate floor and attempt to force a vote on Lynch’s nomination if there’s no breakthrough, an effort that would require five Republicans to vote against Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on the floor and would constitute a major breach of protocol in the chamber. There’s outside pressure on McConnell

• Former George W. Bush AG Alberto Gonzalez on Monday publicly pressed for a vote on Lynch, joining other Republicans like former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Charlotte Police Chief Rodney Monroe argued Lynch’s nomination will be critical to combating human trafficking. “Loretta has enormous experience when it comes to prosecuting these cases,” he said

 

• President Obama has invited Democratic and Republican lawmakers to the WH today for a reception thanking them for their work on legislation permanently changing how Medicare pays doctors. The event will be held in the Rose Garden (AP, me)

 

Two Arrested in Med Migrant Boat Capsize

• The Tunisian captain and the Syrian first mate of a boat that capsized off Libya on Sunday, killing about 800 migrants, have been arrested, Italian officials say. The two, held on suspicion of people trafficking, were among 27 survivors who arrived in Sicily late Monday. A homicide investigation has been opened into the disaster (BBC, me)

• The arrests come after the EU set out a package of measures to try to ease the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean. Search and rescue operations will be stepped up and there will be a campaign to destroy traffickers’ boats. Continued political instability in Libya has allowed human trafficking there to flourish

• Giovanni Salvi, the prosecutor of Catania in Sicily, said hundreds of passengers had been locked below deck and hundreds more were crammed on to its upper deck. It’s believed the boat capsized when an attempted rescue by a Portuguese merchant ship caused panic

• Earlier, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the 10-point package set out at talks in Luxembourg was a “strong reaction from the EU to the tragedies” and “shows a new sense of urgency and political will.” Analysts say arguing and wrangling will likely be back on the agenda at an emergency summit EU leaders hold this Thursday as they work on next steps

• As the talks took place Monday, Italy and Malta said at least two other rescues were taking place. One of the vessels was a dinghy off the Libyan coast with about 100-150 people on board. The other was a larger boat carrying 300 people

 

• The DoJ and FBI are pledging an independent review of FBI laboratory protocols and procedures following the discovery of flawed forensics testimony in hundreds of cases. Law enforcement officials also said Monday they would review hundreds of additional cases in which scientifically invalid testimony may have been given (AP)

 

House: USA Freedom Act Bill Today?

• House Judiciary Committee chair Rep Bob Goodlatte (R)-VA) and ranking member John Conyers (D-MI) are planning to introduce their new version of the USA Freedom Act early this week – possibly today – and then mark it up in their committee later in the week. Veteran members including Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) are on board (Hill, me)

• The quick action could be evidence that the lawmakers feel confident their deal can attract the necessary support. A bigger challenge may be the Senate. When a similar effort came up there last year, Republican leaders actively urged members to oppose it. In the end, it failed to overcome a procedural hurdle by just two votes. Unclear what may happen now

• The new bill would reauthorize three portions of the Patriot Act that are set to expire on 1 June, including the controversial Section 215. The NSA has relied upon Section 215 to authorize its bulk collection of records about American phone calls, which were uncovered amid Edward Snowden’s leaks about the NSA in 2013

• “The new legislation contains even stronger protections for Americans’ civil liberties, provides for even greater transparency for both the private sector and govt, and prevents govt overreach,” an aide on the House Judiciary Committee said (we’ll see)

• People involved in the negotiations have said it would largely mirror last year’s efforts to rein in the NSA, by forcing the agency to obtain a court order and then request records from individual phone companies. It would also make changes to the secretive FISA court and outline ways govt and private companies could divulge more info about the programs

Boston Marathon Bombing Trial: Penalty Phase Today

• The same jury that convicted Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on 8 April of carrying out the deadly 2013 Boston Marathon bombings starts meeting today to determine whether he should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole. The process is expected to last well into May (WSJ, me)

• Arguments from both sides, witnesses and cross-examinations followed by jury deliberations. It allows for victim impact statements, in which victims or survivors can speak on the attack’s personal toll without being cross-examined, but also without being able to call for a specific punishment

• The govt must prove there was at least one “aggravating factor” – many defined by law – that makes the crimes eligible for execution. Prosecutors have already cited many, including a “vulnerable victim,” 8-year-old Martin Richard, who was killed by a bomb planted by Tsarnaev

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• The defense can now argue “mitigating factors” – many defined by law. Likely to go deep on their belief that Tsarnaev was controlled by his older brother and mastermind of the bombings, Tamerlan, who’s now dead. May also point to Tsarnaev’s lack of prior criminal record, relatively young age, friction in the family, who emigrated from Russia and struggled to adjust

• In order to proceed with a vote for execution, the jury must unanimously decide that the govt has proved at least one aggravating factor beyond a reasonable doubt. Then it must consider whether the aggravating factors are sufficient to justify a sentence of death and balance them against the mitigating factors

• Defense’s burden of proof is lower for mitigating factors – preponderance of evidence – and jury doesn’t have to unanimously agree on mitigating factors in order to include them in deliberations. A vote for the death penalty must be unanimous. In about 230 instances federal juries have decided on the death penalty since 1988, they chose life sentence two-thirds of the time

 

• State Sen Joseph Kryillos (R-NJ), who chaired Gov Chris Christie’s (R-NJ) 2009 gubernatorial campaign and ushered his agenda through a Democratic-controlled legislature, is backing former Florida Gov Jeb Bush’s (R) all-but-certain presidential bid. The defection is a blow to Christie, who places a premium on loyalty and had hoped to keep NJ allies (WaPo)

 

Clinton in NH: More Partisan

• In Keene NH on Monday, Hillary Clinton struck a more partisan tone at the start of her second week as a presidential candidate. “It is, I think, worth noting that the Republicans seem to be talking only about me,” she told reporters with a grin. “I don’t know what they’d talk about if I wasn’t in the race.” (WaPo, me)

• Clinton didn’t address the substance of claims in a forthcoming book that she had helped foreign entities that donated to her family foundation while she was SecState. “We’re back into the political season and, therefore we will be subject to all kinds of distractions and attacks, and I’m ready for that,” she said following a tour of a small, family-owned children’s furniture plant

• Clinton also predicted a battle over Social Security, which she characterized as a necessity to a worried worker in his 50s. “Everybody who thinks we can privatize Social Security or undermine it in some way” is overlooking workers in a similar situation, she said. “What’s going to happen to people like you? It’s just wrong.” Obvious swipe at Republicans

• Clinton also spoke at length about vocational and technical education, calling it a mistake to have let shop classes and other affordable job-training programs atrophy. Clinton will visit a technical college in Concord today

• She called substance abuse, particularly prescription drug abuse, a “perfect storm” and said treatment and insurance options for substance abuse and mental health issues will be a “big part” of her campaign. She applauded mental health coverage guarantees “on paper” through Obamacare but suggested the system doesn’t go far enough

 

• Stumping in NH over the weekend, Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) told gun owners he’s “pressing” Sen John McCain (R-AZ) to convene hearings on whether soldiers should be allow to carry concealed guns on military bases. McCain says he hasn’t heard about it. “Maybe it was through, you know, hand telegraph. Maybe sign language.” (Politico, me)

 

SCOTUS: Voting Rights Act

• The Supreme Court on Monday threw out a North Carolina ruling that upheld Republican-drawn electoral districts for state and congressional lawmakers. The justices ordered the state Supreme Court to consider anew whether the North Carolina legislature relied too heavily on race when it redrew voting districts following the 2010 census (AP, Hill, WSJ, me)

• SCOTUS issued a similar ruling last month involving a complaint from black Alabama Democrats that the GOP-dominated legislature illegally packed black voters into too few voting districts. In Alabama, the justices said a lower court used the wrong test when it upheld legislative districts and determined that race wasn’t the primary motivating factor in drawing boundary lines

• The wave election in 2010 gave the GOP control of statehouses across the country, and with it the chance to redraw maps in the once-a-decade redistricting process that occurred in 2011. The new maps were critical to GOP successes in North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida

• Election and civil rights groups and Democratic voters in North Carolina sued over the legislative maps and argued that lawmakers created oddly shaped districts to create clusters of Democratic leaning black voters

• The redrawing of the map had the effect of benefiting Republicans elsewhere in the state. Republicans said the districts were lawful and designed to protect the state from legal claims under the federal Voting Rights Act
ISIS: 6 Minnesota Men Charged

• U.S. authorities have arrested and charged six Minnesota men with conspiring to support ISIS. The six men allegedly had plans to travel to Syria where they would join and fight with the group. Officials say at least one person from Minnesota has died fighting with ISIS (BBC, me)

• Court docs say the men tried to fly from airports in San Diego and New York City, but were stopped before doing so. Authorities say the six men met secretly to develop their travel plans, which included flying to countries near Syria from airports in Minneapolis, San Diego or New York City

• The men, who authorities consider to be friends, didn’t have plans to carry out an attack in the U.S., prosecutors believe. “They are not confused young men, they were not easily influenced,” Minnesota U.S. Attorney Andy Lugar said. “These were focused men who were intent on joining a terrorist organization by any means possible.”

• Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman, 19, Adnan Abdihamid Farah, 19, Hanad Mustafe Musse, 19, and Guled Ali Omar, 20, were arrested in Minneapolis on Sunday. Abdurahman Yasin Daud, 21, and Mohamed Abdihamid Farah, 21, drove from Minneapolis to San Diego before their arrest

• Their arrests are part of a months-long investigation into the recruitment of Westerners by ISIS. Authorities say that a handful of other Minnesota residents have been successful in their attempts to join ISIS in the past year. “We have a terror recruitment problem in Minnesota,” Lugar said

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Nicholas Salazar and James Cullum contributed to this report

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