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 bill: Sink or swim?
  • SCOTUS: Gay marriage
  • Japan’s PM in DC: War controversy
  • Nepal earthquake: 3,300+ dead
  • Drone killing program: Protected in DC
  • Russian hackers got Obama’s emails
  • GOP 2016ers talk faith in Iowa
  • Freddie Gray’s funeral in Baltimore today
  • Colorado theater shooting trial today
  • Obama at WH press Dinner: “Bucket”


Iran Bill: Sink or Swim?

• Senate proponents of a bill empowering Congress to review and potentially reject any Iran nuclear deal must first win a battle with some colleagues determined to change the legislation in ways that could sink it. “Anybody who monkeys with this bill is going to run into a buzz saw,” warned Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC) ahead of this week’s debate (AP, Reuters, me)

• The high-profile debate comes as negotiators from the U.S. and five other nations are rushing to finalize, by the end of June, an agreement requiring Iran to curb its nuclear program in exchange for relief from sanctions choking its economy. The parties will meet again this week in New York on the sidelines of a conference

• If there’s a final deal with Iran, President Obama can use his executive authority to ease some sanctions on his own and work with the EU and the UN to lift others. Obama also can waive sanctions that Congress has imposed on Iran, but he cannot formally lift them

• Some senators are proposing amendments to pressure Iran to end its support of terror groups, stop threatening Israel and recognize its right to exist, and release U.S. citizens held in Iran. Other amendments would prevent sanctions relief until international nuclear inspectors are guaranteed access to Iranian military sites

• Sen Tom Cotton (R-AR), who spearheaded a letter signed by 47 senators to Iran’s leaders, wants to lower the number of votes needed to reject a deal from 60 to 51. That means opponents of any deal would only need Republican votes to sink it. Meanwhile, SecState John Kerry will meet with Iranian FM Javad Zarif in New York today at UN anti-nuclear arms conference

• In a closed-door meeting with Jewish donors Saturday night, former President George W. Bush argued against the lifting of sanctions against Iran during rare remarks about foreign policy. According to an attendee’s transcription, he said the deal would be bad for American national security in the long term (Bloomberg, NYT)

SCOTUS Tuesday: Gay Marriage

• Two years ago, the Supreme Court struck down part of the federal anti-gay marriage law that denied a range of govt benefits to married same-sex couples. The decision in U.S. v Windsor didn’t address the validity of state marriage bans, but many courts across the country said its logic compelled them to invalidate state laws that prohibited gay and lesbian couples from marrying (AP, me)

• The justices Tuesday are hearing 2 1/2 hour arguments about the right of same-sex couples to marry. The cases come from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, all of which had their marriage bans upheld by the federal appeals court in Cincinnati in Nov. That appeals court is the only one that has ruled in favor of the states since the 2013 Windsor decision

• Two related issues would expand the marriage rights of same-sex couples. 1) Do same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry or can states continue to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman? 2) Even if states won’t allow some couples to marry, must they recognize valid same-sex marriages from elsewhere?

Graphic: Gay marriage state by state – a trickle became a torrent (NYT)


Arguments From Both Sides

• The arguments of marriage-rights supporters boil down to a claim that states lack any valid reason to deny the right to marry, which the court has earlier described as fundamental to the pursuit of happiness

• They say state laws that allow only some people to marry violate the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law and make second-class citizens of same-sex couples and their families. Gay couples say that preventing them from marrying is akin to a past ban on interracial marriage, which the court struck down in 1967

• The states respond that they have always set the rules for marriage and that voters in many states have backed, sometimes overwhelmingly, changes to their constitutions to limit marriage to a man and a woman. They say a lively national debate is underway and there’s no reason for the court to impose a solution that should be left to the political process

• The states also argue that they have a good reason to keep defining marriage as they do. Because only heterosexual couples can produce children, it’s in the states’ interest to make marriage laws that encourage those couples to enter a union that supports raising children

Then What Happens?

• A ruling that same-sex couples have a right to marry would invalidate the remaining anti-gay marriage laws in the country. If the court limits its ruling to requiring states to recognize same-sex unions, couples in states without same-sex marriage presumably could get married elsewhere and then demand recognition at home

• If the court rules for the states on both questions, the bans in 14 states would survive. Beyond that, confusion probably would reign. Some states that had their marriage laws struck down by federal courts might seek to reinstate prohibitions on gay and lesbian unions. Questions could also be raised about the validity of some gay weddings

• Many of these problems would be of SCOTUS”s own making. From Oct to Jan, the justices first rejected appeals from states seeking to preserve their marriage bans, then allowed court rulings to take effect even as other states appealed those decisions. Result: the court essentially allowed the number of states with gay marriage to double – now 36 states, DC and parts of MO

Japan’s PM in DC: Controversy

• Japan PM Shinzo Abe began a historic, week-long visit to the U.S. on Sunday that will highlight strengthened trade and defense ties between the two countries, and feature the first address by a Japanese leader before a joint session of Congress. Now, if the right-leaning Abe can just keep it zipped about World War II (USA Today, WSJ, me)

• The visit will include a summit meeting and state dinner at the WH, a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington Cemetery and meetings with business and govt leaders on both coasts. The meeting comes as Fitch today downgrades Japan’s rating to A from A+, with a stable outlook

• But it’s his congressional speech Wednesday that’s drawing the most attention. Abe is the first leader from Japan invited to speak before Congress since WWII. His views on the war have caused problems on both sides of the Pacific

• Since taking office, he has made statements that seem to gloss over Japan’s atrocities and cast doubt on his commitment to official apologies issued by previous prime ministers for war crimes. His stance has damaged relations with China, which suffered under Japanese occupation, and South Korea

• This month, 25 House members sent a letter to Japan’s ambassador urging Abe to “formally reaffirm and validate” previous apologies during his congressional address. Earlier, an organization of American WWII POWs urged Congress not to invite Abe without assurances that he would acknowledge Japanese wrongdoing


Nepal Earthquake: 3,300+ Dead

• At least 3,617 people are now known to have died in a massive earthquake which hit Nepal on Saturday, say officials. More than 6,500 people have been injured, according to the National Emergency Operation Center. Dozens of people are reported to have been killed in neighboring China and India (BBC, AP, Reuters, me)

• Thousands have spent a second night outside after the 7.8 magnitude quake, which also triggered deadly avalanches on Mount Everest. Vast tent cities have sprung up in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, for those displaced or afraid to return to their homes as strong aftershocks continue

• Rescue missions and aid have started arriving from around the world. The Pentagon says a U.S. military plane is on the way with 70 personnel, including a USAID disaster assistance response team, a Virginia-based search and rescue team and 45 tons of cargo to provide assistance. The flight is expected to arrive at Kathmandu today

• The weather cleared this morning and helicopters are heading out to the Mount Everest base camp to try to bring down 210 stranded climbers. The roads to the earthquake’s epicenter, northwest of the capital, have also been cleared and rescue teams are on the way

• A home ministry official said rescuers were “in a really bad shape” after working non-stop for two days. “We are about to collapse.” Meanwhile, officials have warned that the number of casualties could rise as rescue teams reach remote mountainous areas of western Nepal. The country is running out of water and food, the UN says

• Extraordinary raw vid: Hit by avalanche in Everest base camp 25 April (multiple profanities)


Drone Killing Program: Protected in DC

• Perhaps no single CIA officer has been more central to the targeted drone killing program than Michael D’Andrea, a gaunt, chain-smoking convert to Islam who was chief of operations during the birth of the agency’s detention and interrogation program and then, as head of CIA Counterterrorism Center, became an architect of the targeted killing program (NYT, me)

• In secret meetings on Capitol Hill, D’Andrea was a forceful advocate for the drone program and won supporters among both Republicans and Democrats. Congressional staff members say he was particularly effective in winning the support of Sen Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), former chair and current ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee

• The recent accidental deaths of the hostages are only the latest example of how difficult it is for the CIA to know exactly whom it’s killing. The WH provided a public accounting of the deaths only because the victims were Westerners. The govt has never offered a detailed explanation of attacks that witnesses say killed women and children

• By most accounts, the drone program has been effective in killing hundreds of al Qaeda operatives and members of other militant groups over the years. The drone program has been largely immune from the criticism in Congress that other CIA programs have attracted

• The CIA asked that D’Andrea’s name and names of some other top agency officials be withheld, but NYT published them because they have leadership roles in one of the govt’s most significant paramilitary programs and their roles are known to foreign govts and many others

• President Obama tightened rules for the drone program in 2013, but he secretly approved a waiver giving the CIA more flexibility in Pakistan than anywhere else to strike suspected militants. Under a classified addendum to the directive, Pakistan was exempted from the “imminent threat” requirement (WSJ, me)


• It was two years ago that President Obama gave a speech pledging to pull the targeted killing program from the shadows, and WH officials said they wanted to shift the bulk of drone ops from the CIA to the Pentagon, with the states intent of making the program more transparent (NYT, me)

• But the intel committees have resisted the plan, in part because D’Andrea and other top agency officials have convinced lawmakers that the CIA strikes are more precise than those conducted by the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command

• And yet the president has given no indication that he intends to shut down the drone program, and both he and his aides continue to praise it as a method of warfare that offers the WH an alternative to messy wars of occupation like in Iraq and Afghanistan

• Despite drone program reforms that Obama announced in May 2013, it is still the CIA, not the Pentagon, that continues to carry out all of the drone strikes in Pakistan and most of those in Yemen. An internal admin proposal to create a counterterrorism center at the Pentagon, modeled after the CIA drone unit, was quietly scrapped

• Loretta Lynch will be sworn in as the new attorney general by VP Joe Biden at the Justice Dept today, replacing retiring Eric Holder. In his farewell speech Friday, Holder said the job had “helped define me as an individual and as a lawyer, as a man.” (TRNS)


Russian Hackers Got Obama’s Emails

• Russian hackers who infiltrated the WH’s unclassified computer system last year reportedly obtained access to some of President Obama’s email correspondence, forcing officials to meet nearly daily for weeks afterward. NYT reports that the hackers obtained an undisclosed number of Obama’s emails – sensitivity unclear – and his email account itself appears to have escaped

• The guarded servers for Obama’s Blackberry, which he uses constantly to communicate with top aides, don’t appear to have been penetrated in the hack, which also hit the State Dept. Earlier this month, CNN reported hackers linked to the Russian govt had obtained a copy of Obama’s schedule, including info not publicly available nor in general schedules give to media

• WH spox Josh Earnest declined at the time to identify who was behind the attack, saying “our investigators have concluded it’s not in our best interests to identify the entity that may be responsible.” Officials told CNN the hackers got in through a foothold at State. “It’s the Russian angle to this that’s particularly worrisome,” a senior official told NYT

• “This has been one of the most sophisticated actors we’ve seen,” one senior American official briefed on the investigation told NYT, which reported senior WH officials have known the hack’s depth for months. Thursday, Pentagon chief Ash Carter disclosed that Russian hackers had broken into unclassified networks at DoD, but were quickly IDd and thrown off

• Russia, a key adversary of the U.S. in cyberspace, is believed to have found its way into most areas of critical U.S. infrastructure, including putting malware on software in the oil and gas pipeline industries and for wind turbines (Hill, me)

• DoJ is close to issuing the first round of economic sanctions against foreign entities over hacking complaints. The sanctions could include freezing hackers’ assets, among other things. Unclear which hackers are the targets (ABC News, Hill, me)

GOP 2016ers Talk Faith in Iowa

• Nine Republican 2016 candidates spoke about the depth of their faith to more than 1,000 attendees at Saturday’s Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition Summit. Gov Bobby Jindal (R-LA) opened his speech by asking for an “Amen” from the crowd (WSJ, NYT, me)

• Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) said that believers in traditional marriage must “fall to our knees and pray” when the Supreme Court takes up oral arguments on same-sex marriage this week. Cruz, who drew some of the loudest applause of the night, also said: “Religious liberty is an issue that unifies us.”

• Sen Rand Paul (R-KY) said “countries that persecute Christians shouldn’t get one penny of our dollars.” Former Gov Mike Huckabee (R-AR) defended controversial comments he made earlier in the week that same-sex marriage was “criminalizing Christians in this country.” He got applause in response

• Sen Marco Rubio (R-FL) defended traditional marriage. “Thousands of years of human history teach us a simple truth: The ideal way to raise children is when a mother and father married to each other, living in the same house, raise children together.”

• Speakers reserved their fire for Hillary Clinton. Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett Packard chief exec, said it wasn’t being a woman that would keep Clinton out of the WH. Rather, Fiorina said, “She can’t be a president of the U.S. because she’s not trustworthy.”

• The Clinton Foundation’s acting CEO Maura Pally wrote in a lengthy statement Sunday: “
[W]e made mistakes, as many organizations of our size do, but we are acting quickly to remedy them, and have taken steps to ensure they don’t happen in the future.” They will refile several years of tax returns after inadequately disclosing to the IRS foreign donations from 2010 to 2013 (Hill, me)


Baltimore: Freddie Gray’s Funeral Today

• A night of violence gave way to a day of mourning Sunday. A small line of mourners filed into the Vaughn Green East funeral home for a wake held for Freddie Gray, 25, who died a week after an encounter with police left him with grave spinal injuries. Gray’s funeral is planned for today (AP, NYT, me)

• Some 35 people were arrested Saturday night, according to Baltimore PD, and six police officers sustained minor injuries. Saturday afternoon, roughly 1,200 protesters gathered at City Hall, officials said, to protests Gray’s death, which has prompted near-daily demonstrations since he died 19 April. Organizers said troublemakers came from out of town

• Gray was arrested one week before that when officers chased him through a neighborhood and dragged him into a police van. Saturday, a smaller group splintered off and looted a convenience store and smashed storefront windows. A protester tossed a flaming metal garbage can toward a line of police officers in riot gear as they tried to push back the crowd

• Rep Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who represents Baltimore’s 7th District, said on CBS Sunday, “We still don’t know exactly why he was arrested. We do know that he was hollering out for aid. He was not given aid after being arrested. … A lot of people are very, very frustrated as to trying to figure out what happened here, and it’s very upsetting.”

• Police acknowledged Friday that Gray should have received medical aid at the spot where he was arrested – before he was put inside a police transport van handcuffed and without a seat belt, a violation of the PD’s policy. Baltimore native Broderick Johnson, the head of President Obama’s initiative for minority males and a Cabinet secretary, will attend Gray’s funeral today


Colorado Theater Shooting Trial Today

• About 420 people were watching a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” on 20 July 2012 in the Aurora suburb of Denver when James Holmes tossed gas canisters into the audience and opened fire. He surrendered to police outside the theater. His attorneys acknowledge he was the gunman but said he was in the grip of a psychotic episode (AP, me)

• Holmes is charged with 24 counts of murder and 140 counts of attempted murder – two counts for each person (12) killed and two for each person injured. He’s also charged with possession of explosives and committing a crime of violence. The judge issued a gag order days after the shooting. A torrent of info will become public at the trial

• Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, which under CO law means he acknowledges committing the acts but believes he wasn’t responsible because he couldn’t tell right from wrong. The jury will decide sanity or insanity. He offered to plead guilty if prosecutors would agree to a life sentence without parole. Prosecutors rejected the offer

• If Holmes is convicted of murder, he could be sentenced to execution – which prosecutors want – or life in prison without parole. If found not guilty by reason of insanity, he would be committed indefinitely to the state mental hospital. That means if he were some day declared sane, he could be released, although experts say that’s unlikely

• It took 2 1/2 years for the judge, prosecution and defense to plow through the mountain of evidence and hash out numerous legal questions. Further complicating matters were the number of victims, the prosecution’s decision to seek the death penalty, and Holmes’ decision to plead insanity. It took nearly three months to choose a jury after 9,000 summonses were sent



• A months-long investigation of Brian Williams by NBC News has turned up 11 instances in which the anchorman publicly embellished details of his reporting exploits, according to a person familiar with the probe. NBC execs met for a briefing about the investigation Thursday. Williams’ suspension ends in August. NBC is said to be pressuring Williams to go (WaPo, me)


Obama at WH Correspondents Dinner

• “After the midterm elections, my advisers asked me, ‘Mr President, do you have a bucket list?’ I said, ‘Well, I have something rhymes with bucket list.’ Take executive action on immigration? Bucket. New climate regulations? Bucket.” (WaPo, me)

• “My new policy is paying off. Look at my Cuba policy: the Castro brothers are here tonight. Amigos! Que pasa? What? It’s the Castros from Texas? Oh. Hi, Joaquin. Hi, Julian.”

• “A few weeks ago, Dick Cheney says he thinks I’m the worst president of his lifetime. Which is interesting because I think Dick Cheney is the worst president of my lifetime. Quite a coincidence.”

• Vid: President Obama’s anger translator at the WH Correspondents’ Dinner. With Keegan-Michael Key behind him, a straight-faced Obama said what he really felt…

• “Being president is never easy. I still have to fix the broken immigration system. Issue veto threats. Negotiate with Iran. All while finding time to pray five times a day.”

• “Turns out Jeb Bush identified himself as Hispanic back in 2009 … It’s an innocent mistake, it reminds me of when I identified myself as American back in 1961.”

• On Cecily Strong’s impersonation of CNN journalist Brooke Baldwin on SNL: “Usually the only people impersonating journalists on CNN are journalists on CNN”

• “Donald Trump is here. Still.”


• In a sober moment at the end of a lighthearted speech, Obama noted that journalists around the world are unjustly imprisoned for doing their work, including WaPo’s Jason Rezaian, in Iran. Obama said he had spoken with Rezaian’s brother Ali, who was at the dinner. “I have told him personally that we will not rest until we bring him home to his family, safe and sound.” (WaPo)

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