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

  • Tsarnaev: Guilty – Boston Marathon bombing
  • Penalty phase: Death or life
  • SC cop: Prior excessive force complaint
  • SC cop who shot black man in back: Fired
  • Rand Paul gets testy with press
  • State Dept spox: Obama’s words “muddled”
  • LGBT executive order takes effect
  • VA: Little headway in wait times
  • Yemen: Kerry / Rouhani spar
  • Fed: Rate raise “later in the year?”

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: Guilty – Boston Marathon Bombing

• Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was convicted on all 30 charges Wednesday in the Boston Marathon bombing by a federal jury that now must decide whether the 21-year-old former college student should be executed. Counts included conspiracy and deadly use of a weapon of mass destruction. Seventeen of the counts are punishable by death (AP, NYT, TRNS, me)

• The verdict – reached after a day and a half’s deliberations – was practically a foregone conclusion, given his lawyer, Judy Clarke’s, startling admission at the trial’s outset that Tsarnaev carried out the terror attack with his now-dead older brother, Tamerlan

• Two shrapnel-packed pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line on 15 April 2013, killed three spectators and wounded more than 260 other people. Tsarnaev was also found responsible for the killing of a MIT police officer who was gunned down days later

• The victims were Martin Richard, 8, Lingzi Lu, 23, a Chinese graduate student at Boston University, and Krystle Campbell, 29. a restaurant manager. MIT Officer Sean Collier was shot to death at close range days later

Penalty Phase: Death or Life

• In the trial’s next phase, which could start Monday, the jury will hear evidence on whether Tsarnaev should get the death penalty or spend the rest of his life in prison. In a bid to save him from death, Clarke has argued that Tsarnaev fell under the influence of his radicalized brother

• Prosecutors, however, portrayed the brothers – ethnic Chechens who moved to the U.S. from Russia more than a decade ago – as full partners in a coldblooded plan to punish the U.S. for its wars in Muslim countries. Jihadist writings, lectures and videos were found on their computers, though defense argued that Tamerlan downloaded the material and sent it to his brother

• During the penalty phase, Tsarnaev’s lawyers will present so-called mitigating evidence they hope will save his life. Could include evidence about his family, his relationship with his brother and his childhood in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and later in the volatile Dagestan region of Russia

• Prosecutors will present so-called aggravating factors in support of the death penalty, including the killing of a child and the targeting of the marathon because of the potential for maximum bloodshed

• The Secret Service has put Xavier Morales, a manager in the security clearance division, on leave and suspended his security clearance after a female employee accused him of assaulting her at agency HQ after they returned from a party last week, the agency said Wednesday. The man was her boss (WaPo, me)


Cop Who Shot Man in Back: Prior Excessive Force Complaint

• The South Carolina police officer facing a murder charge after video surfaced of him shooting a fleeing suspect in the back was allowed to stay on the force despite an earlier complaint he used excessive force against an unarmed man (AP, me)

• Mario Givens told AP Wednesday how he was awakened before dawn one morning in 2013 by a loud banging on the front door of his family’s North Charleston home. On his porch was Patrolman Michael Slager, responding to a reported burglary in the neighborhood

• Givens said he cracked open the door and Slager pushed in, shooting him in the belly with a stun gun. The 33-year-old filed a formal complaint against Slager backed by at least two other witnesses, but police took no action (pattern – see story below)

Cop Who Shot Black Man in Back Fired

• The white police officer who fatally shot 50-year-old black man Walter Scott has been fired by the North Charleston PD, city officials confirmed Wednesday. Mayor Keith Summey said that officer Michael Slager, 33, had his contract terminated, though the city will continue to cover his insurance until his pregnant wife gives birth to their baby (Guardian, WaPo, State, TRNS, me)

• Slager, who has been charged with murder, shot at Scott while he was running away from the officer. Video of the incident became public Tuesday, though there’s at least one dashcam video of the incident that exists. It may be released today

• Summey said that the city had received a grant to order 101 body cameras and that he had ordered an additional 150 cameras that officers would be trained to use. He, his wife and police chief Eddie Driggers met with Scott’s family Wednesday. “A wonderful, down-to-earth family, a wonderful group of people,” he said

• Vid: White police officer shoots (eight times) an apparently unarmed black man in the back while the man runs away and the officer kills him. Then the officer doesn’t render aid – and appears to drop a Taser near the victim

• Driggers said he had watched the video and “I was sickened by what I saw.” Both men deflected most of the questions and directed people to the state law enforcement division (SLED), which is investigating the incident. The presser was frequently interrupted by demonstrators

• Summey said that the city would also investigate previous incidents involving Slager if the public or media requested it (see story above). He also confirmed that it was dept policy to handcuff a dead body, as Slager can be seen doing in the video (weird)

• The dead man’s father, Walter Scott, said Wednesday that the officer “looked like he was trying to kill a deer running through the woods.” He also told the Today show that his son may have tried to flee because he owed child support and didn’t want to go back to jail


• Slager’s then-attorney David Aylor released a statement Monday saying the officer felt threatened and fired because Scott was trying to grab his gun. Aylor dropped Slager as a client after the video surfaced, and Slager appeared without a lawyer at his first court appearance Tuesday. He was denied bond

• In 1985, the Supreme Court ruled in Tennessee v Garner that police could shoot at a fleeing violent felon who poses a significant threat to others. Experts warned that the video began after the confrontation was underway, making it impossible to know what happened before the taping started and what kind of defense Slager could mount

• Police in North Charleston have fired their weapons at 209 suspects in the past five years, and a handful of officers have been accused of pulling the trigger illegally – but none has been convicted, according to an analysis by The State newspaper. In South Carolina, it remains exceedingly rare for an officer to be found at fault criminally for shooting at someone

• The State Dept has formally recommended Cuba’s removal from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List, CNN reports. The move means State believes Cuba hasn’t provided support to terror organizations in the preceding six months. Timing is good for President Obama in Jamaica today for meetings, ahead of the Summit of the Americas tomorrow (CNN, Hill, me)


Rand Paul Gets Testy With Press

“No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, listen,” Sen Rand Paul (R-KY) chided Savannah Guthrie of NBC News on Wednesday after she (accurately) summarized Paul’s views on foreign policy in a way he didn’t like. He then proceeded to lecture Guthrie on the proper way to conduct an interview (NYT, me)

• “You’ve editorialized, let me answer,” he said. “You ask a question and you say, ‘Have your views changed?’ instead of editorializing and saying my views have changed.” (if his views clearly have changed – as they have – it’s not editorializing to point that out to him and to challenge him on it)

• Wednesday, Paul’s patience grew short again in an interview with Philip Eliot of AP on his opposition to abortion rights. When pressed about exceptions if abortion were banned, Paul instead said: “I gave you about a five-minute answer. Put in my five-minute answer.”

• Sen Rand Paul (R-KY) Randsplains to another female reporter (this time the Today show’s respected Savannah Guthrie) how to do her job when she challenges him on having changed his positions (foreign policy). In Feb, he shushed CNBC’s Kelly Evans – “calm down,” he told her

• Paul is fond of using phrases like “Don’t mischaracterize my position,” often when discussing issues like aid to Israel. He used to support a blanket abolition of foreign aid, then came around to a more nuanced – critics said politically expedient – view that the U.S. should still provide aid to Israel. But to hear him tell it, he’s just a control freak

• “There is a certain amount of control in an interview,” he said in an interview Wed after the NBC News episode. “I think that there’s more editorializing going on than questioning sometimes. And I, frankly, sometimes get annoyed with that. And I don’t hide it very well.” (there is sometimes, but Guthrie wasn’t doing it)

• In the interview Wed, Paul sounded tired of questions premised on the idea that he has contradicted himself. Questions like: “‘OK, well, we understand that you’ve been beating your wife for years and you’ve flip-flopped on 25 different issues and you used to believe this and you used to believe that. That isn’t journalism.” (sorry, senator, it is if it’s true)


• Bob Schieffer, veteran CBS News journalist and host of Face the Nation announced late Wed that he intended to retire this summer after a career spanning over 50 years. I’ve interviewed him many times. A consummate pro and a gentleman. Whoever his successor is will be second string compared with him


State Dept Spox: Obama’s Words “Muddled”

• State Dept spox Marie Harf told reporters Wednesday that President Obama’s words to NPR News Tuesday were “a little mixed up” and “a little muddled.” In the interview, Obama spoke of concerns that after 13-15 years, Iran could “have advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium fairly rapidly, and at that point, the breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero.” (CNS, Politico, Hill, me)

• He said, “We’re purchasing for 13, 14, 15 years assurances that the breakout is at least a year. … And then in years 13 and 14 it is possible that those breakout times would have been much shorter, but at that point we have much better ideas about what it is that their program involves.”

• Harf said that Obama was referring to a scenario in which there was no deal. “And if you go back and look at the transcript, I know it’s a little confusing. I spoke to the folks at the WH and read it a few times. It’s my understanding that he was referring to – even though it was a little muddled in the words – to a scenario in which there was no deal.” (awkward)

• Separately, Obama called Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Corker (R-TN) Wednesday to tell him “this principled approach to diplomacy is the best way for us to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.” (WH is courting Corker)

• And Sen Tom Cotton (R-AR) said on the Family Research Council’s radio program that “we certainly should have kept the threat of military force on the table throughout, which always improves diplomacy.” (diplomacy something he apparently knows little about, after his 47 senators letter designed to kill the deal. Military force was on the table throughout. Deliberately ill-informed?)


• Iran’s leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini spoke for the first time on the talks and said today, “What’s been done until now neither guarantees the main agreement, nor its context, nor does it mean talks reach conclusion.” He said: “There’s nothing binding. I’m neither for nor against.”  “So congratulating me and others is meaningless.” (NYT)

LGBT Executive Order Takes Effect

• President Obama’s staff and visitors now have the option of using a gender-neutral restroom in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where much of the WH staff works. It’s an intimate follow-up on Obama’s executive order banning discrimination against gay and transgender employees of companies that contract with the federal govt (Politico, TRNS, me)

• “The WH allows staff and guests to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity, which is in keeping with the admin’s existing legal guidance on this issue and consistent with what is required by the executive order that took effect today for federal contractors,” WH spox Jeff Tiller said

• The move comes as several state legislatures have considered laws that would restrict which public restrooms transgender people are allowed to use. Republicans in Arizona, Texas and Florida have backed the measures, often supposedly as a way to protect against sexual predators

• Texas legislators have introduced a bill that would make transgender people liable for a lawsuit and compensation for “mental anguish” if they enter a restricted bathroom (omg whose anguish lol?

• “It is heartening to see that, even if legislators in some states are attacking the dignity and humanity of transgender and gender non-conforming people, at least the WH is still moving in the direction of dignity and common sense,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality

• President Obama is calling for an end to “conversion” therapies aimed at “repairing” gay, lesbian and transgender youth. In a statement posted alongside a petition that’s garnered more than 120,000 signatures, Obama condemned the practice. Obama was moved by the suicide of a 17-year-old transgender youth, Leelah Alcorn (NYT)

VA: Little Headway in Waits

In an in-depth piece, AP has found that, months after the Dept of Veterans Affairs instituted major reforms costing billions of dollars following a wait time scandal, the number of veterans waiting more than 30 or 60 days for non-emergency care has largely stayed flat. The number of medical appts that take longer than 90 days to complete has nearly doubled (AP, me)

• Nearly 894,000 appts completed at VA medical facilities from 1 Aug to 28 Feb failed to meet the health system’s timeliness goal, which calls for patients to be seen within 30 days. That means nearly one in 36 patient visits to a caregiver involved a delay of at least 1 month. Nearly 232,000 appts involved a delay of longer than 60 days

• Many delay-prone facilities are clustered within a few hours’ drive of each other in a handful of Southern states, often in areas with a strong military presence, a partly rural population and patient growth that has outpaced the VA’s sluggish planning process

• Of the 75 clinics and hospitals with the highest percentage of patients waiting more than 30 days for care, 12 are in Tennessee or Kentucky, 11 are in eastern North Carolina and the Hampton Roads area of Virgina, 11 more are in Georgia and southern Alabama, and six are in north Florida. Seven were out West

• VA officials say they’re aware of trouble spots. They cite numerous efforts to ramp up capacity by building new health centers and hiring more staff; between April and December, the system added a net 8,000 employees, including 800 physicians and nearly 2,000 nurses. They say that as they improve access, more veterans are coming and they ask for patience

Yemen: Kerry / Rouhani Spar

• SecState John Kerry on Wednesday warned Iran over its alleged support for Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen. He said the U.S. would support any Middle Eastern country that felt threatened by Iran, and would not “stand by” if Iran destabilized the region (BBC, NPR, AP, TRNS, me)

• The U.S. has stepped up support for a Saudi-led coalition against the Houthis, who drove the Yemeni president out of the country. Tehran has denied accusations it’s backing the rebels. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani today warned Saudi Arabia and its allies that airstrikes on Yemen are a “mistake.”

• Iran reportedly dispatched navy vessels to the Gulf of Aden, off Yemen, on Wednesday. Navy commander Sayyari told state media the move was made with the aim of “safeguarding naval routes for vessels in the region.”

• Kerry said on PBS, “There are obviously supplies that have been coming in from Iran. There are a number of flights every single week that have been flying in. Iran needs to recognize that the U.S. is not going to stand by while the region is destabilized or while people engage in overt warfare across lines, international boundaries and other countries.”

• Fighting has intensified in the southern Yemeni port city of Aden between the Houthis and militiamen loyal to President Hadi. Meanwhile, warplanes from the Saudi-led coalition which backs Hadi have been bombing rebel targets in the country’s north. Iranian FM Javad Zarif has proposed a four-step solution to ending the crisis, including peace talks
Coming soon: “Nerd Prom: Inside Washington’s Wildest Week – The Movie”: a new documentary out 10 April aims to draw back the curtain on Washington’s most over-the-top annual spectacle: The White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. It’s an unsparing look (Politico, me)


Fed: Rate Raise “Later in the Year?”

• Several Federal Reserve policymakers said last month the central bank is likely to raise its benchmark interest rate in June but “others” said the move will probably occur “later in the year,” according to minutes of the Fed’s 17-18 March meeting (USA Today, me)

• The report is consistent with Fed policymakers’ forecasts, released after the mid-March meeting, that indicate the first bump in rates since 2006 is unlikely before September as the Fed awaits signs of a pickup in anemic inflation. At the meeting, the Fed dropped a pledge to be “patient” as it considers raising its benchmark rate

• The policymakers who anticipate the Fed will pull the trigger later in the year said low oil prices and a strong dollar that makes imports cheaper for U.S. consumers “will continue to weigh on inflation in the near term,” according to the meeting minutes

• Although job growth has accelerated substantially the past year, wage growth has been sluggish and inflation remains well below the Fed’s annual 2% target. The economy’s mixed messages present a quandary as Fed officials consider hoisting a benchmark rate that has been near zero since the 2008 financial crisis

• At the March meeting, Fed officials provided a more detailed scenario for increasing rates. They said further improvement in the labor market, stabilizing energy prices, and “a leveling out of the foreign exchange value of the dollar were all seen as helpful in establishing confidence that inflation would turn up,” the minutes say


• Vid: Jack Nicklaus hit a hole-in-one at the fourth in Wednesday’s Par-3 contest at Augusta National. Playing with Gary Player and Ben Crenshaw. Nicklaus is 75 (#legendarygoldenbear)

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Nicholas Salazar, James Cullum and Midori Nishida contributed to this report

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