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

  • Baltimore: Latest
  • 2016: Bernie Sanders jumps in
  • Iran bill: Blindsided
  • Benghazi committee gets new State docs
  • When is ransom not ransom, WH?
  • Nepal: “Desperate situation”
  • Patriot Act faces revisions
  • EPA under – bipartisan – fire
  • American Psychological Assn & torture: Report
  • Mayweather v. Pacquaio: The odds
Baltimore: Latest

• Baltimore police Thursday handed over to prosecutors the results of their initial investigation into the fatal injury suffered by Freddie Gray, including the discovery that a police van carrying the man made a previously undisclosed stop en route to a police station (NYT, AP, WaPo, WJLA, me)

• The new stop turned up on video taken from “a privately owned camera,” said deputy police commissioner Kevin Davis. He added that it was “previously unknown to us.” His statement suggested that no police officers told investigators about the stop. Six officers have been suspended with pay over the death of Gray, 25

• Thursday, DC TV station WJLA reported that according to unnamed law enforcement sources (ie leak), “the medical examiner found Gray’s catastrophic injury was caused when he slammed into the back of the police transport van, apparently breaking his neck.” But Bruce Goldfarb, a spox for the office of the chief ME, said, “the investigation isn’t concluded.”

• Lt Brian Rice, the highest-ranking officer in Gray’s arrest, was hospitalized in April 2012 over mental health concerns for an unknown duration and had his guns confiscated by local sheriff’s deputies. He threatened to commit an act that was censored in the public version of a report obtained by AP from the Carroll County MD Sheriff’s Office and “couldn’t continue to go on like this”

• Meanwhile, protests over Gray’s death are spreading and continuing. Crowds gathered Thursday in Philadelphia and Baltimore, where a curfew went into effect for the third night without any major problems. Other protests led to arrests in New York and elsewhere


Timeline: What happened to Freddie Gray when he was arrested by Baltimore police – map (NYT)


2016: Bernie Sanders Jumps In

• Sen Bernie Sanders (I-VT), 73, announced his long-shot candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday. “This country today, in my view, has more serious crises than anytime since the Great Depression,” Sanders said at an afternoon presser outside the Senate (Politico, me)

• Sanders kept the speech under five minutes, telling reporters he had to get back to the Senate. He spoke without prepared remarks or note cards, citing the income inequality stats he trumpets – demonstrating his ability to hew closely to a message and his commitment to a campaign that offers far more specificity on the issues than that of Hillary Clinton

• Sanders hedged twice when asked about Clinton. After deflecting a question about the Clinton Foundation finances, he acknowledged that it’s a “fair question.” While he declined to attack her, he noted his own role in leading efforts against the Iraq War – which Clinton voted for – Keystone XL, and the TPP trade deal

• Clinton on Thursday welcomed Sanders into the race, in a tweet. “I agree with Bernie. Focus must be on helping America’s middle class. GOP would hold them back.” Sanders tweeted back, thanking Clinton, and saying: “Looking forward to debating the big issues.” Earlier, Sanders reached out to supporters by email

• Sanders will be in New Hampshire Saturday for two events. Sanders told ABC on Good Morning America on Thursday: “I think we’re going to have a surprise for you. We’re going to win this thing.”

• The U.S. Navy has begun accompanying American-flagged commercial ships through the Strait of Hormuz, DoD officials said Thursday, a vigorous response to Iran’s seizure of a Marshall Islands-flagged ship this week in the gateway to the Persian Gulf (WSJ)


Iran Bill: Blindsided

• Junior Sens Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) blindsided Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) Thursday by attempting to force a vote on an amendment that could derail the bipartisan Iran nuclear review bill – and leapfrogged ahead of colleagues to do it (Hill, me)

• They used a procedural maneuver to force McConnell to schedule a vote on an amendment requiring Iran to recognize Israel’s right to exist as part of any nuclear deal. McConnell’s only way of avoiding the controversial amendment would be to file a motion to end debate, which would block Republicans from offering any amendments to the bill

• It would also represent a reversal of McConnell’s intention to allow amendments on legislation in the GOP-controlled Senate after criticizing then-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) for not doing so when he controlled the chamber. Tough choice: save the Iran bill from a poison pill or cut off debate and move to a swift vote?

• Rubio’s amendment calling for Iran to recognize Israel as part of a nuclear deal with the U.S. and other world powers is dangerous because Iran would never agree to it, and so it might doom the nuclear talks (Rubio’s plan). Democrats have said they will not shoulder the burden of defeating it. It would likely be approved. That would likely lead to a WH veto

• Cotton refused to back down Thursday: “If you’re in the Senate and you don’t want to vote, you should leave,” he said on the floor. Sen Bob Corker (R-TN), the bill’s co-sponsor, warned that Cotton’s gambit had “changed the dynamic significantly.” Meanwhile, McConnell scrambled to buy time Thursday by moving to another item…

• Britain has informed a UN sanctions panel of an active Iranian nuclear procurement network linked to two blacklisted firms, according to a confidential report by the panel seen by Reuters. The existence of such a network could add to Western concerns over whether Tehran can be trusted to adhere to a nuclear deal due by 30 June (Reuters)


Benghazi Committee Gets New State Docs

• State Dept has handed over 4,000 pages of new docs to the House select committee on Benghazi. The docs come from State’s Accountability Review Board (ARB) probe into the deadly assault and include, among other things, emails and interview summaries. It’s the first time State has handed over ARB docs to Congress (Hill, Politico, USA Today, me)

• The docs weren’t reviewed by the other half-dozen committees that investigated the 2012 attacks. Ranking member Rep Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said, “The work papers support the unanimous findings of the Board, which identified no evidence to support claims that Sec Clinton ordered a stand-down, personally denied security requests,” and other things

• Chair Rep Trey Gowdy (R-SA) said to Capital Download, “If she

[Hillary Clinton] were, under some theory, able to say, ‘yes, I can promise you under penalty of perjury you have every single document you’re entitled to,’ that would probably shut off that line of inquiry,” regarding requests for an independent examination of her private computer server (doubt it, myself)

• Gowdy said the panel recently completed interviews with the five State officials who were on the ground in Benghazi – only one had previously been interviewed – and is “wrapping up” interviews with CIA employees who were on the scene. None of them have previously been interviewed by Congress

• A new online fundraising entity, the Stop Hillary PAC, has launched an online petition to support Gowdy and halt Clinton’s presidential campaign. Cummings said Thursday, the “shameless new fundraising effort reveals just how closely intertwined the Benghazi select committee is with Republican political attacks against Hillary Clinton.”


When Is Ransom Not Ransom, WH?

• Helping the families of U.S. hostages pay ransom isn’t the same as paying one, the WH insisted Thursday. Spox Josh Earnest offered that response amid a wide-ranging debate over the Obama admin’s efforts to free American hostages held by terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda and ISIS (Hill, me)

• WSJ reported Wednesday that the FBI helped the family of Warren Weinstein make a ransom payment to his al Qaeda captors by vetting a Pakistani middleman who helped deliver the money. The ransom payment didn’t result in Weinstein’s release. He was mistakenly killed in a U.S. counterterrorism strike on an al Qaeda compound on the Af-Pak border

• Earnest wouldn’t comment on the WSJ story. “Speaking generally, helping with a ransom payment … is not tantamount to paying a ransom,” he told reporters. Earnest said that the U.S. longstanding policy against paying ransoms for hostages “is not going to change.”

• Charles Regini, a veteran FBI hostage negotiator told The Daily Beast that it’s routine for the agency to offer families that type of assistance. “That has never changed.” He added that the FBI has been doing that since the 1990s. Five months ago, the U.S. initiated a review of its policies on handling U.S. hostages being held abroad in the wake of ISIS beheadings

• Earnest said the review wouldn’t result in changes to the no-ransom policy, arguing that paying money to free hostages lines the pockets of terrorist groups and makes Americans bigger targets to be kidnapped. But he acknowledged it can be difficult to reassure families of hostages that U.S. officials are doing all they can to rescue hostages with a no-ransom policy (ya think?)

Nepal: “Desperate Situation”

• Towns and villages near the epicenter of Saturday’s earthquake in central Nepal have suffered “almost total devastation,” the Red Cross says. Assessment teams say they have found survivors in a “desperate situation.” About 6,200 people are now known to have died in the 7.8 magnitude quake but the fate of thousands more remains unknown (BBC, me)

• The govt has warned that the death toll could rise to more than 10,000. Landslides and poor weather have hampered rescue efforts to reach isolated districts. Aid is beginning to arrive in some of the worst-affected areas. In Kathmandu and in other towns, searches will be conducted for survivors around historic monuments

• Correspondents say there’s a severe shortage of helicopters, and although China is expected to send more, Nepal has appealed to other countries for further aircraft. Thursday, there was good news in the capital when a 15-year-old boy and a woman in her 20s were pulled from the wreckage of two collapsed buildings in Kathmandu

• But there has been growing anger at the govt’s response to the disaster, with a number of protests breaking out. Shortages of food and water have forced thousands of workers to board buses and flee to their home towns and villages

• The UN says that the quake destroyed seed stocks for the mid-May rice sowing season, as well as grains kept dry in stone storage huts that have now been razed to the ground. If farmers miss this month’s planting season, they will be unable to harvest rice – Nepal’s staple food – until late 2016, the UN says (really awful news)


• Kid interviewer cuts President Obama off for talking too long (wish we could). Maryland sixth-grader Osman Yahya was just plain blunt when Obama repeated himself during a visit to Bennet Middle School in Salisbury MD (Time, me)

Patriot Act Faces Revisions

• Thursday, a bill that would overhaul the Patriot Act and curtail the so-called metadata surveillance exposed by Edward Snowden was overwhelmingly passed by the House Judiciary Committee and was heading to almost certain passage in that chamber this month. The act, which expires 1 June, is up for its first reauthorization since the Snowden revelations (NYT, me)

• An identical bill in the Senate – introduced with the support of five Republicans – is gaining support over the objection of Sen Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who is facing the prospect of his first policy defeat since ascending this year to majority leader

• Under the bipartisan bills, the Patriot Act would be changed to prohibit bulk collection, and sweeps that had operated under the guise of so-called National Security letters issued by the FBI would end. The data would instead be stored by the phone companies themselves, and intel agencies would need approval of the secret FISA court. Other changes, too

• The debate has resulted in a highly unusual alliance of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), the WH, the tea party and a bipartisan majority in the House. They’re in opposition to McConnell, Sen Richard Burr (R-NC), his Intel Committee chair and a small group of defense hawks

• But McConnell hold powerful levers as the Senate leader that could halt the momentum or eventually alter the legislation. Facing a tight deadline, McConnell is likely to bring his alternative bill – with no changes to the current law – to the Senate floor soon. It’s unclear whether he would have the votes for the measure, but with lots of amendments, something could happen


• President Obama has chosen his hometown of Chicago to host his future presidential library, two individuals with knowledge said Thursday. The library will be built on Chicago’s South Side (AP)


EPA Under – Bipartisan – Fire

• The House Oversight Committee on Thursday launched a bipartisan assault on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employee misconduct, criticizing delays on firing employees accused of sexual harassment and watching pornography on the job (Hill, AP, me)

• One employee who was accused of sexually harassing 17 women, including two at the WH, was allowed to stay on the job and eventually retire before talking to investigators, officials from the Office of the IG told the committee. Two others were accused of viewing porn at work, including one who was witnessed by a child, but they, too, remained on the payroll for months

• One of the women allegedly harassed by EPA employee Peter Jutro, was a supervisor who was considering him for a new position. When she reported the harassment to a higher-up, Jutro wasn’t disciplined, OIG officials testified, and he was eventually given the job. The agency didn’t take action against him until last August, when he harassed a Smithsonian intern

• Stanley Meiburg, EPA’s acting deputy administrator, said the admin took “swift action” against Jutro once the incident with the intern was reported. (and the other 16?) Meiburg said Jutro and other employees who engaged in misconduct “are not representative of the broader workforce” at the agency

• The IG’s report said at least three EPA employees have been caught watching pornography on the job – one admitted up to six hours a day. One case resulted in a criminal conviction. One admitted watching porn after he was seen doing so by a child who was at the office for Bring Your Daughter or Son to Work Day

American Psychological Assn & Torture: Report

• The American Psychological Assn secretly collaborated with the admin of President George W. Bush to bolster a legal and ethical justification for the torture of prisoners swept up in the post 9/11 war on terror, according to a new report by a group of dissident health professionals and human rights activists (NYT, Hill, me)

• The report contends, using newly disclosed emails, that the APA added language approved by a former Bush adviser into its ethics code on interrogations, regularly worked with two CIA contract psychologists, and exchanged hundreds of emails with the WH and CIA officials without bringing up any complaints about the interrogation policie


• The involvement of health professionals in the Bush-era interrogation program was significant because it enabled DoJ to argue in secret opinions that the program was legal and didn’t constitute torture, since the interrogations were being monitored by health professionals to make sure they were safe

• The interrogation program has since been shut down, and last year the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a detailed report that described the program as both ineffective and abusive

• Rhea Farberman, a spox for the APA, told NYT there “has never been any coordination between APA and the Bush admin on how APA responded to the controversies about the role of psychologists in the interrogations program.”

• “The APA’s complicity in the CIA torture program, by allowing psychologists to administer and calibrate permitted harm, undermines the fundamental ethical standards of the profession,” the report says. “If not carefully understood and rejected by the profession, this may portend a fundamental shift in the profession’s relationship with the people it serves.”

Mayweather v. Pacquaio: At Last!
• Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquaio will fight at last on Saturday at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas. The first bout’s scheduled at 3pm and the big event five hours later around 8 pm – may not be on time. Pay per view is $99. $10,000 is the price of a seat on the floor. Mayweather has 0 losses in his career. Pacquaio has 5 (Telegraph, AP, BBC, Guardian, me)

• Pacquaio’s trainer, Freddie Roach: “I wonder if he’s [Mayweather] going to show up. At the press conference in Los Angeles, I said we were going to kick his ass and I didn’t get a response. I don’t think any fighter is afraid. I think he was forced into this fight. I don’t think he wants this fight. He didn’t get to pick his opponent.”

• Pacquaio: “Everything I have accomplished, God has given me this strength. I used to sleep in the street, hungry, and I cannot imagine that the Lord raised me to this level of life.”

• Mayweather: “[it is] the biggest fight in boxing history and I’m a part of it so that’s a great thing. I’m just truly, truly blessed to be where I’m at. I feel good. I feel strong and I’ll see you guys Saturday. You guys came out here to see excitement, to see a great event and I think that’s what both competitors bring to the table – excitement.”

• Odds: Mayweather is favorite, with odds as short as 4/9 on with some bookies. 1/2 is the widely available price for Mayweather, whose odds have lengthened marginally. Pacquaio is generally priced as 2/1. A draw is priced as around 18/1. The fight’s expected to go the distance, with odds of 3/10 available and 12/5 for it not running to the end of a 12th round

• Rocking into the weekend with “The Boxer” – Mumford and Sons doing a brilliant cover of the Simon and Garfunkel classic

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Victoria Jones – Editor

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