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.

Trending Today

  • State: Clinton emails release – Jan 2016
  • Clinton forwarded intel from friend to State officials
  • McConnell warns Senate: Don’t plan travel – work
  • Cops: Obama bans some military-style equipment
  • Ramadi: DC divided on take-back plans
  • Amtrak crash: Not a bullet?
  • Waco biker brawl: Police on alert
  • SCOTUS in brief (busy day)
  • Pols: First-class airfare still OK for us
State: Clinton Emails Release – Jan 2016 (NYT, AP, Vice, me)

• The State Dept has proposed releasing portions of 55,000 pages of emails from former SecState Hillary Clinton by next January – two weeks before the Iowa caucuses. In response to a FOIA lawsuit filed this year by Vice News, State said that reviewing the exchanges from Clinton’s private email account would be labor-intensive and time-consuming

• State is proposing a date of 15 Jan 2016 for release. Noting the considerable public interest in the emails, the dept “is endeavoring to complete the review and production of them as expeditiously as possible,” said State’s John Hackett (so lame)

• In coming days, State is expected to release just under 900 pages of Clinton’s emails related to Libya and the attack on the Benghazi outpost that killed four Americans, including Amb Chris Stevens

• State is dividing the material into small batches, with plans to review about 1,000 emails a week. They’ve assigned a project manager, two case analysts and nine FOIA reviewers full time, plus other analysts ind info tech specialists who provide “collateral assistance” to the review in addition to their regular duties

• ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos, already under fire for his contributions to the Clinton Foundation, served as a moderator and awards judge for the Clinton Global Initiative, an offshoot of the Clinton Foundation, that convenes meetings to discuss domestic and international issues. Stephanopoulos hasn’t yet disclosed this (WaPo)

Clinton Forwarded “Unreliable” Intel on Libya from Friend to State Officials (NYT, Politico, me)

• Hillary Clinton forwarded unsubstantiated intel on Libya from a family ally to top officials at State, according to docs obtained by NYT. Sidney Blumenthal, a longtime Clinton counselor, and, according to NYT, an employee of the Clinton Foundation at the time, sent intel reports based on info he’d gathered while working as adviser to Constellations Group, a private consultancy

• Rep Trey Gowdy (R-SC), chair of the House select Benghazi committee, is now scrutinizing that relationship. Committee sources said that Gowdy plans to subpoena Blumenthal for a private transcribed interview to discuss the memos and his role as an adviser to Clinton while she led State

• Clinton’s habit of forwarding the memos to top advisers like Jake Sullivan and Amb Chris Stevens raised questions among committee members about the extent of Blumenthal’s influence at State – considering that aides cast doubt on the credibility of the memos in several emails

• Gowdy wants additional docs from State – emails committee sources said would likely answer how seriously Blumenthal’s advice was taken. Gowdy and the Republicans on the panel want to know who paid his salary while he was drafting the memos and the extent of his business relations in Libya, congressional sources said. Gowdy’s office declined to comment

• Blumenthal’s reports were sent to Clinton’s private email address, then, in many instances, forward to top State deputies and distributed around the office. Though she occasionally added a caveat such as, “This one strains credulity,” Clinton forwarded numerous memos, often with comments about their usefulness


Unnamed Sources, Speculation

• The reports from Blumenthal relied largely on unnamed sources and contained speculation and info that other State officials deemed false. The former Bill Clinton staffer had been a controversial figure in Washington for decades (this is now starting to be problematical – really raising issues of judgment – even given selective leaking by GOP-led committee)

• The Obama admin had kept Blumenthal from serving in Clinton’s State Dept, for instance, due to his role in trying to plant negative stories about the then-Illinois senator during the 2008 presidential campaign

• NYT reported that with the ouster of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, Constellations Group hoped to establish contracts with Libya’s transitional govt. Though the endeavor ultimately failed, other Clinton allies allegedly joined Constellations’ efforts to gain contracts in the new Libya – all of which would have required State permits

• Top Democrat on the panel, Rep Elijah Cummings (D-MD), slammed Gowdy: “These latest moves by the Benghazi committee – issuing a subpoena without first contacting the witness, leaking news of the subpoena before it was served, and not holding any committee debate or vote – are straight out of the partisan playbook of discredited Republican investigations.” (true)

• Gowdy is also zeroing on other Clinton allies to interview, including Sullivan, Huma Abedin, Cheryl Mills, Susan Rice and Patrick Kennedy. Also former top national security officials Tom Donilon and Denis McDonough – now Obama’s chief of staff. Clinton’s testimony has been delayed because of a dispute over docs from State
• Sen Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) called on Rep Frank Giunta (R-NH) to resign Monday, saying it was “the right step.” Last week, Giunta and the FEC settled a case in which Giunta was accused of illegally accepting $355,000 in campaign funds from his parents. In a statement later Monday, Giunta said he had apologized but that he wouldn’t resign (Politico, WMUR-TV)


McConnell Warns Senate: Don’t Plan Travel… (Hill, me)

• Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) warned senators Monday that they will finish work on fast-track trade authority “this week, and we will remain in session as long as it takes to do so. I would advise against making any sort of travel arrangements until the path forward becomes clear.” (shades of Harry Reid – he must be laughing)

• McConnell wants to pass the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 (TPA-2015), S.995, which would allow the president to get his trade deals passed through Congress by a simple majority vote, this week. McConnell’s pledged an open amendment process, but he’s also got surveillance and highway measures to deal with this week

• McConnell said that the quickest way to get all three bills passed would be “to cooperate across the aisle so we can pass the trade bill in a thoughtful but efficient manner.” (LOL) He said “all the unnecessary delaying and filibustering we’ve seen has left us with less time for debate and amendments on this bill.” (that was the fiendish Democratic plan)

• McConnell’s facing another hurdle: Presidential hopeful Sen Rand Paul (R-KY) said he would block a clean extension of the Patriot Act, which allows the NSA to collect bulk phone data in order to track suspected terrorists, and vowed a filibuster to stop it – Sen Ron Wyden (D-OR) is in the wings, too. He could filibuster, too, if pushed

• Paul’s move could force McConnell to spike the trade bill until June, so he can work to get the surveillance legislation around Paul’s procedural roadblocks before a 1 June deadline. McConnell could also move to limit debate, and amendment votes on the trade bill – major uproar if he does that

• The Senate rejected, 45-51, a liberal-led move Monday to increase aid for workers who lose their jobs to imports. Sen Ron Wyden (D-OR) was the only Dem to vote against. A proposal by Sen Jim Lankford (R-OK) requiring U.S. negotiators to take religious freedom laws into account in any country to take part in trade talks cleared on a unanimous 92-0 vote (AP)


Cops: Obama Bans Some Military-Style Equipment (NYT, Hill, TRNS, me)

• President Obama on Monday banned the federal provision of some types of military-style equipment to local police depts and sharply restricted the availability of others. The ban is part of Obama’s push to ease tensions between police and minority communities in reax to the crises in Baltimore, Ferguson, MO and other cities. Police pushback was swift (and furious)

• Obama acted after a task force he created in January on military equipment decided that police depts should be barred from using federal funds to acquire items that include tracked armored vehicles, armed aircraft, and other items. The ban is part of a series of steps Obama has made to try to build trust between police organizations and communities

• Obama promoted the effort Monday during a visit to Camden NJ. The city, racked by poverty and crime, has become a national model for better relations between police and citizens after replacing its beleaguered police force with a county-run system that prioritizes community ties. Obama held up Camden as a counterpoint to places like Ferguson

• As he held up Camden as a model, Obama announced new equipment prohibitions. “We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force, as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting and serving them,” the president said

• AG Loretta Lynch travels to Cincinnati today as part of a national community policing tour that will “highlight collaborative safety, strengthen police-community relations and foster mutual trust and respect,” the DoJ said. She’ll be joined by other officials


• But Chuck Canterbury, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said in an interview, “That equipment is used for a protective reason, not an offensive purpose. Putting those on restricted lists and making it so you’re going to have to justify having that equipment gives the connotation that the police shouldn’t have that protection.”

• In addition to prohibiting some equipment, Obama accepted the military force task force’s recommendation to impose new restrictions on other military-style items, such as wheeled armored vehicles, pyrotechnics, battering rams and riot gear, and more stringent requirements for training and info collection for depts that acquire them

• Obama’s policing task force, which was formed late last year, released a report Monday which calls for law enforcement agencies to “embrace a guardian – rather than a warrior – mind-set to build trust and legitimacy both within agencies and with the public.” (horses? barn doors?) It contains dozens of recommendations for agencies throughout the country

Ramadi: DC Divided on Take-Back (Reuters, TRNS, me)

• The use of Shiite militias to try to take back the Iraqi city of Ramadi from ISIS risks unleashing more sectarian bloodletting current and former U.S. officials said, but Washington and Baghdad appear to have few other options, with PM al-Abadi’s grip on power weak, a national army still in its infancy and Iran increasingly assertive (whole thing is massive mess)

• ISIS’s capture of Ramadi, despite months of U.S.-led airstrikes and military advice, marked a fresh low for the shattered Iraqi army, which beat a chaotic retreat from the city over the weekend. Abadi immediately turned to the Shiite militia groups, backed by Iran. WH wouldn’t comment Monday on whether ISIS’ victory would prompt a change in U.S. strategy (which is…)

• A column of 3,000 Shiite militia fighters arrived Monday at a military base near Ramadi, the capital of Sunni-majority Anbar province that’s long been the center of opposition to Iraq’s Shiite-led govt. One anonymous U.S. official described Ramadi as a “powder keg” and said “there’s the potential it can go very, very badly.” 500 dead, 8,000 fled already

• U.S. officials said DC was deeply divided about the involvement of Shiite militias. After spearheading the recapture of Tikrit, some Shiite fighters last month went on a spree of burning, looting and violence. “There are people in our govt who see any involvement of Iran as anathema … There are others who say that’s not true,” a second U.S. official said

• But the reality, analysts said, is that Iraq’s govt doesn’t appear to have enough Sunni forces at its disposal to make an assault on Ramadi. GOP Sens John McCain (AZ) and Lindsey Graham (SC) called the fall of Ramadi “a sad reminder of the admin’s indecisive air campaign” and a broader lack of strategy


Amtrak Crash: Not a Bullet? (Hill, Reuters, Hill, TRNS, me)

• A FBI examination of a circular pattern to the windshield of the derailed Amtrak train found no evidence it was caused by a firearm, the NTSB said Monday. The NTSB, however, said it’s not ruled out the possibility that another object may have struck the windshield

• Train engineer Brian Bostian, 32, who suffered a concussion, told investigators he has no memory of what occurred after the train pulled out of the North Philadelphia station, just before the crash. (still?) Amtrak service, suspended since Tuesday’s derailment, resumed early Monday on the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor

• Four passengers on the train filed a federal lawsuit Monday against Amtrak. The suit cited “serious and disabling” injuries from the 12 May derailment that killed eight people and injured more than 200 others

• Nearly a week later, it remains a mystery what caused the train to accelerate from 70 mph to 106 mph in the minute before the crash. Authorities haven’t yet ruled out equipment malfunction, human error or other possible reasons for the train gaining speed so rapidly (so they haven’t got much of a clue, then?)

• Amtrak has installed an automatic train control system on the stretch of track where the train derailed, Transportation Sec Anthony Foxx said on MSNBC Monday. Foxx said the system was put in place over the weekend and could have prevented last week’s deadly accident (if so quick to install, why was it not done before?)


Waco Biker Brawl: Police on Alert (Reuters, NYT, WFAA, me)

• Police braced for revenge attacks after 170 people were charged Monday in connection with the shootout among motorcycle gangs a day earlier that left nine dead and 18 wounded at a Waco TX restaurant turned into a blood-soaked crime scene. Bikers were reported to be traveling to the city from out of state and law enforcement have been threatened, police said

• “There was a green light put out on law enforcement, is our understanding from last night,” Waco Police Sgt Patrick Swanton told a news briefing. Bikers from five rival gangs attacked each other with guns, knives, brass knuckles, clubs, fists and chains at a Twin Peaks Sports Bar and Grill in Waco. A law enforcement bulletin from 1 May had warned of growing gang tensions

• About 100 weapons were recovered from the scene. Those arrested were charged with engaging in organized crime for capital murder and likely will face other charges related to the bloodshed. The crowd of suspects was so big that authorities opened a convention center to hold them. A few of the injured had staggered out of the restaurant and died on the parking lot

• Tension between the Bandidos and rival gangs in Texas, including the Cossacks, exploded at the gang meeting in Waco, where about 200 people were present. The fight appeared to be over territory and membership. Gimmi Jimmy, national ambassador for the Bandidos, said, “We discuss things like biker rights, but no individual club business is talked about.” (sure)

• Twin Peaks is a restaurant known for half-dressed waitresses serving bar food and large mugs of beer. The Waco place had been used as a motorcycle gang meeting place for a few months. Police said they’d asked the restaurant managers to stop the meetings but they didn’t. Twin Peaks on Monday revoked the franchise rights from the company that ran the restaurant

Edited video released by Grapevine police. Texas police officer Robert Clark, who killed unarmed Mexican immigrant Ruben Garcia Villalpando, after the man disobeyed the officer’s commands during a traffic stop, won’t face criminal charges in the shooting, a grand jury has decided. Villalpando’s lawyer claims several seconds are missing from the video and the shooting is “unjustifiable” (CNN)


SCOTUS in Brief (Busy Day) (WaPo, WSJ, AP, AP, Reuters)

• The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Monday that Maryland’s income tax law is unconstitutional because it doesn’t provide a full tax credit to residents for income tax paid outside the state, a ruling likely to cost Maryland counties and localities across the country millions of dollars in revenue

• The court ruled unanimously that felons may sell or give away guns they own to others, reversing a lower court that said the govt can confiscate weapons under a law barring many convicts from possessing firearms. The court said federal law “does not prohibit a felon from owning firearms” which is broader than possession and includes the right to dispose of the property

• The court said that police are immune from a lawsuit arising form the arrest and shooting of a mentally ill woman in San Francisco. The justices ruled 6-3 that police didn’t violate the rights of Teresa Sheehan when they forced their way into her room at a group home and shot her five times after she came at them with a knife

• The court ruled unanimously in favor of participants in employee retirement plans who object to companies’ investment decisions that eat into retirement savings. The justices revived claims by current and former employees of Edison International. The employees argued that the company chose mutual funds with excessive fees

• The court rejected a bid to stop an investigation in Wisconsin into possible unlawful coordination between potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker’s gubernatorial campaign and conservative advocacy groups

• After six years, President Obama finally got his very own Twitter account on Monday: @POTUS. “Hello, Twitter! It’s Barack. Really! Six years in, they’re finally giving me my own account,” Obama tweeted at 11.38 am. He now has 1.66 million followers. Mary Lee the Shark, the other new Twitter sensation, has 62,400 followers (including me)


Pols: First-Class Airfare Still OK (Hill, me)

• A proposal to ban members of Congress from using federal funds to buy first-class airfare won’t get a vote on the House floor (of course not). Reps Rod Blum (R-IA), Gwen Graham (D-FL) and Paul Gosar (R-AZ) had filed an amendment to the appropriations bill that would forbid lawmakers from flying first-class – no exceptions

• But the House Rules Committee, which acts as an arm of GOP leadership (!) and decides how legislation is considered on the floor, didn’t grant their amendment a vote. The House will vote this afternoon on the Branch Appropriations Act 2016, HR 2250, which maintains a pay freeze for lawmakers in place since 2010 (gotta have some perks, then, make up for that)

• Rep Jim McGovern (D-MA) asked if the ban would apply if a lawmaker was bumped up to first class due to points at no extra cost – it wouldn’t. “I don’t think members are going around buying first-class tickets,” McGovern said. “I just don’t think it’s a problem.”

• Rep Alcee Hastings (D-FL) asked Blum what motivated him to do it. Blum, a first-termer, said, “I heard about it numerous times on the campaign trail from citizens. I think it would send a great message to working families that are hurting that we share empathy for their situation by doing this.” Blum and Graham are two top targets heading into 2016

• Hastings posed a hypothetical of a lawmaker being forced to choose between flying first-class on a booked flight with no more coach seats or missing votes in DC. “I’d say take the next flight,” said Blum. “And miss the votes they were required to undertake here?” Hastings asked. “If need be, yes,” Blum said (you’re on your own, mate)

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Luke Vargas, Nicholas Salazar and Anna Merod contributed to this report

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