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.

News Now

  • Accident: Military ships live anthrax
  • WH pushes for phone data deal
  • Nebraska ends death penalty
  • U.S. hammers FIFA over graft
  • Immigration: Obama delays SCOTUS battle
  • EPA water wars / ditches & puddles
  • FCC: Block robocalls / broadband for poor
  • Santorum is IN
  • Clinton: “Hard to get ahead” / emails
Accident: Military Ships Live Anthrax (CNN, AP, TRNS, me)

• The CDC said Wednesday it’s investigating what the Pentagon called an inadvertent shipment of live anthrax spores to govt and commercial labs in as many as nine states, as well as one in South Korea, that expected to receive dead spores (nasty surprise, that)

• “At this time we do not suspect any risk to the general public,” CDC spox Kathy Harben said. Pentagon spox Col Steve Warren said the suspected live anthrax samples were shipped from Dugway Proving Ground, an Army facility in Utah, using a commercial delivery service

• Warren said the govt has confirmed a lab in Maryland received live spores. It’s suspected, but not confirmed, that anthrax sent to labs in as many as eight other states also contained live spores, he said: TX, MD, WI, DE, NJ, TN, NY, CA and VA

• An anonymous U.S. official said Wed evening that four people in three commercial labs had worked with the suspect anthrax samples and the CDC has recommended the four be provided “post-exposure prophylaxis,” or preventive treatment to you and me
• At least 15 people have been killed in Texas in weather-related incidents this week, including six in Houston. Hundreds of people were ordered to evacuate flood-threatened areas of Texas Wednesday as torrential rains battered the state. The death toll was expected to rise, with about a dozen people still missing and more rain pelting the area (Reuters)

 

WH Pushes For Phone Data Deal (NYT, me)

• Obama admin officials on Wednesday intensified pressure on Congress to strike a deal before a Sunday deadline over legislation governing the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records. “What you’re doing, essentially, is you’re playing Russian roulette,” one senior admin official said at a WH briefing of allowing the powers to lapse

• The prospect appears increasingly likely with the measure, the USA Freedom Act, stalled, and Congress on recess. Sen Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has called a Sunday session, but there’s no sign of a breakthrough, even with rare recess negotiations taking place (Obama admin is essentially guilting the Senate to act)

• Admin officials are emphasizing – and hammering away at – other provisions within Section 215 which will also expire: The govt’s ability to obtain a roving wiretap to track a terrorist or spy known to be switching phones frequently to avoid detection

• And the FBI would lose a tool – never before used – to wiretap a so-called lone wolf terrorism suspect, one believed to be linked to terrorist activity but not to any particular group. Some privacy advocates maintain the govt already has the authority without the Patriot Act so it’s unnecessary

• Preventing existing surveillance authority from lapsing would take the unanimous consent of the Senate, even if the USA Freedom Act musters 60 votes Sunday night. That’s because Sunday’s vote is merely to cut off debate on a motion to take up the House bill. If a senator objected, the actual vote to begin debating would come 30 hours late – after the authority expired

 

• SecState John Kerry and Iranian FM Javad Zarif will hold talks Saturday in Geneva as efforts intensify to reach a comprehensive nuclear deal. U.S. chief negotiator Wendy Sherman will leave State when negotiations are finished. France is threatening to oppose a deal if it doesn’t include access to military sites in Iran (as it should) (AP, Hill, me)

 

Nebraska Ends Death Penalty (NYT, WaPo, me)

• Nebraska on Wednesday became the first conservative state in more than 40 years to abolish the death penalty, with lawmakers defying their Republican governor, Pete Ricketts, a staunch supporter of capital punishment who had lobbied vigorously against banning it. The vote was 30-19 across party lines to override the governor’s veto

• The vote capped a months-long battle that pitted most lawmakers against the governor, many law enforcement officials and some family members of murder victims whose killers are on death row. Ricketts appeared repeatedly on TV interviews to lobby. Tuesday, he signed a veto in front of reporters and talked about a gruesome bank robbery and murder in 2002

• Though it formally considers itself nonpartisan, the Nebraska Legislature is dominated by Republicans. GOP legislators who have voted in favor of abolition said they believed the death penalty was inefficient, expensive and out of place with their party’s values. Other pols cited religious or moral reasons

• Catholic bishops in Nebraska issued a statement on Tuesday criticizing Ricketts’s veto. “We remain convinced that the death penalty does not deter crime, nor does it make Nebraska safer or promote the common good in our state,” they said. The bill replaces capital punishment with life imprisonment

 

• The Pentagon has plans to provide military equipment to Sunni tribal fighters, a Pentagon spox said Wednesday, a shift from its current policy to provide the equipment only through the central govt in Baghdad. The new plans comes after Sunni tribal fighters faced an embarrassing defeat by ISIS last week in Ramadi (Hill)

 

U.S. Hammers FIFA Over Graft (NYT, BBC, TRNS, me)

• Russian President Vladimir Putin today accused the U.S. of meddling in FIFA affairs and trying to take away Russia’s World Cup

• As they announced a sweeping indictment against 14 FIFA soccer officials and marketing execs who they said had corrupted the sport through two decades of shadowy dealing and $150 million in bribes, U.S. authorities on Wednesday described the beautiful game in terms normally reserved for Mafia families or drug cartels

• Hours after Swiss authorities arrived unannounced at a luxury Zurich hotel and arrested top FIFA officials, the DoJ and prosecutors for the Eastern District of New York forcefully declared that their investigation had only just begun. The federal indictment lists 47 counts, including bribery, fraud and money laundering

• AG Loretta Lynch said she never had qualms about bringing charges in the U.S. U.S. law allows for extradition and prosecution of foreign nationals under a number of statutes, and court docs say that the activity affected interstate and foreign commerce, and took place in part in New York’s Eastern District

• Vid: John Oliver perfectly nailed just how corrupt FIFA is on “Last Week Tonight” on 8 June 2014 during the lead-up to the World Cup

• Lynch compared the FIFA investigation to cases involving Mafia members in Rome or Sicily. In this case, she said, FIFA officials used the American banking system as part of their scheme. “They clearly thought the U.S. was a safe financial haven for them,” she said. There’s no suggestion that any actual matches were fixed or crooked

• Lynch said some FIFA execs has “used their positions to solicit bribes. They did this over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament.” FBI director James Comey said, “The defendants fostered a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for the biggest sport in the world.”

• FIFA has been dogged by accusations of corruption for years, but top officials typically avoided any punishment. Sepp Blatter, the organization’s longtime president, who is widely regarded as the most powerful man in sports, wasn’t named in the indictment. He’s up for reelection for a fifth term tomorrow. European body, UEFA, is meeting today, to decide whether to boycott

• Graphic: How the indicted officials fit into FIFA (NYT)

• Some of the means used to hide payments were intricate, the indictments says: using fake consulting contracts; sending money through associates working in the financial industry, creating shell companies in tax havens, hiding foreign bank accounts, using safe deposit boxes etc

• Others were more straightforward. When FIFA was considering which country would host the 2006 World Cup, committee member Jack Warner sent a relative to a Paris hotel room to collect a briefcase filled with cash in $10,000 stacks from a South African bid-committee official, according to the indictment

• While the 2018 World Cup in Russia (totally crooked) and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar (beyond crooked) weren’t mentioned in the American charges, the Office of the AG in Switzerland said Wednesday that it had opened a criminal investigation into how those hosts were selected (too late for the hundreds of workers who have died building the stadium in Qatar)

 

• Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen Orrin Hatch (R-UT), said Wed that his panel in April “quietly” launched a probe into the complex problem of stolen-identity refund fraud, particularly the role of online tax-filing firms. He also asked for a private briefing from the IRS concerning the theft of prior-year tax return info (Hill)

Immigration: Obama Delays SCOTUS Battle (NYT, Hill, Hill, TRNS, me)

• President Obama will put off a confrontation at the Supreme Court over his immigration executive actions. In a statement Wednesday, the DoJ said they wouldn’t ask SCOTUS to reverse this week’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit that continues to block the president’s immigration actions

• “The dept believes the best way to achieve this goal is to focus on the ongoing appeal on the merits of the preliminary injunction itself,” said Patrick Rodenbush, a DoJ spox. Admin officials said Wednesday that govt lawyers would wait and make what they believe will be a stronger argument on the merit’s of Obama’s immigration program (they think they’ll lose at SCOTUS)

• Obama’s executive actions, which would have blocked deportation and provided work permits to up to five million undocumented immigrants, have been on hold since a Texas judge called a halt, calling it an executive overreach and saying it violated the govt’s administrative procedures. The immigrants are currently in the shadows, in limbo

• Oral arguments before the 5th Circuit are scheduled to begin during the week of 6 July. WH officials expressed confidence that they would eventually succeed in defending Obama’s authority to overhaul the immigration system. (what does “eventually” mean? this could drag on until the end of Obama’s second term)

• Meanwhile, 135 House Democrats, concerned about reports of inhumane living conditions in “jail-like” detention centers, have written to Homeland Security Sec Jeh Johnson to push for the dept to end its program of holding illegal immigrant families in the facilities. There have been reports of sexual assault, intense physical violence, kidnapping and sex trafficking

 

WaPo reports today that, as DHS continues to pour money into border security, evidence is emerging that illegal immigration flows have fallen to their lowest level in at least two decades. The nation’s population of illegal immigrants, which tripled between 1990 and 2007, to 12.2 million, has dropped by about 1 million, according to the Pew Research Center

 

EPA Water Wars (Politico, Reuters, Hill, AP, TRNS, me)

• New federal rules designed to better protect small streams, tributaries and wetlands – and the drinking water of 117 million Americans – are being hammered by Republicans and farm groups. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) declared they will send “landowners, small businesses, farmers and manufacturers on the road to a regulatory and economic hell.” (cue AC/DC)

• The rules, issued by the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, aim to clarify which smaller waterways fall under federal protection after two SCOTUS rulings left the Clean Air Act uncertain. Administrator Gina McCarthy said the waters affected would be only those with a “direct and significant” connection to larger bodies of water downstream that are already protected

• The new rules would kick in only and force a permitting process only if a business or landowner took steps to pollute or destroy covered waters. President Obama said the rules “will ensure polluters who knowingly threaten our waters can be held accountable.” Republicans smell a plot by the Obama admin to take over all the water
Ditches and Puddles!

• There’s deep concern from the GOP-led Congress and farmers that every stream, ditch and puddle on their private land could now be subject to federal oversight. Boehner called the rules “a raw and tyrannical power grab.” (good stuff)

• McCarthy said Wednesday, “They asked us about ditches, and they asked us about ditches, and they asked us about ditches, so we not only kept all of the exclusions and exemptions for agriculture that are in the current rule, we actually expanded those.” (what about the ditches)

• “If you’re not a tributary and you’re a ditch, you ain’t in,” McCarthy said on a press call. “We got as clear as we could be that unless you act like a tributary and you have the features of a tributary, you are simply not jurisdictional under the Clean Water Act.” That won’t be enough for congressional Republicans

• The House voted earlier this month to block the rule, with support from Republicans and some farm- and energy-state Democrats, and similar legislation is moving through the Senate. Opponents are also preparing lawsuits that will add to an already long and drippy trail of litigation, with many muddy puddles along the way

 

Listen to TRNS’ interview with Simon Deng, a former South Sudan child slave, now in his 13th day of a hunger strike outside the WH. He pleads for the U.S. to take more action over the atrocities and humanitarian crisis caused by that country’s civil war. “Don’t let me die in front of the White House,” he begs (TRNS)

 

FCC: Block Robocalls / Broadband for the Poor (NYT, AP)

• FCC chair Tom Wheeler circulated a proposal Wednesday designed to close loopholes, reaffirm anti-robocall rules and encourage wireless and wireline carriers to do more to fight against unwanted telemarketing calls and spam text messages to consumers – yaaaay

• A key part of the plan: clearing up any confusion over whether the phone carriers can offer blocking services – so-called robo-blocking technology that could help people stop the unwanted calls. Another part of the plan would make it easier for consumers to say “no” to robocalls and texts: simply say “stop” and you can’t be told you need to fill out a form and mail it in

Today, Wheeler will circulate a plan to his fellow commissioners suggesting sweeping changes to the Lifeline low-income phone subsidy phone program created in 1985 under the Reagan admin to subsidize landline phone services and expanded since then to cell phones. Wheeler will propose offering subsidized access to broadband internet

• Wheeler’s proposal is an effort to bridge the so-called digital divide. According to Pew research data, 54% of those making less than $30,000 a year have broadband, compared with 88% of those making more than $75,000. However, the Lifeline phone program has been subject to abuse  – people collecting more than one subsidy

•  Republicans have expressed skepticism that the abuse has been fully rooted out. In March, the GAO issued a report evaluating the effect of changes implemented in 2012. It said the number of participating households had dropped from 18 million to 12 million. A Senate subcommittee hearing is scheduled for 2 June

 

• President Obama receives the annual hurricane season outlook and preparedness briefing at the National Hurricane Center in Miami today. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center says the coming hurricane season is predicted to be calmer than normal, with a 70% chance of six to 11 named storms between 1 June through 30 Nov (AP)

 

Santorum Is IN (WSJ, Hill, Salon, TRNS, me)

• Former Sen Rick Santorum (R-PA) formally launched his second presidential campaign on Wednesday as a lunch-bucket conservative. He hopes outreach to lower-income Americans, combined with his base of support among evangelical Christians and the party’s most conservative voters, will propel him to the front of the pack

• In 2012, Santorum was the last viable challenger to Mitt Romney. But this year, recent polling by RealClearPolitics has Santorum ranking 10th (ouch) among Republican presidential hopefuls, with 2.3%. His initial task will be to remain among the elite top 10, to qualify for early debates hosted by Fox News and CNN, and not be banished to the netherworld

• Since 2012, Santorum has toned down his harsh tone on social issues such as abortion. In an interview with NBC this year, he said he had previously said “dumb things” about abortion and contraception. In Oct 2012 he said contraception was “not OK. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” (not really your business)

• But he’s taken a tougher position on immigration, faulting legal immigration for driving down wages in a CNN interview earlier this year. He also called for drastically reducing legal immigration – (this is going to be a tougher position to defend than illegal immigration if he’s challenged during debates – possible “anti-immigrant” can look ugly)

 

• Former Gov George Pataki (R-NY) will likely launch his long-shot bid for the presidency from New Hampshire today. Monday, Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC) will enter the race from his hometown of Central, SC
Clinton: Pay Equity / Emails (AP, Hill, CNN, Politico, Guardian, TRNS, me)

• Hillary Clinton says pay equity between men and women, more generous parental leave policies and a higher minimum wage are not issues of importance merely to women but concerns that go to the heart of why it’s “hard to get ahead and stay ahead in America.”

• “It’s time to make the words middle class mean something again,” Clinton told more than 200 members of the South Carolina Democratic Women’s Council. “They should represent a solemn promise that anyone willing to work hard can earn a decent living and a better life, not just get by paycheck to paycheck.”

• Clinton didn’t take questions at the event or at an earlier lunch in Columbia, where she met with six minority female business owners. South Carolina is important to prove that she can rebuild President Obama’s coalition and erase any effect of her stinging defeat to him in 2008

• GOP presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina arranged a presser outside the hotel Clinton was in, for little reason, it seemed, other than to taunt her. But she grew uncomfortable when the questions seemed to treat her more as a heckler pulling a stunt than as a formidable candidate. She insisted she had planned her trip “many, many weeks ago.”

 

• Vid: Hillary Clinton breaks into Southern accent at first Southern campaign event. At several points in her talk with minority women small-business owners, Chicago native Clinton slowed her speech and spoke with a slight Southern drawl on Wednesday

• Wednesday, a DC judge ordered State Dept to release Clinton’s emails in batches over 30 days, rejecting an agency plea to roll them out in 2016. The first release must contain at least 7% of Clinton’s message traffic, and State must provide weekly updates detailing the number of pages released from the total cache

• Questions of Clinton’s use of a private server while serving as SecState have dogged her candidacy. Republicans have accused the Obama admin of stonewalling their investigation  of the Benghazi attacks, and had floated the possibility of withholding funding from parts of State if emails weren’t provided

• State has turned over 1,200 pages of emails from Clinton’s top aides to the House select committee on Benghazi in response to a subpoena. The docs are different from the 55,000 that Clinton turned over to State from her private email server

• There’s an uproar in Chicago over this hideous pic of two white police officers posing with rifles over a black suspect wearing antlers. One of the officers is suing to get his job back after he was fired over the photo. The other is serving 12 years for home invasions and robberies (Reuters)

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_____________________

Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ William McDonald, James Cullum, Nicholas Salazar and Anna Merod contributed to this report

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