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

  • TX attacker left extremist Twitter trail
  • Senate passes GOP budget, but…
  • AG Lynch visits Baltimore
  • Iran bill test vote today
  • Clinton/immigration: “Full and equal citizenship”
  • WH / Reid spar on trade
  • NSA reform stalled?
  • Kerry visits troubled Somalia
  • Take-over of Texas? Gohmert freaks out
TX Attacker Left Extremist Twitter Trail

• Counterterrorism officials on Tuesday were studying the electronic trails of two men killed by a police officer as they shot at a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Texas, looking for any direct ties to ISIS. The group praised the gunmen in a statement as “soldiers of the caliphate.” (NYT, me)

• Elton Simpson, a convert to Islam with a long history of extremism, in the weeks before the attack regularly traded calls for violence on Twitter with ISIS fighters and supporters, as well as avowed enemies of Pamela Geller, the organizer of the cartoon contest

• His Twitter contacts included Junaid Hussain, a British fighter with ISIS known as Abu Hussain al-Britani, and Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan, a Somali-American now in Somalia who uses the name Mujahid Miski and frequently promotes ISIS. Both men called for violence, and Hassan had suggested the Texas event as a possible target

• “The brothers from the Charlie Hebdo attack did their part,” Hassan wrote in a 23 April post. “It’s time for brothers in the #US to do their part.”


• Later in the day, Simpson posted about the cartoon contest, using the handle Shariah is Light: “When will they ever learn. They are planning on selecting the best picture drawn of Rasulullah (saws) in Texas.” Rasulullah (saws) is a respectful phrase for the prophet

• An anonymous senior law enforcement official said that although Simpson had long been under FBI scrutiny, he hadn’t appeared to be preparing for violence. “There are so many like him that you have to prioritize your investigations,” the official said

• The brief statement from ISIS didn’t claim that it had ordered the Texas attack. The statement expressed hope that the men, Simpson and Nadir Soofi, who had been living in Phoenix, would be granted “the highest rank of paradise.” It threatened that future action would be “worse and more bitter.”

• The event in question was framed by its organizer, Geller, as a defense of free speech. Some Muslims who believe that their faith prohibits images of the prophet, saw it as an offensive provocation. The FBI and Homeland Security had warned law enforcement officials about the danger that the event could provoke retaliatory attacks


• Simpson had been prosecuted in 2010 for lying to the FBI after he spoke of joining al Shabab, a terrorist group in Somalia, and had been under FBI scrutiny off and on for years

• Several months ago, after Simpson began posting on Twitter about ISIS, the FBI and the police in Phoenix opened a new investigation, officials said. As part of that inquiry, authorities monitored his online postings, and occasionally put him under surveillance. Soofi wasn’t under investigation

• The FBI will undoubtedly face criticism for failing to prevent an attack by a man long known as an extremist. Simpson even posted on Twitter just before driving to the event, using #texasattack as a hashtag. Watching a single suspect night and day can require a team of 25 people in shifts around the clock

• Meanwhile, and possibly separately, SecState John Kerry has offered $20 million for information on four senior members of ISIS

• President Obama on Tuesday announced Marine Gen Joseph Dunford Jr as his pick to become chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, praising him as “one of the most admired officers in our military.” During a Rose Garden ceremony, Obama praised Dunford’s combat experience and his candid reputation (Hill, TRNS)


Senate Passes GOP Budget

• The Senate Tuesday passed a nonbinding GOP budget by a nearly party line 51-48 vote. The House adopted it last week. The measure sets a potential path for a balanced budget within a decade. It promises major cuts to domestic programs. Republicans don’t plan to adhere to most of its cuts in follow-up legislation, however (AP, me)

• The budget plan doesn’t go to President Obama, who has promised to veto follow-up spending bills that he says will shortchange domestic programs like student aid, highway construction and scientific research

• The measure sets up a debate this summer that would permit Republicans to finally pass legislation to repeal Obama’s health care law. That’s because Senate Democrats would be unable to filibuster the repeal bill under fast-track budget rules, though Obama is certain to veto it

• But Republicans have no plans to follow up the budget document’s call for other spending cuts with binding legislation that would, for instance, curb Medicare payments to providers, tighten eligibility rules for food stamps, or dump poor and disabled people off the traditional Medicaid program

• Democrats blasted the measure for getting the bulk of its savings from cuts to programs that help the poor and middle class while leaving tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy, including a proposal to eliminate taxes on multimillion-dollar inheritances

• Former Gov Mike Huckabee (R-AR), declaring Tuesday that he can bring “the kind of change that truly can get America from hope to higher ground,” announced his Republican candidacy for president in 2016 in the hometown he shares with former President Bill Clinton, Hope, AR (AP, TRNS, me)


AG Lynch Visits Baltimore

• New AG Loretta Lynch went to Baltimore Tuesday. She met with the family of Freddie Gray, the young black man who died 19 April from injuries suffered in police custody; with members of a police dept deeply unsettled by criminal charges filed Friday; with govt officials; and with community leaders who are often critical of those officials and of the police (NYT, CNN, AP, me)

• “We lost a young man’s life and it begins to represent so many things,” Lynch said at the University of Baltimore, where she met with ministers, neighborhood group leaders and elected officials, and then with relatives of Gray. “We’re here to hold your hands and provide support.” (think they’ll want more than that)

• Her brief public comments were long on empathy and promises of help, linking all sides in a shared cause of improving police-community relations, but they were short on specifics. The meetings took place primarily in private, and officials have acknowledged that there are no easy answers for what ails Baltimore

• At Police Headquarters, Lynch met with a dozen of the officers who helped quell the rioting, greeting each one individually, including an officer who wore sunglasses to protect an eye that was injured when a brick crashed through the window of his patrol car. “Thanks to all of you, I’m looking at the hardest-working police officers in America,” she said

• Monday, Officer Edward Nero, one of the six charged in the case, challenged a claim that the police had no reason to arrest Gray. In a court filing, according to AP, lawyers for Nero dispute the prosecutor’s claim that the knife found on Gray was a legal weapon

• The ACLU will file information requests today with federal agencies about airplanes that flew overhead surveillance – precise formations – of Baltimore during the riots. ACLU wants answers about the legal authority for the operations and the reach of the technology used (WaPo, me)


Iran Bill Test Vote Today

• Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) set a test vote for today on stalled bipartisan legislation to let Congress review and possibly reject any agreement the Obama admin makes to ease sanctions on Iran in exchange for concessions on nuclear research and development. Six world powers and Iran are trying to reach a final deal by 30 June (AP, Hill, CNN, me)

• The bill has been stalled since Sens Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) proposed what some consider incendiary changes that drew the objections of Democrats as well as some Republicans who want the bill kept free of controversial provisions that could prompt the WH to withdraw its support

• A 60-vote majority on today’s test vote would likely jettison both proposals, and greatly improve the bill’s chances of passage. Supporters fear controversial add-ons could scuttle negotiations with Tehran, draw a presidential veto or leave lawmakers with no say on a national security threat

• Rubio, running for president, wants to amend the bill to require Iran’s leaders to publicly accept Israel’s right to exist, a nearly impossible mandate. Cotton’s proposal says that before sanctions could be lifted on Iran, President Obama is to certify that the country isn’t engaging in acts of terror against America or Americans

• As written, the bill would block Obama from waiving congressional sanctions for at least 30 days while lawmakers weigh in on any final deal the U.S. and five other nations can reach with Iran. It also would stipulate that if senators disapprove the deal, Obama would lose the current authority he holds to waive certain economic penalties Congress has imposed on Iran

• Graphic: Americans’ views on the 2016 presidential campaign – and the issues – new poll. Hillary Clinton has survived her email scandal and comes out stronger. GOP voters like Sen Marco Rubio (FL), former Govs Mike Huckabee (AR) and Jeb Bush (FL) (NYT/CBS News)

Clinton/Immigration: “Full and Equal Citizenship”

• Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said Tuesday in Las Vegas that any immigration overhaul must include a path to “full and equal citizenship,” drawing a sharp contrast with Republicans who have promoted providing a legal status or blocked efforts in Congress to address the nation’s immigration system (AP, Politico, Reuters, Hill, TRNS, me)

• “This is where I differ with everybody on the Republican side. Make no mistake, not a single Republican … is clearly and consistently supporting a path to citizenship. Not one,” Clinton said. adding, “When they talk about legal status, that is code for second-class status.” (tough words)

• Clinton’s remarks during her first campaign stop in Nevada underscored Democrats’ efforts to box-in Republican presidential candidates who have opposed a comprehensive bill including a pathway to citizenship. Congressional Republicans have said the changes must be made incrementally, beginning with stronger border security

• President Obama’s executive actions loom large in the immigration debate. They included the expansion of a program protecting young immigrants from deportation if they were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Another provision extended deportation protections to parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have been in the country for several years

• Clinton, the leading Democrat in the race, said she supported Obama’s executive actions and said she would “defend” them against Republican opposition while seeking ways to expand them if elected president

• President Obama used a Cinco de Mayo party for Hispanic leaders and activists at the WH Tuesday to plug comprehensive immigration reform. He said passing a bill is “the right thing to do.” (Hill)


WH / Reid Spar on Trade

• The WH is criticizing Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (NV) for his promise to block a vote on fast-track trade legislation for President Obama. “We are setting the bar awfully low if the Senate cannot handle multiple issues at once,” WH spox Josh Earnest said Tuesday (Hill, me)

• Reid has long opposed fast-track, which would prevent Congress from amending trade deals negotiated by the Obama admin and make those agreements much easier to complete. He said Tuesday he would work with other Democrats to prevent a vote on the legislation and called on the Senate to take up legislation on highway funding and the NSA first

• Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-LY) said Tuesday that his plan is to move to fast-track after the Senate completes work on the GOP budget and the Iran bill. Reid’s office questioned whether McConnell can get the highway and NSA bills done if he also insists on moving the trade legislation

• Earnest said the fast-track measure backed by Obama contains robust worker protections, something he suggested should win over Democrats. The president has “scratched and clawed to protect the interests of middle-class families all across the country,” Earnest said

• Earnest also called House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) “desperate” for suggested that Obama should enlist Hillary Clinton to get Democrats on board with his trade agenda. “In the mind of the president, it’s the responsibility of the Speaker of the House to do his job and pull together the votes he needs to advance his agenda,” Earnest told reporters (on a roll)


• Democratic presidential candidates will have the chance to square off in six debates sanctioned by the party, the Democratic National Committee announced Tuesday. Four of the debates will take place in early battleground states: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Remaining two locations TBD (TRNS)


NSA Reform Stalled?

• The Senate isn’t getting any closer to reforming the nation’s spying laws or reauthorizing expiring portions of the Patriot Act, with fewer than three legislative weeks left for lawmakers to do so. Tuesday, Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wouldn’t pledge to take up the USA Freedom Act, which is expected to gain broad support in the House next week (Hill, me)

• Instead, McConnell indicated that the starting point for his chamber would be legislation he and Senate Intelligence Committee chair Richard Burr (R-NC) introduced late at night to make a “clean” extension of the existing law for five years, which he would open up for amendments – but he wouldn’t say if it would be before Memorial Day

• The lack of certainty about a path forward could lead to a heightened standoff as lawmakers approach a 1 June deadline to extend or reform the Patriot Act. With members of both parties pledging to oppose a “clean” reauthorization of the law, it seems unlikely GOP leaders would be able to get the 60 votes they need to avoid a filibuster on the bill

• Instead, they might open the door to a shorter-term reauthorization of the bill. On 1 June, three provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire, including the controversial measure that the NSA has used to collect records about millions of people’s phone calls without a warrant. The Senate has a packed schedule between now and the end of the month

• In the House, lawmakers next week are scheduled to vote on the USA Freedom Act, which would effectively end the NSA’s bulk phone records program by forcing the agency to request the records from private companies after obtaining a court order. There are other changes to NSA surveillance, too. The bill is expected to be passed on a bipartisan basis


Kerry Visits Troubled Somalia

• SecState John Kerry made an unannounced trip to Somalia Tuesday in a show of solidarity with a govt trying to defeat al Qaeda-allied militants and end decades of war in the African country. He’s the first top U.S. diplomat ever to visit Somalia. He didn’t venture past the airport – a sign of how dangerous and unstable the country remains (AP, me)

• Kerry was greeted at Mogadishu’s airport by Somalia’s president and prime minister. He held a series of meetings that included both of them along with regional leaders and civil society groups, before flying back to Kenya a little more than three hours later

• “More than 20 years ago, the U.S. was forced to pull back from your country,” Kerry said in a video address to the Somali people, invoking the “Black Hawk Down” debacle when Somali militiamen shot down two U.S. helicopters. “Now we are returning in collaboration with the international community and bearing high hopes but mixed with ongoing concerns.”

• Top of the agenda was the fight against al Shabab. African forces and U.S. drone strikes have crippled the organization’s leadership in recent years and left the extremists without much of the territory they once controlled or the cash flows needed to reverse their losses

• But as al Shabab has decentralized, the militants in some ways have become even more dangerous, expanding their activities in Kenya and other neighboring countries. Last month’s massacre at Kenya’s Garissa University killed 148 people, mostly students, and underscored the group’s ability to carry out deadly terror attacks far from its bases of operations


Take-Over of Texas? Gohmert Freaks Out

• U.S. Special Operations Command is preparing to launch a five-month, seven-state exercise called “Jade Helm 15” across private and public land to prepare Army special forces for threats anywhere in the world. At least, that’s the Pentagon’s story. Some folks in Texas think it’s a plot to impose martial law. And now Rep Louis Gohmert (R-TX) is getting in on the act (NJ, Politico, TPM, me)

• “Over the past few weeks, my office has been inundated with calls referring to the Jade Helm 15 military exercise scheduled to take place between July 15 and September 15, 2015,” Gohmert said in a Tues statement. “This military practice has some concerned that the U.S. Army is preparing for modern-day martial law. Certainly, I can understand those concerns.”

• Gohmert didn’t like the Pentagon map: “Once I observed the map depicting ‘hostile,’ ‘permissive,’ and ‘uncertain’ states and locations, I was rather appalled that the hostile areas amazingly have a Republican majority, ‘cling to their guns and religion,’ and believe in the sanctity of the United States Constitution.” Gohmert called for the map to be changed


• Army spox Col Steve Warren said Monday, “Operation Jade Helm is being conducted by Americans – by, specifically American special forces personnel.” “Jade Helm is a long planned and coordinated exercise. We are not taking over anything.” But folks have even had concerns that tunnels will be built under closed-down Walmarts to house invading Chinese troops (what else?)

• In late April, Texas Gov Greg Abbott (R) sent an open letter to the Texas State Guard asking it to keep a tight watch on the exercise so that “Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed.” Monday, Abbott defended the letter, saying it’s the govt’s role to “provide information to people who have questions.”

• Not all Texans are freaking out. Rep Mac Thornberry (R-TX), chair of the House Armed Service Committee, said: “These are incredibly capable, patriotic Americans and the notion that they’re going to be some sort of private army for the president to take away all our guns is just silly.” (so he’s in on it, too…)

• Vid: Extraordinary – extremely friendly owl in the Dutch town of Nooreinde has been surprising locals by swooping down to perch on their heads since March. The strange behavior was caught on video last week. Note how he gives the lucky human a head massage with his feet before taking off

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Justin Duckham, William McDonald, James Cullum and Nicholas Salazar contributed to this report

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