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

  • Conservatives rage: Immigration in defense bill
  • Trade: Obama summons Dems to WH
  • State official: Private email server “not acceptable”
  • Pols snipe over Guantanamo detainees
  • Britain votes today: “Well-hung” (Sun)
  • Squeaker: Netanyahu forms govt before deadline
  • Baltimore: Call for federal investigation
  • Pentagon credit cards used for escorts
  • Brady “probably” knew of deflated footballs
  • NE woman sues all gays on earth
Conservatives Rage: Immigration in Defense Bill

• Two dozen House conservatives are threatening to oppose a sweeping defense policy bill over a nonbinding provision aimed at allowing immigrants brought illegally to this country as children to serve in the military. They said the amendment by Rep Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) “contradicts the House’s previous position and is a severe threat to passage.” (AP, Politico, me)

• In a letter to the chair of the powerful House Rules Committee, the lawmakers, led by Rep Mo Brooks (R-AL), argued that the House had already voted three times to declare the Obama admin acted unconstitutionally when it granted deportation relief to immigrants brought here illegally as children

• Gallego’s amendment was included in the defense bill during committee consideration last week, winning support from six committee Republicans. It expresses the sense of the House that the Pentagon should review the law on who can serve in the military, in order to determine whether it should include DREAMers

• The bill is expected to be taken up by the full House next week. A spox for Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) declined comment. But the annual defense policy bill typically passes with broad bipartisan support, so that opposition from Brooks and his allies wouldn’t likely be sufficient to prevent its passage

• In the Senate, Armed Services chair John McCain (R-AZ) rejected the idea of including a similar provision in his version of the bill, which is expected to be approved by his committee later this month. He suggested a debate and to have it “stand alone” rather than having it in the bill “which could kill the bill.”


• The Army has already allowed 46 DREAMers to enlist, according to retired Army Lt Col Margaret Stock. There are thousands more waiting to enlist, she said. Stock helped create a program that allows highly-skilled legal immigrants to enlist in the military as a fast-track to citizenship (Hill)


Trade: Obama Summons Dems to WH

• President Obama hosted a group of Senate Democrats at the WH on Wednesday, hoping to shore up support for his free-trade efforts before a critical vote next week The lawmakers in attendance included Democrats who are undecided on or support a bill to empower the president to expedite free-trade deals, Democratic aides said (Politico, me)

• The meeting came just days before Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is expected to bring Trade Promotion Authority to the Senate floor. Its immediate fate is uncertain after Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he would move to block it until Republicans take up two other pressing matters: govt surveillance and highway funding

• The conflict between Democratic leaders and the WH has put Senate Republicans in the unusual position of pleading with Obama to lobby Democrats to support opening debate on the trade bill. “Boy, they are going to need it on overdrive if we’re going to get this done,” said Sen John Thune (R-SD) of admin officials

• Reid has insisted he won’t block the bills permanently – probably couldn’t even if he wanted to, because seven Democrats are on record in favor of fast-track. But in the view of some Republicans, the longer the trade bill waits, the more likely it is that Democratic support will wobble – especially with Sens Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) railing against it

• Many Democrats are also demanding that McConnell lay out a defined path for the bill before they commit to expending further political capital. Several want assurances that he roll into the TPA bill several related provisions to help find employment for workers affected by trade, customs and enforcement for new trade deals and legislation to facilitate trade with Africa

• U.S. investigators believe it was likely that ISIS played an “inspirational” rather than an “operational” role in the attack on a Texas event that offered a prize for cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. They said no hard evidence had emerged that Elton Simpson or Nadir Soofi attacked the contest under direct orders or encouragement from ISIS leaders (Reuters, me)
State Official: Private Email Server “Not Acceptable”

• A high-ranking State Dept official said Wed it’s “not acceptable” for any agency employee to conduct govt business on a private email server as former SecState Hillary Clinton did. The official said she hadn’t been aware of Clinton’s decision to conduct her business on a private server but that the agency has now made it clear to employees that it’s not acceptable (AP, Hill, TRNS, TRNS, me)

• Joyce Barr, the agency’s chief freedom of information officer, made the comment under questioning from Republican senators who used a Senate Judiciary hearing on open records laws to attack Clinton over her email practices. Sen John Cornyn (R-TX) said Clinton’s approach amounted to a “premeditated and deliberate” attempt to avoid open records requirements

• Clinton has defended using a personal email account while serving as SecState as a matter of personal convenience. She says she has turned over to State all work-related emails – more than 30,000 of them – though House Republicans investigating Benghazi are demanding more. Clinton is running for president

• Barr acknowledged problems with State’s overall performance responding to open records requests, calling an existing backlog of 18,000 requests “unacceptable.” Like other govt agencies, State is bound by laws including Freedom of Information Act that generally require them to maintain records and make them available to the public when asked, with some exceptions

• Karen Kaiser, general counsel at AP, testified that “non-responsiveness is the norm, and the reflex at most agencies is to withhold information, not to release it.” Lawmakers are weighing legislation to improve FOIA, but Kaiser said agencies should also be made to comply with the laws already enacted

• Severe storms roared through the Midwest, unleashing tornadoes, rain and golfball-sized hail, and shutting down the main airport in Oklahoma City Wednesday. At least 13 people were injured when a tornado hit a mobile home park in Oklahoma City (CNN)

Pols Spar Over Guantanamo Detainees

• Sens Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) wrote to President Obama Tuesday to urge him to transfer more detainees from Guantanamo, warning that “time is of the essence” with only 20 more months left in his presidency.” (Hill, WSJ, WaPo, me)

• And in remarks to a legal group Monday, retired Justice John Paul Stevens said that the prison never should have been opened, and he said that some detainees who were abused by U.S. forces or held for years after they were cleared for transfer should be entitled to reparations

• WaPo reported in April that Pentagon officials plan to release up to 10 prisoners, possibly in June, and all those approved for transfer by the end of 2015. The Dem senators pointed out that the rate of confirmed and suspected cases of recidivism has lowered “over the record of the prior admin” since the Obama admin entered office

• Senate Judiciary Committee chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said, “In some cases their own countries won’t take them back. Almost one in five of the detainees we’ve released has returned to the battlefield, and another one in 10 are suspected of doing so.” The number of former detainees who have attacked U.S. interests is a matter of dispute

• The Dem senators argued that the prison continued to be a “propaganda tool for terrorists and harms our national security.” They also argued that the costs of keeping the facility open for just 122 detainees was too high. They estimated costs as much as $3.3 million per year per detainee, compared with $79,000 to house a detainee at a federal Supermax prison in the U.S.

• Sen David Vitter (R-LA) Wednesday slammed the floor debate on Iran legislation for blocking him and other Republicans from getting votes on amendments. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has promised free rein under a GOP majority – but governing is proving trickier than he thought (Hill, me)


Britain Votes Today: “Well-Hung” (Sun)

• Counting the votes in Britain’s election today will take a matter of hours. Assembling a govt could take weeks. By Friday, the country will know how many seats each party has won in the 650-seat House of Commons. Almost no one thinks either the Conservatives or Labour will win more than half: Polls predict a “hung Parliament” – no majority (AP, TRNS, me)

• In Britain’s parliamentary system, the test of a govt is whether it can command the support of the House of Commons. In theory, that takes 326 seats, but in practice it’s about 323: the Speaker doesn’t vote, and Irish nationalists Sinn Fein, who had five seats before the election, don’t participate. So – coalitions look likely

• There’s no rule saying the party with the most seats gets the first shot at talking to other parties about forming a govt, but there will be unofficial pressure for that to happen. The Queen formally appoints the PM, but her role is symbolic. Once the picture’s clear, current PM David Cameron will go to Buckingham Palace – either to say he can form a govt or to resign

• Parliament is due to reconvene on 18 May, when lawmakers will take their oaths and one will be elected Speaker. That could all happen without a govt being in place. A firmer deadline is 27 May, the date set of the Queen’s Speech. That’s an annual address, delivered by the monarch, written by ministers, outlining the govt’s legislative program

• It’s followed by a debate and a vote – it would be hard for a govt to survive losing that vote. Win or lose, Friday morning Cameron will remain PM. He and the current govt will remain in place until a new one is assembled. Ministers are expected to defer major decisions. Financial markets hate instability, so some fear the pound could take a pummeling if the talks drag on


• Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings co-pilot suspected of deliberately crashing a jet in the French Alps, on the morning of the disaster five times set the autopilot to take the Airbus down to just 100 feet while the captain was out of the cockpit, and had twice been refused medical papers needed to fly, investigators said Wednesday (Reuters, me)


Squeaker: Netanyahu Forms Govt Before Deadline

• PM Benjamin Netanyahu clinched a deal to form a new govt on Wednesday two hours before a deadline expired and after hours of haggling, but his coalition will rule by the slimmest of majorities in Israel’s turbulent parliament. The Likud-led govt will control 61 of parliament’s 120 seats (Reuters, AP, me)

• Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud sealed an agreement with ultranationalist Jewish Home, which advocates annexation of parts of occupied territory Palestinians seek for a state. Netanyahu had struggled to put together a coalition for nearly two months after winning an easy election victory, after a former ally abandoned him this week

• Such a narrow majority will make Netanyahu vulnerable to policy demands from even his most junior partners. Netanyahu said he would seek to enlarge the coalition. Jewish Home seems certain to push for the expansion of Jewish settlement in occupied territory. Naftali Bennett, the leader, has called for annexation of parts of the West Bank

• In return for Jewish Home’s support, Netanyahu bowed to its demand for the justice minister portfolio, a post critical to the smooth passage of cabinet-approved legislation to parliament for ratification. Under a compromise, some of the minister’s authority may be curbed

• Monday, FM Avigdor Lieberman, whose once-strong relationship with Netanyahu turned sour long ago, took his far-right Yisrael Beitenu party out of the coalition talks. Had Netanyahu not met Wednesday’s deadline, President Rivlin would have been obligated by law to appoint another legislator to try to form a govt

• The City of Chicago will pay $5.5 million in reparations to victims of torture and abuse by a group of police officers known as the “Midnight Crew” and overseen by a notorious police commander, Jon Burge. Some men in  the ’70s and ’80s were suffocated with plastic bags, beaten with phone books, shocked with cattle prods – to extract confessions to crimes (NYT, me)


Baltimore: Call for Federal Investigation

• Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on Wednesday called on federal investigators to look into whether Baltimore’s beleaguered police dept uses a pattern of excessive force or discriminatory policing. A DoJ spox said AG Loretta Lynch is “actively considering” an investigation into the dept (AP, Raw Story, Blue Virginia, TPM, TRNS, me)

• Baltimore police chief Anthony Batts admitted Wednesday a lot of the tension between the public and the police comes from a distrust in “law enforcement as a whole,” not just in his city. “We are part of the problem,” he told CNN. “The community needs to hear from us that we haven’t been part of the solution and now we have to evolve. Now we have to change.”

• Baltimore saw days of unrest after Freddie Gray, a black man, was taken into custody and suffered critical injuries. He died a week later. Protests followed, leading to a state of emergency. Gov Larry Hogan (R) rescinded the state of emergency Wednesday. He said $20 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund will help pay for last week’s response

• At her presser, the mayor also said officers would have body cameras by the end of the year. The DoJ is already investigating whether Gray’s civil rights were violated, and six officers face charges in the arrest and death, ranging from assault to second-degree murder. Two WH cabinet members visited Baltimore Wed and pledged $5 million for neglected communities

• VA state Del Hyland “Buddy” Fowler Jr (R) joked on Facebook, according to Raw Story Tuesday: “I wonder if a few of these would help bring calm to Baltimore.” The comment appeared above a pic of a snarling, teeth-bared police dog with the caption: “Go ahead and run. He likes fast food.” The post didn’t appear on Fowler’s Facebook page on Wednesday (wonder why…)


• ISIS militants have breached the perimeter of Iraq’s largest oil refinery in the northern city of Bayji. Pentagon spox Col Steve Warren told reporters Wed the outcome of the battle is impossible to predict. “These fights ebb and flow, and right now it’s flowing in the wrong direction. It could still turn around.” (TRNS)


Pentagon Credit Cards Used for Escorts

• A DoD audit by its office of the IG has found that a number of Pentagon employees used their govt credit cards to gamble and pay for “adult entertainment” – findings that are expected to lead dept officials to issue stern new warnings. The audit found that both civilian and military employees used the cards at casinos and for escort services in Las Vegas and Atlantic City

• A Pentagon official briefed on some of the findings stressed that the federal govt didn’t necessarily pay the charges; holders of the cards pay their own bills and then submit receipts to be reimbursed for govt expenses. The official said the employees may have used the govt cards in order to shield the charges from spouses (I’ll bet)

• The abuses come despite a 2012 law proposed by Sen Chuck Grassley (R-IA) called the Govt Charge Card Abuse Prevention Act. The law required federal agencies to beef up oversight of purchases on govt-issued credit cards

• Some estimates suggest the prohibited purchases cost the govt hundreds of millions of dollars a year. A 2008 GAO report cited instances “where cardholders used purchase cards to subscribe to internet dating services, buy video iPods for personal use and pay for lavish dinners that included top-shelf liquor.”

• The Dept of Labor’s IG recently found that Job Corps employees charged nearly $100,000 to the govt for hair cuts, clothing and personal cell phone service. Homeland Security found that Coast Guard employees charged more than $12,000 at one California coffee shop alone (Politico, me)


• Sen Bernie Sanders (I-VT), 2016 Dem candidate for president, on Wednesday unveiled legislation with Rep Brad Sherman (D-CA) which would require regulators to establish a list of banks that are “too big to fail” – and then call on the Treasury secretary to break up those financial institutions within a year (NYT, HuffPo)


Brady “Probably” Knew of Deflated Footballs

• The results of a nearly four-month investigation stated that “it is more probable than not” that New England Patriots personnel intentionally deflated footballs to gain an advantage against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game in Jan, and that Tom Brady, the Super Bowl’s most valuable player, was probably aware of it (NYT, Boston Globe, me)

• No penalties have been announced by the NFL. The report, released Wednesday, said that Jim McNally, a locker room attendant, and John Jastremski, an equipment assistant, were involved in releasing air from the footballs. It said that besides them and Brady, no other Patriots personnel, including Coach Bill Belicheck, were aware of any wrongdoing

• The report separately determined that the Patriots hadn’t deliberately tried to introduce an improper football for kicking and cleared kicker Stephen Gostkowski of any wrongdoing. Investigators looked at a wide range of evidence. Brady “declined to make available any documents or electronic information,” according to the report

• Report: “We note that there is less direct evidence linking Brady to tampering activities than either McNally or Jastremski. We nevertheless believe, based on the totality of the evidence, that it is more probable than not that Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski.” They both received gifts from Brady in the months before the game

• “To say we are disappointed in the findings, which do not include any incontrovertible or hard evidence … would be a gross understatement,” team owner Robert Kraft said in a statement. The investigation was conducted by one of the country’s top defense lawyers and a former player, Ted Wells, and the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison


• Doc: Investigative report on AFC championship game footballs (NYT)

“Ambassador” for God Sues All Gays on Earth

• A Nebraska woman identifying herself as the “ambassador” for plaintiffs “God and His Son, Jesus Christ,” is suing all homosexuals on Earth for breaking “religious and moral laws,” according to court records. Sylvia Ann Driskell, 66, asks in a neatly handwritten petition that U.S. District Judge John Gerrard decide once and for all whether homosexuality is or isn’t a sin

• The suit doesn’t cite any case law under which a judge could make such a determination. In fact, it cites no court cases at all, quoting Webster’s Dictionary and numerous Bible verses, instead, to bolster her central contention, which is:

• “That homosexuality is a sin and that they the homosexuals know it is a sin to live a life of homosexuality. Why else would they have been hiding in the closet?” Driskell writes: “I’m 66 years old an

[sic] I never thought I would see the day in which our Great Nation or Our Great State of Nebraska would become so compliant to the complicity of some peoples [sic] lewd behavior.”

• The suit was noticed by several gay activists and writers, including Dan Savage, the advice columnist, who said, “Man, I hope I get deposed!” and Steven Payne, a self-described “gay feller,” who wrote in The Daily Kos:

• “Brian (his husband) and I will be liquidating our assets in preparation for a certain loss. We anticipate the restitution ordered to this woman will take us down to our very last penny. In the meantime, our fear is so great we have ceased and desisted being homosexual.” Driskell, representing herself, didn’t answer a call for comment (NBC News, TPM, me)

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Luke Vargas, James Cullum, Loretta Lewis and Washington Desk contributed to this report

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