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.

A Pakistan military helicopter has crashed. At least six dead, including Norwegian and Philippine ambassadors (BBC, AP)


In the News

  • Court: NSA phone data program illegal
  • NSA ruling: Senate leaders spar
  • FBI chief warns: ISIS threat in U.S.
  • UK election: “The Cam-Back Kid”
  • April jobs report: What to watch
  • Senate OKs Iran review bill – phew
  • Baltimore: DoJ civil rights probe
  • Taxpayer money: “America’s Most Wasted”
  • Training moderate Syrian rebels finally begins
  • Great British political insults
Court: NSA Phone Data Program Illegal

• A federal appeals court in New York Thursday ruled that the once-secret NSA program that’s systematically collecting Americans’ phone records in bulk is illegal. The decision comes as a fight in Congress is intensifying over whether to end and replace the program, or to extend it without changes (NYT, me)

• In a 97-page ruling, a three-judge panel for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that a provision of the Patriot Act known as Section 215 cannot be legitimately interpreted to allow the systematic bulk collection of domestic calling records. The provision expires in June unless lawmakers pass a bill to extend it

• Thursday’s ruling didn’t come with any injunction ordering the program to cease. It’s the first time a higher level court in the regular judicial system has reviewed the program. The data collection had repeatedly been approved in secret by judges serving on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court – FISA. Those judges hear arguments only from the govt

• The court, in a unanimous ruling, held that Section 215 “cannot bear the weight the govt asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program.” It declared the program illegal. “We do so comfortably in the full understanding that if Congress chooses to authorize such a far-reaching and unprecedented program, it has every opportunity to do so, and to do so unambiguously.”

• The House looks ready to pass a bill next week that would end the govt’s bulk collection of phone records and replace it with a new program that would preserve the ability to analyze links between callers to hunt for terrorists, but keep the bulk records in the hands of phone companies


• Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has urged a “clean extension” of Section 215 so the program can continue in its present form. Alexander Abdo, who argued the case for the ACLU, said: “This decision is a victory for the rule of law that should spur Congress into action.”

• The appeals court sent the matter back to a Federal District Court judge to decide what to do next. The govt could also appeal to the full appeals court or to the Supreme Court. Parallel cases are pending before two other appeals courts (govt very likely to appeal)

• The bulk phone records program traces back to October 2001. After 9/11, President George W. Bush secretly authorized the NSA to begin a group of surveillance data collection programs, without obeying statutory limits, for the purpose of detecting and disrupting terrorist attacks

• Over time, the legal basis for each component of that program evolved. The program came to light in June 2013 as part of the leaks by intelligence contractor Edward Snowden

• It’s not clear what other bulk data collection programs the govt may have. However, it’s known that the govt had a program between 2004 and 2011 that collected Americans’ email in bulk. And the govt has admitted that the DEA collected bulk calling records between the U.S. and countries involved in drug trafficking from the early 1990s until 2013


• Hillary Clinton has (finally) taken a firm position on NSA surveillance reform. Previously, she’s dodged and equivocated. Thursday, she tweeted: “Congress should move ahead now with the USA Freedom Act – a good step forward in ongoing efforts to protect our security & civil liberties. -H” (Hill, me)


NSA Ruling: Senate Leaders Spar

• After a court ruling against the NSA’s phone data collection program Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on the floor of the chamber: “According to the CIA, had these authorities been in place more than a decade ago, they would have likely prevented 9/11.” (no hard evidence for that)

• But Minority Leader Sen Harry Reid (D-NV) called for an immediate vote on the USA Freedom Act, a surveillance reform bill advancing in the House that would end the metadata program. “It would be the height of irresponsibility to extend these illegal spying powers when we could pass bipartisan reform into law instead.” (Politico, AP, Hill, me)

• And Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said, “There have been discussions but no decisions. We know time is running out.” He pointed to the possibility of a short-term reauthorization of the Patriot Act. Reid’s office threw cold water, saying he “will use the tools at my disposal to stop any attempt to extend these powers for any length of time without reforming them.”

• Privacy supporters applauded the court decision. “Bulk collection of data is not authorized under the law and is not accepted by the American people,” said Reps Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), John Conyers (D-MI), Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who are all sponsors of the USA Freedom Act in the House. Sensenbrenner wrote the Patriot Act – regrets it

• WH spox Josh Earnest on Thursday said that Congress should pass the USA Freedom Act. He wrote on Twitter: “POTUS believes we must be vigilant on terror threat; also said surveillance needed reform & he meant it.” (when NSA and president are supporting the reform, have to question if it’s foxes and chicken houses…)

• President Obama travels to Watertown, SD, today to deliver the commencement address at the Lake Area Technical Institute. With that visit he joins a rare club of presidents who have made it to every state while in office: Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Whew, it was on Obama’s bucket list


FBI Chief Warns: ISIS Threat in U.S.

• FBI director James Comey said Thursday that ISIS is leveraging social media in unprecedented ways through Twitter and other platforms, directing messages to the smartphones of “hundreds, maybe thousands” of “disturbed people” across the country. “It’s like the devil sitting on their shoulders, saying “kill, kill, kill,” Comey said to reporters (USA Today, AP, me)

• Comey said that hours before the attempted Garland TX attack, FBI agents sent a bulletin to local authorities that Elton Simpson may have been interested in traveling there from Phoenix to attend the controversial Prophet Muhammad cartoon conference. At the time, Comey said, agents didn’t have specific info that Simpson had targeted the meeting

• Simpson and associate Nadir Soofi were fatally shot by a police officer Sunday night after the pair launched a bungled attack on the conference. Simpson had been known to authorities since 2006 when he surfaced in a separate terror investigation. He was subsequently convicted in 2011 and sentenced to three years probation. A new probe was opened in March

• Comey declined to elaborate on why agents alerted garland authorities to Simpson’s possible interest in the local event. (a bit off – they had to know something) The director said the Texas case is emblematic of a larger concern facing counterterrorism authorities related to ISIS’s aggressive pursuit of U.S.-based and other converts

• “This is the ‘going dark’ problem in living color,” Comey said. “There are Elton Simpsons out there that I have not found and I cannot see.” Comey said agents are working hundreds of investigations around the country involving suspected homegrown extremists. He said inquiries are open in all 56 of the FBI’s field divisions

• The Secret Service is adding a second layer of steel spikes to the top of the WH fence to keep would-be intruders at bay. The 1/2 inch long steel “pencil point” spikes will be snapped into place at the top of the fence and protrude outward. They’ll be added to the fence along the north and south sides of the WH grounds (AP, TRNS)


UK Election: “The Cam-Back Kid”

• David Cameron says he hopes to govern for all of the UK as a BBC forecast gives the Tories (Conservatives) 328 seats – at time of writing – enough to form a slender majority in the Commons. Labour has been all but wiped out by the Scottish National Party in Scotland, while shadow chancellor Ed Balls (shadow treasury) also lost his seat (BBC, Guardian, me)

• The Liberal Democrats are heading for as few as eight MPS, beyond their worst nightmare and taking the party back to the Liberals’ dismal status in the 1970s. Nick Clegg, the leader who in 2010 took the party into coalition with the Tories, said it had been a “cruel and punishing night,” and will make “further remarks” at Westminster later today (he’s 99% gone)

• The BBC forecast, with well over half the results now in, is Conservative 329, Labour 234, Lib Dems 8, SNP 56, Plaid Cymru 3, UKIP 1, Greens 1 and others 19. There are 650 seats in the House of Commons. Lib Dem election chief Lord Ashdown told the BBC at the start of the night, “If this exit poll is right, I will publicly eat my hat.” (get munching)

• Celebrate the UK election – great British political insults are below

• Labour leader Ed Miliband said it has been a “very disappointing and difficult night” for Labour. Word is that Miliband will resign as party leader today. It’s been argued that a weakened party shouldn’t immediately form a circular firing squad, something that in 2010 gave room for the Tories to shape the political debate

• Cameron said, “Above all, I want to bring our country together, our United Kingdom, implementing as fast as we can devolution for Wales and Scotland. I want my party and a govt I would like to lead to reclaim the mantle of one nation, one UK. That is how I will govern if I am fortunate to form a govt.” Cameron is to have an audience with the Queen later today

• UKIP’s brash leader Nigel Farage, whose ultra-nationalist party opposes most immigration, may lose his seat, and has promised that he would resign. In a seismic result that brings Scottish independence closer, the SNP seized 56 out of 59 seats in Scotland, hammering Labour. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon promised “better public services and more progressive politics.”


• A two-minute silence will be held at London’s Cenotaph today to mark the moment on 8 May 1945 Winston Churchill announced that the war with Germany was over. The Queen remembers VE Day – rare audio. In Washington DC today, 56 WWII bombers will roar over the monuments starting at 12.10 pm, according to organizers (WaPo, BBC)


April Jobs Report: What to Watch

• Economists expect a solid payroll gain of about 230,000 and an unemployment rate of 5.4%, down from March’s 5.5%. Troubling Trend: The labor market cooled in the first quarter. Severe weather, West Coast port strikes and a strong dollar weighed in on growth and hiring. A return of strong job creation in April would suggest the economy’s poised for a spring rebound

Weak Wages: A report last week on employment costs offered a tentative sign Americans’ wages are finally picking up after years of meager growth. Was it just another head-fake? Look for further clues in the average hourly wage of nonmanagement workers

Part-Time Plight: Although unemployment has come down sharply, millions of Americans with jobs aren’t getting the hours they need or want. The number of part-timers remains historically high, at 6.7 million in March. The figure’s been coming down, but it picked up in March. An elevated figure suggests continued weakness and is one factor behind stagnant wages

Pulling for Participation: The labor force remains shrunken historically – and it’s not all retired baby boomers. Even among 25-54 it stood at 80.9% in March. The Fed holds out hope many Americans who fell out of the labor market in recent years will return as job creation picks up

Industry Intrigue: The type of industries hiring gives clues on the economy’s underlying health and direction. Construction has slowly picked up, but industry employment is still nearly 18% below its prerecession peak. A rebound among factories could signal a broader rebound for the economy (WSJ, Blooomberg, Market Watch, me)

• The Senate will begin debate next week on legislation granting President Obama fast-track negotiating authority key to completing the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Thursday. He’s set a procedural vote for Tuesday (Reuters, me)


Senate OKs Iran Review Bill

• The Senate passed by 98-1 on Thursday legislation that would allow Congress to review and potentially reject a nuclear deal with Iran as senators looked to put an end to a messy floor fight. The bill now goes to the House, where Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) supports its passage (Politico, Hill, Fox News, Roll Call, TRNS, me)

• The underlying measure would allow Congress to reject the lifting of legislative sanctions on Iran and force the admin to regularly certify Iran is following the terms of any nuclear deal. Sen Tom Cotton (R-AR), an ardent opponent of talks with Iran, who spearheaded a letter to Iranian leaders seen as an attempt to derail nuclear talks, was the only senator to vote no

• Conservative Sen David Vitter (R-LA) dropped his threat Thursday to drag out consideration of the Iran measure. The latest scuffle came late Wed, when Vitter tried to modify his amendment, only to be rebuffed by Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Ben Cardin (D-MD)

• Vitter blasted Cardin and Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Corker (R-TN) for not opening up the amendment process on the bill. Only Republicans filed amendments, many of which would have blown up the veto-proof legislation

• Subsequently, Cotton and Sen Marco Rubio (R-FL) tried to force votes on requiring a stricter crackdown on Iran’s nuclear program and forcing Tehran to recognize Israel. The maneuver ended negotiations between Corker and Democrats for further amendment votes and began the bill’s limp toward passage

• The blocking of further amendments caused some of the bill’s supporters to cry foul about the process and the substance of the bill. Though Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) co-sponsored the Iran bill in April, Cruz is now publicly ripping the bill. “As the legislation stands, this legislation is unlikely to stop a bad Iran deal,” he said in a lengthy speech


• Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is telling donors that 1 June is the likely date for his presidential announcement, according to several donors familiar with the conversation. The announcement would likely take place near his home base of Seneca SC, so he could highlight his hardscrabble story of growing up in the back of a pool hall run by his parents, who died young (Politico, me)


Baltimore: DoJ Civil Rights Probe

• The Justice Dept is preparing to announce a civil rights investigation into the practices of the Baltimore police dept following a request from that city’s mayor, a person familiar with the matter said Thursday. The investigation could be announced as early as today (AP, CNN, Reuters, me)

• The unrest in Baltimore, and the tension it exposed between the police and the community, has presented AG Loretta Lynch with the first test of her young tenure. She was sworn in last week as successor to Eric Holder, whose final year as AG was consumed by matters of race and police practices

• Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake initially appeared determined to fix the dept’s problems herself, but later said she would accept outside help to repair a breakdown in public trust in a city rocked by riots sparked by the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who was fatally injured in police custody. Six officers were charged last week

• The DoJ is investigating the death for possible civil rights violations. Baltimore suffered days of unrest after Gray died 19 April following a week in a coma after his arrest. The civil rights investigation, similar to ones undertaken in Ferguson and Cleveland, will examine the policing patterns and practices of the entire police dept


Taxpayer Money: “America’s Most Wasted”

• The federal govt is spending at least $294 billion of taxpayer money this year on hundreds of expired programs, according to a report released Thursday. The $294 stems from a report the nonpartisan CBO released in January. Last year, the govt spent $302 billion on unauthorized projects (Hill, Fox News, me)

• The 19-page “America’s Most Wasted” report is the first in a series of oversight studies from Sen John McCain (R-AZ). “I believe the “America’s Most Wanted” reports should serve as a wake-up call to Congress and the American people to keep their govt accountable by demanding an end to wasteful govt spending,” McCain said in a statement

• McCain specifically pounced on the budget at the Pentagon, including a $2.4 billion cost overrun on the Navy’s new aircraft carrier. “We have to get rid of the duplicative waste in the Pentagon so that I will have credibility when I say, we’ve got to get rid of sequestration because it is destroying our ability to defend the nation,” he said Thursday on Fox News

• McCain’s report found that the Army is spending $50,000 to research whether elephants in South Africa can detect bombs (sounds mean to the elephants). The govt is also spending $14 million on a program at the Ag Dept to develop a catfish inspection program even though the FDA already has one (this is a perennial)

• The NIH, the report said, awarded a grant worth nearly $391,000 to a university to develop a website to teach children about dog bites (stay away from dogs). Another $15,000 grant issued by the EPA was given to a university to study pollution that emanates from backyard barbecues, the report said (how many racks of ribs did they have to eat…)


• Asked during a presser on Thursday about the Jade Helm 15 military exercise involving about 1,200 Army special ops soldiers, and whether the Pentagon was planning to overtake Texas, SecDef Ash Carter simply said “no” as the packed room laughed (AP)


Training of Moderate Syrian Rebels Finally Begins

• After 11 months of delays and vetting, the training of moderate Syrian rebels has started in Jordan as part of a broader effort to build a force capable of fighting ISIS extremists, U.S. and Jordanian officials said Thursday (AP, FP, TRNS, me)

• SecDef Ash Carter acknowledged Thursday that the admin has yet to decide exactly how and when the U.S. would support or go to the rescue of Syrian rebel troops if they are attacked by forces under the control of President Bashar Assad. Carter said the U.S. is training the rebels to fight ISIS, and will support the rebels in that effort with surveillance or airstrikes

• Carter said the initial segment of the training program will involve about 90 Syrian rebel fighters. (90 – that’s it?) Fighting has intensified in several parts of Syria in recent weeks, as rebel advances have pushed out govt forces from contested areas in the country’s south and north. Govt troops have been pushing back

• Asked about possible danger to U.S. and coalition trainers, Carter told Pentagon reporters that: “First of all, these are highly vetted individuals. … Second, the training takes place in a secure location. And third, of course, our people who are participating in the training are very experienced in this kind of training, including in security procedures.”

• FP reports that U.S. officials have cleared more than 400 Syrians this year and a course was supposed to start two months ago in Turkey. But members of the first group were unable to leave their village after it was attacked. The Pentagon was caught off-guard. “It’s concerning because it’s the sort of thing that could happen again,” said a senior U.S. military official (very…)

Great British Political Insults
• “He would make a drum out of the skin of his own mother in order to sound his own praises,” – Winston Churchill about Liberal politician David Lloyd George. “An empty taxi arrived at 10 Downing Street, and when the door was opened, Attlee got out.” – Churchill on Labour PM Clement Attlee (Telegraph)

• “He’s living proof that a pig’s bladder on the end of a stick can be elected to Parliament,” – late Labour MP Tony Banks responding to a speech by Conservative MP Terry Dicks opposing govt funding for the arts

• “It is not necessary that every time he rises he should give his famous imitation of a semi-trained polecat,” – Michael Foot, a future Labour leader, giving his verdict on Conservative MP Norman Tebbit in 1987

• “Being attacked by Geoffrey Howe was like being savaged by a dead sheep,” – Labour chancellor of the exchequer Denis Healy on shadow chancellor Geoffrey Howe’s rhetorical onslaught, in 1978

• Pompous, trite, high-sounding, cautiously guarded … he might as well have a corn cob up his arse,” – Conservative MP Alan Clark on Home Secretary Douglas Hurd. Clark on John Gummer: “A poxy little runt”


• Rocking into the weekend with “Spies” by Coldplay – live at Glastonbury, 4 May 2007 – fab performance. In honour of the NSA, DNI and GCHQ. (BTW, the Who are headlining Glastonbury this year – sneak in, spies!)

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ James Cullum and Washington Desk contributed to this report

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