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

  • U.S. surveillance sharply cut back
  • McConnell messed up
  • Hill: Relatives plead for Americans held in Iran
  • FIFA: Blatter quits – U.S. closing in?
  • House GOP: Cut State’s cash over docs
  • House Amtrak crash hearing: Drama
  • Obama hammers Dems over trade
  • FBI’s mysterious surveillance flights
  • Jindal: 2016 plans on 24 June
  • Hastert questions consume Capitol
  • Obamacare: 10.2m signed up this year

U.S. Surveillance Sharply Cut Back (NYT, Politico, TRNS, me)

• The Senate voted 67-32 Tuesday to curtail the federal govt’s sweeping surveillance of American phone records – and dealt Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) a staggering defeat in the process. President Obama signed the measure hours later

• The passage of the USA Freedom Act, S1132, will allow the govt to restart surveillance operations, but with new restrictions. The storage of the phone records now shifts to the phone companies, and the govt must petition a special federal court for permission to search them (get a warrant)

• “After a needless delay and inexcusable lapse in important national security authorities, my administration will work expeditiously to ensure our national security professionals will work expeditiously to ensure our national security professionals again have the full set of vital tools they need to continue protecting the country,” Obama said after the vote

• The fight for the changes was led largely by Democrats and a new generation of Republicans in the House and Senate who were elected a decade after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Even as threats have multiplied, privacy concerns, stoked by reports of widespread computer security breaches at private companies, have shifted public opinion

• Under the USA Freedom Act, after six months, the phone companies, not the NSA, will hold the bulk phone records. A new kind of court order will permit the govt to swiftly analyze them

McConnell Messed Up

• The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, for the first time, will be required to declassify some of its most significant decisions, and outside voices will be allowed to argue for privacy rights before the court in certain cases

• McConnell made a series of miscalculations, stretching back to last year, when he filibustered a similar measure. Last month, after Republicans blocked consideration of the Freedom Act, McConnell sent the Senate on a weeklong recess, pushing Washington up against a 1 June deadline, when surveillance authority would lapse

• Sen Rand Paul (R-KY), promised supporters of his presidential campaign that he would single-handedly ensure authority lapsed – he delivered. McConnell then tried to amend the Freedom Act, but senators said that would only extend the surveillance blackout. McConnell dragged senators back for an unusual Sunday session, only to end up with the very bill he tried to kill

• “If you amend the bill, you kill the bill. It’s simple as that. So if the bill gets amended, the bill dies,” said Sen Dean Heller (R-NV), a supporter of the Freedom Act. “If the hawks amend the bill, they kill the bill. I don’t think that’s where they want to be.”

• Surveillance reform may not be over. Sens Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) and Mike Lee (R-UT) are collaborating on legislation to undo a provision in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 that allows the govt to read the contents of email over six months old

• The CIA used a wider array of sexual abuse and other forms of torture than was disclosed in a Senate report last year, according to Majid Khan, a Guantanamo Bay detainee turned govt cooperating witness – read the Reuters article for details, which include pouring ice water on Khan’s genitals (Reuters)

Hill: Relatives Plead for Americans Held in Iran (Politico, me)

• Relatives of four Americans imprisoned or missing in Iran described their loved ones’ dismal conditions during a congressional hearing Tuesday, the latest in a push for their release as the Obama admin enters the final weeks of sensitive nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic. Will the U.S. lose any clout it has with Iran on this once the talks are over?

• Sarah Hekmati, sister of imprisoned former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, cried as she described how their father has advanced brain cancer but cannot see their son. Ali Rezaian, brother of imprisoned WaPo reporter Jason Rezaian, noted that his brother had lost over 40 lbs, insisting: “It’s time for the families here to all be reunited.”

• The committee passed a resolution calling on Iran to release or help find the men. (it likely won’t) The measure doesn’t mention the nuclear talks, due to end by 30 June. Rep Eliot Engel (D-NY) said it’s “ludicrous” to pretend “it’s business as usual” when “Americans are rotting in prison.”

• The fourth case, that of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, is a bit different. Iran insists it isn’t holding Levinson, who was reportedly working for the CIA as a contractor when he vanished more than eight years ago from the Iranian island of Kish, but the U.S. has urged Iranian officials to help locate him (anyone could have him – including Iran)

• U.S. officials say that though the nuclear talks are a separate issue, they routinely raise the cases of the detained Americans with Iranian negotiators on the sidelines of the talks. A State Dept official insisted that the U.S. “will continue to press for their release regardless of what happens with the nuclear talks over the next month.”

• Breaking: Interpol has put six men with ties to FIFA on its most wanted list, issuing an international alert – “red notices” – for two former FIFA officials and four execs on charges including racketeering and corruption. Former VP Jack Warner of Trinidad is among the men listed (AP)


FIFA: Blatter Quits – U.S. Closing In? (BBC, Telegraph, NYT, TRNS, me)

• FIFA president Sepp Blatter is being investigated by U.S. officials as part of the inquiry into corruption at the world soccer body, NYT reports. The news came hours after Blatter abruptly announced that he was stepping down from his role. Blatter had for days tried to distance himself from the controversy

• U.S. prosecutors launched a criminal inquiry last week, with seven FIFA officials arrested in Zurich, part of a group of 14 people indicted. U.S.officials said that in their efforts to win a case against Blatter, they were hoping to win the cooperation of some of the FIFA officials now under indictment and work their way up the organization (turn them, in order word)

• Blatter was reelected president of FIFA two days after the arrests. Tuesday, he said it appeared the mandate he’d been given “does not seem to be supported by everyone in the world.” Tuesday, Blatter called an extraordinary congress of FIFA “as soon as possible” to elect a new president – may not be until Dec-March (not soon enough)

• Further allegations of corruption emerged Tuesday with claims that FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke – Blatter’s right-hand man – was linked to a $10 million payment of bribes over South Africa’s bid to host the 2010 World Cup. Valcke and FIFA denied knowing specifics of the wire transfer, but according to a soccer official, Blatter and his lawyers felt the situation was getting untenable

• The soccer official said that, in additon, pressure on Blatter from soccer’s corporate partners, as well as from various FIFA members, increased considerably over the weekend. Blatter will remain at the helm of FIFA until a new president is elected…

• Tuesday, John Oliver popped open a disgusting bottle of Bud Light Lime, which he said Sunday night “tastes like a puddle beneath a Long John Silver’s dumpster.” Watch his Sunday night takedown of Sepp Blatter


House GOP: Cut State’s Cash Over Benghazi Docs (Politico, TRNS, me)

• The House Appropriations Committee’s proposed $48 billion, 2016 spending bill for the State Dept and foreign ops withholds 15% of the dept’s operational funds over demands for docs pertaining to the Benghazi investigations and the probe of Hillary Clinton’s emails (15% is a lot of money- real punishment)

• The legislation is packed with other fun policy riders, like blocking funding from opening an embassy in Cuba – or one in DC, tight controls on the admin over detainee transfers, lots of anti-abortion language, a reporting requirement on Iran’s nuclear weapons program and, of course, it guts funding for the IMF and various UN organizations

• The House select Benghazi committee has been requesting docs from State and Republicans have been loudly complaining about the agency’s slow pace in responding to subpoena requests. State says it’s turning over docs as quickly as possible – both on Benghazi and Clinton’s emails

• State said Tuesday the funding cut would further cripple their efforts. And committee ranking member Rep Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said in a statement, “The fact is that the dept has already produced Sec Clinton’s Benghazi-related emails, and the committee has had them for months.”
• President Obama on Tuesday awarded two deceased World War I heroes, one black and one Jewish, with the Medal of Honor, The moving WH ceremony took place nearly 100 years after the two were denied their medals, possible because of discrimination. Pvt Henry Johnson and Sgt William Shemin both heroically saved comrades in WWI ((NYT, Hill)


House Amtrak Crash Hearing: Drama (AP, Hill, TRNS, me)

• An emotional Amtrak CEO pledged to lawmakers Tuesday that safety technology that could have prevented a deadly derailment last month in Philadelphia will be put into operation. “We are responsible for the incident and its consequences,” Joseph Boardman told a transportation committee hearing, his voice breaking

• Amtrak had already installed the technology on tracks it owns on the Northeast Corridor from Boston to Washington, but it wasn’t in operation when Amtrak Regional train 188 entered a curve in Philadelphia at 106 mph. The speed limit for the curve is 50 mph. Eight people were killed and about 200 injured in the derailment

• At the start of the hearing, the NTSB released a preliminary report that says investigators still don’t know whether the engineer in the derailment was on his cellphone before the speeding train crashed. It’s also unclear whether the windshield damage was caused by the wreck or by an object thrown at the train. No mechanical issues with the train have been found

• NTSB Chair Christopher Hart said it’s been complicated to figure out if Brandon Bostian was distracted by his phone, though he’s turned his phone records over. “…involved reviewing the time stamps from the phone records, which are from different time zones, with data from other recorded info, such as the locomotive event recorder, the outward facing camera…” (get it?)

• Chair Rep Jeff Denham (R-CA) said, “My concern is the NTSB came out and made an immediate statement a couple of hours after the accident but three weeks later is unable to identify any of these issues around it.” Denham gave the NTSB 15 days to figure out if the cellphone was in use, or he may hold another hearing (can’t be that difficult)

• Hopes are fading of any more survivors being found inside a cruise ship that capsized on China’s Yangtze River. The ship, with 456 mostly elderly people on board, capsized in bad weather Monday night. The captain said it was caught in a cyclone and went down in minutes, but questions are being asked how no other vessels on the river were affected (BBC)


Obama Hammers Dems Over Trade (Politico, me)

• President Obama has begun to barrage House Democrats with phone calls in hopes of explaining to members of his own party why they should break their new uniform opposition and support his trade agenda. House Republicans, meanwhile, think they have at least 190 votes and are feeling pretty optimistic

• That would mean roughly 27 Demcorats would need to support the bill in order to hand Obama his largest legislative victory in years. Eighteen Democrats are currently on record supporting the legislation. It’s now up to Obama to flip the rest. He’s said to be pretty persuasive on the phone

• Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry (R-NC) will meet with undecided Republicans this week to press them to vote yes. A lot of GOP lawmakers want to convey to Boehner and McCarthy personally how tough a vote this is before they say yes

• In a sign of the GOP’s confidence, leadership sources say they could bring the package of trade bills to the floor for a vote as soon as next week – but a vote could slip to the week of 15 June. They want to do it quickly though, as they’re nervous about the WH’s ability to keep Democrats in line (herding cats)

• Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) are undecided. The stakes couldn’t be higher for Obama. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the top legislative priority for his final years in office and passage of the deal would mark the largest trade initiative in decades


FBI’s Mysterious Surveillance Flights (AP, Hill, me)

• Senate Judiciary Committee chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is pressing the FBI for answers on mysterious surveillance flights the agency conducts in cities across the U.S. In a letter to FBI Director James Comey on Monday, Grassley asked about the legal authority, scope and purpose of the flights, as well as the kind of technology used on them (super creepy)

• His request came only hours before an AP report Tuesday detailed more than 100 such flights around the country in the past few weeks than can be traced back to fake companies that are fronts for the govt. Grassley asked for a staff briefing by next Friday

• The planes capture video of scenes below, and some can house technology that mimics cellphone towers in order to trick phones into relaying their signal to them. The cell technology is used only rarely, the FBI told AP. (uh huh) The planes can capture video of unrelated criminal activity on the ground that could be handed over for prosecution

• AP tracked flights in the last few weeks over major cities, including Boston,Chicago, Washington DC, Houston, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Seattle and parts of Southern California. Baltimore citizens noticed a suspicious pair of planes over the city following protests over the death of Freddie Gray. The FBI has said it provided aircraft to the Baltimore police

• Even basic aspects of the program are withheld from the public in censored versions of official reports from the DoJ’s inspector general. The FBI also has been careful not to reveal its surveillance flights in court docs, but an FBI spox said to the AP that the program wasn’t secret…

• Former Gov Lincoln Chafee (D-RI) will today announce that he’s running for the Democratic nomination for president during a speech at George Mason University in VA. He’ll become the fourth Democrat to jump into the race. Tuesday, he was in Keene NH. Thursday, he’ll be in Lebanon NH (Union Leader, me)


Jindal: 2016 Plans on 24 June (AP, NYT, Politico, me)

• Gov Bobby Jindal (R-LA) is expected to make a “major announcement” about his presidential intentions in New Orleans on 24 June, according to chief of staff Tommy Teepell. Jindal has faced a spate of negative headlines in recent months about his state’s budget problems

• Meanwhile, the commonplace (and disgusting) practice of billing rape victims in Louisiana for medical exams should come to an end after state lawmakers Tuesday unanimously signed off on proposed law changes that the federal govt has required for a decade (only 10 years behind, eh?). Jindal is expected to sign the measure

• Billing rape victims for a forensic exam is forbidden by the Violence Against Women Act and many states are compliant with the law, experts say. Still, anecdotal reports of local hospitals and authorities billing women persist. Rape victims have reported receiving bills in Illinois, Nevada and Ohio, but Louisiana is an extreme case

• Parishes have refused to pay for victims’ medical exams unless they’re willing to report their assault to authorities. Authorities in some parishes have also reportedly administered lie detector tests to victims

• Presidential candidate and former Gov Mike Huckabee (R-AR) said at a religious broadcasters convention: “Now I wish that someone had told me that when I was in high school I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in PE. I’m pretty sure I would have found my feminine side and said ‘Coach, I think I’d rather shower with the girls today.” (nice, Mike) (Buzzfeed)


Hastert Questions Consume Capitol (Hill, HuffPo, me)

• House Republicans are questioning whether anyone tried to use former Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-IL) allegedly dark secret against him during his two decades in Congress. Rep Ted Yoho (R-FL) said, “Not that our founders were saints, but you’re giving payouts like that, you’re getting blackmailed. It compromises you.” (supposedly happened later, Ted)

• Hastert, 73, will be arraigned in federal court in Chicago 9 June on charges that he illegally paid $3.5 million in hush money to conceal sexual misconduct against a former student. He’s also accused of lying to the FBI about his reason for the large bank withdrawals. The payments began several years after Hastert left Congress

• Tuesday, HuffPo reported that former Rep Mel Watt (D-NC) learned years ago of the sexual abuse allegations against Hastert. Watt has led the Federal Housing Finance Agency since 2014. In a statement, Watt said, “I had no direct knowledge of any abuse by former Speaker Hastert and, therefore, took no action,”

• House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) told reporters this week it would be “premature” to discuss whether Hastert’s portrait, unveiled in 2009, should be removed from its prominent place in the Speaker’s lobby. The decision of whether the portrait stays or goes will be left up to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)

• “Denny Hastert was always the kindest and most hard-working member of Congress that a person could ever ask to work with,” said Rep Trent Franks (R-AZ), who served with him. “I hold him in the highest esteem and hope that these challenges he is dealing with turn out in the right way for him and everyone else.”


• President Obama will deliver a eulogy at Beau Biden’s funeral in Wilmington DE on Saturday, the VP’s office announced Tuesday. The Catholic mass will cap three days of public ceremonies to mourn the death of VP Joe Biden’s eldest son (TRNS)


Obamacare: 10.2 Million Signed Up This Year (AP, me)

• More than 10 million people have signed up for subsidized private health insurance this year under President Obama’s health law, the admin reported Tuesday. But the gains may not last

• Dozens of insurers are proposing double-digit premium hikes for next year, raising concerns that people will be able to afford insurance. (massive hikes) And the Supreme Court is weighing the legality of subsidies for consumers in more than 30 states, with a decision expected around the end of this month

• The 10.2 million represents consumers who enrolled in a plan and followed through by paying their first month’s premium. For now, it exceeds a target of 9.1 million set last year by Health and Human Services Sec Sylvia Burwell. Nearly 9 out of 10 adults now have health insurance – about the same number as buckle their seatbelts

• But it could all change if the Supreme Court invalidates subsidies for people in states using, the federal govt’s online exchange. The case revolves around the literal meaning of a handful of words in the complex law. Independent experts estimate 8 million people would lose coverage if the subsidies are overturned

• If the Supreme Court invalidates the subsidies, Republican-led states that have resisted Obamacare would bear the brunt of the consequences. Of the 34 states that would be most affected, 26 have GOP governors. The admin says 6.4 million people in those states are getting subsidies

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ William McDonald, Nicholas Salazar and Washington Desk contributed to this report

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