CNN Washington AM Note
May 16th, 2013
06:24 AM ET
1 year ago

CNN Washington AM Note

BREAKING OVERNIGHT:

CNN: Suicide bomber hits coalition forces' convoy, killing 6 Afghans

A suicide car bomber targeted a convoy of coalition forces in the Afghanistan capital on Thursday morning, killing six civilians, the interior ministry said. The fatalities included two children and an additional 30 people wounded, said Sediq Seddiqi, a spokesman for the ministry. Maj. Bryan Woods, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force, confirmed the attack. He declined to release the number of casualties, saying he wanted more time. An investigation is under way, both by the coalition forces and the Afghan officials, Woods said. Insurgent group Hezbe Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar claimed responsibility for the attack.

NATIONAL STORIES:

CNN: Possible tornadoes hit Texas; 6 dead, dozens injured

Possible tornadoes ripped through north Texas on Wednesday night, killing at least six people and injuring more than 100 others, officials said. The fatalities occurred when the storm struck a Habitat for Humanity neighborhood in the Granbury area, Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds said. There were about 120 homes in the neighborhood and most of them were destroyed. Fourteen people still missing and the death toll could rise, according to Deeds. About 100 people were injured, said Matt Zavadsky, a spokesman for MedStar Mobile Healthcare.

CNN: Police arrest suspect in New Orleans Mother's Day shooting

New Orleans police said they arrested a suspect in the Mother's Day shooting that left 19 people wounded this week. In a post on its Facebook page, the police department identified the man taken into custody as Akein Scott, 19. It did not provide any more details on the arrest. A SWAT team was used during the arrest Wednesday night in east New Orleans, CNN affiliate WDSU reported .

WSJ: Suspect Raised No Red Flags

Counterterrorism officials increasingly believe Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was never truly radicalized, exposing a possible blind spot in U.S. strategies built to detect certain characteristics among would-be American jihadis. After a month of intensive investigation, authorities, according to people involved in the case, have yet to find any actions by Mr. Tsarnaev before last month's attack that would have stood out as alarming—no frequent visits to jihadi websites, no violent rhetoric, no suspicious purchases. Investigators are still piecing together the lives of the Tsarnaev brothers accused of the bombings, but what they have found so far about Dzhokhar, 19, and his 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan, suggest two different psychological profiles, according to the people involved.

National Journal: Immigration Will Soon be the Biggest Population Driver—For the First Time Since 1850

Some time in roughly the next 15 to 25 years, immigration will become the primary driver of U.S. population growth, overtaking “natural” increases for the first time in nearly 200 years. That estimate, from the Census Bureau, is driven largely by the fact that fertility rates in the U.S. are falling and baby boomers are aging. It would be the first time immigration overtook so-called “natural” increases in the population since the Census started keeping such records in 1850. And, depending on its size, the immigration wave may offset some of the effects of boomers dying off.

WHITE HOUSE:

CNN: 'Angry' Obama announces IRS leader's ouster after conservatives targeted

President Barack Obama vowed Wednesday to hold accountable those at the Internal Revenue Service involved in the targeting of conservative groups applying for federal tax-exempt status, beginning with the resignation of the agency's acting commissioner who was aware of the practice. In a brief statement delivered to reporters in the East Room of the White House, the president announced that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew had requested - and accepted - the resignation of acting IRS Commissioner Steven T. Miller. The president said the "misconduct" detailed in the IRS Inspector General's report released Tuesday over the singling out of conservative groups is "inexcusable."

ALSO SEE: CNN: Read the IRS acting commissioner's resignation letter

Politico: Jack Lew's big test

Jacob J. Lew is better known around Washington for budget negotiations than crisis management. But the soft-spoken treasury secretary from the Bronx, N.Y., in office just three months now finds himself at the center of a major Washington scandal. Both the White House and Treasury Department are frantically trying to insulate themselves from further political damage following revelations that Internal Revenue Service officials targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny. And President Barack Obama has made clear he expects Lew to be the one to clean house at the IRS. On Wednesday, Obama announced that he had directed Lew to ask for the resignation of the acting IRS commissioner, Steven Miller, and that Lew had accepted it.

Bloomberg: Obama’s Auditing Vacancies Leave Vacuum, Watchdogs Say

President Barack Obama’s failure to appoint inspectors general to five cabinet-level agencies, including the Pentagon, is putting taxpayer money at risk, oversight groups said. The departments of State, Homeland Security, Labor, Interior and Defense don’t have permanent audit chiefs. Those five positions, as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development, are subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Inspectors general are independent officials who typically remain outside of an agency’s management structure and have the authority to investigate their departments’ actions.

NYT: An Onset of Woes Raises Questions on Obama Vision

Thwarted on Capitol Hill, stymied in the Middle East and now beset by scandal, President Obama has reached a point just six months after a heady re-election where the second term he had hoped for has collided with the second term he actually has. Mr. Obama emerged from a heated campaign last November with renewed confidence that he could shape the next four years with a vision of activist government as a force for good in American society. But the controversies of recent days have reinforced fears of an overreaching government while calling into question Mr. Obama’s ability to master his own presidency. The challenges underscore a paradox about the 44th president. He presides over a government that to critics appears ever more intrusive, dictating health care choices, playing politics with the Internal Revenue Service and snooping into journalists’ phone records. Yet at times, Mr. Obama comes across as something of a bystander occupying the most powerful office in the world, buffeted by partisanship and forces beyond his control.

ALSO SEE: Politico: Obama tries to stop the bleeding

CNN: So just how many millions do the Obamas have?

The White House released documents Wednesday that show President Barack Obama and the first family hold assets valued between nearly $1.9 million and nearly $6.9 million. The disclosure forms, required by the Ethics in Government Act, reveal the president's largest asset is U.S. debt in the form of Treasury notes and bills. In total, the president has between $1.1 million and $5.25 million invested in Treasury debt. Obama reported a few other large assets, including a JPMorgan Chase checking account that holds between $250,000 and $500,000 and a set of 529 college savings plans.

CAPITOL HILL:

Bloomberg: Senators Urge Obama to Press Iran by Increased Sanctions

Members of Congress from both parties urged Obama administration officials to impose greater economic pressure to curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions and punish its human-rights violations. Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and sponsor of several Iran sanctions laws, cited estimates that the global oil market has enough supply to let the U.S. press Iran’s remaining oil buyers to radically curtail their purchases without causing a surge in gasoline prices.

CNN: Schumer to resurrect reporter shield legislation

In the wake of the controversial decision by the Justice Department to subpoena phone records from the Associated Press in a probe of national security leaks, a top Democratic senator said Wednesday he wants to put in place stricter standards for government seizure of media records. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York wants to switch those sensitive decisions from the attorney general, who is currently empowered to issue subpoenas to news organizations, to a federal judge who is independent of the executive branch.

WaPo: Darrell Issa, trying to prove ‘his mettle,’ chases multiple scandals

After two years of feverishly chasing any hint or suggestion of wrongdoing by the Obama administration, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) may finally be having his moment. Issa, the chief congressional watchdog over the White House, has the administration squarely on the defensive on two of the most politically explosive events of the moment: last year’s deadly attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, and the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status in the run-up to the 2012 elections. Issa’s double-barreled investigations have forced the administration to navigate some of Washington’s most cliched political territory — explaining what officials knew, and when they knew it.

CNN: Bipartisan House immigration talks foundering, Republican warns

A group of House members working on bipartisan immigration reform legislation remain unable to reach a final deal, one of the Republicans involved in the talks told CNN Wednesday. And now time is running out, the congressman warned. Noting that the group of four Democrats and four Republicans is scheduled to meet again Thursday, a frustrated Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, said, "Tomorrow night as far as I'm concerned is the last night I'm going to meet." "I want it done tomorrow night," Carter emphasized. The six-term congressman warned that House Republicans - who constitute a majority in the chamber - may be prepared to move ahead with their own proposal.

POLITICAL:

NYT: Weighing Bid for City Hall, Weiner Is Said to Be Struggling to Fill Out His Team

In a city with no shortage of political strategists and pollsters, Anthony D. Weiner has long stood out as a do-it-yourself candidate, known for trusting his own instincts. This campaign season, he may have no choice but to rely largely on his own counsel. As Mr. Weiner, the former congressman, prepares to roll out a long-shot bid for mayor, possibly as soon as next week, he is finding it difficult to attract prominent operatives, interviews suggest.

CNN: Back to the future for Mark Sanford

Mark Sanford is a member of Congress, again. The former Republican governor of South Carolina, whose political career was left for dead along the Appalachian Trail after an extramarital affair, was sworn in Wednesday to the House of Representatives. "I stand before you, I guess, with a whole new appreciation indeed for a God of second chances and how in the events of our life, up or down they may be, how every one of us can be refined as human beings in that process," said Sanford in an address to the chamber, minutes after being sworn in by House Speaker John Boehner.

NATIONAL SECURITY:

CNN: White House releases Benghazi e-mails

The White House released more than 100 pages of e-mails on Wednesday in a bid to quell critics who say President Barack Obama and his aides played politics with national security following the deadly terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. The e-mails detail the complex back and forth between the CIA, State Department, and the White House in developing unclassified talking points that were used to underpin a controversial and slow-to-evolve explanation of events last September 11. The talking points have become a political flashpoint in a long-running battle between the Obama administration and Republicans, who accuse it of not bolstering security prior to the attack, of botching the response to it, and of misleading the public for political gain less than two months before the November election.

ALSO SEE: Weekly Standard: Newly Released Benghazi Emails Directly Contradict White House Claims

Politico: Meet the Benghazi lobby

Three months ago Benghazi was a scandal simmering mainly in conservative circles. Now it’s so front-and-center that the White House is opening up its email inbox to explain the talking points that ignited the controversy in the first place. That’s a long way for a scandal to travel – from partisan anger to national conversation – and one that can be explained only in part by Republican enthusiasm for the story. The Benghazi lobby played a major role too. Behind the scenes, a loose network of conservative groups and activists have been lobbying House and Senate Republicans for months to investigate the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Libya, urging members of Congress in meetings, letters and in social media to keep the heat on President Barack Obama. The strategy kept the issue alive, so when a whistleblower stepped forward last week, it was primed for primetime.

Foreign Policy: Will Benghazi furor keep Susan Rice out of the White House?

Insiders with ties to the Obama administration tell The Cable that U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice has become the heir apparent to National Security Advisor Tom Donilon - a post at the epicenter of foreign-policy decision making and arguably more influential than secretary of state, a job for which she withdrew her candidacy last fall amid severe political pressure. "It's definitely happening," a source who recently spoke with Rice told The Cable. … The question now is whether Benghazi's return to the spotlight will affect her potential appointment at a time when the White House is reeling from revelations about the IRS's scrutiny of conservative groups and the Justice Department's subpoena of the calling records of AP journalists.

NBC: Bomb plot briefing may undercut DOJ's case for AP records seizure

A massive Justice Department investigation into the disclosure by the Associated Press of an ongoing covert operation against an al Qaeda suicide cell in Yemen – a probe that included a sweeping  secret subpoena of the press association’s phone records  - has been justified by U.S. officials on the grounds that the news organization “put the American people at risk.”  But that assertion by Attorney General Eric Holder could be undermined by the White House’s decision to publicly comment about the operation at the time and reveal details beyond those in the original AP story, according to legal experts and counterterrorism officials. Within hours after the AP published its May 7, 2012 story, then-White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, currently the director of the CIA, held a background conference call in which he assured television network commentators that the bomb plot was never a threat to the American public or aviation safety. The reason, he said, is because intelligence officials had “inside control” over it.

NYT: Multiple Proposals on Assault in Military, but Also Disagreement

President Obama, military officials and lawmakers on Capitol Hill are in broad agreement that the sexual assault problem in the military has reached a level of severity that can no longer be tolerated. But that is far different from concurring on how it should be fixed. After a Pentagon finding that an estimated 26,000 assaults took place last year, a flurry of legislative proposals — seeking changes to the way prosecution decisions are made and how records of sex-crime accusations are kept and perhaps requiring automatic dishonorable discharges for anyone convicted of sexual assault, among other things — is flowing through Capitol Hill, some at cross purposes. Among other things, they would change the way prosecution decisions are made and how records of sex-crime accusations are kept, and perhaps require automatic dishonorable discharges for anyone convicted of sexual assault. On Thursday, Mr. Obama will meet with senior Pentagon officials to discuss legislative responses to the sexual assault crisis.

LA Times: Chinese military unit said to resume cyber spying

A Chinese military unit that a private U.S. computer security company accused of launching more than 115 cyber attacks against American companies over seven years has resumed hacking after a three-month hiatus, the firm’s chief security officer said Wednesday. The clandestine army unit, known as Unit 61398, “went quiet for a while - they changed the nature of their activities, they removed some of the tools that they had been using inside of different companies,” said Richard Bejtlich of Mandiant, which specializes in defending companies from cyber attacks and purging malware from computer networks that have been breached. “But over the course of the last several weeks it seems they are trying to ramp back up.... They seem to be trying to get back into some of their old targets,” he said.

AVIATION, REGULATION and JUSTICE:

CNN: Holder criticizes longtime foe Issa at committee hearing

Political fireworks over a little-noticed Supreme Court appeal and a separate whistleblower lawsuit had U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and a longtime congressional adversary exchanging harsh words at a House committee hearing Wednesday. Holder, testifying before the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee, sparred with GOP Rep. Darrell Issa of California over congressional requests for private e-mails of top Holder aide Thomas Perez, who is President Barack Obama's nominee to be Labor Secretary. Issa suggested Holder had political motives for delaying release of the electronic messages. The two repeatedly talked over each other, and Holder concluded the exchange with a personal attack. Rep. Issa to Holder: I just want answers Rep. Issa on IRS: Obama set right tone Tot steals the show at Holder grilling "It is inappropriate and it is too consistent with the way in which you conduct yourself as a member of Congress. It is unacceptable and it is shameful," he told Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee who led the effort last year to cite Holder for contempt of Congress in the panel's investigation of the Fast and Furious gun-walking program.

REGIONAL HEADLINES:

Salt Lake Tribune: He’s back: Romney buys houses in Utah

The former presidential candidate and his family have purchased two adjoining homes in Holladay, each of which is zoned for equestrian use. Romney purchased two homes through a holding company in March, Salt Lake County records show. Mitt Romney had sold his Deer Valley home in 2009 as he prepared for his second bid for the White House. The former head of the 2002 Winter Olympics still owns a home in New Hampshire and in La Jolla, Calif. He also owns a condo in Belmont, Mass.

INTERNATIONAL:

CNN: State news: Detainees linked to al Qaeda targeted U.S., French embassies in Egypt

The Egyptian prosecutor's office says evidence shows three suspects linked to al Qaeda targeted the U.S. and French embassies in Cairo, as well as an Egyptian army facility in the Sinai Peninsula, according to state news. The state-run Middle East News Agency, known as MENA, reported Wednesday that state prosecutors have evidence suggesting the alleged terrorists, who were arrested over the weekend, planned to detonate car bombs at the three sites. A source briefed by an Egyptian security official said Wednesday that he'd been told that France's embassy was allegedly targeted but was not told about the other diplomatic mission. Members of the alleged terrorist cell had 10 kilograms of ammonium nitrate, which is commonly used in bomb making, according to the source.

BBC: Syria conflict: BBC shown 'signs of chemical attack'

The BBC has been shown evidence claiming to corroborate reports of a chemical attack in Syria last month. A BBC correspondent who visited the northern town of Saraqeb was told by eyewitnesses that government helicopters had dropped at least two devices containing poisonous gas. The government has vehemently denied claims it has used chemical agents.

NYT: U.N. Calls for Political Transition in Syria

As the bloodletting continued unabated in Syria, the 193-member General Assembly passed a nonbinding resolution on Wednesday calling for a political transition to end the civil war there, putting the onus on the government of President Bashar al-Assad to stop the killing. But even as the vote was being tallied, members recognized that it, like every other diplomatic initiative, would probably fail to stem the violence or coax out a political solution. While the resolution passed 107 to 12, it fell far short of the 133 votes in support of a similar resolution last August. The 59 abstentions reflected the widespread sentiment that the new initiative might not help push both parties toward new peace talks in Geneva proposed by the United States and Russia.

CNN: Murder or suicide? Singapore inquest on U.S. engineer's death

Holding a black noose over her head, Singaporean forensics expert Lim Chin-Chin explained Wednesday to a packed courtroom how re-enactments showed that American engineer Shane Todd would have been able to hang himself from a similar black strap attached to his bathroom door. "One final push and he lands," she said, describing how a chair could be shoved away by the feet so a body would drop. This was the third day of the inquiry into the death of Todd, who was found hanging in his Singapore apartment on June 24. Singapore's medical examiner concluded that Todd committed suicide, but Todd's parents disagreed and hired a pathologist in the U.S. who - based on Singapore's autopsy report and photographs of the body –suggested there was evidence that his death was a homicide.

Daily Telegraph: Cameron threat to prosecute oil bosses

The Prime Minister said he will urgently look at “extending criminal offences” to cover market manipulation in the energy sector, after BP and Shell were raided by European authorities on suspicion of rigging oil prices. Amid fears that British motorists could have been duped into paying thousands of pounds too much for petrol over the past decade, Mr Cameron told the companies they will face the “full force of the law” if the accusations are true. However Mr Cameron’s comments also raise the prospect that companies who are found to have manipulated household gas or electricity prices could also face criminal prosecution.

BUSINESS:

WSJ: Euro Crisis Mires Continent in Longest Slump Since War

The euro-zone debt crisis has mutated into Europe's longest slump of the postwar era, with no recovery in sight for a broad swath of the continent. Continuing government austerity, banks that can't or won't lend and heavy household debts are weighing on many countries. Weak business surveys are challenging official predictions, including from the European Central Bank, that growth will return this year. The euro zone's output of goods and services, or gross domestic product, fell in the first three months of the year at an annualized rate of 0.9%, data out Wednesday showed. That was the sixth-straight quarter of a recession that began in late 2011, and puts the region in contrast with other recovering economies.

NYT: Big Banks Get Break in Rules to Limit Risks

Under pressure from Wall Street lobbyists, federal regulators have agreed to soften a rule intended to rein in the banking industry’s domination of a risky market. The changes to the rule, which will be announced on Thursday, could effectively empower a few big banks to continue controlling the derivatives market, a main culprit in the financial crisis. The $700 trillion market for derivatives — contracts that derive their value from an underlying asset like a bond or an interest rate — allow companies to either speculate in the markets or protect against risk. It is a lucrative business that, until now, has operated in the shadows of Wall Street rather than in the light of public exchanges. Just five banks hold more than 90 percent of all derivatives contracts.

CNNMoney: Japan GDP trumps expectations under Abenomics

Japan's economy kicked into high gear during the first quarter as policymakers worked to combat decades of falling prices and spur growth. Japan's economy grew at an annual rate of 3.5% in the first three months of 2013, Japan's Cabinet Office said Thursday. The expansion was much quicker than the 2.7% increase expected by analysts. On a quarterly basis, Japan's gross domestic product increased by 0.9%. Consumer spending and exports were particularly strong.

Financial Times: JPMorgan demands Bloomberg staff logs

Lawyers for JPMorgan Chase have demanded that Bloomberg hand over five years’ worth of employee logs, as the bank considers whether to take legal action against the news and data group. JPMorgan wants to know which Bloomberg employees accessed data on how the bank’s staff used its financial terminals. The demand marks an escalation of pressure on the private company after it emerged that Bloomberg journalists could track how clients used a service that is almost ubiquitous on Wall Street.


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