CNN Washington AM Note
May 23rd, 2013
05:54 AM ET
11 months ago

CNN Washington AM Note

NATIONAL STORIES:

CNN: No more missing: Rescue switches to recovery in Oklahoma

With everyone missing now accounted for from this week's deadly tornado, the long and difficult work of recovery can begin. "We are beginning the recovery operations," Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin told CNN's Piers Morgan late Wednesday. "There's a lot of debris removal going on throughout the public areas of the street," she said. "You see a lot of utility crews that are out here. There's a lot of construction trucks. You're seeing people walking down the street pulling some wagons, going back into their homes to get their prized possessions." At least 24 people, including 10 children, were killed in Monday's monster tornado. Another 353 people were injured.

CNN: Boy Scouts to vote on lifting its ban on gay youths

The eyes of the country will be upon Texas on Thursday. That's where 1,400 members of the Boy Scouts of America's national council are expected to vote on whether to end the 103-year-old group's outright ban on gay youths. The outcome, to be announced late afternoon, follows months of intense debate among interest groups and within the ranks of scouting itself. It comes down to a single sentence at the end of a resolution. "No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone." If the policy change is approved, the BSA will maintain its ban on openly gay adult leaders.

CNN: Official: Dead Boston bombings suspect involved in 2011 slayings

Deceased Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev participated in a 2011 gruesome triple homicide outside Boston along with a Chechen killed early Wednesday during a confrontation with the FBI and Massachusetts State Police in Orlando, Florida, a federal law enforcement official told CNN. Ibragim Todashev, who died during the interview with authorities, not only confessed to his direct role in slashing the throats of three people in Waltham, Massachusetts, but also fingered Tsarnaev in the deaths, the official said Wednesday. Todashev was being questioned about the slayings and his acquaintance with Tsarnaev. Todashev attacked an FBI agent, who shot him dead, a federal law enforcement official with direct knowledge of the case told CNN.

Reuters: Special Report: Poor planning left Texas firefighters unprepared

The fertilizer-plant explosion that killed 14 and injured about 200 others in Texas last month highlights the failings of a U.S. federal law intended to save lives during chemical accidents, a Reuters investigation has found. Known as the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, the law requires companies to tell emergency responders about the hazardous chemicals stored on their properties. But even when companies do so, the law stops there: After the paperwork is filed, it is up to the companies and local firefighters, paramedics and police to plan and train for potential disasters. West Fertilizer Co of West, Texas, had a spotty reporting record. Still, it had alerted a local emergency-planning committee in February 2012 that it stored potentially deadly chemicals at the plant. Firefighters and other emergency responders never acted upon that information to train for the kind of devastating explosion that happened 14 months later, according to interviews with surviving first responders, a failing that likely cost lives.

USA Today: Teen birthrate hits another record low in 2011

The teen birthrate in 2011 set another new record low, according to the latest federal data, released Thursday. The numbers reflect a continued trend downward for teens having babies. The new rate, 31.3 births per 1,000 women ages 15-19, is about half the 1991 rate of 61.8 births per 1,000 teens, which was an all-time high, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The teen birthrate has been dropping steadily since the 1991 peak, save for blips in 2006 and 2007. The new report shows particularly steep drops, with a 25% decline in the overall teen birthrate just since 2007.

WSJ: Two States Seek Help With Health Exchanges

Two states that had planned to run their own health-insurance exchanges this fall are asking the federal government for help in the first year, a sign of the obstacles states face in carrying out a centerpiece of the health-care overhaul. Idaho and New Mexico had been among a few Republican-led states that had agreed to operate their own health exchanges, which will offer a variety of insurance plans for people who don't have coverage otherwise. But both states' health-insurance board chairmen said this week they can't get their computer systems ready by Oct. 1 and need the federal government to help. Open enrollment for currently uninsured Americans to shop and sign up for health insurance on the new exchanges begins Oct. 1, with coverage effective on Jan. 1. That leaves the federal government responsible for running all or part of the exchanges in at least 36 states. President Barack Obama's health-care law had envisioned all 50 states running their own exchanges but created a federal exchange as a backup.

CNN: Chicago board votes to close 50 schools

The Chicago Board of Education voted Wednesday to close 50 schools, a controversial move that drew sharp criticism from the city's teachers union. The vote comes two months after officials announced plans to shutter the schools. The closures "will consolidate underutilized schools and programs to provide students with the quality, 21st century education they need to succeed in the classroom," Chicago Public Schools said in a statement Wednesday. The Chicago Teachers Union opposed the closures, which it said would disproportionately affect African-American students.

WHITE HOUSE:

CNN: Obama speech to focus on drones, Gitmo

From the targeted killing of Americans overseas to the future of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, President Barack Obama will lay out the framework and legal rationale for his administration's counterterrorism policy in a widely anticipated speech on Thursday. Administration officials tell CNN that Obama will use the National Defense University speech to continue to call on engagement with Congress on aspects of national security, more transparency in the use of drones, and a review of threats facing the United States. He will make the case that the al Qaeda terror network has been weakened, but that new dangers have emerged even as the U.S. winds down operations in Afghanistan after more than a decade of war triggered by the 9/11 attacks.

ALSO SEE: NYT: Obama, in a Shift, to Limit Targets of Drone Strikes

ALSO SEE: WSJ: Obama Restarts Bid to Close Guantanamo

WaPo: On IRS issue, senior White House aides were focused on shielding Obama

As soon as White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler heard about an upcoming inspector general’s report on the Internal Revenue Service, she knew she had a problem. The notice Ruemmler saw on April 24 gave her a thumbnail sketch of a disturbing finding: that the IRS had improperly targeted tea party and other conservative groups. She shared the news with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and other senior White House aides, who all recognized the danger of the findings. But they agreed that it would be best not to share it with President Obama until the independent audit was completed and made public, in part to protect him from even the appearance of trying to influence an investigation. This account of how the White House tried to deal with the IRS inquiry — based on documents, public statements and interviews with multiple senior officials, including one directly involved in the discussions — shows how carefully Obama’s top aides were trying to shield him from any second-term scandal that might swamp his agenda or, worse, jeopardize his presidency.

ALSO SEE: National Journal: Meet the Man Who Set Off the IRS Firestorm

CAPITOL HILL:

WSJ: Senators Show More Caution in Their Personal Finances

Facing new scrutiny of their investments, a number of U.S. senators have changed the way they handle their finances, creating blind trusts, putting their money in mutual funds or trading stocks less frequently, according to new financial-disclosure forms. Wednesday's release represents the first annual disclosure of senators' financial holdings since Congress approved legislation last year banning lawmakers and aides from trading stocks based on information they learn in the course of official duties. A few senators bucked the trend by trading stocks frequently in their own accounts. The disclosure forms also show that several senators had financial interests in companies and industries that they help regulate in the Senate.

BuzzFeed: House May Launch Hearings Over Justice Department Media Spying Scandal

House Republicans are considering holding formal hearings into the Department of Justice’s spying campaign against multiple news organizations as part of a widening probe of what critics call a pattern of intimidation by the Obama administration, BuzzFeed has learned. According to Republicans, at least two committees — the Judiciary and Government Affairs and Oversight panels — are currently discussing holding separate hearings into spying on reporters from the Associated Press and Fox News by the DOJ as part of its efforts to root out leaks. “There are definitive discussions on [holding hearings] right now,” Rep. Trent Franks told BuzzFeed Wednesday. Franks is chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice.

HuffPo: Too-Big-To-Jail Dogs Obama's Justice Department As Government Documents Raise Questions

The U.S. Department of Justice appears to have neither conducted nor received any analyses that would show whether criminal charges against large financial institutions would harm the economy, potentially undermining a key DOJ argument for why the world’s biggest banks have escaped indictment. Testimony by a top Justice official and fresh documents made public on Wednesday during a House financial services committee hearing revealed that financial regulators and the Treasury Department did not provide warnings to prosecutors weighing the economic consequences or fallout in the financial system of criminal indictments against large financial groups. DOJ also could find no records that would substantiate its previous claims that it weighed potentially negative economic or financial impacts when considering criminal charges, said Mythili Raman, acting assistant attorney general for the criminal division.

Politico: Harry Reid mulling filibuster overhaul

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is waging an under-the-radar campaign to get his fellow Democrats to back a summertime fight to overhaul the filibuster for executive branch nominees. Reid is carrying a list of names to target and has met with about two dozen Democrats on the issue thus far, focusing on “Old Bull” senators and skeptics of rules changes, according to senators and aides familiar with the talks. Publicly, Reid has been coy about whether he’ll try to alter the Senate’s hugely controversial rules to help confirm President Barack Obama’s nominees: “I’m not getting into changing the rules,” he said this week.

POLITICAL:

ABC News: Former Miss America May Take On Mitch McConnell

Ashley Judd may not be running for U.S. Senate in Kentucky, but another possible candidate is thinking about taking on Mitch McConnell and she has some local star power of her own: Former Miss America Heather French Henry. French Henry, who was crowned Miss America in 2000 and is married to former Lt. Gov. Steve Henry, told ABC News she is being “urged by a number of individuals in political leadership to contemplate the possibility of running for Senate” as a Democrat. “I feel I owe them the time and consideration to listen to their position,” Henry said in an e-mail. ”Is there a political race in my future? Possibly.  Is it this Senate race? I am not sure … Over the past year it has become apparent to me that I may enter politics.  I have become increasingly concerned about the direction and future of our country.  Therefore, I have agreed to meet and discuss all options including a race for U.S. Senate.”

CNN: IRS official in charge of targeting unit takes the 5th

A six-hour congressional hearing Wednesday on Internal Revenue Service targeting of conservative groups lacked one thing - answers from the woman who heads the unit responsible for a scandal dominating Washington politics. Lois Lerner, the IRS director of exempt organizations, invoked her constitutional right against self-incrimination after she denied any wrongdoing in a brief statement to the House Oversight Committee. "I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules and regulations and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee." Lerner said, adding that she refused to "answer any questions or testify about the subject matter of this committee's meeting." The move set off a procedural debate, with some Republicans contending her statement amounted to testimony that effectively waived her Fifth Amendment protection. Panel Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa dismissed Lerner but later said he might recall her to insist "that she answer questions in light of a waiver." At the end, the California Republican declared the hearing in recess, rather than adjourned.

ALSO SEE: Fox News: IRS official who refused to testify facing more scrutiny over scandal, past

NYT: Joining Race for Mayor, Weiner Finds Few Allies

It may be the loneliest mayoral campaign in memory. Anthony D. Weiner, whose once promising career in government imploded over his lewd private life online, is seeking to lead a city of eight million where close to half the voters are opposed to his running and the leadership of his own political party has written him off. He has virtually no campaign infrastructure, no labor unions leaping to his side, no army of on-the-ground foot soldiers eager to evangelize on his behalf. But, curiously enough, he says it may be better that way.

NATIONAL SECURITY:

AFP: Kerry back in Israel for peace push

US Secretary of State John Kerry flew in to Israel Thursday as he kept up a push to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to peace negotiations amid a growing scepticism over his efforts. Making his fourth trip to Israel since he began his tenure in February, Kerry was to head straight into talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before travelling to Ramallah to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas. Israel's top negotiator and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said Thursday the government is divided on the issue of peace with the Palestinians. "There are ideological differences at the heart of the government," Livni told public radio.

ALSO SEE: NYT: Support for Kerry’s Mideast Peace Efforts on Eve of Visit

CNN: Budget furloughs won't impact military sex assault prevention unit

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey face two crises – an increase in sex assault claims within the military and heavy budget cuts. But they said on Wednesday that military staffing reductions due to forced budget cuts under sequestration would not impact an initiative aimed at combating sex assault. Civilians central to the Pentagon's Sexual Assault Prevention Response Program will be exempt from furloughs that are a consequence of spending cuts.

READ: Sen. Patty Murray and Sen. Kelly Ayotte Op-Ed in Politico: A strategy to combat military sexual assaults

CNN: Army sergeant accused of videotaping female cadets at West Point

A U.S. Army sergeant first class stationed at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point has been charged with allegedly secretly videotaping female cadets in their shower and latrine areas, according to Army officials. Sgt. 1st Class Michael McClendon was charged May 14 with 13 "specifications" or allegations of "indecent conduct" in making videos between July 2009 and May 2012. Army criminal investigators are now contacting more than a dozen women who might have been videotaped, according to Army spokesman George Wright. Wright said the investigation has been going on since May 2012, but charges were not made until last week because the Army was still trying to assemble computer evidence and identify the women involved.

NYT: Iran Is Seen Advancing Nuclear Bid

International nuclear inspectors reported on Wednesday that Iran had increased its nuclear production while negotiations with the West dragged on this spring, but the new information suggested that Tehran had not gone past the “red line” that Israel’s leaders have declared could incite military action. In its last report before Iranian elections next month, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran had made progress across the board in its nuclear program, enriching more uranium and installing hundreds of next-generation centrifuges that could speed enrichment. Obama administration officials acknowledged in interviews and public testimony last week that such equipment could significantly reduce the “break out” time required for Iran to produce a crude nuclear device. But they said that despite the new equipment, they remained confident that the United States and Israel would have enough time to act to halt the production of a weapon if Iran decided to build one.

AVIATION, REGULATION and JUSTICE:

CNN: Holder: Drone strikes have killed four Americans since 2009

Counterterrorism drone strikes have killed four Americans overseas since 2009, the U.S. government acknowledged for the first time on Wednesday, one day before President Barack Obama delivers a major speech on related policy. In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, Attorney General Eric Holder said the United States specifically targeted and killed one American citizen, al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, in 2011 in Yemen, alleging he was plotting attacks against the United States. The letter provided new details about al-Awlaki's alleged involvement in bomb plots targeting U.S. aviation.

ALSO SEE: WSJ: Pakistan Is Pressed to Halt U.S. Drone Strikes

CNN: Man, 37, arrested in probe of ricin-laced letters found in Washington state

A 37-year-old man arrested Wednesday in Washington state as part of an investigation of ricin-laced letters threatened in one such letter to injure and kill a federal judge, a grand jury indictment alleges. FBI agents arrested Matthew Ryan Buquet on Wednesday afternoon, and he made his initial court appearance in Spokane later in the day, the federal agency's Washington state office said in a news release. Buquet remained in custody after the appearance, and he'll stay behind bars at least until a bail hearing takes place next Tuesday afternoon, FBI spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich said.

REGIONAL HEADLINES:

LA Times: UnitedHealth, Aetna and Cigna opt out of California insurance exchange

Some prominent health insurers, including industry giant UnitedHealth Group Inc., are not participating in California's new state-run health insurance market, possibly limiting the number of choices for millions of consumers. UnitedHealth, the nation's largest private insurer, Aetna Inc. and Cigna Corp. are sitting out the first year of Covered California, the state's insurance exchange and a key testing ground nationally for a massive coverage expansion under the federal healthcare law. Meanwhile, the biggest insurers in the state — Kaiser Permanente, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of California — are all expected to participate in the state-run market for individual health coverage.

WaPo: Prosecutor investigating McDonnell’s disclosure of gifts

A Richmond prosecutor is investigating whether Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell violated state gift and disclosure laws — a probe that was initiated by state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II. Cuccinelli (R) confirmed Wednesday that he asked Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring to conduct a review of McDonnell’s annual economic disclosure forms last November. Cuccinelli’s office had previously declined to confirm such a probe, but he acknowledged it after Herring released information about the review in response to Freedom of Information Act requests. The state probe is separate from an inquiry by the FBI into whether McDonnell (R) might have violated federal law by promoting a dietary supplement manufacturer in exchange for gifts from its chief executive.

Boston Globe: Mass. tries to retain $250 million for hospitals

The Massachusetts congressional delegation, after holding a rare emergency meeting Wednesday, launched what could be a final effort to preserve more than $250 million in bonus Medicare payments to the state’s hospitals that critics call the “Bay State boondoggle.” But the prospect of holding on to the windfall is dimming. The Democrat-controlled Senate voted earlier this year to end the payments, enacted under President Obama’s health care overhaul law and which come at the expense of most other states. A similar bill was introduced in the Republican-led House this week.

New Orleans Times Picayune: New Orleans Inspector General says he already is looking into NOPD crime stats

New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux told a state lawmaker in a letter this week that his office already has a running start on a probe into crime statistics compiled by the New Orleans Police Department and submitted to the FBI. State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, filed a resolution Monday that calls for a state audit of the NOPD crime figures, in response to a NOLA.com | Times-Picayune story  Sunday in which criminologists cast suspicion on relatively low violent crime figures for the city, particularly in relation to the city's nation-leading murder rate. Among other remarkable figures that the NOLA.com | Times-Picayune analysis found was an extremely low ratio of gun assaults to murder compared to other cities with murder epidemics. The report also found a steep decline in the number of gun assaults that far overshadows a slide in the number of gun trauma victims that show up to LSU Interim Hospital, where most gunshot and knife victims are taken.

INTERNATIONAL:

CNN: British prime minister huddles with security team after hacking death

Prime Minister David Cameron convened an emergency meeting of Britain's civil emergency committee on Thursday, looking for answers in the aftermath of the daylight hacking death of a man thought to be a British soldier. The meeting comes as security was increased at army bases around London amidst fears that additional attacks could be possible. The calling of the crisis meeting Thursday - the second in less than 24 hours - indicates how seriously the government is taking what it believes is a terrorist incident. Home Secretary Theresa May, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, London Mayor Boris Johnson and senior police and security officials all attended. Chief among the questions was likely who the two attackers are and whether they form part of a wider terror cell.

ALSO SEE: Daily Telegraph: Mum talked down Woolwich terrorists who told her: 'We want to start a war in London tonight'

Reuters: France backs call to put Hezbollah armed wing on EU terror list

France is ready to support a British initiative to put the armed wing of Hezbollah on the European Union's list of terrorist organizations, an official said on Thursday, confirming comments by Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. Paris has traditionally been cautious about backing steps to sanction Hezbollah, fearing it could destabilize Lebanon and potentially put U.N. peacekeepers at risk, but in recent weeks it has said it would consider all options. Britain said on Tuesday it asked the EU to put Hezbollah's military arm on the list, citing evidence of the Islamist group's involvement in an attack that killed five Israelis.

CNN: Clashes between al-Assad supporters, opponents leave 16 dead in Lebanon

An uneasy calm prevailed Thursday morning in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli where days of clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad left 16 people dead and wounded more than 156. Fear of snipers kept people indoors, reported Lebanon's state news agency said. The streets were empty of cars, and schools and universities closed. The fighting began Sunday, with the deadliest clashes taking place Wednesday night, Lebanon's state news agency said. The clashing sides are residents of the Bab-al-Tibbaneh neighborhood (dominated by Sunnis), and the adjacent Jabal Mohsen neighborhood (which is dominated by Alawites).

NYT: Israel Finding Itself Drawn Into Syria’s Turmoil

For more than two years, Israeli leaders have insisted they had no intention of intervening in the civil war raging in neighboring Syria, but they vowed to stop sophisticated weapons from being transferred to Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia group, and to respond to intentional fire into their territory. Now, having followed through with a pair of airstrikes on weapons shipments this month and, on Tuesday, the destruction of a Syrian Army position, Israelis are asking what their options are, as if they feel it has become impossible to avoid deeper involvement. Already, the language has grown more heated on both sides, with Syrian officials declaring they are prepared for a major confrontation with Israel — and Israel’s military chief warning of dire consequences.

Reuters: M23 rebels announce ceasefire for UN chief's Congo visit

Rebels in eastern Congo announced a ceasefire on Thursday in fighting with government troops hours before a visit to the conflict-plagued zone by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. "We've decided to announce this ceasefire to allow His Excellency Ban Ki-moon to visit Goma as he promised," Amani Kabasha, political spokesman for the M23 rebel group, told Reuters following several days of clashes in the east near Goma on the Democratic Republic of Congo's border with Rwanda.

NYT: Hackers Find China Is Land of Opportunity

Name a target anywhere in China, an official at a state-owned company boasted recently, and his crack staff will break into that person’s computer, download the contents of the hard drive, record the keystrokes and monitor cellphone communications, too. Pitches like that, from a salesman for Nanjing Xhunter Software, were not uncommon at a crowded trade show this month that brought together Chinese law enforcement officials and entrepreneurs eager to win government contracts for police equipment and services. …The culture of hacking in China is not confined to top-secret military compounds where hackers carry out orders to pilfer data from foreign governments and corporations. Hacking thrives across official, corporate and criminal worlds. Whether it is used to break into private networks, track online dissent back to its source or steal trade secrets, hacking is openly discussed and even promoted at trade shows, inside university classrooms and on Internet forums.

BUSINESS:

Bloomberg: Wall Street Seeks Dodd-Frank Changes Through Trade Talks

U.S. bankers and insurers are trying to use trade deals, which can trump existing legislation, to weaken parts of the Dodd-Frank Act designed to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis. While the companies say they are seeking agreements that preserve strong regulations and encourage economic growth, their effort is drawing fire from groups who argue that Wall Street wants to make the trade negotiations a new front in its three-year campaign to stop or alter the law. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat who sits on the Banking Committee, said in a May 7 statement that there are “growing murmurs” about Wall Street’s efforts to “do quietly through trade agreements what they can’t get done in public view with the lights on and people watching.”

CNNMoney: Bernanke warns against hitting the brakes too soon

The U.S. economy is on stronger footing than a year ago, but Ben Bernanke wants to be careful not to squelch the recovery now. "A premature tightening of monetary policy could lead interest rates to rise temporarily, but would also carry a substantial risk of slowing or ending the economic recovery and causing inflation to fall further," the Federal Reserve Chairman told the U.S. congressional Joint Economic Committee on Wednesday. The Federal Reserve has kept its key short-term interest rate near zero since December 2008, and expects it to stay there for a "considerable time" as the recovery strengthens, Bernanke said.

BBC: Ford plans to shut all Australian production by 2016

US car giant Ford Motor will shut all its Australian manufacturing plants by October 2016, after more than 85 years of making vehicles in the country. About 1,200 workers are expected to lose their jobs from the Broadmeadows and Geelong plants, in Victoria state. Ford said its Australian operations had lost A$600m ($580m; £385m) over the last five years. The strength of the Australian dollar has made manufacturing more expensive, while sales have been under pressure.

 


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soundoff (One Response)
  1. king

    when will these repubs get on the business of doing the peoples work. our country is crumbling back into the 20th century while others move to the 21st, yet all the repubs does is block, scandalize, and obstruct this president. they cut money to government agencies and complain like hell when the IRS, working under funded take short cuts to accomplished their jobs. how the hell this president going to tell an agency that is over 60 percent conservatives to target conservatives, what kind of connection is repubs trying to connect, do they want the president to stop running the most powerful country in the world and start micromanaging every details of his hundreds of federal government agencies.

    May 23, 2013 07:20 am at 7:20 am |