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Bridget Johnson

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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Non-Terrorist Taliban Claim Responsibility for Kabul Airport Terrorist Attack

Friday, January 30th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The day after White House spokesman Eric Schultz confirmed that the Taliban are indeed not terrorists, three U.S. contractors were killed at Kabul Airport by an Afghan in a military uniform. The non-terrorist Taliban have claimed responsibility:


“The Taliban is an armed insurgency. ISIL is a terrorist group. So we don’t make concessions to terrorist groups,” Schultz said Wednesday while defending the Bowe Bergdahl swap for five Taliban commanders.

More information about the contractors hasn’t been released. A fourth American was wounded.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said Thursday he couldn’t confirm or deny reports that one of the Taliban 5 swapped for Bergdahl has returned to a life of jihad.

“However, the overall problem of GITMO detainees returning to the battlefield constitutes a growing threat to the United States, our allies, our interests, and our citizens,” Nunes said. “If President Obama continues to release these dangerous terrorists, there will be a steep price to pay – very likely in lost American lives.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) called the report “troubling, but wholly predictable.”

“After the Obama administration released five top Taliban leaders, we were assured that these terrorists would be sidelined for at least a year. This lousy deal seems to have fallen apart,” Royce said. “Reportedly, at least one of them couldn’t wait even that long to start stirring up militant activity. The dangerous deal the White House cut has real consequences for the safety of Americans. Congress and the American people deserve a full explanation.”

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Former Beltway Cabbie Added to Most Wanted Terrorists List

Thursday, January 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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The FBI added a former D.C.-area cab driver to its list of Most Wanted Terrorists today, offering up to $50,000 for information that leads them to naturalized U.S. citizen Liban Haji Mohamed.

The Somali-born Mohamed is accused of not just providing support to al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab, but recruiting while he lived and worked in the Beltway.

Authorities are also concerned about what reconnaissance he may have done in the nation’s capital before leaving with his U.S. passport on or about July 5, 2012.

“Liban Mohamed is believed to have left the U.S. with the intent to join al-Shabaab in East Africa. We believe he is currently there operating on behalf of that terrorist organization,” said Carl Ghattas, special agent in charge of the Counterterrorism Division at the FBI’s Washington Field Office, in a statement.

The FBI said the 29-year-old speaks English, Arabic and Somali.

“While living in Northern Virginia, Mohamed was a recruiter and radicalizer for al Shabaab, which historically has targeted Westerners to go to Somalia and fight for them,” Ghattas said. “Not only did Mohamed choose to go to Somalia and fight with al Shabaab, he took a prominent role in trying to recruit people and have them train with weapons.”

The FBI is publicizing the case in Somali-language outlets as well, including this Facebook page set up to reap tips.

According to public records, a Liban H. Mohamed within the suspect’s age range lived at a Housing and Urban Development affordable housing complex, Strawbridge Square, next to Interstate 395 in Alexandria.

HUD policy states that the agency will “deny admission to any applicant whose habits and practices may be expected to have a detrimental effect on other tenants or on the project’s environment.”

Mohamed possesses a U.S. passport that expires in 2018.

The FBI said he was a “close associate” of Zachary Chesser, a 25-year-old Charlottesville, Va., native who converted to Islam and threatened the creators of South Park for depicting Muhammad.

In 2011, Chesser was sentenced to 25 years in prison for attempting to provide material support to Al-Shabaab and using the Internet to “incite violence.” He attempted twice to travel to Somalia, intending to join Al-Shabaab. Chesser worked for six months in 2009 at the Islamic Center of Northern Virginia in Fairfax; the head of the center told local media after Chesser’s arrest that the Quranic student left “because he realized we are trying to stay where the middle ground is.”

Ghattas said it’s important that they find Mohamed, the 31st addition to the Most Wanted Terrorists list, “because he has knowledge of the Washington, D.C. area’s infrastructure such as shopping areas, Metro, airports, and government buildings.”

“This makes him an asset to his terrorist associates who might plot attacks on U.S. soil.”

Just a couple of weeks after Mohamed left America in July 2012, Ugandan authorities said they had uncovered a plot being hatched by the “American terrorist,” Mohamed.

Officials there said the threat of Mohamed sneaking into the country was so worrisome that “people should only go to places with security controls in place.”

Mohamed is an older brother of a man using Council on American-Islamic Relations representation to challenge his placement on the no-fly list.

A judge ruled last week that Gulet Mohamed’s challenge, after he was initially blocked from returning from a trip to Yemen, Somalia and Kuwait in 2011, could proceed in court after the Justice Department sought to get the case dismissed.

The CAIR attorney, Gadeir Abbas, confirmed the family connection to the Associated Press and said the family believes the newest Most Wanted Terrorists addition is innocent and probably fled to avoid FBI harassment.

“Al-Shabaab has killed Liban’s uncle and imprisoned his cousins,” said Abbas. “His family believes the allegations have no basis in fact.”

There are seven siblings total in the Mohamed family, which came to the U.S. in 1995.

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Keystone Passes Senate, But Falls Short of Veto-Proof Threshold

Thursday, January 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Senate today passed a bill to move forward with the Keystone XL pipeline, but fell five votes short of the veto-proof majority needed in the face of President Obama’s threat to use his pen.

After days of debate on the first Senate legislation of the new Congress, the bipartisan measure passed 62-36.

Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.), Tom Carper (Del.), Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Mark Warner (Va.) joined Republicans in voting for the pipeline.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who was reportedly fundraising in Beverly Hills today, missed the vote. So did Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who is still recovering from his workout accident.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), who introduced the bill, cited a recent poll in which 22 percent said Obama said veto the pipeline.

“At the end of last year, 68 percent expressed support for the project; in 2013, 70 percent expressed support for it; and in 2012, 67 percent said the project should be built,” Hoeven said.

“This is about energy, jobs, economic activity, national security, and building the right kind of infrastructure we need to achieve all of these things. The will of the American people and Congress is clear. I encourage the president to sign this legislation and work with us not only to build this vital infrastructure project, but also to help us develop a true comprehensive, all-of-the-above energy plan for our nation.”

His lead co-sponsor, Manchin, said the extensive debate and dozens of amendments made the bill stronger.

“It is my hope that the bill will swiftly pass through the House and that the President will defer to multiple State Department studies which have all concluded the project will have no significant impact on our environment,” Manchin said. “With a majority of Americans in support of the Keystone XL pipeline’s construction, let’s move this project forward once and for all.”

“Once we send this jobs bill to his desk, I urge President Obama to drop his veto threat and stand with millions of hard-working taxpayers in support of finally building the Keystone XL pipeline,” said House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), though, decried passage of the “totally crazy” bill.

“With the scientific community telling us loudly and clearly that we must transform our energy system away from fossil fuels if we are to combat climate change, it is totally crazy for the Congress to support the production and transportation of some of the dirtiest oil on the planet,” Sanders said.

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Shultz: No ‘Empty Threats’ If You Want People to Trust Foreign Policy

Thursday, January 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

George P. Shultz, the 94-year-old former secretary of State who served under President Reagan, didn’t just put Code Pink in its place at today’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

He also slapped around the administration’s Iran policy, reminding lawmakers that the “first point to remember is Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism.”

“It started right away when they took people in our embassy hostage for close to a year. One of the first acts also was to try to blow up the Grand Mosque in Mecca. They act directly. They act indirectly through Hezbollah. I think it’s probably a fair statement to say that if it weren’t for Hezbollah, Assad would not be in Syria right now. But Hezbollah is an Iranian entity and we shouldn’t kid ourselves about they. And they perpetrate terror. So that’s point number one about what they’re like,” said Shultz, who claimed he was “out of practice” by not having appeared before Congress for 25 years.

“Point number two, they are direct, they are developing ballistic missiles. They’re pretty advanced in that, as far as I can figure out. That’s a menacing military item. Number three, internally, there’s a lot to be desired in the way they run themselves. There are lots of political executions in Iran and it continues. And fourth, they’re trying to develop nuclear weapons.”

He stressed that there’s “no sensible explanation for the extent, the money, the talent they’ve devoted” to their nuclear program “other than that they want a nuclear weapon.”

“We have granted the right to enrich. Already they’ve pocketed that. And we’re just talking about how much. I think it’s also the case of what if — if you said to yourself, what is their agenda. Their agenda is to get rid of the sanctions. And they’re doing pretty well,” Shultz continued. “The sanctions are eroding. The more you kick the can down the road, the more the sanctions erode. And they’re not so easy to put back. I hear people talk about snap-back. There’s very little snap-back. If you’ve ever tried to get sanctions imposed on somebody, you know how hard it is. You’re trying to persuade people who are making a perfectly good living out of trade with somebody to stop doing it and it isn’t easy.”

Schultz underscored that he’s “very uneasy about the way our negotiations with Iran are going on.”

He added it’s “a very threatening situation” because Iran gives “every indication … that they don’t want a nuclear weapon for deterrence, they want a nuclear weapon to use it on Israel.”

“Iran was the first state advocate of the Islamic jihad uprising that sweeps away national borders and bases foreign policy on the domination of the particular interpretation of religion,” former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, 91, said at the same hearing. “Iranian foreign policy since the advent of the ayatollah regime has been a combination of the religious and imperial element and has asserted a dominant position towards neighboring states and toward states well-beyond it and, of course, with respect to the eradication of Israel.”

“…So when one speaks of political cooperation, the question is whether the political orientation of that regime has been altered. It cannot be judged alone by the nuclear agreement in which the removal of sanctions is a great Iranian interest.”

Shultz stressed that foreign policy can’t operate on “empty threats.”

“And you can translate that into when you say you’ll do something, do it. If you have that pattern of behavior, people trust you, they can deal with you. If you don’t do what you say you’re going to do, they can’t deal with you, they don’t trust you. So I think this has been a very important principle,” he said. “And then once you have all these things in place, negotiate, engage with people, don’t be afraid to engage with your adversaries, but do it on your agenda and from your strengths. So that’s the outline.”

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GOP Senators to Obama: We’re Totally with You on Cuba Policy

Thursday, January 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

While senators such as Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) have vehemently opposed the Obama administration’s rapprochement and concessions toward Cuba, some Republicans have banded together to let President Obama know that they have an eye on lifting the decades-old embargo.

Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — incidentally, the two Senate Republicans likely to vote against the Menendez-Kirk sanctions legislation on Iran — told Obama in a letter that they “have sought reforms to restrictions on travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba and the removal of hurdles that hamstring trade.”

“Given the statutory nature of restrictions on activities related to Cuba, real and permanent change to U.S.-Cuba policy will be achieved through successful legislative initiatives,” they wrote.

Flake and Paul were joined on the letter by Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine).

“That said, recent regulatory reforms to financial restrictions on U.S. exports will increase access to some U.S. agricultural and other products for millions of people in Cuba,” the Republicans continued. “Increasing both the limit on remittance and the types of goods that can be legally exported to the island will lead to increased demand for U.S. commodities. Similarly, the expansion of general licenses for statutorily delineated categories of travel by U.S. citizens will have a similar impact while simultaneously facilitating greater meaningful contact between Americans and everyday Cubans. Our hope is that changes to the current trade and travel relationship will advance our goal of bolstering the vulnerable private sector and increasing entrepreneurship while decreasing the role of state-controlled enterprises.”

“With the significance of your recent announcements related to Cuba, we look forward to Congress turning its attention toward modernizing U.S.-Cuba policy to the benefit of U.S. citizens and the Cuban people alike. Congress must play an integral role in reforming our policy toward Cuba.”

Yesterday, Rubio was officially named chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Western Hemisphere Subcommittee. He has vowed to block funding for the opening of a U.S. Embassy in Havana.

But even that could take some time — given an inch, Cuban President Raul Castro is now demanding a mile from the administration before relations are normalized, including the return of Guantanamo, financial compensation, and the lifting of the embargo by Congress.

“I plan to continue to be a voice for the oppressed, whether they be in our own hemisphere or on the other side of the globe,” Rubio said. “I look forward to working to ensure that U.S. programs aimed at advancing these freedoms are effective and achieving results that are consistent with our values as a nation.”

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Congressional Iraq War Vet: Trade by Jordan Would Hand ISIS ‘Moral Victory’

Thursday, January 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

An Air Force veteran in Congress who served in Iraq said Jordan should not trade a would-be suicide bomber for a pilot’s freedom as it hands ISIS a “moral victory.”

Jordan has been weighing a deal for the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi awaiting the death penalty for her role in the grisly 2005 bombing of a wedding reception at the Radisson in Amman. Her husband killed himself, but her suicide belt failed to properly detonate and she was captured.

ISIS had requested al-Rishawi be freed in exchange for Japanese war reporter Kenji Goto. Jordan wants any such deal tied to the release of air force pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh as well, but they haven’t received any proof of life that the pilot is OK.

The latest deadline set by ISIS, which has passed, was sunset today.

“Look, you have to have sympathy for the Jordanian people. They watched for a month their pilot on television paraded around, this hero,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) said on Fox. “So you understand that. This sets a very bad precedent.”

“Look at the fact that, why does ISIS want this to happen in the first place? Do they really want this so-called ‘lady al-Qaeda’ out? Maybe. But at the end of the day, they wanted a victory. That will be a huge victory for them if they are able to get Jordan to, in essence, show up on their knees, release a prisoner who as been convicted through a legal court system to get their pilot back. It’s as much as a moral victory for ISIS than anything.”

U.S. Special Forces reportedly attempted, unsuccessfully, to rescue al-Kasaesbeh earlier this month.

On Christmas Eve, ISIS released the ID card of Kasasbeh and paraded parts of his downed plane, as well as images of the pilot in a soaked T-shirt and stripped from the waist down with blood coming from his mouth. ISIS’ magazine ran an “interview” with the pilot and referred to him throughout as “murtadd” — apostate.

“This is going to it be a multiyear process, especially with the president saying we will never use ground troops in this case. You will see these hostage situations and these desires for swaps and these #100 or $200 million ransom, and more beheadings. We will see this forever. This is their M.O. and they want this as a moral victory,” Kinzinger said.

“Think about the moral victory, unfortunately, maybe if this pilot has already been murdered. We hope he hasn’t been. And then Jordan offers to make a swap and find out he was murdered anyway. Again, the thing ISIS is seeking here is a major moral victory. A moral victory to them will help them recruit. They will have brought down this infidel regime in Jordan. It’s a very dangerous situation. It’s going to lead to further kidnappings and further danger. That’s why we don’t negotiate with terrorists. We can’t do it.”

There’s been extra political pressure on King Abdullah to swap for the pilot’s life because the young man comes from a powerful tribe that’s critical to support for the monarchy.

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Strong Bipartisan Support for Iran Sanctions Bill as it Passes Committee 18-4

Thursday, January 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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The Menendez-Kirk Iran sanctions bill passed its first test today with flying colors, receiving an 18-4 vote to move it out of the Senate Banking Committee.

The “no” votes came from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

Democrats who voted in favor of the bill were Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.).

Included in the final bill was an amendment from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) expressing the sense of the Congress that it should vote on any final agreement about Iran’s nuclear program.

“Congress votes on treaties and trade agreements, including agreements that allow for the exchange of peaceful nuclear technology and material between the United States and other countries, such as Japan and India,” said Toomey.

“A final deal with Iran about its nuclear program is certainly no less important, and it deserves a public debate in Congress along with a vote.  Our national security interest in preventing Iran from having nuclear weapons will extend far beyond the 18 months that will remain in this administration’s term by the time a deal may be reached,” he added. “Congressional approval would make a pact more durable, and the importance of such an agreement with Iran should have the national commitment that comes from a bipartisan consensus in Congress.”

In addition to Kirk and Menendez, original co-sponsors of the bill are Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Schumer, and Donnelly.

It would implement new sanctions on the Islamic Republic after the June 30 negotiations deadline if a deal is not reached.

The administration would be required to submit any agreement to Congress within five days. Congress would then have 30 days to review the pact before the president can give Iran any sanctions relief agreed to at the P5+1. There also would need to be certification that a sanctions waiver is in the national security interest of the U.S.

If Congress acts before the deadline, reimposition of sanctions could happen as early as August, specifically targeting the petroleum and financial sectors as well as regime officials.

Senate Dems co-sponsoring the bill want a vote after the March 24 framework deadline. That would put the congressional action after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 3 address to a joint session of Congress, and after the giant AIPAC conference in D.C. at which Bibi will also speak.

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Code Pink Tries to Arrest 91-Year-Old Kissinger for ‘War Crimes,’ Get Smacked Down by 94-Year-Old George Shultz

Thursday, January 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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A Senate hearing opened this morning with Code Pink protesters trying to arrest former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for “war crimes.”

The protesters, bearing signs reading “Kissinger War Criminal” and “Cambodia,” rushed up behind the 91-year-old diplomat at the witness table of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which was holding a hearing on global challenges and the U.S. national security strategy.

Also testifying were 94-year-old former Secretary of State George P. Shultz and 77-year-old former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he would call recess until Capitol Police removed Code Pink from the room.

“I’ve been a member of this committee for many years, and I have never seen anything as disgraceful and outrageous and despicable as the last demonstration that just took place,” McCain said, which led to shout-backs from the protesters.

“You know, you’re going to have to shut up, or I’m going to have you arrested. If we can’t get the Capital Hill Police in here immediately… Get out of here, you low-life scum,” McCain added.

“So Henry, I hope you will — Dr. Kissinger, I hope on behalf of all of the members of this committee on both sides of the aisle — in fact, from all of my colleagues, I’d like to apologize for allowing such disgraceful behavior towards a man who served his country with the greatest distinction. I apologize profusely.”

Later, when Kissinger began his opening statement, more protesters popped up in the room, screaming about Vietnam and rattling off his “war crimes.”

“Vietnam! From 1969 to 1973, Kissinger, working for Richard Nixon, oversaw the slaughter in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, that led to the deaths of millions — millions of people. Many thousands more died from the effects of massive doses of agent orange and from unexploded bombs that covered the countryside!” a protester shouted. “Chile! Henry Kissinger was one of the principle architects of the coup in Chile on September 11th, 1973…”

Shultz then stood up to verbally battle the protesters, saying, “I salute Henry Kissinger for his many contributions to peace and security.” That led to a standing ovation from the committee members and audience that drowned out Code Pink.

MORE: Shultz “very uneasy about the way our negotiations with Iran are going on”

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Boehner: ‘I Was the Tea Party Before There Was a Tea Party’

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told Fox in a wide-ranging interview today that he can definitely bring together disparate points of view within his caucus.

“Listen, I was the Tea Party before there was a Tea Party. I understand their concerns. I understand their frustrations. But we have a Constitution that we abide by and we’re going to live by,” Boehner said.

“And that means we’ve got separate and equal branches of the government. And whether people like it or not, Barack Obama is going to be the president for the next two years. We’ve got to find a way to hold him accountable and try to find common ground to get things done on behalf of the American people.”

Asked if this Congress is his “last time around,” the 65-year-old speaker replied, “No. No. No. I’ll be here for a while.”

On his invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Boehner said White House officials “don’t even try to hide” their antipathy toward Bibi.

“I believe that the prime minister of Israel has a strong voice. He believes that the threat of the Iranians having a nuclear weapon is a very serious threat,” Boehner said.

“The Israeli prime minister can also talk with some expertise about the growing threat of radical Islam. We’ve got a serious problem in the world, and the president just wants to act like it’s going to just disappear. And so as a co-equal branch of our government, I don’t have any problem at all in doing what I did to invite the prime minister to come to Congress and address those concerns.”

Boehner said he hadn’t heard of Jeremy Bird, who served as national field director for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, working in Israel to defeat Netanyahu, “but I don’t want to say I’m surprised or not.”

“But I would hope that would not be the case,” he added. “Israel has been our strongest ally in the region for decades. We have a great relationship with them. And we ought to what — look for ways to work together on behalf of our shared interests, not have the kind of antipathy that we’ve seen over the last several years.”

The Speaker said House Republicans are working on an Obamacare alternative. “There are three committee chairmen that have the jurisdiction over the health care policy in our country. And those three chairmen are working together to craft what we believe would be a better approach with regard to health care for the American people than Obamacare,” he said.

He also confirmed that his new lawsuit against Obama is coming together.

“The president’s overreach when he took executive action to — to deal with the immigration problems in our country, frankly, in my view, is a violation of our Constitution is — it’s a violation of his oath of office,” Boehner said. “I said in December, we were going to do everything to try to stop it. That’s why when we passed the DHS appropriations bill a couple of weeks ago, we took the president’s ability to do what he did away from him. That bill is awaiting action over in the United States Senate.”

The White House has vowed to veto such a bill, or any that strips funding for the immigration executive actions.

“But in addition to that, we believe that the filing of a lawsuit to try to stop the president from violating our Constitution is an important step for our institution,” Boehner added. “This isn’t about immigration. This is the president violating the Constitution, violating his oath of office and, frankly, not upholding the rule of law.”

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Cuba Whips Out ‘Iranian Playbook,’ Demands More Concessions from Obama

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Castro regime took another step today as it, in one lawmaker’s words, pulled out the “Iranian playbook” to extort as much as possible from the U.S. after President Obama’s move to normalization relations with the communist country.

At a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States today, Cuban President Raul Castro demanded that Guantanamo Bay be returned to Cuba before any relations are re-established.

Castro also wants “just compensation” in cold, hard cash “to our people for the human and economic damage that they’re suffered,” and an end to the embargo that can only be lifted by Congress.

“The reestablishment of diplomatic relations is the start of a process of normalizing bilateral relations, but this will not be possible while the blockade still exists, while they don’t give back the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base,” Castro said.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who immigrated from Cuba to the U.S. as a young child, cited the legally binding agreement between the U.S. and Cuba regarding Guantanamo: “So long as the United States of America shall not abandon the said naval station of Guantanamo or the two Governments shall not agree to a modification of its present limits, the station shall continue to have the territorial area that it now has.”

“Naval Station Guantanamo Bay is strategically important for U.S. national security, and as our own military personnel have said, also plays a key role as a logistical hub in support of a variety of U.S. priority efforts in the region,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “The president must not allow this strategic asset to be extorted from the U.S. by the Castro brothers at any cost.”

The Castro brothers, “once again,” the congresswoman said, “have made their intent toward the United States clear: they plan to use the Iranian playbook in an attempt to extort concessions from the Obama administration in exchange for nothing.”

“Noticeably absent from the regime’s demands, not surprisingly, is any offer to compensate the Cubans and Americans who had their land and property seized by the Castro regime, any change in its oppressive nature and abysmal human rights practices, and to halt its support for terrorism.”

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White House: Taliban an ‘Armed Insurgency,’ So We Didn’t ‘Make Concessions to Terrorist Groups’

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Pressed by reporters about why the Jordanians can’t trade a would-be suicide bomber to ISIS for the return of a downed pilot, the White House said today that deal-making with the Taliban to win Bowe Bergdahl’s release was different.

“The Taliban is an armed insurgency. ISIL is a terrorist group. So we don’t make concessions to terrorist groups,” spokesman Eric Schultz said today.

Jordan said a short time ago that there is no deal in place yet for the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi awaiting the death penalty for her role in the grisly 2005 bombing of a wedding reception at the Radisson in Amman. Her husband killed himself, but her suicide belt failed to properly detonate and she was captured.

ISIS had requested al-Rishawi be freed in exchange for Japanese war reporter Kenji Goto. Jordan wants any such deal tied to the release of air force pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh as well, but they haven’t received any proof of life that the pilot is OK.

“Our policy is that we don’t pay ransom. We don’t give concessions to other — to terrorist organizations,” Schultz said at today’s briefing. “But in terms of details on the negotiations between the Jordanians and the Japanese, I’m gonna refer you to their governments.”

“I can tell you that this is a longstanding policy that predates this administration. And it’s also one that we’ve communicated to our friends and allies across the world.”

Schultz was asked how Jordan’s swap would be different from the U.S. release of five Taliban commanders for Bergdahl’s freedom.

“As you know, this was highly discussed at the time, and prisoner swaps are a traditional end of conflict interaction that happens,” the spokesman said. “As the war in Afghanistan wound down, we felt like it was the appropriate thing to do. The president’s bedrock commitment as commander in chief is to leave no man or woman behind. That’s the principle he was operating under.”

Then, he said the Taliban — hosts of al-Qaeda camps, suicide bombers, throwers of acid on schoolgirls — didn’t qualify as terrorists.

“The Taliban is an armed insurgency. This was the winding down of the war in Afghanistan. And that’s why this arrangement was dealt,” Schultz continued. “Our view is, as the president said at the time, which is, as the commander in chief, when he sends men and women into armed combat, he doesn’t want to leave anyone behind. That was the commitment he was following through on this.”

State Department press secretary Jen Psaki was posed similar questions at today’s briefing.

“We’re not going to discuss the details of our diplomatic exchanges with Jordan, with Japan, with any other country involved. Our position is well know. The United States government policy in terms of how we operate is, we don’t make concessions to terrorists. That is our policy. I don’t think there’s any secret about that to other countries around the world,” Psaki said.

“…Every country has the ability and the right to make decisions about — obviously, within the realm of what is acceptable by international law. We have our own positions, our own views, that are well-known, and there’s reasons behind them.”

Does the administration believe the Bergdahl swap fell within those parameters? “We do, yes.”

“We have our own positions, as many other countries do, on things like ransoms and swaps for a reason,” Psaki said.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Dem on the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN today that it’s “very difficult” to distinguish a Jordan swap from the Bergdahl swap.

“They’re in a difficult spot. And as you point out, we did trade Bowe Bergdahl for this Taliban, in something that I’m not sure was a very good exercise and a very good precedent for the United States to set,” Schiff said.

“But in any event, Jordan is a key ally. We’ll support them with whatever they decide they have to do. This is the scourge of dealing with a terrorist organization that is willing to behead people if it doesn’t get what it wants. There are no laws of war. There are no rules of war. There’s nothing but brutality, and murder and death when it comes to ISIL. It ought to reinforce why this terrorist group has to be stopped.”

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Psaki After Hezbollah Attack: Israel Can Defend Itself, But ‘Preference’ Is No More ‘Back-and-Forth’

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Two Israeli soldiers were killed today by a series of Hezbollah missiles fired from the Lebanon side of the border at a military convoy.

The United Nations said it’s investigating the death of a Spanish member of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) after Israel responded to the Hezbollah attack with airstrikes and artillery, Reuters reported.

“I would like to send condolences to the families of the fallen and my best wishes for a full recovery to our wounded soldiers. Whoever is behind today’s attack will pay the full price. For some time, Iran – via Hezbollah – has been trying to establish an additional terrorist front against us from the Golan Heights,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of an evening meeting with security officials.

“We are taking strong and responsible action against this attempt. The Lebanese government and the Assad regime share responsibility for the consequences of the attacks emanating from their territories against the State of Israel,” Netanyahu continued. “In all of these events, our mission is to defend the State of Israel.”

“Our only consideration is the security of the State of Israel and its citizens. Thus we have acted and thus we will continue to act.”

State Department press secretary Jen Psaki urged both sides to remain calm.

“We support Israel’s legitimate right to self-defense and continue to urge all parties to respect the blue line between Israel and Lebanon as prescribed by UNSCR 17-01,” she said. “We also, of course, condemn the act of violence, and will be watching the situation closely.”

Pressed for clarification on “the act,” Psaki clarified that they condemn Hezbollah’s attack.

“We certainly encourage all parties to respect the blue line between Israel and Lebanon. We urge all parties to refrain from any action that could escalate the situation. You’re familiar with our views on Hezbollah. As I’ve mentioned, we strongly condemn Hezbollah’s attack today near the border. But beyond that, I’m not going to speculate further,” she told reporters.

“…But certainly, our preference is to reduce the tensions and the violence and the back-and-forth from here.”

Psaki added, “Look, this is a situation where there has been an attack from Hezbollah. Obviously, we condemn that. Is our preference that there are no more attacks and that the UNSCR is abided by? Yes. But we also believe Israel has the right to defend itself.”

“Maybe the way to state your position would be that you would prefer that Israel not exercise its right to self-defense,” a reporter said.

“I wouldn’t state it in that way, though I appreciate your offer to give us talking points,” Psaki retorted.

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Dem Congresswoman: Obama ‘Not Recognizing That Islamic Extremism Is the Enemy’

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

A Democratic congresswoman says the administration needs to be accurate about its descriptions of terrorists in order to properly fight terrorism.

“It’s not just about words, it’s not about semantics, it’s really about having a real true understanding of who our enemy is and how important that is, that we have to understand what their motivation is and what their ideology is, this radical Islamic ideology that’s fueling them,” Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) told Fox.

“Just a couple of days ago, Secretary Kerry said in a speech that ISIS and al-Qaeda are engaging in, quote, ‘criminal conduct rooted in alienation, poverty, thrill seeking and other factors.’ Now if we really look at what he’s saying and if that’s really the cause, then the solution would be to give them a trophy, give them a hug, give them a good paying job, $10,000, and a skateboard so they can go and get their thrills and say, OK, great, they’re going to be happy and they won’t be fighting anymore,” she continued.

“That’s not the case. Unfortunately, we have people who are living in poverty all around the world, people who have this same feeling of alienation from their government, but they’re not terrorists. So we’ve got to look at what their ideology is and how that’s fueling these tragic attacks that keep occurring.”

Gabbard, the first Hindu member of Congress, is a captain in the Hawaii Army National Guard and Iraq combat veteran. She is also a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Her perspective, she said, “comes from experiencing not only the culture myself, personally, but also seeing the incredibly high cost of wars.”

“Seeing friends of mine who did not make it home, people who I served with in Iraq, and unfortunately, the countless other lives who sacrificed and paid that ultimate price,” she said.

Obama, Gabbard said, “really is not recognizing that Islamic extremism is the enemy.”

“We can see that through their actions, through the decisions that this administration has made. And Libya is a perfect example, where if you don’t know who your enemy is, you end up going to war with people who are not your enemy. In Libya, we had a situation where Gadhafi was taken out. We attacked Libya, and we look now rather than eliminating our enemy, these Islamic extremists, they’re stronger there now than they were before. And there are other examples. We look at the proposed attacks on Syria that occurred just over a year ago. Again, we’re dealing with a situation where this is not our enemy, this is not the people who are threatening the American people,” she said.

“It’s a real problem because of a very simple reason actually. That is something I learned as military 101, but something that’s easy for everyone to understand, and that is, if you are at war, which we are, you have to know who your enemy is in order to defeat them. You’ve got to recognize what’s fueling them, what’s motivating them, what are their strategies and tactics that they’re using in order to be able to defeat them and prevent them from attacking the American people.”

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Drone Operators to Obama After White House Crash: ‘More Regulation Isn’t the Answer’

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Hobby drone operators are fighting back against President Obama’s call for more regulations after a drone crashed on the White House lawn this week.

The drone operator reported himself to the Secret Service, saying he lost control of the craft.

In an interview with CNN while visiting India, Obama noted that “the drone that landed in the White House you buy in Radio Shack.”

“You know that there are companies like Amazon that are talking about using small drones to deliver packages… There are incredibly useful functions that these drones can play in terms of farmers who are managing crops and conservationists who want to take stock of wildlife.” Obama said. “But we don’t really have any kind of regulatory structure at all for it.”

Stressing that “these technologies that we’re developing have the capacity to empower individuals in ways that we couldn’t even imagine 10-15 years ago,” Obama said said he’d work with stakeholders to craft a regulatory framework that “ensures that we get the good and minimize the bad.”

The Academy of Model Aeronautics responded with a statement that “more regulation isn’t the answer.”

“The Washington, DC, airspace is some of the most heavily regulated airspace in the world, and all aircraft operations are currently prohibited in the vicinity of the White House. Despite the existing regulations, a quadcopter still made its way onto the White House lawn this week,” said AMA President Bob Brown.

“Community-based programming is the key to safe and responsible flying, as our organization’s 78-year history has shown. AMA has safety guidelines, best practices and operating principles that have allowed enthusiasts to operate their aircraft and safely use this technology for more than seven decades. When an incident occurs, it’s a rare day when one of AMA’s 175,000 members is involved,” Brown added.

Those members are spread throughout 2,400 clubs in the United States, the group said.

“AMA has always believed that the best, and perhaps the only, way to successfully manage the recreational community is through a community-based set of safety guidelines and the combined efforts of the FAA and AMA,” Brown said. “The FAA’s recent interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft has complicated our working relationship, but it is our hope that the agency will work with us to forge a path forward for the recreational community that finds common ground on the Interpretive Rule and leverages AMA’s deep expertise when it comes to safe and responsible flying.”

The AMA sent a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta last week asking for a meeting “to again offer our expertise and knowledge in support of the FAA’s effort to create guidance for the operation of recreational sUAS in the NAS.”

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Menendez, Kirk Introduce New Iran Sanctions Bill

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) officially introduced their Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015 with 16 original co-sponsors and more expected in the days to come.

The Senate Banking Committee is expected to mark up the bill on Thursday. Senate aides have told PJM that there will be amendments coming down the pipeline.

In addition to Kirk and Menendez, this year’s reintroduction of Iran sanctions came with co-sponsors Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

It would implement new sanctions on the Islamic Republic after the June 30 negotiations deadline if a deal is not reached.

The administration would be required to submit any agreement to Congress within five days. Congress would then have 30 days to review the pact before the president can give Iran any sanctions relief agreed to at the P5+1. There also would need to be certification that a sanctions waiver is in the national security interest of the U.S.

If Congress acts before the deadline, reimposition of sanctions could happen as early as August, specifically targeting the petroleum and financial sectors as well as regime officials.

“The clock is ticking on a nuclear Iran, and the longer they have to build a bomb, the closer we are to witnessing a nuclear war in the Middle East,” Kirk said in a statement. “Sanctions against Iran have been signed into law four times with bipartisan, veto-proof majorities in both Houses. The time for action is now.”

Senate Dems co-sponsoring the bill want a vote after the March 24 framework deadline. That would put the congressional action after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 3 address to a joint session of Congress, and after the giant AIPAC conference in D.C. at which Bibi will also speak.

Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said even the markup of the bill is “something the Obama administration doesn’t want.”

“They’ve said that. They put pressure on their fellow Democrats not to support it. But we’re going to bring it out, and we’re going to let people vote up or down on it,” Shelby told Fox Business. “I hope they will vote the right thing, not the political thing.”

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Saudi Fatwa: Pledge Your Allegiance to King Salman Via Social Media

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

In the first transfer of power in Saudi Arabia since 1995, clerics there have ruled that citizens can fulfill their Islamic duty to pledge allegiance to King Salman via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. In fact, there’s a fatwa to this effect, reports Arab News:

A member of the Council of Senior Scholars said pledging allegiance to Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman through social networking websites is allowed, especially since the monarch is the first Saudi king to have a Twitter account.

Sheikh Abdullah Al-Manie, a member of the council, said that any citizen can use social media to pledge allegiance to King Salman, stressing the importance of this gesture in Islam, local media reported.

… “On Twitter, there are more than one million tweets pledging allegiance to King Salman, while there were over a million messages during the past three days on the same site condoling the death of King Abdullah,” Saeed Jadallah, a social network expert told Arab News.

…“Furthermore, many Saudis found pledging allegiance to King Salman through their accounts on Twitter and others social websites easier than going to their respective governorates,” he said.

Saudis comprise the largest number of Twitter users in the Arab world. They take it so seriously that in 2012 a cleric issued a fatwa against buying Twitter followers, calling the practice “dishonest and mendacious.”

King Salman has 1.73 million followers, but predictably he follows no one.

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White House Pulls Together Big Posse of Lawmakers, Admin Officials to Pay Respects in Riyadh

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama summoned a posse of Congress members and administration officials to meet him in Saudi Arabia today to offer condolences on the death of King Abdullah and meet with King Salman.

Some of those lawmakers were pulled away from key hearings to fly to Riyadh, including Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the top Dem on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a critic of soft Iran policy, who missed a hearing on the status of Iran negotiations.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) missed an Armed Services Committee hearing on national security threats, at which one retired general warned that al-Qaeda has grown fourfold over the past five years. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), a co-sponsor of the Menendez-Kirk sanctions bill, was pulled away from a Senate Banking Committee hearing on the matter today.

Other lawmakers brought to the kingdom were Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Ami Bera (D-Calif.), and Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.).

Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters today that upon the news of King Abdullah’s death last Thursday, “we went to work to put together a delegation that represented people who had been invested in the Saudi relationship for a long time and had known King Abdullah well.”

“We wanted to make sure that we had bipartisan representation from members of Congress, given the deep congressional interest and relationship with Saudi Arabia, and we also wanted to make sure we had bipartisan representation across different administrations,” Rhodes said. “And, again, we were able to have a number of former administration officials, including Republican administration officials, join us and then people who worked closely on the Saudi relationship. So I think if you look across it, it meets the threshold of being bipartisan, high-level, and individuals who have worked very closely with Saudi Arabia over many years.”

In addition to Rhodes and press secretary Josh Earnest, the current administration officials included in the delegation were Ambassador Joseph W. Westphal, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, White House counselor John Podesta, Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations Anita Breckenridge, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady Tina Tchen, Assistant to the President and Director of Communications Jennifer Palmieri, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President and Director of Scheduling and Advance Chase Cushman, United States Chief of Protocol Peter A. Selfridge, CIA Director John Brennan, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff to the First Lady Melissa Winter, Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget Brian Deese, and U.S. Central Command leader General Lloyd J. Austin III.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was sent to Poland for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, which was attended by about a dozen heads of state including French President Francois Hollande.

Past administration officials on the Saudi Arabia delegation included former Secretary of State James Baker, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, and former Assistant to the President for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security Fran Townsend.

King Salman greeted the Obamas at the airport with a band playing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The delegation feasted upon appetizers, soup, seafood, lamb, ravioli, veal steaks, stuffed chicken breasts, and five dessert choices at Erga Palace.

Rhodes was asked what Obama would say to the new king about human rights after giving India a lecture on equality and tolerance before flying out of New Delhi.

“What we would say to all of our partners around the world is that we fundamentally believe in a set of values to include equality for women and religious freedom and tolerance. Obviously different countries are in very different places in terms of their embrace of those values. I think what the president would say is that it’s not simply a matter of the United States telling other countries what they should do; it’s frankly a fact that societies are more successful when they respect those types of universal values. And that’s the message he delivered in India,” Rhodes said.

“And then, ultimately, stability in the long run is going to depend on a process of reform in different societies that move in the direction of those values. Again, places don’t change overnight but I think with Saudi Arabia what we’ve said we’d support is a reform process that does provide for greater respect for those types of universal values. King Abdullah took some initial steps in that direction, in terms of more political participation for some people within Saudi Arabia, more access to education for women. But, clearly, much more work needs to be done to realize the types of values that the president was talking about in India, and that will be a consistent part of our dialogue with all countries around the world.”


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General Tells Senators al-Qaeda Has ‘Grown Fourfold in Last Five Years’

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The former vice chief of staff of the Army warned the Senate Armed Services Committee today that al-Qaeda has “grown fourfold in the last five years.”

“AQ and its affiliates exceeds Iran in beginning to dominate multiple countries,” retired four-star Gen. Jack Keane testified.

Using a term that the Obama administration now eschews, Keane called radical Islam “the major security challenge of our generation.”

“Radical Islam, as I’m defining it for today’s discussion, consists of three distinct movements who share a radical fundamentalist ideology, use jihad or terror to achieve objectives that compete with each other for influence and power,” he said.

“In 1980, Iran declared the United States as a strategic enemy and its goal is to drive the United States out of the region, achieve regional hegemony, and destroy the state of Israel. It uses proxies, primarily as the world’s number one state sponsoring terrorism. Thirty plus years Iran has used these proxies to attack the United States. To date, the result is U.S. troops left Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, while Iran has direct influence and some control over Beirut, Lebanon, Gaza, Damascus, Syria, Baghdad, Iraq, and now Sana’a, Yemen,” the general continued.

“Is there any doubt that Iran is on the march and is systematically moving toward their regional hegemonic objective? Iran has been on a 20-year journey to acquire nuclear weapons, simply because they know it guarantees preservation of the regime and makes them, along with their partners, the dominant power in the region, thereby capable of expanding their control and influence. Add to this their ballistic missile delivery system and Iran is not only a threat to the region, but to Europe, as well. And as they increase missile range, eventually a threat to the United States. And as we know, a nuclear arms race, because of their nuclear ambition, is on the horizon for the Middle East.”

Keane detailed the growth of al-Qaeda in its quest to “eventually achieve world domination.”

“Third, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, ISIS, is an outgrowth from Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which was defeated in Iraq by 2009. After U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq in 2011, ISIS reemerged as a terrorist organization in Iraq, moved into Syria in 2012, and began seizing towns and villages from the Syria-Iraq border all the way to the western Syria from Aleppo to Damascus,” he reminded the committee.

That leads to an “unmistakable” conclusion that “our policies have failed,” Keane added.

“And the unequivocal explanation is U.S. policy has focused on disengaging from the Middle East, while our stated policy is pivoting to the east,” he said. “U.S. policymakers choose to ignore the very harsh realities of the rise of radical Islam. In my view, we became paralyzed by the fear of adverse consequences in the Middle East after fighting two wars. Moreover, as we sit here this morning, in the face of radical Islam, U.S. policymakers refuse to accurately name the movement as radical Islam. We further choose not to define it, nor explain its ideology, and most critical, we have no comprehensive strategy to stop it or defeat it.”

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Report: Bergdahl to be Charged with Desertion

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

No official confirmation yet from either the White House or the Defense Department, but NBC News is quoting senior Defense officials as saying Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will be charged with desertion within a week:

According to the officials, the desertion charges would be based on allegations that Bergdahl abandoned his remote outpost in June 2009 to avoid hazardous duty or important service, which are grounds for charges of desertion under the Uniform Military Code of Justice, (UCMJ). According to one senior official, Bergdahl’s actions in Afghanistan go well beyond the lesser offense of AWOL, absent without leave, because he allegedly abandoned his post “in the middle of a combat zone, potentially putting the lives of his fellows soldiers at risk.”

The charges will apparently not allege that Bergdahl left with the intent never to return. Bergdahls was reportedly captured by the Haqqani terrorist network in Pakistan. He was released in a prisoner swap for five Taliban commanders held at Guantanamo Bay in May.

While a court martial could lead to imprisonment, defense and military officials tell NBC News it is likely Bergdahl would be given consideration for the 5 years he spent in captivity and be permitted to leave the Army with a “less than honorable discharge.” If accepted, Bergdahl would be denied as much as $300 thousand in back pay and bonuses, and reduced in rank to at least Private First Class, the rank he held when he disappeared from his outpost in Afghanistan.

More than half a year after his Memorial Day release in a swap with the Taliban, the Defense Department referred Bergdahl’s case to a General Courts Martial Convening Authority just before Christmas.

Gen. Mark Milley, commanding general of Forces Command, “will determine appropriate action – which ranges from no further action to convening a court martial,” the Pentagon said in a brief statement then, adding that “a thorough investigation and a comprehensive legal review” had been conducted.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said the five Taliban traded for Bergdahl’s release “are in Qatar but they are scheduled to go back to Afghanistan.”

“And that’s the real worry that some many of us have had,” Ayotte told Fox. “The issue really is that what’s the price being put on American lives, number one, we now are going to have a pattern where people are being asked to be traded — you have ISIS also saying for certain individuals, we want terrorists released in exchange for some of the prisoners we have. And so it gets us down this slippery slope and Qatar, of course, in the middle of this, Qatar is where the Taliban Five were transferred to and where from there they will be returning to Afghanistan.”

UPDATE: A Forces Command spokesman tells Army Times that no decision has been made, despite reports from NBC and Fox. Bergdahl’s attorney refused to comment.

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Trump: Romney Should be Out of 2016 Because He Couldn’t ‘Close the Deal’ in 2014

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Donald Trump, who is “very, very seriously considering” a run for the White House in 2016, said 2014 candidate Mitt Romney has no business in the crop of contenders because “he was not able to close the deal.”

“He should have been able to. We had a president that was doing terribly, as bad as you are going to do, and he should have won,” Trump told Fox. “And many Republicans would have won. And he was not able to close the deal. And certainly, the Republicans cannot be so stupid as to give him a second crack because honestly he choked. He wasn’t able to get it done. He should have been able to get it done. There is no excuse for it. And you cannot give that person a second chance, unfortunately.”

He called Jeb Bush’s surname “a huge negative.”

“The Bush name is not exactly hot right now. I think it’s a very, very big negative. He is very weak on immigration. He is for Common Core, which, for is a Republican, I can tell, it is not a positive thing. I think he wouldn’t get elected. I don’t think he would beat Hillary or whoever it may be,” he said.

Trump says that he “could make America great again.”

“I was doing well last anytime. I could have done something. In a way, I have a regret. I did what I had to do when I backed Mitt and Mitt let us down and that was very unfortunate,” he said, adding that he would be “willing” to walk away from his TV show, The Apprentice, because “the country is far more important.”

“And I can do things that other people can’t do. I can do things that the other Republicans candidate and, frankly, the Democratic candidates can’t do. One of the things we have to do is stop with this tremendous flow of people just walking right into the country. We don’t know who they are, where they come from. They just walk right across our southern border. And who builds a better wall than Donald Trump? I build the best buildings.”

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Treasury Secretary Sent to Auschwitz Memorial as Obama Flies to Riyadh

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Survivors and world leaders are marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz today, but President Obama is not among them.

Obama wrapped up his India trip before flying to Riyadh to meet and dine with King Salman.

Vice President Biden is in Kentucky for the funeral of former Sen. Wendell Ford (D-Ky.).

“On the tenth International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the American people pay tribute to the six million Jews and millions of others murdered by the Nazi regime. We also honor those who survived the Shoah, while recognizing the scars and burdens that many have carried ever since,” Obama said in a statement released this morning by the White House.

“Honoring the victims and survivors begins with our renewed recognition of the value and dignity of each person. It demands from us the courage to protect the persecuted and speak out against bigotry and hatred,” he continued. “The recent terrorist attacks in Paris serve as a painful reminder of our obligation to condemn and combat rising anti-Semitism in all its forms, including the denial or trivialization of the Holocaust.”

Obama called the anniversary “an opportunity to reflect on the progress we have made confronting this terrible chapter in human history and on our continuing efforts to end genocide.”

“I have sent a presidential delegation to join Polish President Komorowski, the Polish people, official delegations from scores of nations, and many survivors, at today’s official commemoration in Poland,” he said.

That delegation was led by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and included State Department officials and two Holocaust survivors.

“As a founding member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the United States joins the Alliance’s thirty other member nations and partners in reiterating its solemn responsibility to uphold the commitments of the 2000 Stockholm Declaration,” Obama continued. “We commemorate all of the victims of the Holocaust, pledging never to forget, and recalling the cautionary words of the author and survivor of Auschwitz Primo Levi, ‘It happened, therefore it can happen again. . . . It can happen anywhere.’ Today we come together and commit, to the millions of murdered souls and all survivors, that it must never happen again.”

Among those at Auschwitz today was director Steven Spielberg, who told CNN that he was “appalled” that on his first tour of the death camp the guide “never mentioned the word Jew… just said that ‘many innocent people had been killed here.’”

Spielberg, who has been documenting the histories of Auschwitz survivors, said at the ceremonies, “If you are a Jew today, in fact if you are any person who believes in the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom in free expression, you know that like many other groups, we are once again facing the perennial demons of intolerance.”

He noted “Facebook pages identifying Jews and their geographic locations with the intention to attack and the growing efforts to banish Jews from Europe.”

French President Francois Hollande and German Prime Minister Joachim Gauck are among about a dozen heads of state at Auschwitz today. Britain sent Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, according to the Daily Mail. Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his chief of staff.

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Turkey Tells Facebook to Nix Pages Insulting Muhammad; Facebook Quickly Complies

Monday, January 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

An Ankara court ruled late Sunday that Facebook would have to block pages “insulting the Prophet Muhammad” in Turkey, or face a complete blocking of Facebook access in the country.

The social media giant’s response to such censorship? Comply. Within a day.

From Hurriyet Daily News:

Facebook has blocked access to a number of pages in Turkey for “insulting the Prophet Muhammad,” following a ruling from an Ankara court. The move comes against the risk of the site being completely blocked in Turkey by the authorities.

The Gölbaşı Office of Penal Court of Peace ruled to block access to the pages late on Jan. 25, within the framework of a probe being conducted by prosecutor Harun Ceylan, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

The court also ruled that access to Facebook would be entirely blocked if the rulings for related pages are not implemented.

The court conveyed its ruling to both the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) and the Association of Access Providers, an organization tasked with executing blocking orders as directed by TİB.

Facebook has not publicly commented. The Silicon Valley company has yielded to the pressure of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist government before, notes the New York Times:

“In comparison with Twitter and YouTube, Facebook cooperates with the Turkish authorities much better,” said Yaman Akdeniz, a cyberlaw professor at Bilgi University in Istanbul. “Therefore, it’s not surprising that Facebook removed these pages right away.”

The company’s most recent public report on compliance with government requests covers the first half of 2014. In that time, Facebook said, India asked the company to block almost 5,000 pieces of online content, the most of any country. Turkey was second, with nearly 1,900 pieces of content blocked at the government’s request, and Pakistan was third, at more than 1,700.

Facebook said that Turkish officials asked for details about local users of the service 249 times in the first half of 2014, and that the company complied in about three-fifths of the cases.

So Facebook will not only gladly hit the button when told to censor free speech, but make sure that the government has whatever information it needs about dissidents.

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U.S. Embassy in Sana’a Stays Open, But Urges Citizens to ‘Depart Immediately’

Monday, January 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The U.S. Embassy in Sana’a urged U.S. citizens to leave Yemen “immediately” as it will be unable to provide regular consular services.

“Due to ongoing security concerns, the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa is unable to provide routine consular services but remains open and operational and is providing emergency services. We are continuously analyzing the security conditions and will resume regular consular operations as soon as possible,” read the emergency message to U.S. citizens.

“The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the high security threat level in Yemen due to terrorist activities and civil unrest. The Department urges U.S. citizens not to travel to Yemen. U.S. citizens still in Yemen should make plans to depart immediately. U.S. citizens seeking to depart Yemen are responsible for making their own travel arrangements. Travelers should reconfirm flight schedules with their airline prior to going to the airport. Flight cancellations occur frequently. There are no plans for charter flights or other U.S. government-coordinated evacuations,” the State Department continued.

“U.S. citizens in Yemen remain vulnerable to kidnappings and terrorist attacks, especially when in transit to and from residences or workplaces. U.S. citizens should exercise caution and take prudent security measures in all areas, especially those areas frequented by Westerners. All U.S. citizens are reminded to vary their routes and times for all travel, maintain a high level of vigilance, keep a low profile, lock car windows and doors, carry a cell phone at all times, and report suspicious incidents to the Embassy.”

The Embassy has pulled some non-esssential staff, but not completely closed the installation. The White House said Friday that it was “determined that there is not a need to change the posture at the U.S. embassy.”

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters today that the Obama administration’s anti-terror operations will continue in Yemen despite a lack of a functioning government to work with.

“We’ve made clear that we’ll take direct action inside of Yemen against AQAP targets. That’s something we’ve done in the past. I’d anticipate us doing that in future. And we’ve done so in coordination with Yemen,” Rhodes said. “…We have significant ability to develop intelligence and to try to track down terrorist targets that has built up for many years, and that, yes, draws on cooperation with Yemen and also our own intelligence assets.”

“What I would also indicate is that we continue to have a broader relationship in Yemen that includes the security forces who we’ve collaborated with in the past, as well as the political leadership. And I think what we want to see going forward is a political process that can restore stability. And again, the United States is well acquainted with many of the different actors inside of Yemen. And we’re confident that if we can get the relevant factions in Yemen into a discussion about restoring stability and a political process, that we’ll be able to maintain the type of cooperation we’ve had with Yemen and its security forces in recent years.”

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Boehner ‘as Conservative as Anyone Here’

Monday, January 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), in a 60 Minutes interview aired Sunday, dismissed the Tea Party movement to fire him from the top House spot as he argued his voting record “is as conservative as anybody here.”

“The issue with the Tea Party isn’t one of strategy. It’s not one of different vision. It’s a disagreement over tactics, from time to time,” Boehner said. “Frankly, a lot is being driven by national groups here in Washington who have raised money and just beating the dickens out of me.”

“Beating the dickens out of me….Well you know, because it works. They raise money, put it in their pocket, and pay themselves big salaries.”

The Washington Post reported last year that an analysis found little of the money raised by Tea Party groups has gone to support candidates.

The speaker said that there’s just one Republican Party.

“And we continue to work to bring those members along, and they bring ‘em along,” Boehner added of the Tea Party-aligned lawmakers. “And, uh…but it’s always a work in progress.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), seated alongside Boehner, said Republicans and Democrats are “not divided on our love for, and support for the country.”

“We have very different views, as Adams and Jefferson did, about what America ought to be like. And we resolve that through the democratic process,” McConnell said. “And so I would not view with alarm the fact that there are robust debates going on in Congress over the future of this country.”

Boehner said there are conversations between GOP leadership and President Obama. “Listen, the president and I talk and I know Mitch talks to the president. And we had a meeting at the White House last week. It was all very cordial. It was all very straightforward,” he said. “I don’t think, I don’t think that’s the issue. You know, the president could have, with the State of the Union, just put out an olive branch, could’ve taken just a little bit different tone that would’ve indicated to us that there’s some interest in working with us. I can tell ya, we’re interested in working with him.”

McConnell said the State of the Union sounded like Obama “was running for a third term.”

“He seemed to have– completely forgotten or chose to ignore– the election last November. He was looking out at an audience that had 80 more Republicans in it than his first State of the Union,” he said.

Boehner said he just stared at the back of Obama’s head during the speech.

“And my goal is to make no news. This is the president’s night and so I sit there and try to make no news,” he said. “Although, inside, I’ve got a lotta things rollin’ through my mind.”

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Sanders: Communist Victory in Greece Shows the 99 Percent ‘Will No Longer Accept Austerity’

Monday, January 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) hailed Sunday’s victory of Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza) leader Alexis Tsipras in Greece, calling it a victory for the 99 percent.

Tsipras, who came up through the Communist Youth ranks and has a son middle-named Ernesto in honor of Che Guevara, was sworn in as prime minister today.

He called his new anti-austerity government “the beginning of the end of a regime that plunged Greece into poverty, unemployment, grief, and desperation.”

“We congratulate Greece on successfully completing  its parliamentary elections, and we look forward to working closely with its next government,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement this morning. “The Greek people have taken many difficult but important steps to lay the groundwork for economic recovery. As a longstanding friend and ally, the United States will continue to support their efforts and those of the international community to strengthen the foundation for Greece’s long-term prosperity.”

Sanders said Tsipras’ victory tells us “that people around the world will no longer accept austerity for working families while the rich continue to get much richer.”

“The top 1 percent of the world’s population will soon own more wealth than the bottom 99 percent,” the senator and potential presidential hopeful said. “This is wrong and unsustainable from a moral, economic and political perspective.”

Former U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns told PBS that it was a “momentous election” not just for Greece “but also perhaps for the future of the European Union.”

Syriza, Burns said, “is very likely going to challenge the compact between the Greek people and the European Union, these hundreds of billion of dollars in loans to the Greeks.”

“Will the Greek government under new leadership play by the rules, meet the commitments, and pay off those loans, or will they effectively challenge European Union to renegotiate them?” Burns said. “It will be a showdown or sorts between a leftist Greek government and the German-led E.U.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated she won’t warm to Tsipras’ desire to renegotiate $278 million in bailout deals.

“Everything we are doing politically is geared at making sure that Greece stays part of the Eurozone,” Merkel said. “Two things are part of this: a willingness to show solidarity, which we will continue to show, coupled with a willingness to take responsibility, which I am sure will continue to be shown by Greece.”

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Obama’s Last-Minute Saudi Visit Totally Different from Paris No-Show, Says Administration

Monday, January 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama altered his schedule this week to stop in Saudi Arabia with first lady Michelle Obama on their way back from India.

National security spokesman Ben Rhodes told reporters today that “the United States delegation, led by the president, is going to pay respects to the memory of King Abdullah, a longstanding partner of the United States, and also to meet with the new king, King Salman.”

“And I think, principally, I think this is to mark this transition in leadership and to pay respects to the family and to the people of Saudi Arabia. But I’m sure that while we’re there they’ll touch on some of the leading issues where we cooperate very closely with Saudi Arabia,” Rhodes said.

“And clearly, that would include the continued counter-ISIL campaign where the Saudis have been a partner and have joined us in military operations in Syria; of course, also the situation in Yemen, where we have coordinated very closely with Saudi Arabia and the other GCC countries in trying to support stability inside of Yemen; and other regional issues in which the United States and Saudi Arabia often coordinate.”

Rhodes called the visit “a chance for us to make sure that we’re in good alignment going forward where we have overlapping interests.”

“I think you saw the king send a signal that he’s committed to continuity in terms of Saudi Arabia’s approach to those issues,” he said. “But again, I think we’re well placed to continue cooperation. And frankly, we also have very good relations with Prince Muqrin and Mohammed bin Nayef, two other members of the Royal Family who are a part of the succession plan.”

Politico reported over the weekend that White House aides said pulling together this last-minute trip was different from the Paris no-show because “they knew in advance that the condolence call for King Abdullah would draw global leaders” yet were taken by surprised when dozens of leaders showed up to march against terrorism with French President Francois Hollande.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said today that “there is a precedent of world leaders dying while they’re in office and the president at least making the effort to try to participate in their memorial service.”

Rhodes said it was Obama’s decision to add Saudi Arabia to his schedule.

“I understand the comparison people have drawn to this. But first of all, I think we’ve made clear that we regret that we were unable to send somebody of a more senior level than was represented in Paris,” Rhodes told reporters.

“And at the same time, here I think what you see is it’s a different type of circumstance and that you have a turnover of a government, and you have I think a period of time where different leaders are able to pass through Saudi Arabia to pay their respects and to meet the new King. So there is a difference, although it doesn’t change the fact that we made very clear that we believe it would have been good to send someone of a more senior rank.”

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White House Says Murkowski’s Angry Reaction to ANWR Land Grab Not ‘Warranted’

Monday, January 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Republicans lashed out at Sunday’s announcement by President Obama and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that they would lock up 12 million acres in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“This is the first time a president has called for the Coastal Plains within the refuge to be designated as wilderness,” presidential counsel John Podesta told reporters today. “…Simply put, the Coastal Plains, known by Alaska natives as ‘The Sacred Place Where Life Begins,’ is too precious not to protect. And while it is currently administration policy to prohibit the development in the Coastal Plains, President Obama believes that those protections should extend in perpetuity through a wilderness designation, the highest level of public land protection in the United States.”

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said the decision “to lock up millions of acres and 40 billion barrels of untapped resources in Alaska will greatly hinder economic opportunity across the state and further hamper America’s pursuit for energy independence.”

“It’s one thing for the president to say he is for building a strong middle class, but his policies are working against his own rhetoric,” Inhofe said. “Most alarmingly, the president once again ignored the law and trampled on state’s rights in order to solidify his legacy with his liberal base.”

“With the Department of Interior’s plan to immediately place millions of acres of ANWR off limits, the nation is seeing federal government overreach at its finest. This action will not be tolerated in the new Congress.”

Podesta said he “was hoping that a more balanced reaction would be forthcoming from some of the people who have commented on this.”

“We’ve tried to work with producers, including Shell, which is drilling offshore in the Arctic. But the Coastal Plain, with its magnificent wildlife and its important place in the ecosystem — it’s the birthing grounds for the porcupine caribou — is just a place that should be off-limits to oil and gas drilling,” he said, noting he didn’t “think that the reaction that particularly Senator Murkowski had to this announcement was warranted.”

The Alaska Republican said that “what’s coming is a stunning attack on our sovereignty and our ability to develop a strong economy that allows us, our children and our grandchildren to thrive.”

“It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory. The promises made to us at statehood, and since then, mean absolutely nothing to them. I cannot understand why this administration is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not Alaska. But we will not be run over like this. We will fight back with every resource at our disposal,” Murkowski lashed out in a statement.

“These decisions simply cannot be allowed to stand,” she added. “I have tried to work with this administration – even though they’ve made it extremely difficult every step of the way – but those days are officially over. We are left with no choice but to hit back as hard as we can.”

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) said the “callously planned and politically motivated attack on Alaska by the Obama administration is akin to spitting in our faces and telling us it’s raining outside.”

“As if on command from the most extreme environmentalist elements, this president and his team of D.C. bureaucrats believe they alone know what’s best for Alaska, but this brazen assault on our state and our people will do the complete opposite. Every time the president undermines the law of the land, he breaks his oath of office and weakens the nation we love,” Young said, calling the “widespread attack on our people and our way of life… disgusting.”

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Netanyahu: ‘I Will Go Anywhere I am Invited’ to Defend Israel’s ‘Existence’

Sunday, January 25th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referenced his upcoming address to a joint session of Congress in remarks at today’s cabinet meeting, stating that he has a duty without borders to keep Iran from going nuclear.

“In the coming weeks, the major powers are liable to reach a framework agreement with Iran, an agreement that is liable to leave Iran as a nuclear threshold state, which would endanger – first and foremost – the existence of the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said at the outset of the meeting. “This is the same Iran that has taken over Lebanon and Syria and is now taking over Yemen and Iraq. This is the same Iran that is preparing an active front against us both on the Golan Heights and in southern Lebanon. This same Iran cannot advance toward nuclear weapons.”

Iran’s Press TV reported Saturday that a Revolutionary Guard commander threatened to open a new front against Israel across the West Bank.

“We will certainly consider a special retaliation for this issue,” IRGC’s second-in-command, Brigadier General Hossein Salami, told al-Alam of the recent strike that killed six Hezbollah members and an Iranian general in the Golan Heights. “This is part of a new reality that will gradually unravel.”

“As Prime Minister of Israel, I am obligated to make every effort in order to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons that would be aimed at the State of Israel,” Netanyahu continued. “This effort is worldwide and I will go anywhere I am invited in order to enunciate the State of Israel’s position and in order to defend its future and its existence.”

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough insisted on CNN this morning that the administration wouldn’t get into the “blame game” over the Netanyahu invitation, extended by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

“This is the most important relationship we have in the world. This is something that ought to be and will continue to be, as far as we’re concerned, above partisan politics,” McDonough said. “This is a relationship, given its importance, that stretches across many different things, from values straight through intelligence cooperation to defense and security assistance.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told CBS the situation highlights “that relations have never been worse between ourselves and the only genuine democracy in the entire Middle East.”

“They believe, they are convinced that these negotiations with Iran will lead to Iranian acquisition of a nuclear weapon, which will then nuclearize the entire Middle East and that will be a direct threat to the existence of the state of Israel,” McCain said.

“I regret that the relations have deteriorated to this degree. But I do believe that it’s important that Prime Minister Netanyahu speak to the American people. And, by the way, we need congressional ratification of any agreement that is made. This is too big to be left — to not be treated as a treaty.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said at Friday’s briefing that the Iran pact is “an agreement” and “not a treaty,” thus doesn’t need congressional approval.

“We want to have a constructive working relationship with Congress, but you know, steps that undermine the talks or steps that put in place additional sanctions in this diplomatic negotiating period while talks are ongoing aren’t constructive and aren’t going to further our efforts to resolve what’s a pretty serious national security priority for the United States of America,” Earnest said.

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Top Lawmakers: Argentine Prosecutor’s Death Must Shine Light on Iran’s Deeds During Nuke Talks

Sunday, January 25th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Members of Congress are calling for a robust investigation into the death of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman — and for the continuation of his work that had linked the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish center to Iran, and the cover-up of Iran’s involvement to the Kirchner government.

Nisman, 51, was scheduled to testify the day after his death before a congressional inquiry into the alleged protection of suspects by the presidential palace. Nisman had long been the target of death threats, and said four days before his death that someone in the Argentine government was leaking information contained in his inquiry to the Iranians.

The bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires killed 87 people and injured more than 100, and Nisman lived and breathed his dogged pursuit of bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Nisman had a security detail of 10 federal officers who have now been suspended; Iranian media is highlighting the theory that “rogue agents” killed Nisman. President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner quickly said the prosecutor committed suicide, but now says he was murdered in an effort to frame her government as evidence mounts showing that Nisman did not shoot himself in the forehead at close range.

Initial reports from the crime scene said a key was wedged in the front door lock from the inside, but the locksmith called to the scene said the service door was open and a third secret door to the apartment was found as well.

Jewish journalist Damian Pachter, who first reported Nisman’s death, has fled Argentina because of threats over the past week. He detailed the tale in a column for Haaretz after arriving in Israel. “I then had to consider the best thing to do, because when an Argentine intelligence agent is on your tail, it’s never good news. He didn’t just want to have a coffee with me, that’s for sure,” Pachter wrote. “I have no idea when I’ll be back in Argentina; I don’t even know if I want to. What I do know is that the country where I was born is not the happy place my Jewish grandparents used to tell me stories about.”

“After I left Argentina I found out that the government was still publishing wrong information about me on social media,” the journalist continued. “The Twitter feed of Casa Rosada, the Argentine presidential palace, posted the details of the airline ticket I had bought, and claimed that I intended to return to Argentina by February 2 — in other words, I hadn’t really fled the country. In fact, my return date is in December.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said Kirchner’s announcement that Mr. Nisman’s death was not a suicide “raises troubling new questions.”

“His investigation – which promised to shed light on new evidence about Iran’s role in the bombing – must continue and his findings must be made public to ensure that those responsible are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Menendez said. “The increasingly suspicious conditions surrounding Mr. Nisman’s death, just hours before he was scheduled to testify before the Argentine Congress, demand a thorough and transparent investigation. I urge the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires to take all possible steps to support an open and credible investigation.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry stressing that the administration “should press for a thorough and impartial international investigation into his death, and the serious allegations of Argentine collusion with Iran that Nisman was poised to unveil before the Argentine legislature just hours before his body was found.”

“Mr. Nisman’s investigations uncovered a web of corruption, impunity, and the irrefutable hand of the Iranian regime and its proxy Hezbollah in the 1994 bombing. However, neither Iran nor Hezbollah have been held accountable for this horrific act,” Royce wrote. “In fact, Nisman’s latest allegations point to a conspiracy at the highest levels of the Argentine government to cover up Iran’s involvement in the bombing as part of a deal to trade Argentine grain for Iranian oil.”

Royce tied Nisman’s death to the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran, telling Kerry “we must not forget Iran’s clear, long-standing commitment to obtaining a nuclear capability at all cost—an effort which once benefited from Argentinean cooperation.”

“We must also not ignore Iran’s continued use of proxies, such as Hezbollah, to perpetrate terror worldwide,” Royce said. “…Assigning an independent, international panel to examine Nisman’s evidence of Iranian involvement in the 1994 terrorist attack and Argentinian collusion in its cover-up would be a major step toward finding his killer and finally bringing the perpetrators of this deadly terrorist attack to justice.”

The administration has said little about Nisman’s death. State Department press secretary Jen Psaki said “we’re not going to speculate in any aspect of his death” when pressed Friday about potential Iran involvement.

Menendez said thoughts also need to be with Argentina’s Jewish community “as it once again suffers the frustrations of not seeing justice served for the victims of the brutal 1994 attack.”

“It has been said that Mr. Nisman is now the 86th victim of the AMIA terror attack and we must ensure that all questions surrounding their deaths are answered and that justice prevails.”

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White House: OK for Cameron to Lobby Congress Because He Agrees with Obama, But Not Bibi

Friday, January 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House made clear today that it’s accpetable for British Prime Minister David Cameron to lobby Congress against passing Iran sanctions legislation, but it’s not all right for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to do so because he doesn’t agree with the administration’s position.

In the fallout of the latest administration fight with Israel, press secretary Josh Earnest today highlighted Cameron’s visit a week ago in which President Obama and his British counterpart tried to discourage congressional action.

“On Iran, we remain absolutely committed to ensuring that Iran cannot develop a nuclear weapon,” Cameron said then. “The best way to achieve that now is to create the space for negotiations to succeed. We should not impose further sanctions now; that would be counterproductive and it could put at risk the valuable international unity that has been so crucial to our approach.”

Cameron told reporters that he was contacting a handful of unnamed senators on his Washington trip. “Not in any way as British prime minister to tell the American Senate what it should or shouldn’t do; that wouldn’t be right — but simply to make the point as a country that stands alongside America in these vital negotiations, that it’s the opinion of the United Kingdom that further sanctions or further threat of sanctions at this point won’t actually help to bring the talks to a successful conclusion and they could fracture the international unity that there’s been, which has been so valuable in presenting a united front to Iran,” he said.

Earnest was asked today about that lobbying versus the White House’s anger at Netanyahu’s forthcoming lobbying before a joint session of Congress.

“What we’d prefer is we’d prefer that the Israeli prime minister share the president’s view about our approach to resolving the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program,” Earnest replied. “He doesn’t share that view. We’ve done our best to try to persuade him that pursuing this diplomatic opening that has been created because of the forceful sanctions regime that’s been put in place is one that’s worth pursuing.”

“But time and time again, Prime Minister Netanyahu has indicated that he does not believe that that diplomatic opening is worth pursuing and we have a fundamental disagreement about that.”

He repeated the administration mantra that Obama will not meet with Netanyahu when he visits March 3 because of the proximity to Israeli elections.

But he also couldn’t name any policy that set a specific amount of buffer time between foreign elections and when the president will meet with an incumbent candidate.

For example, Obama visited Berlin three months before German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2013 re-election — and publicly sang the incumbent’s praises.

“I can’t give you a specific time period. I’m not sure that there’s, you know, a big difference between, you know, 28 days or 45 days or 90 days or whatever it is,” Earnest said.

“I think we could all probably — as reasonable observers of the political process — would conclude that having a meeting about two weeks before a national election might raise questions in some quarters about whether or not that was an attempt to interfere or try to influence the outcome of a democratically held election. That’s precisely what we’re trying to avoid. We want to avoid even the appearance of doing so.”

However, Secretary of State John Kerry is flying to Lagos, Nigeria, on Sunday ahead of the Feb. 14 election “to emphasize the importance of ensuring the upcoming elections are peaceful, non-violent, and credible.”

Kerry will meet with candidates President Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari. He won’t be meeting with the dozen other presidential candidates on the ballot.

“They’re entirely different scenarios in our view,” State Department press secretary Jen Psaki said. “…There’s a difference between hosting a meeting exclusively with one candidate in your own country and visiting a country and making clear to all candidates and all parties about the need to keep — reduce violence, about the need to see the electoral process through.”

On why he’s only picking two out of 14 presidential candidates for meetings? “He’s only going to be there a short period of time,” Psaki said. “But it’s not a situation where we’re hosting one candidate or another in our country, or he’s meeting to support one candidate or another.”

Back at the White House, Earnest also today claimed he misheard an important question.

A reporter asked, “Is it safe to say that he would welcome a change of Israeli prime minister?”

“In fact, we would, and that’s a case that we’ve made to him on many occasions, and that case has been made at a variety of levels,” Earnest replied.

Pressed further, he added, “I’m sorry. I thought you said welcome a new position taken by the Israeli prime minister.”

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Kerry: Calling Violent Extremism Islamic ‘the Biggest Error We Could Make’

Friday, January 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Secretary of State John Kerry said at the World Economic Forum in Davos today that branding terrorism as Islamic is an “error” that could lose the U.S. allies in fighting groups such as ISIS.

“Today we are witnessing nothing more than a form of criminal anarchy a nihilism that illegitimately claims an ideological and religious foundation,” he said.

Kerry said that “obviously the biggest error we could make would be to blame Muslims collectively for crimes not committed by Muslims alone … crimes that their faith utterly rejects.”

“Religions don’t require adherents to raze villages and blow up people,” he said. “It’s individuals with a distorted and an even ignorant interpretation of religion who do that.”

Kerry said foes wouldn’t be defeated by “vilifying potential partners.”

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Quiz: Did the White House Say It, Or Did the Patriots Say It?

Friday, January 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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The staff at Rep. Todd Young’s (R-Ind.) office had a little fun and compiled an online quiz to test your knowledge of infamous cases of implausible deniability: did the statements come from the White House during its everyday course of business, or from the New England Patriots during #DeflateGate?

Click over for all of the questions and answers.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest was asked about the Patriots’ deflated ball controversy at today’s briefing, and said he hadn’t spoken with President Obama about the issue.

“I mean, the one thing I can tell you is that for years, it’s been clear that there is no risk that I was going to take Tom Brady’s job as quarterback of the New England Patriots. But I can tell you that as of today, it’s pretty clear that there’s no risk of him taking my job either,” Earnest quipped.

“The thing that is clear, though, about Mr. Brady’s job is that it does cause him to make snap decisions in very high-pressure situations, and — and he does it very well,” he added. “He also is in a position where those decisions are regularly second-guessed. So I think certainly on that level, he and I can relate to one another.”

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Graham: Obama ‘Makes Pickett’s Charge Look Like a Sound Military Strategy’

Friday, January 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Freshly returned from a trip to the Middle East, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he got a chilling message from governments in the region.

“I went to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Israel. And they said it’s better to be America’s enemy than her friend, because she seemed to respect your enemies more,” Graham told Fox this morning. “Iran is on the march. There are four Arab capitals under the influence of the Iranians at a time we’re trying to negotiate with this new ‘moderate’ regime.”

“The Houthis in Yemen are Iranian-backed. Assad is completely under the control of Iran. You’ve got a problem in Iraq and Lebanon. President Obama’s standing in the region is terrible. His policies are failing. If this is a success story in Yemen, I’d hate to see failure.”

Graham called Obama “basically incompetent,” “stubborn” and “arrogant” when it comes to foreign policy.

“Because he’s refusing to adjust at a time when the circumstances are screaming out to adjust. They’re selling to us that the Iranians are new and moderate. They told us that al-Qaeda was decimated before the 2012 election. They said that Yemen is a success story. Now they’re trying to sell to the Congress, ‘Butt out. We don’t need your input. Stay away from the Iranian negotiations,’” he said. “The Iranians are destabilizing the Mideast. They want a nuclear weapon. And their missile program is inconsistent with a moderate, peaceful regime.”

Secretary of State John Kerry is “completely out of touch, like the president,” the senator added.

“I met with the Free Syrian Army commander. He says ISIL is stronger today than they’ve ever been. And here’s what they’re doing. They’re selling oil to Assad and wheat. They control vast areas of Syria, they’re economically stronger, and they have an unholy alliance with Assad,” Graham said.

“…This makes Pickett’s Charge look like a sound military strategy. What we’re doing in training the Free Syrian Army without neutralizing Assad’s air power is military unsound and immoral, and it will not work. And what we’re doing in Iraq will not work. It will take years at this pace to liberate Mosul. Iraq and Syria are the perfect platform to hit the United States.”

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McDaniel Launches Conservative PAC for the ‘Survival of Our Republic’

Friday, January 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Mississippi state senator who unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) last year is launching a PAC that he says will fight for “the survival of our republic.”

Chris McDaniel forced Cochran to a primary runoff last June, which the incumbent won by, in part, rallying Democratic voters to the polls.

McDaniel challenged the results, but that was dismissed in court. Cochran sailed to a seventh term in the general election and became chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

“Following what happened in the Republican primary runoff for the U.S. Senate on June 24, 2014, conservatives are more ready for mobilization and action than ever,” McDaniel said in a statement. “I have the enviable position of having the best of the best thought-leaders in the state and across the country ready to devote their time, money and effort to do what is needed to be sure the truth of conservatism is never again misrepresented by the politically powerful like it was here.”

Who are those thought leaders? McDaniel said the executive committee members and “more details regarding the organizational structure and objectives of UCF” will be announced in the coming week when he embarks on a five-city tour across Mississippi.

“I said repeatedly over the past year that the campaign was not about me and I meant it. I know that can be a foreign concept for the politically and personally motivated,” McDaniel continued. “My only political ambition today is what it has been all along; to make sure our conservative movement is strong and gaining ground, solving problems and communicating effectively. The working people of this state can and must unite for the survival of our republic. If we fight for one another then we will win together.”

As for running for office in the future, he said he’s considering potential races “carefully with the counsel of my friends and family.”

“Whether I run for higher office or not, it makes little difference unless other conservatives are provided the resources and support to step up where they live,” McDaniel said. “This task does not rest on any one man’s shoulders. Simply stated, if we are divided we will fail. My driving purpose right now is to make sure we are not divided, but united.”

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Texas Dem: Don’t ‘Try to Ram Through’ Obama’s Plan to Tax Rich

Friday, January 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

A Blue Dog Democrat said that instead of President Obama’s plan to target the rich with higher taxes, Congress needs to expand the tax base.

“We have to keep in mind is the words from President Lincoln that said you don’t help the poor by tearing down the rich or you don’t help the workers by tearing down businesses and to have a targeted tax increase, I don’t think that’s the right approach. We should find a way to make the taxes more fair and flatter,” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) told Fox, stressing, “I respectfully don’t agree with the president.”

“For example, corporations, if we can lower their taxes for the corporations so we can compete with other ones across the world. There’s a lot of things we can do to flatten the tax rate and expand the base. And I think if we look at maybe what David Camp looked at, what Paul Ryan might look at and see if the Democrats can sit down and work something out,” he said.

“But to try to ram something through, that’s not the way. It will take some sort of consensus. I hope we can do this. Anybody can talk about tax reform. Can we actually roll up our sleeves and make tough decisions?”

Cuellar said that trying to bring anyone to the middle, though, is “exactly” what’s “wrong with Washington.”

“You have the far right. The far left. And trying to get us together and work this out, it sort of takes moderate Democrats, moderate Republicans to actually get things done,” he said.

“…And a lot of issues, we’re not there. But that’s the approach we ought to have. Otherwise, the far right and the far left will control the debates in Washington, D.C. And the practical aspects of getting stuff done are not going to get done because of the far left and the far right.”

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