Several U.S. military teams designed to deliver a quick response to crises in the wake of the Benghazi attack were on alert tonight as political unrest grew in Libya.
Reports said the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) teams based in Stuttgart, Germany, were put on notice to be prepared to fly into the restive North African nation quickly if needed.
Militias demanding that all those who served in Moammar Gadhafi’s regime be banned from working in the new government laid siege to the Foreign Ministry and Justice Ministry starting April 28. After they got their wish with a law passed last Sunday, the gunmen refused to give up their siege.
Libyan Defense Minister Mohammed al-Barghathi, who served in Gadhafi’s Air Force yet like some military commanders also worked to oust the dictator, resigned before being talked into staying by Prime Minister Ali Zeidan.
“I will never be able to accept that politics be practiced by the power of weapons,” Barghathi told a news conference. “This is an assault against the democracy I have sworn to protect.”
Today the militias scattered as pro-government protesters overran them at the Foreign Ministry. Bombs went off outside two police stations in Benghazi.
The State Department updated its travel warning on Thursday after withdrawing some personnel on Wednesday.
“In the light of the current unsettled conditions around major anti-government demonstrations in Tripoli, the under secretary for management has approved the order of deparchement — departure of non-emergency personnel from Libya. As you know, the department’s paramount concern is the safety and the personal safety of all of our employees,” spokesman Patrick Ventrell said at the State Department briefing today.
“And so, at this time, we can confirm that a handful of our staff members have, indeed, departed Libya. Our embassy in Tripoli is still open and still functioning, OK?”
The travel warning advises U.S. citizens to “make their own contingency emergency plans, and maintain security awareness at all times.” The consular information for Libya seems to need some updating, though, as it mentions “in June 2012, an unknown group of attackers detonated an improvised explosive device outside the compound of the U.S. embassy’s office in Benghazi,” but not the Sept. 11 attack that left four Americans dead.
Britain announced that it is scaling back its diplomatic presence in Tripoli as well. “Given the security implications of the ongoing political uncertainty, the British Embassy is temporarily withdrawing a small number of staff, mainly those who work in support of Government Ministries which have been affected by recent developments,” the UK government said today. “The Embassy is open as usual, including for consular and visa services.” British presence in Benghazi is still “temporarily suspended.”
The day before this week’s Benghazi hearing, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard from Deborah K. Jones, former ambassador to Kuwait and President Obama’s pick to replace the late ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya. Only three senators showed up to the hearing.
Jones talked about her eagerness to get on the ground and pick up where Stevens left off.
Ranking Member Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) asked if she was underestimating the challenges there, especially in light of the fresh unrest. “It’s really not a government,” he said. “It’s almost remarkable that the country’s functioning.”
“I don’t know that we’ve underestimated,” said Jones. “I know we’ve had a setback these last 8-9 months without an ambassador on the ground… we’ve never won a battle we haven’t shown up for.”
On March 7, Gen. Carter Ham, commander of AFRICOM, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in his annual strategic report that “the September 2012 attack on the U.S. Special Mission Compound and Annex in Benghazi and the January 2013 attack on the British Petroleum oil facility in Algeria illustrate the growing threat posed by violent extremist organizations in Africa to U.S. citizens and interests.”
Ham stepped down from his command less than a month later.
“This network of al-Qa’ida affiliates has already developed into a threat to U.S. regional interests and if left unchecked, could pose a threat to Europe and the U.S. Homeland,” continued Ham’s 2013 AFRICOM Posture Statement.
Ham said the growing relationship with the Libyan Armed Forces “focuses on education and also emphasizes the strengthening of Libyan counter-terrorism capabilities.”
“The recent volatility in North and West Africa demonstrates the importance of sufficient Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets to cover multiple crises simultaneously. ISR capabilities are required to protect American interests and to assist our close allies and partners.”
The Benghazi investigation steered toward the Pentagon this week as it was revealed the Defense Department claims a classified timeline for the night of the attack doesn’t exist.
“The Department did not produce a formal classified timeline, but rather only draft working products to assist witnesses and briefers in preparation for numerous Congressional engagements,” Elizabeth King, assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs, told House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.). “By practice, such draft working products are not distributed beyond DoD.”
Secretary of State John Kerry said in a Google+ hangout today that he didn’t follow this week’s Benghazi hearing but doesn’t think there was anything new to learn from it.
But he has formed the opinion that Benghazi is inextricably linked with diplomatic efforts to develop the global marketplace.
“I obviously was on the road all of last week. And so I didn’t see the hearings. But I followed them, and I’m getting a summary report of everything that’s taken place,” Kerry said in the online event called “The U.S. and the World: What’s In It for Us?” hosted by MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell.
“What I’ve seen thus far, I have to tell you, after all of the hearings that I took part in as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, all of the briefings that I took part in, many of which were classified, I really haven’t learned anything new,” he said.
Kerry called Benghazi a “terrible event” and a “terrorist attack.”
“We all understand that,” he said.
“And obviously, it’s emotional, but so is losing, you know, our ambassador, so is losing two members of our former armed forces who were providing security, and so is losing our employee who was there doing an extraordinary job on communications,” saying he had “respect” for the whistleblowers who testified.
“…There’s so many values that we are struggling to try to carry out to the world in many different ways. And to bring it to a more prosaic place, we are living in a very new global marketplace, where relationships with countries also mean jobs; jobs for our people, jobs for other people in the world. And it means building strength through economic growth and development, which brings with it a lot of the values that Americans stand up and promote and fight for,” the secretary continued.
“So that’s really what Benghazi was about. It’s a tragedy. But I hate to see it turn into a pure, prolonged, political process that really doesn’t tell us anything new about the facts.”
Congress was out of session today, but Republican lawmakers quickly, angrily denounced the Internal Revenue Service in the wake of news that it had targeted certain tax-exempt organizations for their political beliefs.
The disclosure came ahead of an impending report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), and Subcommittee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio.) requested the IG look into allegations of political retaliation last June.
“The fact that Americans were targeted by the IRS because of their political beliefs is unconscionable,” Issa and Jordan said in a joint statement. “The Committee will aggressively follow up on the IG report and hold responsible officials accountable for this political retaliation.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said the “revelation that the IRS targeted average Americans using taxpayer dollars solely for disagreeing with them politically is completely unacceptable from this administration.”
“Partisan politics have consistently characterized this White House, and the administration must take immediate disciplinary action and ensure American citizens are not subject to this type of Orwellian persecution again,” said Cornyn, who previously sent two letters urging the IRS to prevent politics from playing a role in any action taken on 501(c)(4) nonprofit applications.
In a March 2012 letter, Cornyn and 11 of his Senate colleagues also requested a detailed analysis of the agency’s process for the approval and renewal of a tax-exempt designation under section 501(c)(4).
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who joined Cornyn on that letter, called the news “shocking.”
“This is the United States of America, where the First Amendment protects our right to organize and speak up and speak out, and it’s shocking to learn that the IRS arbitrarily targeted any peaceful political organization for ideological reasons. I asked the IRS last year to explain its actions, and today we find out it was, in fact, targeting Tea Party groups,” Alexander said. “Congress needs to investigate this further and make sure those responsible for it are held accountable and that something like this never happens again.”
Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) called on the Obama administration to conduct a government-wide review “aimed at assuring the American people that these thuggish practices are not underway at the IRS or elsewhere in the administration against anyone, regardless of their political views.”
“Last year, amid reports that the Obama administration was using the levers of executive power to harass conservative political groups in Kentucky and elsewhere, I issued a very public warning to the administration that the targeting of private citizens on the basis of their political views would not be tolerated. Today’s apology by the IRS is proof that those concerns were well founded,” McConnell said.
“But make no mistake, an apology won’t put this issue to rest,” the minority leader added. “Now more than ever we need to send a clear message to the Obama Administration that the First Amendment is non-negotiable, and that apologies after an election year are not an sufficient response to what we now know took place at the IRS. This kind of political thuggery has absolutely no place in our politics.”
In February 2012, Tea Party organizations reportedly received letters from the regional IRS office in Cincinnati, demanding hundreds of pages of documents with little indication of the criteria being applied.
UPDATE: A Democrat has just come out in favor of an investigation. “My subcommittee has been investigating the IRS’s failure to enforce the law requiring that tax-exempt 501(c)4s be engaged exclusively in social welfare activities, not partisan politics,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.). “Today’s announcement by the IRS raises a second issue: whether the IRS, to the extent it has enforced its rules, has been impartial in doing so. Both issues require investigation.”
Alaska’s Democratic senator is upset that new Interior Secretary Sally Jewell left his home state off the 25-member Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science.
Sen. Mark Begich protested that Alaska “ground zero” for global warming.
“Over the past 50 years, Alaska temperatures have increased nearly 4 degrees; twice the warming rate in the Lower-48 over the same period,” Begich wrote to Jewell yesterday.”The impacts of this warming are widespread: thawing permafrost is impacting our transportation systems, warm weather species are appearing on our lands and in our waters, and severe storms are eroding the beaches on which many of our coastal villages are built.”
But it’s not all bad. “Climate change is also opening the Arctic to new resource development, shipping and tourism opportunities,” he added. “Virtually every federal department is currently engaged in some aspect of reviewing and devising contingency plans for a warming Arctic.”
“We understand the Department of the Interior undertook a modest effort to generate interest in the Advisory Committee, but did not contact my office, which would have been glad to help,” the senator continued.
“The failure to include any of the scores of knowledgeable Alaskans, who are experts in the impacts of climate change, in America’s only Arctic state just doesn’t make sense.”
Secretary of State John Kerry goes to the Sweden next week for the Arctic Council meeting. Ministers will sign the Arctic Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response Agreement, the second legally binding agreement among the Arctic States, after the 2011 Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement, and the Kiruna Declaration, according to the State Department.
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee wants President Obama to appoint a Gitmo czar to get the detainees who have been cleared for transfer out of the prison.
Forty-six dangerous detainees have been flagged for indefinite detention. Eighty-six of the current detainees at Guantanamo have been approved for transfer to their home countries or another nation willing to take them under strict security conditions.
That counts out the country where the majority of those 86 are from — Yemen — because of the administration’s freeze on transfers there imposed after underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s botched 2009 attempt to blow up an airliner.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) pointed out to Obama’s counsel Kathryn Ruemmler that the president vowed at his press conference to recommit to closing Gitmo “because, as he pointed out, it is expensive, inefficient, damaging to the United States’ international standing, reduces the cooperation of our allies in countering terrorism, and serves as a recruiting tool for extremists.”
“I recognize that Congress has made the process of relocating GITMO detainees to third countries more difficult by imposing certification requirements on such transfers,” Levin wrote Ruemmler this week. “However, more than a year ago, I successfully fought for a national security waiver that provides a clear route for the transfer of detainees to third countries in appropriate cases, i.e., to make sure the certification requirements do not constitute an effective prohibition.”
“I urge the President to appoint an official inside the White House to spearhead an interagency effort to determine which of the more than eighty detainees who have already been cleared for transfer by the Guantanamo Detainee Review Task Force meet the certification (and waiver) requirements, and to actively work for their transfer,” he added. “High level leadership on detainee transfers is critical to advancing the goal of closing GITMO.”
Two Veteran Affairs senior health care managers for Southwest Pennsylvania received large bonuses despite a deadly outbreak of legionella that spread through Pittsburgh’s VA hospitals over the past two years.
Michael Moreland, Director of Veterans Integrated Service Network 4, received at least two bonuses totaling more than $70,000. Terry Wolf, Director of the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, received a $12,924 bonus.
The VA Office of the Inspector General attributed the outbreak to lax management oversight, some of which of which was observed before and during the period for which the bonuses were awarded, noted Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).
“The VA has not yet announced its FY 2012 performance awards. Therefore Congress does not know if Mr. Moreland or Ms. Wolf were slated to receive performance bonuses for that year. However the department has deferred FY 2012 performance awards for some VA Senior Executives, including some in the Veterans Health Administration’s Southeast and Pennsylvania medical networks, pending further review,” Toomey wrote to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.
“Based on your nomination, Mr. Moreland received the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award. The award ceremony took place three days after the VA OIG issued its report on Apr. 23 that found systemic failures at the Pittsburgh VA. The White House approved the award in Nov. 2012, i.e. the same month as VA’s legionella notification.”
Shinseki has been asked to provide Congress with the rationale for FY 2011 performance bonuses for Moreland and Wolf.
“When did the VA become aware of the Legionella outbreak and what bearing did this knowledge have on their performance bonuses for FY 2011?” Toomey asked Shinseki. “To what extent was your continued support of Mr. Moreland’s Presidential Distinguished Rank Award informed by your knowledge of the legionella outbreak?”
The Pittsburgh outbreak sickened 22 veterans and killed at least five of them.
Republicans blocked the nomination of President Obama’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency today, sparking cries from Democrats that they were engaging in obstructionism.
The eight Republicans on the Environment and Public Works Committee — Ranking Member David Vitter (La.), Jim Inhofe (Okla.), John Barrasso (Wyo.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Roger Wicker (Miss.), John Boozman (Ark.), and Deb Fischer (Neb.) — didn’t show up for the nomination vote of Gina McCarthy after committee chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) denied a request to delay the vote.
“For too long EPA has failed to deliver on the promises of transparency espoused by President Barack Obama, former Administrator Lisa Jackson, and by Gina McCarthy. Accordingly, the Republicans on the EPW Committee have asked EPA to honor five very reasonable and basic requests in conjunction with the nomination of Gina McCarthy, which focus on openness and transparency,” the GOP senators said in a statement this morning. “While Chairman Boxer has allowed EPA adequate time to fully respond before any mark-up on the nomination, EPA has stonewalled on four of the five categories. We ask and expect that Chairman Barbara Boxer will follow the rules of the Committee and the full U.S. Senate.”
They sent Boxer a letter explaining why they were ditching. “In 2003, Democratic members of the EPW Committee chose not to attend the scheduled mark-up of Michael Leavitt as President Bush’s nominee to head the EPA, pending the EPA’s responding more fully to their requests. Then-Chairman Inhofe followed the rules cited above and scheduled an official mark-up for two weeks later. We ask and expect that you do the same,” it said.
The senators also held a press conference to elaborate. “The new nominee to be EPA Administrator has been extremely unresponsive with the information we requested,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). “We’re not asking to amend any bedrock environmental laws. We’re asking for access to the scientific data and reasoning behind the justification for expensive new rules and regulations that continue to cause high unemployment. We’re simply requesting that Ms. McCarthy and this Administration honor its commitment to transparency—that’s what they promised.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) called the GOP block “very sad.”
“This is obstructionism, pure and simple. It has nothing to do with Gina McCarthy. It has nothing to do with the answers she supplied this committee. It is Republican obstructionism,” he said.
“This has been a pattern on the Republican side of the aisle with obstructing President Obama’s nominations. Yesterday we saw, in one of our committees, a technical rule used to block the vote for Tom Perez to be Secretary of Labor. This is a pattern of blocking confirmation votes for President Obama’s nominees for key cabinet positions. This is wrong,” Cardin continued. “Do you want to know why some of us are going to be in favor of reforming the rules of the Senate? It’s because of abuses like this that we see the Republicans deploying every day. We are not going to let today’s failure of the Republicans to show up at this committee block the responsibilities that we have as senators.”
“Today’s action by Senate Republicans blocking a vote on Gina McCarthy’s nomination is disappointing and destructive – paralyzing partisan gamesmanship at its worst,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “My former Connecticut colleague is well-respected in the environmental and business community for her dedication to listening and developing practical solutions to environmental challenges. She protects environmental values and polices while enhancing economic opportunity. These obstructionist tactics undermine public leadership in safeguarding our environment.”
Apparently there isn’t enough intelligent life on Planet Congress.
Today the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittees on Space and Research explored current efforts to search for life-sustaining planets.
“The search for exoplanets and Earth-like planets is a relatively new but inspiring area of space exploration. Scientists are discovering new kinds of solar systems in our own galaxy that we never knew existed,” said Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas). “In the universe, is there another place like home? Because of NASA’s Kepler mission, we know the likely answer is yes. Imagine how the discovery of life outside our solar system would alter our priorities for space exploration and how we view our place in the universe.”
Witnesses discussed the recent discovery by NASA’s Kepler space telescope of three super-Earth sized planets in the “habitable zone,” the range of distance from a star where the surface temperature of an orbiting planet might be suitable for liquid water.
“Scientists do not know whether life could exist on the newfound planets, but their discovery signals we are another step closer to finding a world similar to Earth around a star like our sun,” NASA said in an April 18 press release.
Witnesses talked about coordinating government and external partner research to use both space- and ground-based telescopes to help categorize and characterize candidate planets.
“As we strive to do more with less, I hope we will get a better understanding of how exoplanet research should adapt to the fiscal realities we face today. Is the current portfolio of missions and research still the ideal path under constrained budgets?” said Space Subcommittee Chairman Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.). “How can we build upon recent inspirational discoveries in the most efficient manner? These are key questions we must answer as we work to draft a NASA Authorization Bill and a Reauthorization of COMPETES Act.”
A day after the Oversight Committee’s whistleblower hearings on Benghazi raised new disturbing questions about the State Department’s review of the terror attack, the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman is trying to rally colleagues’ support to reform the Accountability Review Board process.
Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton convened the ARB to delve into the Sept. 11 attack, appointing four of the panel’s five members while the director of national intelligence named the final member from the intelligence community.
The ARB “examined the terrorist attacks in Benghazi with an eye towards how we can better advance American interests and protect our personnel in an increasingly complex and dangerous world,” according to the final report of the board led by former UN Ambassador Thomas Pickering. That report found there were no protests the night of the attack, that intelligence services had no warning of the attack, and that “communication, cooperation, and coordination among Washington, Tripoli, and Benghazi functioned collegially at the working – level but were constrained by a lack of transparency, responsiveness, and leadership at the senior levels.”
“The Board determined that U.S. personnel on the ground in Benghazi performed with courage and readiness to risk their lives to protect their colleagues, in a near impossible situation,” states the report. “The Board members believe every possible effort was made to rescue and recover Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith. The interagency response was timely and appropriate, but there simply was not enough time for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) today introduced the Accountability Review Board Reform Act of 2013 to increase the independence and transparency of future ARBs. Under the bill, the secretary of State would appoint only two members of the board with the chair of the Council of Inspectors General of Integrity and Efficiency appointing two members, and the director of national intelligence appointing the fifth member.
Currently, an ARB uses State Department staff to assist with the investigation of other State Department employees. Under this bill, ARB staff would come from the Office of Inspector General.
Only the names of those five board members are currently required to be disclosed, but the bill would require that all senior State Department officials taking part in compiling the review would also be named. And whereas the report now goes directly to the secretary of State, Royce’s legislation would also require delivery to Congress.
Royce today circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter to rally for co-sponsors, citing the testimony of Eric Nordstrom, former lead security officer in Libya.
“[I]t is not what is contained within the [ARB’s] report that I take exception to but what is left unexamined. Specifically, I’m concerned with the ARB’s decision to focus its attention at the Assistant Secretary level and below,” Nordstrom said before the Oversight Committee.
“Yesterday, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing that reaffirmed the flaws in the Benghazi ARB’s review,” Royce wrote in the letter. “Specifically, the ARB found that the responsibility for the ‘systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies’ within the State Department stopped at the Assistant Secretary level. As we heard throughout the hearing, this was simply not the case.”
“…These improvements seek to strengthen future ARB investigations to help avoid disasters like Benghazi. Please join me in co-sponsoring this legislation.”
The Senate swiftly passed a bill today posthumously awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to four young victims of violence in the Civil Rights Era.
Addie Mae Collins, 14, Denise McNair, 11, Carole Robertson, 14, and Cynthia Wesley, 14, were killed on Sept. 15, 1963, during the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Ala.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the nation’s highest civilian honor. Alabama Republican Richard Shelby introduced the measure in the Senate.
“As the 50th anniversary of this tragedy approaches, I believe that awarding the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award bestowed upon civilians by the United States Congress, is an appropriate way to honor the memories of the victims,” Shelby said. “Their deaths continue to serve as a reminder of the struggle for freedom and equality for which many sacrificed their lives.”
The House approved the bill, introduced by Reps. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) and Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), on April 25.
“The 50th anniversary of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing marks one of the most tragic events in our state’s history and the impetus for immense social and cultural change. We will never forget those young innocent lives, murdered because of the color of their skin,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).
“Birmingham is to be commended for the way it has fully acknowledged the enormity of this wrong in its past and has been a leader worldwide in the promotion of racial reconciliation. An excellent example of that, among others, is the ‘Birmingham Pledge’ which calls on all people to treat everyone with dignity and respect and to end social prejudice,” Sessions continued. “This Congressional Gold Medal is a lasting tribute to their precious memory.”
Two Republicans joined several Democrats today in introducing a joint resolution to remove the deadline for states’ ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
Congress passed the ERA in 1972 with the provision that the measure had to be ratified by three-fourths of the states within seven years. It was later extended to 10 years, but only 35 states out of the 38 needed ratified the ERA.
Supporters say the 27th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting immediate congressional pay raises was ratified after 203 years.
The resolution was introduced by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). Original co-sponsors are Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Mark Begich (D-Alaska).
Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) is introducing a companion bill in the House.
“As America readies to celebrate Mothers’ Day, we should be working to ensure that all women realize the promise of equal protection under the law. We cannot allow an arbitrary deadline to stand in the way of equal rights for our mothers and daughters, wives and sisters, aunts and grandmothers,” said Cardin. “Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment would at last make equality for women explicitly clear in our Constitution. We’re only three states short of victory.”
Supporters today pointed to a statement by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as reason why the ERA needs to be in the Constitution. In 2011, Scalia gave an interview in which he stated that “certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.”
The Pentagon has responded to the House Armed Services Committee’s request for the classified timeline of the night of the Benghazi attack by claiming it doesn’t exist.
Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) requested the document in an April 17 letter. Elizabeth King, assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs, responded on May 1 with the unclassified timeline — which Congress saw in November — attached.
“The Department did not produce a formal classified timeline, but rather only draft working products to assist witnesses and briefers in preparation for numerous Congressional engagements,” King wrote. “By practice, such draft working products are not distributed beyond DoD.”
She said the Pentagon “contributed” to the classified National Counterterrorism Center timeline provided to certain members of Congress on Nov. 14.
“The Department has participated in numerous staff and Member engagements including classified briefings to Committees of jurisdiction,” King continues. “The Department has also responded to dozens of written requests for information in an effort to provide Congress a detailed chronology of the Department’s actions surrounding the attack.”
“I am well aware of the unclassified interagency timeline Ms. King refers to in her letter. I find it insufficient, which is why I requested additional information from the Department of Defense. DoD’s explanation that no further information is available is equally insufficient and unacceptable,” McKeon said today.
“The department has been generally cooperative with this committee in getting to the bottom of what went wrong in Benghazi. They have supported a number of classified and unclassified exchanges with members and staff,” he added. “That does not mean that the process now comes to an end, or that the wealth of potential information has been exhausted. I am deeply disappointed in the department’s response and am committed to continuing the Armed Services Committee’s oversight into the tragedy at Benghazi.”
Connecticut’s senior senator tried to rally gun-control supporters in Newtown last night, telling them the upper chamber needs to go beyond the Manchin-Toomey background check compromise and ban assault weapons.
Both failed as amendments to the broader gun-control package last month.
“Last month, the Senate failed to advance common sense solutions to reduce gun violence when 45 Senators sided with the NRA and special interests against the interests of 90 percent of Americans. That vote was shameful, and one of the lowest points in my career in public service. I am outraged, but not discouraged. We cannot allow special interests to block the will of 90 percent of Americans,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told residents at Newtown High School.
The forum hosted by Newtown Action Alliance was titled “What’s Next for Gun Safety? Understanding and Uniting the Broad Middle.” The senator was joined by Virginia Tech shooting survivor and Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence activist Colin Goddard, President and CEO of the National Gun Victim’s Action Council Elliot Fineman, and Executive Director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence Josh Horwitz.
“I will continue to push for common sense legislation that will make our streets and schools safer and keep guns away from those who wish to harm innocent victims. That means continuing to fight until we pass background check legislation, ban high-capacity magazines and assault weapons, address the difficult issues within our mental health system, and until we close the loopholes that allow for gun trafficking in our communities,” Blumenthal said.
“Your voices, voices of Newtown and gun violence victims nationwide have been vital to this effort – and those voices must get louder so that those who oppose common sense legislation will clearly hear the will of the people,” he continued. “I look forward to continuing to fight alongside you until we get this done. We owe it to the victims of Sandy Hook, the nearly 4,000 innocent victims of gun violence since then, and the 90 percent of Americans who are counting on Congress to do no less.”
One forthcoming amendment to the giant immigration reform bill working its way through the Senate aims to nix graduation requirements in the DREAM Act to include younger kids.
The DREAM Act — which provides a five-year path to citizenship for youth who entered the U.S. prior to age 16, have graduated from high school or earned a GED, and earned a college diploma, attended two years of college, or spent four years in the military — was basically enacted via executive fiat last year but is included in the immigration bill crafted by the bipartisan Group of Eight.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) lamented that the bill doesn’t provide this five-year path to citizenship for youth who entered the U.S. as children but are too young to have graduated from high school or completed a GED.
Hence, his “Little Dreamers” amendment.
“The Senate’s bipartisan immigration legislation is a historic step, but it should not exclude the littlest DREAMers – children brought to this country through no fault of their own who are too young to qualify for the five-year pathway to citizenship that the DREAM Act provides,” Blumenthal said. “My amendment would ensure that all child immigrants have the opportunity to achieve the American Dream in the country they call home.”
Currently, children have to wait up to 13 years, just like adults, if they don’t meet DREAM Act requirements. The amendment would allow children who are under the age of 18 upon completing five years of registered provisional status to be eligible to adjust to lawfully permanent resident status and be immediately eligible for citizenship.
Blumenthal cites the support of more than 180 special-interest groups, including the AFL-CIO, ACLU and La Raza.
Seems that the bilateral meeting yesterday between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Secretary of State John Kerry wasn’t all that Kerry thought it was cracked up to be.
Putin appeared to have no interest talking with a secretary and instead talked only of his presidential counterpart during the joint appearance before the media in Moscow:
I’m happy that we continue regular contacts with our U.S. colleagues at all levels. I recently spoke with President Obama on the phone. We spoke twice and we had long, substantial conversations. I had a chance to discuss many aspects of our relations. I got his letter. Mr. Donilon brought it to Moscow.
Right now, we’re working on our bilateral. I hope to be able to meet with Mr. President shortly in person. We will have a number of opportunities this year. I think it’s very important that our key ministries and agencies, including the foreign ministry, cooperate in finding solutions for the most topical and relevant issues of today’s world.
Kerry, who spoke more than twice as long as Putin, waxed to an extent that likely annoyed the Russian leader:
Mr. President, I also am honored to be here on the eve of your Victory Day celebration. I had the pleasure of walking through Red Square and seeing the preparations, and I even met with some of your veterans and I had a chance to talk with them about their experiences. And I think many people in the United States and elsewhere are not fully aware of the enormous contribution of Russia, the amazing sacrifices and the great effort made as a partner, an ally, to win that war. And we thank you for that great cooperation.
And Mr. President, I bring you President Obama’s greetings. He related to me the substance of his conversations with you, for which he was very grateful, and he is looking forward to seeing you on the side of the G-8 in Ireland and would reiterate that there are many issues – economic, economic cooperation, the challenges of North Korea, Iran, Syria, and many other issues – of which he believes that we could cooperate very significantly.
And finally, Mr. President, I know that we’ll have a chance to talk about it seriously in a few moments, but we really believe, the United States believes, that we share some very significant common interests with respect to Syria – stability in the region, not having extremists creating problems throughout the region and elsewhere – and I think we have both embraced in the Geneva communique a common approach. So it’s my hope that today we’ll be able to dig into that a little bit and see if we can find the common ground. And the President – President Obama particularly feels that cooperation between Russia and the United States with respect to economic issues is something that would be of enormous benefit to both, and Russia’s leadership is so key on so many of those issues. We look forward to working with you.
Kerry did say, though, that “our professionals are working together now to work to deal with some of the issues of the bombing that took place in Boston.”
A Democrat has added his name to the list of lawmakers frustrated with the Pentagon’s insistence on calling the Fort Hood shooting “workplace violence.”
Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) joined with Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), a longtime critic of the administration’s treating of Fort Hood, in slamming the “political sensitivities” that have kept the attack from being recognized as an act of terror. Wolf and Fattah serve together as chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies.
Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), also a member of the Appropriations Committee, is the third congressman on the letter sent to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel yesterday.
“We write today on behalf of the 14 murdered, the 32 wounded by gunfire and the many other soldiers, civilians and family members injured in the November 5, 2009, Fort Hood terror attack,” the trio said in the letter.
“The Department of Defense and the Army have designated the attack by Major Nidal Hasan as ‘workplace violence.’ This designation has since resulted in an embarrassing lack of care and treatment by our military for the victims and their families. We understand this decision was not made under your leadership. Therefore, we ask that you swiftly reclassify the victims’ deaths and injuries as ‘combat-related’ so that they and their families may qualify for the full scope of benefits provided to service members and DoD civilian employees who are killed or injured in combat, and to ensure that they are treated with appropriate decency and respect from this point forward,” it continues.
Victims, the members said, have “revealed claims of mistreatment by the Army” in meeting with the lawmakers, including “repeated denials and delays of medical treatment for individuals with physical injuries, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury; denials of retirement benefits; and overall negligence and disregard.”
“When members of our military and DoD civilians are brutally attacked – whether at home or abroad, by a ‘lone wolf’ or by a ‘card-carrying member’ of a designated terrorist organization – it is our responsibility to provide adequate oversight over DoD and the Army’s policies and decisions, both before and after such an attack,” Rooney, Fattah and Wolf wrote.
A new report by the Social Security Administration’s inspector general found that 182,165 benefit recipients reported to the administration as deceased had not yet been entered in the Death Master File database.
In addition, 937 deceased recipients had earnings recorded 1 or more years after their deaths. The report also also found that “92 employers made 113 E-Verify inquiries for 78 deceased recipients and did not receive any indication from SSA that these individuals were deceased.”
“In addition, we found that [Help America Vote Verification] requests for 78 deceased recipients indicated they were not deceased. This would not have prevented an individual from voting under a deceased recipient’s identity.”
“Today’s report from the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General highlights a fundamental set of problems with how we report and keep track of deceased individuals,” said Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.). “Errors like this cost taxpayers millions of dollars in waste and fraud each year, and could be easily fixed by implementing some basic reforms. Preventing wasteful spending, including to deceased individuals, must be a higher priority.”
“I hope the Social Security Administration will take the findings in this report to heart and work to prevent these overpayments in the future,” he added.
“Every person – living or deceased – who is wrongfully added to the disability rolls takes dollars and benefits away from those who are truly disabled,” said Ranking Member Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). “This report underscores the need for the Social Security Administration to reform its broken system.”
The committee will hold a hearing to discuss the report Wednesday.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) predicted last night “the dam’s about to break on Benghazi.”
The State Department finally responded to Graham’s request to interview five survivors of the attack, saying they have concerns about the welfare of the diplomatic security agents and “want to be careful not to interfere with the FBI’s investigation of the attack.”
“Should their identities become public, they may become targets, putting their lives, as well as those of their families and the people they protect, at increased risk,” the State Department response continued.
Graham called it “completely unacceptable.”
“The five people who were diplomatic security have never been talked to by the Congress. It’s our job to oversee and provide oversight to the executive branch,” he said on Fox News.
The senator doesn’t even know if the survivors were interviewed for the Accountability Review Board report on Benghazi. “All I know is that what we’re knowing — what we’re finding out is that the story told by the State Department, Susan Rice, the president himself was so completely wrong and false,” he said. “There’s a reason. Why did Susan Rice and the president push this narrative that it was a spontaneous event caused by a hateful video? Because if the truth had come out seven weeks before an election this was an al Qaeda-inspired pre-planned attack, it would undercut the narrative politically that bin Laden’s dead, we’re all safer.”
Graham said Gregory Hicks, the No. 2 diplomat in Libya at the time of the Sept. 11 attack, is “a professional diplomat, doesn’t want to get involved in politics, but he’s a man of conscience.” Hicks testifies tomorrow before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
“He knows what happened that night. He’s the last guy to talk to Chris Stevens. He knows it was a terrorist attack from day one,” the senator continued.
“Everybody feels chilled. I’ve been asking for survivors to come forward, people who were involved, not just survivors, and every agency in the government is stonewalling. These guys are whistleblowers. They came forward out of conscience. Greg Hicks knew that Chris Stevens was being thrown under the bus. ‘Chris should have never been there.’ That’s the new narrative. Well, they knew he was in Benghazi. So the people who knew Chris Stevens, who lived through this attack, believe that what they went through has been misrepresented.”
Graham confirmed that he’s heard people in the CIA who want to come forward and testify have been told by director John Brennan that they’d be subject to polygraph if they get involved.
“I know there are some CIA agents reaching out. They feel frustrated. The CIA generally got this right, and they feel frustrated about what happened that night before and after. So we’ll see where this goes,” he said.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), stinging over the defeat of gun-control legislation, called new NRA president Jim Porter “really kind of the wing nuts’ wing nut.”
“And he exposes what the NRA has really become. I mean, the NRA kind of announced this weekend they’re morphing into a paramilitary group, that essentially they’re going to be advocating for armed resistance to the U.S. government,” Murphy said last night on MSNBC.
“A new citizen paramilitary force is a pretty nice business model for the gun industry. So, when you got an NRA president going out there and saying we need to arm Americans in order to fight our government, well, that sells a lot more guns and that means more dues into the NRA and that means a little bit bigger budget to play with,” Murphy continued
“So, I think this is just what the NRA has become. It’s not a gun safety organization. It’s not an instructional organization. It is now a voice for the gun industry and the gun industry needs a handful of citizens to buy a whole mess of guns in order to stay solvent. I think that their choice of this radical new leader is kind of a signal that’s a direction that they’re permanently headed in.”
The junior senator from Connecticut called the efforts of states such as Alabama and Kansas to nullify laws seen as in violation of the Second Amendment “laughable.”
“It’s laughable also because it’s a total bastardization of the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment is not an absolute right. It’s not a God-given right. It has always had conditions upon it, just like the First Amendment has,” Murphy said. “And this idea that the Second Amendment was put in there in order to allow citizens to fight their government is insane. If that was the case, we wouldn’t have also included treason in the United States Constitution. We basically said if you take arms up against the government, we’re going to knock your block off. And that’s what the early presidents ended up doing in the Shay’s Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion.”
“So, the Second Amendment is not designed to allow the citizenry to arm itself against the government and nullification is just another example of states not understanding the true nature of that amendment.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said his background check compromise with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) can pass if they “make some adjustments to it and find out where the comfort zone is.”
The failure of the compromise on the Senate floor as the first amendment to Harry Reid’s broader gun-control package prompted Reid to yank his bill from the floor.
“But what we need to do, really, is be out and educate the law-abiding gun owners like myself, people that might belong to the NRA or other gun organizations but don’t believe this is a threat to their Second Amendment,” Manchin said this morning on CBS.
“We have some people that were concerned it might infringe on any family transfers, and it doesn’t at all. But we’re going to clarify that language. So anytime that you transfer to family, whether it’s directly or online, it would be basically not subjected to the background check, because that’s a personal transaction with a family member. What we’ve done, is we’ve separated it. You have private, and you have, basically, personal, private, and you have commercial. If you’re going to go to a commercial, whether it be background — to a gun show, gun store or online, it should have background check,” the senator continued.
Manchin called slams against his bill at the past weekend’s NRA convention “just not true.”
“If they just look at the face value of this bill, this bill does things they tried to do for 20 years. And, basically, it treats a law-abiding gun owner like myself and a lot of my friends in the NRA, treats them the way they should be treated, as a law-abiding gun owner,” he said, noting that he “did” have an A rating from the NRA.
“I’m frustrated with any organization that basically is saying things — and what they’re doing, is they’re rattling the cage, if you will, saying, ‘Well, if they do this, they’re going to do this. It’s a first step.’”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wants Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to make sure that the immigration reform bill passes through the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings.
Reid assured Paul after his first request that the committee would hold hearings regarding immigration and border security. But Paul said that’s not enough and wants debate and amendments to start at the committee.
“As I stated in my previous letter to you on April 22 of this year, I believe it is critical for the Senate to fully review and consider the events that led to the tragic bombing in Boston last month,” Paul wrote Reid yesterday. “Most importantly, we must learn how persons admitted to and residing legally in the United States—from a dangerous region of the world, no less—could fall through the cracks, progress through the immigration process, and remain in the United States, where they were able to carry out vicious attacks despite being subjected to a significant amount of scrutiny during their immigration processing.”
“At the same time that we are trying to learn how the warning signs that might have stopped this horrible tragedy were missed, the Senate is pushing ahead with consideration of new immigration reform legislation.”
Paul noted that senators are receiving indications that “this enormous piece of legislation will be expedited to the fullest extent possible.” Reid has said he wants the Group of Eight’s bill passed in the next two months.
“It has been argued that immigration has already been debated for years and, while that may be true, it most certainly is not the case with this legislation. It was drafted behind closed doors and has only been available for review for a few weeks,” Paul wrote. “Further, the investigation of the events in Boston has barely begun. The Senate needs time to further examine the Boston case and the immigration issues it raises, and work to apply whatever reforms are needed, before we rush to pass legislation that will have an uncertain impact over generations.”
Paul stressed that Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is the place to be “amended and refined.” So far review of the bill has been up to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Having HSGAC also markup the immigration reform bill will only make the bill stronger and our nation safer,” the Kentucky Republican wrote. “I strongly urge the immigration bill be referred to HSGAC for further debate and amendments, especially in regards to provisions relating to functions of the Department of Homeland Security, such as immigration processing and security screening (including student visas and refugees), and also to consider how to address gaps in visa exit tracking. You should, in discussion with the leadership of HSGAC, make this referral as soon as the Judiciary Committee has completed its own markup of the bill.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said through his spokesman late last night that he is “disgusted” over the arrest of the chief of the Air Force’s sexual assault prevention and response branch this past weekend on sexual battery charges.
Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, 41, of Arlington, Va., is accused of grabbing a woman’s breasts and buttocks in a parking lot. His mugshot provided by the Arlington County Police Department shows a cut under one eye and abrasions around his mouth.
Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said Hagel “spoke to Air Force Secretary Donley about allegations of misconduct involving an Air Force officer who had been responsible for the service’s sexual assault and prevention efforts and was removed today from his position pending the outcome of an investigation.”
“Secretary Hagel expressed outrage and disgust over the troubling allegations and emphasized that this matter will be dealt with swiftly and decisively,” he said.
The arrest is especially embarrassing for the Defense Department as the Pentagon has been criticized in Congress for not doing enough to combat sexual assault in the military.
“Secretary Hagel has been directing the department’s leaders to elevate their focus on sexual assault prevention and response, and he will soon announce next steps in our ongoing efforts to combat this vile crime,” Little said.
“Sexual assault has no place in the United States military. The American people, including our service members, should expect a culture of absolutely no tolerance for this deplorable behavior that violates not only the law, but basic principles of respect, honor, and dignity in our society and its military,” he continued. “Secretary Hagel is firmly committed to upholding the highest standards of behavior in America’s armed forces and will take action to see this through.”
A New York Democrat wants to revise gun laws to encompass a downloadable plastic gun produced on a 3-D printer.
On Friday, Defense Distributed premiered its plastic firearm with only one small necessary metal part: the firing pin.
Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) wants to pour water on this invention with his Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act, which extends a 1988 ban on plastic guns that expires this year and extends it to include homemade, plastic high-capacity magazines and receivers. The piece of metal in the downloadable gun, which allows it to be spotted by metal detectors, keeps it within current law.
“Security checkpoints, background checks, and gun regulations will do little good if criminals can print plastic firearms at home and bring those firearms through metal detectors with no one the wiser. When I started talking about the issue of plastic firearms months ago, I was told the idea of a plastic gun is science-fiction. Now that this technology appears to be upon us, we need to act now to extend the ban on plastic firearms,” Israel said.
Israel “revamped” his bill to make it “illegal to manufacture, own, transport, buy, or sell any firearm, receiver, or magazine that is homemade and not detectable by metal detector and/or does not present an accurate image when put through an x-ray machine.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) was so alarmed by Friday’s demonstration video of the downloadable gun that he called a Sunday news conference to jump on board Israel’s bill.
“We’re facing a situation where anyone — a felon, a terrorist — can open a gun factory in their garage, and the weapons they make will be undetectable,” Schumer said. “It’s stomach churning.”
The senator clarified he doesn’t want to ban 3-D printers outright.
See update on next page.
Dancing a similar two-step as a previous Democratic administration, White House spokesman Jay Carney had a wordy answer — not containing “yes” or “no” — to the question of whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is perpetrating genocide on his people.
“You mentioned that the — the Assad regime has murdered tens of thousands of people, in your — your words. Does this rise to the level of a genocide?” was the question directed to Carney.
“It is a level of violence against — by a regime against its own people that is worthy of contempt and condemnation. What the terminology that may be used by courts, or the United Nations or others, I will leave to them. But, it is heinous and despicable. It is the kind of action that long ago rendered Assad incapable of continuing in power with any kind of legitimacy,” the press secretary said before hurrying on to the next question.
More than 70,000 people have been killed and more than a million have been displaced by Assad’s bombardment in response to peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations that were inspired by the Arab Spring.
Genocide Watch notes that government atrocities “far outweigh” ones attributed to rebels, and “the evidence is conclusive that the al-Assad regime is committing intentional crimes against humanity.”
“Among the crimes the al-Assad regime is committing are: indiscriminant, widespread attacks on civilians, arbitrary detention of thousands in the political opposition, genocidal massacres of whole villages of Sunni Muslims, rape of detainees, widespread torture- including torture and murder of children- and denial of food, medicines and other essential resources to civilians,” the organization said.
“Early warning signs and stages of genocide” in Syria, Genocide Watch says, are “prior unpunished genocidal massacres, such as those perpetrated by Assad’s father in Hama in the 1980’s; rule by a minority sect – the Alawite sect that supports Assad – with an exclusionary ideology; systematic human rights atrocities; fear by the ruling elite that any compromise will mean total loss of their power; deliberate targeting of particular groups — Sunni Muslims and army defectors; denial by the Syrian government that it is committing crimes against humanity, blaming ‘foreign – inspired terrorist gangs’ for the armed conflict.”
Governments are loathe to use the word “genocide” for fear of having to act under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
In a clear case of genocide in Rwanda, 1994, Clinton’s administration infamously stopped at the description “acts of genocide.” In 1998, President Clinton apologized to Rwanda victims, saying, “We did not act quickly enough after the killing began. We should not have allowed the refugee camps to become safe havens for the killers. We did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name: genocide.” Over 100 days, 800,000 people were killed in the genocide.
Privately, though, the State Department was officially calling the Rwandan slaughter genocide in reports just a few weeks after the killings started.
President Obama has wined and dined members of the Senate GOP in order to advance his agenda via charm offensive.
Today, the commander in chief, stinging from a gun-control defeat, wanting to push immigration reform through and about to get flambéed on Benghazi again, went for broke by allowing select senators into his inner sanctum.
Obama took them golfing.
Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) rounded out the foursome hauled out to Andrews Air Force Base around lunchtime for a few hours on the links. Udall was one of several Democrats to vote against Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) assault weapons ban as an amendment to broader gun-control legislation.
The Senate went back into session after a weeklong recess at 2 p.m. today, but it looks like Obama is helping the lawmakers play hooky instead of debate the online sales tax, which comes up for a vote after 5:30 p.m. The group didn’t hit the green until 1:20 p.m.
Reporters were told that there would be a photo opportunity during the golf outing, another rarity for Obama, who usually takes the same trio of confidantes to the course and socks the press pool away out of sight at the food court.
“The golfing party arrived at the first green … with the president chipping his first shot the pool viewed passed the hole,” reads the White House pool report. “He later appeared to miss a putt. The president is wearing a blue jacket and wearing a ball cap. Corker, in a gray sweater and khakis, at one point tossed the president a ball from about 15 feet and they later stood together chatting as Udall and Chambliss took putts. Pool was out of earshot of anything said on the green. Corker drove a cart toward the second tee with Udall but pool couldn’t see the president or Chambliss after being herded away from the first hole. Pool now holding at base exchange.”
“The golf party will be hearing regular pops of gunfire from a training exercise or firing range in the distance. The routine of the base continues with lawn mowers at work quite near where the president’s party is playing.”
Today isn’t the best day to play golf, with cool temps and clouds as a storm moves in.
UPDATE: The game wrapped up close to 5 p.m. Chambliss’ spokesman said the senator scored a hole-in-one on the 11th hole, but the White House will not confirm.
A Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee charged that the Republicans have been “disgraceful” on the Benghazi investigation.
“We don’t have the ability to hold a hearing. The Democrats have been completely kept out of this whole process. This has been a one- sided investigation, if you want to call it that. There’s been no sharing of information in a significant way with the Democrats staff members who usually conduct this type of investigation,” Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) complained on Fox News Sunday.
Lynch added that reports of whistleblower intimidation are “completely false.”
“The only retaliation I’ve heard of here is that one of these witnesses wants a reassignment and promotion. He hasn’t gotten the promotion that he wanted, and he’s saying that that’s somehow retaliation. So, you know, hasn’t got it yet. It’s actually in the process,” the congressman continued. “That’s the — that’s the level of threats of intimidation? He hasn’t got the promotion he wants yet?”
This morning on Fox, Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) slammed Lynch for covering for the Obama administration.
“If Congressman Lynch wants to be an apologist for the administration — I expect that on Wednesday — but his information is simply wrong,” Issa said. “This is a career professional — they’re all career professionals — who asked for a help in representing his whistleblower views, and he’s been denied an attorney.”
“…Finally, he has an attorney who has a long history of representing people with top clearances. And as of today, she still has not been allowed to have a full clearance, or to read the information,” he continued. “So, Lynch is either just wrong, covering for the administration, or simply behind the times on the facts as they are.”
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said upcoming testimony this week charging that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to cut the State Department’s antiterrorism unit out of the Benghazi response the night of the attack will speak to the administration’s insistence on making it about a YouTube video.
That assertion will be made by Mark Thompson, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Counterterrorism, at Wednesday’s Oversight hearing on Benghazi whistleblowers.
Other testimony will come from Foreign Service Officer and former Deputy Chief of Mission/Chargé d’Affairs in Libya Gregory Hicks, who received the call from Ambassador Chris Stevens that night saying “we’re under attack,” and Diplomatic Security Officer and former Regional Security Officer in Libya Eric Nordstrom, who previously testified before the committee in October.
“This idea that it wasn’t terrorism, which has been said — both said and not said — plays right into this,” Issa said this morning on Fox.
“If, as the president said in the Rose Garden, it was an act of terror, then of course, the counterterrorism unit that exists for just that reason in State Department should have been there at every moment. But if you wanted it to seem like it wasn’t terrorism, keeping them out of the room allows you to play with this false truth that somehow, it was a video, and the same as the protests in Egypt. Which, of course, from the get-go, everyone knew just wasn’t true.”
Issa said the scandal is “damaging” to Clinton, who may take a run at the White House in 2016. “It happened on her watch. I think the important thing is that it’s — Hillary Clinton is no longer secretary of state, but there are many people still at State Department who were involved in this at the highest levels who continue to keep their jobs and keep this — this symbol of ‘the war is over, terror is behind us,’” he said.
“I think there’s no other real, plausible question but that politics played a part in falsifying these — these statements before, or during and after the attack in Benghazi. And that’s — the real question is, can we get the politics out? Can we make the men and women of the State Department safer? And can we be honest about the real threat of extremism around the world, and even in our own back yard?” the chairman added.
Issa gave the first hints about what will be heard at the hearing Sunday on CBS’ Face the Nation.
“We know one thing, the talking points were right, and then the talking points were wrong. The CIA knew it was a terrorist attack, the deputy chief of mission, Gregory Hicks, knew it was a terrorist attack, the ambassador before he died, one of the last words he ever said is, ‘we`re under attack,’” he said.
The former chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee criticized President Obama’s Latin American trip as lots of soundbites and no coherent policy to back it up.
“It is disappointing that the president once again concludes a visit to Latin America without any coherent strategy on how to advance U.S. interests in the region, promote democracy, and hold accountable those regimes that oppress their own people. During his trip, the President acknowledged the ongoing crisis in Venezuela but failed to offer what actions the U.S. government would take in order to respond to the calls for democracy by the Venezuelan people,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said.
“At the same time, the president failed to condemn the illegitimate elections in Nicaragua and Daniel Ortega’s successful attempts to violate the Nicaraguan constitution multiple times. How can we expect the president to stand firm to Maduro now in Venezuela, when he has no problem sitting at the dinner table with Daniel Ortega who engaged in the same tactics as Maduro and prevented a free, fair, and transparent election from occurring?” she added.
Obama finished a short trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, where his addresses were more pep talk than anything else. “Some Americans only see the Mexico that is depicted in sensational headlines of violence and border crossings,” he said in a speech praising the country’s culture and accomplishments.
The president also heaped blame on the U.S. for keeping cartels in business — “much of the root cause of violence that’s been happening here in Mexico, for which many so Mexicans have suffered, is the demand for illegal drugs in the United States” — and for being a source of guns into Mexico.
“In Mexico and Central America, the issue of narco-terrorism is real and rampant throughout the region and must be met head on by strengthening institutions and providing sufficient security assistance to our allies in the region. According to President Obama, the U.S. has much to apologize for: when the guns are used in Mexico, it the U.S. supplier, not the Mexican consumer, that is at fault; but when the drugs are used in the U.S., it is the U.S. consumer, not the Mexican supplier, that is at fault,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “The only common element is that when the U.S. is anywhere in a sentence, the U.S. is at fault. Let’s stop apologizing to countries, Mr. President.”
“I hope this trip helps the administration recognize the economic importance of our relationship with Latin America which can only improve in an environment of open markets and free societies,” the congresswoman continued.
“Just this week, Bolivia stated plans to expel USAID, the Obama Administration granted a U.S. visa to Raul Castro’s daughter and returned to Cuba a convicted spy without having him finish his sentence. The leaders of the ALBA nations in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua are constantly working against U.S. and regional democracy and security objectives and from Cuba to Venezuela, millions of innocent people continue to be deprived of their democratic rights and fundamental freedoms.”
President Obama’s message to not so much mark the 1862 victory over French forces in the Battle of Puebla, but to hail himself as a conquering hero of Mexican politics (and pitch immigration reform):
Today we honor the victory of the Mexican people in their fight for freedom at the Battle of Puebla 151 years ago. On Cinco de Mayo we celebrate the contributions and heritage of Mexican Americans and we recognize the strong cultural, familial, and economic ties that bind the United States and Mexico.
This week, I was proud to visit Mexico to reaffirm our vision for the Americas as a region of shared opportunity and prosperity. I left even more convinced that we have historic opportunities to expand trade and make our economies even more competitive, so that we continue creating good jobs in both of our countries.
In Mexico, I also emphasized the need to pass commonsense immigration reform that lives up to our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants, including generations of Mexican Americans who have enriched our country. Fixing our immigration system is one of my top legislative priorities and I am hopeful that we can make immigration reform a reality this year.
Cinco de mayo reminds us that America’s diversity is America’s strength. Today, as we celebrate the contributions and history of Mexican Americans and Hispanics in America, let us celebrate the larger story of America and our unique immigrant heritage.
Connecticut’s senior senator accused National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre of making “offensive remarks” at this weekend’s NRA conference in Houston.
“Yesterday, when NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said of the organization’s critics ‘let them be damned,’ he was talking to 90 percent of Americans who support criminal background checks and other common sense gun violence prevention measures. His remarks disgrace the organization and its members – most of them supporters of expanding background checks,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) in a statement.
“LaPierre also callously claimed that the horrific tragedy in Newtown was used to ‘shame’ the organization. The truth is that the NRA shames itself by misleading the American public and its membership about the need for sensible gun safety measures, and working to block such measures at all costs.”
“We are in the midst of a once-in-a-generation fight for everything we care about. We have a chance to secure our freedom for a generation, or to lose it forever,” LaPierre said Saturday, noting that NRA membership was up 5 percent since Newtown.
“We must remain vigilant, ever resolute, and steadfastly growing and preparing for the even more critical battles that loom before us,” he said.
After gun-control failed to make it to the Senate floor following the defeat of key amendments, Blumenthal has been trying to keep it in the news as the focus of the upper chamber has shifted to immigration reform.
“I will continue to stand and work with victims of gun violence, law enforcement officials, and responsible gun owners to push for measures that keep our families and communities safe,” he said. “The offensive remarks made this weekend by LaPierre and other top leaders of the NRA will only cause us to redouble our efforts for common sense reform.”
It seems the Chinese aren’t interested in taking Secretary of State John Kerry’s call about the nephew of dissident Chen Guangcheng, the blind activist against China’s forced abortions who fled to the U.S. embassy a year ago.
Chen testified before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee last month, saying his family members were under attack from the Chinese government — torture, harassment, beatings — since Hillary Clinton negotiated Chen’s ticket to the U.S.
His nephew Chen Kegui tried to defend himself against government thugs and was sentenced to three years in prison.
“We cannot continue to tolerate the Chinese communist authorities continuing to go back on their word and deceiving the international community at will,” Chen said at the hearing, during which he called on the Obama administration to release the agreements forged with Beijing that U.S. diplomats told him ensured no harm would come to his kin if he left China.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell was asked at today’s press briefing whether Secretary of State John Kerry followed up on a vow to call the PRC leadership and raise the case of Chen Kegui.
VENTRELL: The secretary did reach out to his counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang yesterday. He was unable to reach him, and the secretary will follow up. So he has placed a call, and has not yet been able to connect with the foreign minister, who we understand is on travel.
QUESTION: Do you know if he attempted to reach him after you announced from the podium that he was going to call?
VENTRELL: No, we discussed in the morning that he was going to make the call during the day.
QUESTION: Right, I know. But was it — did he try to do it after you had said that he was going to?
VENTRELL: Matt, I don’t know what — exactly what hour…
QUESTION: Just curious if you think that the Chinese foreign minister might have been ducking the phone call because he knew that he was going to get yelled at about this?
VENTRELL: I — I don’t know what time the Operations Center was putting forth the call. But, the secretary did reach out to the Chinese and will follow up.
QUESTION: Isn’t it odd that you — that he’s not able to reach the Chinese foreign minister?
VENTRELL: I mean, again sometimes it’s time differences, or travel, or — but – yeah, sometimes it takes us a little while to connect with foreign leaders — or foreign minister in this case.
Just in case anyone is concerned that senators aren’t reading the 844-page immigration reform bill from the Group of Eight closely before returning from recess next week, note that Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is tweeting as he goes, calling out concerning elements of the legislation:
— David Vitter (@DavidVitter) April 30, 2013
— David Vitter (@DavidVitter) May 1, 2013
— David Vitter (@DavidVitter) May 1, 2013
— David Vitter (@DavidVitter) May 1, 2013
— David Vitter (@DavidVitter) May 1, 2013
— David Vitter (@DavidVitter) May 2, 2013
— David Vitter (@DavidVitter) May 2, 2013
— David Vitter (@DavidVitter) May 3, 2013
The Obama administration has tapped former EU Ambassador James Dobbins to take over as the next Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Richard Holbrooke was the first to hold the position created by President Obama. After Holbrooke died in 2010, former ambassador to Turkey Marc Grossman took the job. Grossman resigned in December.
Dobbins, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at RAND Corp., “has deep and longstanding relationships in the region and I couldn’t be more grateful that Jim has agreed to take on this assignment,” said Secretary of State John Kerry.
Dobbins was the first diplomatic envoy to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. He represented the United States at the Bonn Conference that established the new Afghan Government, and he raised the flag over the U.S. Embassy in Kabul when it reopened in 2001.
“Jim is one of our nation’s most accomplished diplomats and will bring all of his considerable expertise and experience to bear as Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Kerry said.
“Given my own history with both countries, and players throughout the region, identifying the right person for this position was a key priority,” the secretary added.
A member of Congress told PJM this week that Kerry briefings inevitably see the long-winded secretary turning the subject to himself.
“I never thought I’d long for Hillary Clinton,” the member quipped.
The leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee are seeking Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s leadership on where to cut to meet the $52 billion in Fiscal Year 2014 mandated by sequestration.
“Virtually every DOD witness who has come before the Armed Services Committee this year has testified that an additional round of sequestration in fiscal year 2014 would be devastating for the Department,” Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) wrote to Hagel yesterday.
“Despite this testimony, many members of Congress and the public still seem to have the view that sequestration is an effective way to cut government spending and can be made workable simply by providing the Department with additional flexibility or making minor adjustments. As a result, there is an increasing risk that DOD and other federal agencies may face sequestration again in 2014.”
Levin and Inhofe asked Hagel to provide a package of reductions to the committee by July 1.
“We recognize that it will not be easy to put together such a package. In our view, however, a concrete demonstration of the painful choices the Department would have to make to cut $52 billion from its budget may be our last, best hope of avoiding sequestration altogether,” they added.
Levin said in a statement that he believes other agencies should put their cuts in writing, too.
“I hope other committees make similar requests of the departments in their jurisdiction, so that we can demonstrate to our colleagues and the American people how urgent it is that we end sequestration and substitute a balanced approach to budgeting and deficits,” the senator said.
Inhofe noted “the men and women of our military have already endured almost $600 billion in cuts and stand to lose another $52 billion next year because of a failure to address sequestration.”
“Our military was told last year not to worry about sequestration, that it would not happen, but the failed promise has led to an enormous amount of uncertainty that has prevented our military leaders from properly planning to ensure the capabilities and readiness of our force,” the Oklahoma Republican said. “It is vital for DoD and Sec. Hagel to provide Congress with a detailed plan for the implementation of the FY’14 defense cuts so that my colleagues and the American public will have a clear understanding of what the future holds for our military capabilities and overall national security.”
Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) said legalizing same-sex marriage should make his home state a “hip, happening” place.
Chafee is expected to sign the bill into law this evening. The former Republican senator said on MSNBC it’s a natural step for his political career.
“Well, I always was what they used to call ‘Rockefeller Republicans’ that was very liberal on the social issues and more conservative on the financial issues — very wary of deficits and the like, but very liberal on the social issues. That was a whole genre across the country, with Mark Hatfield in Oregon, or Nancy Kassebaum in Kansas, Chuck Percy. And then in the Northeast, of course, many, many Rockefeller Republicans,” he said. “That changed over the years, but I’ve stayed the same. Now I’m an independent, but the values are the same.”
The governor said the GOP “getting away from those core values of fiscal conservatism” was why he left the party.
“The Bush and Cheney administration brought back the deficits and then focused on the social issues. It was a reversal of the old style Republican — Eisenhower, Rockefeller type of Republican — Republicanism,” he said.
Chafee said the gay marriage argument can be won with conservatives by using “studies that show a correlation between tolerance and economic prosperity, and I believe those studies.”
“Whether it’s Cambridge or Austin, Texas, or Palo Alto. Communities that have a lot of tolerance are going to prosper economically. It’s young, talented people that like that kind of atmosphere. And there is a correlation. I believe that,” he said.
“And so, I want Rhode Island to be one of those hip happening places, and tolerance is a big part of it.”
The Rhode Island House just passed the bill adding the state to nine other states and the District of Columbia where same-sex marriage is legal.
“I want to sign it as soon as they finish that vote,” Chafee said.
A Republican congressman likened President Obama’s pick for Commerce secretary to putting a bank robber in charge of the bank.
Obama today nominated billionaire Penny Pritzker, the founder, chairman and CEO of PSP Capital Partners and Pritzker Realty Group and a Hyatt Hotels heiress, to the fill the post.
“Penny is one of our country’s most distinguished business leaders. She’s got more than 25 years of management experience in industries including real estate, finance, and hospitality. She’s built companies from the ground up. She knows from experience that no government program alone can take the place of a great entrepreneur,” the president said. “She knows that what we can do is to give every business and every worker the best possible chance to succeed by making America a magnet for good jobs.”
She’s also a longtime Chicago buddy of Obama’s, ardent support and adept fundraiser. In 2008 she led Obama’s campaign finance team to coordinate his record-setting haul, and in 2012 she bundled more than half a million dollars for the president’s re-election campaign.
Pritzker was up for the Commerce post in Obama’s first term, but took her name out the running due to a family squabble over its $19 billion fortune. It was also assumed that her oversight of a subprime lending bank in Illinois that collapsed in 2001 would come back to haunt her during the confirmation process, as her family agreed to pay $460 million in fines over the next 15 years.
“Penny understands that just as great companies strengthen the community around them, strong communities and skilled workers also help companies thrive. So she’s been an extraordinary civic leader in our shared hometown of Chicago. She served as a member of my Jobs Council,” he continued. “She was the driving force behind Skills for America’s Future, which is a program that brings together companies and community colleges to shape and prepare skills-based training programs for workers that are tied into the businesses that potentially will hire them.”
Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), chairman of the Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, blasted the pick.
“The track record of Secretary-designee Pritzker is alarming and I’m underwhelmed by this nomination that puts the bank robber in charge of the bank. It’s unfathomable to me the president can’t come up with a better nomination for this key jobs creation post than someone whose qualifications include bundling millions of dollars for his campaign and chairing a failed bank,” Terry said.
“I also find it completely hypocritical that President Obama has nominated someone who has invested money in the same off-shore tax havens he campaigned against while lecturing Americans that they need to pay their fair share. This is not the leadership our Commerce Department needs when our unemployment rate sits at 7.6 percent. It’s disappointing that the president took nearly a year to nominate someone to this key post in his administration,” Terry continued.
“Raising millions of dollars for the president’s campaigns is not a qualification to be secretary of Commerce. Our nation of builders needs a leader at the Commerce Department with a proven track record of creating jobs, innovating and making America more competitive.”
What could also make for interesting drama during her confirmation process is AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka’s boycott against Hyatt Hotels for alleged workplace violations.
“Penny Pritzker has an extensive and diverse resume of business experience, including in the visitor industry which is vital to Alaska’s economy,” said Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), a member of the Commerce Committee that will weigh the nomination. “I hope she likes salmon because she’ll have to learn a lot about Alaska, oceans and fisheries management, and the importance of our natural resources to the overall economy. With Alaska facing fisheries disasters, a flood of marine debris, and an evolving National Oceans Policy, there’s a lot the Obama administration needs to address, and the Commerce Secretary will play a key role.”