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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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Hillary Expected to Launch Presidential Campaign This Weekend

Thursday, April 9th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Multiple outlets are reporting that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will announce her intention to gun for the Oval Office this weekend.

The New York Daily News cited an unnamed source “close to the campaign”:

The former secretary of state is likely to announce via video and social media as she kicks off her long-expected second shot at the White House.

She’s expected to begin her campaign with a series of smaller events in early-voting states including Iowa and New Hampshire, though it remains to be seen how low key the high-profile candidate will be able to keep her trip.

Business Insider cited its own source, someone “with knowledge of Hillary Clinton’s plans,” confirming that she’ll announce this weekend.

Reuters reported “a variety of sources in the Clinton orbit said they were anticipating an imminent announcement but would not confirm a report in the New York Daily News that the announcement was expected on Sunday”:

Clinton is likely to make her intentions known through a social media announcement followed by campaign travel. This focus on digital communications is an attempt to connect with young voters, who Clinton needs to become American’s first woman president.

In her previous presidential run in 2008, Clinton lost to the current president, Barack Obama, in part because of the Obama campaign’s clever use of social media to draw attention to his candidacy and raise huge sums through small donations.

Her campaign is expected to concentrate on making the 67-year-old former first lady relatable to ordinary Americans. Clinton spent four years jetting to foreign capitals as Obama’s first-term secretary of state but has had limited day-to-day contact with everyday Americans.

The weekend announcement would put Clinton just before Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) Monday announcement.

Unlike the morning announcements of Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Rubio’s announcement at the Freedom Tower in Miami will hit TV screens in the early evening.

Rubio’s campaign said that demand for events tickets exceeded the capacity of the venue, so an overflow viewing area will be set up on the southeast corner of NE 6th Street and Biscayne Boulevard.

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Jarrett Leading White House Efforts to Stop Sexual-Orientation Conversion Therapy

Thursday, April 9th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House is focusing on trying to end “conversion therapy” on LGBT youths by throwing support behind efforts in 18 states to ban the practice.

It’s already illegal in California, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.

A petition asking the administration to get involved drew more than 100,000 signatures, triggering the White House response issued Wednesday evening written by senior advisor Valerie Jarrett.

“Conversion therapy generally refers to any practices by mental health providers that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Often, this practice is used on minors, who lack the legal authority to make their own medical and mental health decisions. We share your concern about its potentially devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer youth,” Jarrett wrote.

“When assessing the validity of conversion therapy, or other practices that seek to change an individual’s gender identity or sexual orientation, it is as imperative to seek guidance from certified medical experts. The overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion therapy, especially when it is practiced on young people, is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm. As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.”

Jarrett elaborated on MSNBC, stressing “young people should be valued for who they are no matter what they look like, where they come from, their gender or their identity or who they love.”

“So our first job is to get out the scientific information. You know, parents — I’m a mom. We want to do right by our parent — our children. And we want to raise them to be healthy. We want to make life as easy on them as possible,” she said. “And so what we want to make sure is that the information is out there about how destructive these practices can be. And just as you have spoken to many transgenders, I’m sure, who have been subjected to this therapy, so have I. And the impact on their lives is — is devastating.”

“So let’s get the information out there and then what we’re going to do is work state by state and we do have 18 states now that are looking at legislation and let’s try to get the word out there about the impact that this can have and the best way to get laws changed is through public opinion, right?”

Jarrett said they would support a broader national policy at the congressional level, but for now they’re going to concentrate on the states.

She hosting a Tumblr chat tomorrow “with experts who are going to come and talk about this so that families who are considering this therapy for their children will have the information about hos destructive it could be.”

“And so we’ve got to approach this almost from a variety of different approaches, not just simply legislation, but also equipping people with information,” Jarrett said.

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Administration Will Not Say It Got Yemen Wrong

Thursday, April 9th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, who used to be President Obama’s deputy national security advisor, said the administration will not concede it got Yemen wrong.

“No. In fact, for a number of years Yemen was moving forward,” Blinken told CNN International when asked if policy there missed the mark. “The threat to the United States was posed principally by the presence of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen. And our number one interest was stopping them from pursuing attacks on the United States, on our partners and our interests.”

“And indeed working with the Yemeni government and Yemeni forces, we’ve rolled back AQAP, as it’s called, it — we thwarted attacks. And for a number of years, that effort was quite successful.”

The head of the supposedly “rolled back” AQAP, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, is now also general manager of al-Qaeda, the No. 2 position with the ability to order attacks in the global terrorist organization.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Wednesday on a visit to Japan that “of course AQAP is a group that we’re very concerned with as the United States because in addition to having other regional ambitions and ambitions within Yemen, we all know that AQAP has the ambition to strike Western targets, including the United States.”

“And that’s why we’ve long conducted counterterrorism operations against AQAP in Yemen,” Carter said. “…The terrorism threat to the West, including the United States, from AQAP is a longstanding and serious one.”

Blinken made clear that the White House still wants a “political process” to bring peace to Yemen instead of the Saudi-led coalition war against the Iran-backed Houthis.

“We were supporting a political process in Yemen to try to bring the country together politically and to build it up economically. And that process, too, was moving forward until it was interrupted by the use of force by the Houthis. And that’s what we need to get back to now,” Blinken said. “The Houthis have to be part of the process. And we’ve made that clear from the beginning.”

And those U.S. citizens trapped in Yemen, after the embassy told them to evacuate yet airports were closed and a suggested evacuation ship couldn’t dock?

India is rescuing them.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a — which is now closed — sent this message to U.S. citizens in the country: “The Indian government may operate an additional flight from Sana’a on April 9. U.S. citizens may be able to board Indian planes leaving from Sana’a to Djibouti.  Contact First Secretary Raj Kopal at the Indian Embassy in Sana’a to make arrangements.”

Today, the embassy message: “The U.S. government has been informed that an Indian naval vessel is currently in Hodeidah and will be departing tonight for Djibouti. Additionally, there is another Indian naval leaving Djibouti tonight bound for Aden. We do not have any contact for these vessels but have been told that U.S. citizen families, including Yemeni family members, will be allowed to board. Travelers must have a valid U.S. or Yemeni passport.”

State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke didn’t have a number of citizens left in the country to provide to reporters today.

“We are aware of some American citizens who remain in Yemen,” Rathke said. “We remain in contact through a variety of means to advise American citizens in Yemen about the opportunities that present themselves for people to leave, if they choose to.”

Jamal al-Labani of Hayward, Calif., was killed by shrapnel from a mortar round in Aden. His family told CNN that he was trying to get out of the country, as directed by the State Department, but didn’t know how. He’d talked about crossing the border by land into Oman and then flying to Egypt, but was killed before he could put that plan into action.

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Paul’s First 2016 Skirmish? An Abortion Fight with Wasserman Schultz

Thursday, April 9th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) continued his “Stand with Rand” presidential campaign kickoff tour today on the USS Yorktown in South Carolina, but the headlines the in first days of his 2016 bid have belonged to his fight with Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) over abortion.

It started with an interview Paul gave to the Associated Press in which he didn’t say whether he believed there should be exceptions for rape, incest or risk to the life of the mother. “I’ve supported both bills with and without (exceptions), you know. In general, I am pro-life. So I will support legislation that advances and shows that life is special and deserves protection,” he said.

Asked again about abortion on a campaign stop, Paul responded, “Why don’t we ask the DNC: Is it OK to kill a 7-pound baby in the uterus? You go back and go ask (DNC head) Debbie Wasserman Schultz if she’s OK with killing a 7-pound baby that’s just not born yet. Ask her when life begins, and ask Debbie when she’s willing to protect life. When you get an answer from Debbie, come back to me.”

Wasserman Schultz did respond in a statement: “Here’s an answer. I support letting women and their doctors make this decision without government getting involved. Period. End of story. Now your turn, Senator Paul. We know you want to allow government officials like yourself to make this decision for women –– but do you stand by your opposition to any exceptions, even when it comes to rape, incest, or life of the mother? Or do we just have different definitions of ‘personal liberty’? And I’d appreciate it if you could respond without ‘shushing’ me.”

The last line was a dig at how critics consider Paul’s way of interacting with female reporters sexist.

The Republican National Committee jumped into the fray with a statement of their own. “DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz made clear her extreme position on the issue of life,” said RNC Press Secretary Allison Moore. “It’s disturbing to know that the chairwoman of the DNC supports zero protections for the life of an unborn child, not even in the final days before birth. We should be willing to protect the innocent. Do her fellow Democrats share their party chair’s position, which is out-of-step with the majority of American women?”

Paul told CNN that “it sounds like her answer is yes, that she’s okay with killing a seven pound baby.”

“Not everybody agrees on the issue. But even most of my friends who are pro-choice will tell me they’re not okay with seven and eight and nine pound abortions,” the senator said.

“They aren’t okay with really end stage when the baby’s fully developed. There’s a bit of doubt and discussion earlier in pregnancy but Debbie’s position, which I guess is the Democrat Party position, that an abortion all the way up until the day of birth would be fine, I think really most pro-choice people would be a little uncomfortable with that. I don’t know.”

Paul said Wasserman Schultz has “got some explaining to do, and if that’s the position of the party a lot of pro-choice people will be uncomfortable with that position.”

“The thing is, is that there is a role for government in our lives and the role is basically to prevent violence. So when a baby is born, I’m a physician and so I examine babies in the neonatal nursery often. Two pounds, they can fit in the sometimes, the babies in the palm of my hand. Everybody agrees that that baby that I examine has rights, that no one can injure that baby and the government has a role to come, even into the household if a mother or dad or relative is somehow injuring a baby, that the baby has rights,” he said.

“So somehow we have to decide when does a baby get rights. So a one pound baby has rights but a seven pound baby in the uterus still getting ready to be born or a nine pound baby would have no rights. It seems like an abrupt sort of diminution of rights that all of a sudden you have rights and then a couple minutes before you didn’t have rights. These are very, very difficult discussions and then that’s a question of when does life begin, and I don’t think we all agree on that. I personally believe that life is special, that human life is special and that there is a sanctity and that we are more than just, you know, clay and dirt.”

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Ayatollah: ‘Deceptive’ U.S. ‘Wants to Restrict Us in the Details’ of Iran Deal

Thursday, April 9th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei today reiterated his demand that all sanctions be lifted on the Islamic Republic the minute they ink a final nuclear deal.

And that’s just the beginning of his feelings on the nuclear framework reached in Switzerland.

“They shouldn’t be allowed at all to penetrate into the country’s security and defensive boundaries under the pretext of supervision, and the country’s military officials are not permitted at all to allow the foreigners to cross these boundaries or stop the country’s defensive development under the pretext of supervision and inspection,” Khamenei said to an audience in Tehran, according to the country’s semi-official Fars News Agency.

The ayatollah said he is “neither in favor nor against” the deal yet “since nothing has happened yet and no binding issue has occurred between the two sides.”

“I am not indifferent to the negotiations but I have not interfered in the details of the negotiations by now and will not interfere in the future either,” claimed the leader with the final say on anything that happens in Iran.

Reuters reported that Khamenei said “everything is in the details; it may be that the deceptive other side wants to restrict us in the details.”

“The White House put out a statement just a few hours after our negotiators finished their talks…this statement, which they called a ‘fact sheet’, was wrong on most of the issues,” he said.

The ayatollah also stressed that “what has been achieved so far does not guarantee a deal or even that the negotiations will continue to the end.”

“I was never optimistic about negotiating with America,” Khamenei said, branding U.S. intentions as “devilish.”

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Marie Harf on the ‘Sort of Big Words and Big Thoughts’ of Kissinger and Shultz

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said she heard “a lot of sort of big words and big thoughts” in the piece by former secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz slamming the Iran framework, “but I didn’t hear a lot of alternatives about what they would do differently.”

Kissinger, 91, and Shultz, 94, eviscerated what we know about the negotiations thus far in their Wall Street Journal op-ed, and had a lot of questions for the administration to answer.

“Under the new approach, Iran permanently gives up none of its equipment, facilities or fissile product to achieve the proposed constraints. It only places them under temporary restriction and safeguard—amounting in many cases to a seal at the door of a depot or periodic visits by inspectors to declared sites. The physical magnitude of the effort is daunting. Is the International Atomic Energy Agency technically, and in terms of human resources, up to so complex and vast an assignment?” they wrote in part.

“In a large country with multiple facilities and ample experience in nuclear concealment, violations will be inherently difficult to detect. Devising theoretical models of inspection is one thing. Enforcing compliance, week after week, despite competing international crises and domestic distractions, is another.”

The deans of diplomacy, among many other aspects of the framework, panned the administration’s vow of a year’s warning between noncompliance and Iran having a nuclear weapon. “Compounding the difficulty is the unlikelihood that breakout will be a clear-cut event. More likely it will occur, if it does, via the gradual accumulation of ambiguous evasions.”

Harf was asked about the op-ed at Wednesday’s briefing, and asserted the smackdown was “a little more nuanced” than dissing the administration and its concessions.

“We are all for, you know, robust debate about what this looks like, and that’s why we are being very clear publicly, whether it’s the secretary going out and speaking, having private conversations with former officials, having private conversations with Congress,” she said, refusing to comment on whether Secretary of State John Kerry had consulted with Kissinger and Shultz.

“I wouldn’t say that’s it’s damning,” Harf insisted of the piece. “I think that there are a lot of opinions on this, and the secretary is happy to speak to people to let them know what we’ve done in that conversation will continue.”

“Maybe there’s invisible ink or something like that, or you’re reading between the lines,” a reporter quipped.

“Is there a question or are you just commenting?” Harf snapped back.

Harf was asked about this line from the op-ed: “Unless political restraint is linked to nuclear restraint, an agreement freeing Iran from sanctions risks empowering Iran’s hegemonic efforts.”

“So we have — we have always said that once you start linking the nuclear issue, which is complicated enough on its own, with all these other issues, it’s really hard to get anything done. And we need to deal with — I mean, right now, breakout time is two to three months. Ideally, yes, would we like them to stop supporting Hezbollah? Would we like them to stop supporting the Houthis? Would we like them to release the Americans and have a better human rights record?” Harf replied. “Of course. There are at two to three months of breakout time today. If we have a chance to increase that by up to six times with a nuclear agreement that doesn’t do all those other things we would want them to do, why would we not do that? It just — it defies logic to make that argument.”

“In a perfect world, of course, we would have an agreement that did all of these things, but we are living in the real world. And that’s the responsibility of the secretary, to negotiate where we can see if we can get this one issue dealt with.”

“That would not be the MTV ‘Real World,’ right? That would be the real world,” a reporter quipped.

Asked on Hugh Hewitt’s show about Harf’s “big words and big thoughts” comment, NYT columnist David Brooks said, “Are we in nursery school?”

YouTube Preview Image

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White House Mocks Netanyahu’s Bomb Drawing in Iran Graphic

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Remember the bomb diagram that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used in his 2012 United Nations General Assembly speech warning about Iran’s progress on its nuclear program?

netanyahu-bomb

The White House, which is far from done hitting at Netanyahu since his resounding election victory, released this image in its lobbying effort for the framework agreement reached in Switzerland:

It’s part of a White House page arguing that the deal it forged “will verifiably prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and ensure that Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful going forward.”

Netanyahu said in a statement today, “Israel shares the view that upon the expiry of the nuclear agreement with Iran the latter’s breakout time to achieve nuclear weapons will be zero. This will be the inevitable result of the automatic lifting of the restrictions, which would enable Iran to achieve an industrial-grade production capability.”

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Clyburn Fires Back at ‘Nasty Little Letters’ Accusing Him of Playing Race Card

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

House Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) fired back at those who’ve sent him “nasty little letters” accusing him of playing the race card after police-involved deaths of African-Americans.

Clyburn’s district includes North Charleston, where a police officer now faces murder charges for shooting a man pulled over for a busted taillight several times in the back as he ran away.

Clyburn stressed on MSNBC that he “really, really” appreciates how North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, who is white, has visited with the family of the victim, Walter Scott, and handled the situation.

He also thanked Police Chief Eddie Driggers, who is also white. “He said that he views his department as a family and many of his police officers as children,” Clyburn said. “But I want to say to Mr. Driggers there comes a time in dealing with our children when we have to have some tough love. And I think that this calls for some tough love in this instance. And I’m sure he is going to respond that way. I know both these gentlemen and I hope that they won’t disappoint me in dealing with this issue.”

Officer Michael T. Slager, 33, has been fired from his job in addition to being denied bond. The city has decided to cover health insurance for his wife, who is eight months’ pregnant, until after the birth of their child.

Clyburn noted that the big difference in this case was the clear video shot by an anonymous bystander. “I’ve advised young people, keep your cell phones tuned up. Keep the battery charged. And don’t hesitate to turn them on when you see things happening that’s unbecoming or you think may cross the line because I think that we are going to have to do more of this because I think that’s what it’s going to take for police officers to really think twice before pulling their weapons,” he said.

“To see a young man running away — they had his car. He’s running away from his car. They didn’t have any problems identifying him. Why pull out your service revolver and start shooting? I mean, eight times. And the man is running away from you throughout the entire ordeal. What is that about?”

The congressman said he believes “a climate has been created in the country.”

“And I’ve been saying this for some time now. And I get nasty little letters telling me about playing the race card,” Clyburn continued. “Well, I’m not playing the race card. I think that what is happening in too many of these instances, that these perpetrators are playing the race card. We’re just responding to what they’re doing.”

Police misconduct, he said, “is an issue that all of us know is here and must be dealt with and we ought to stop making excuses and ought to start holding people accountable for them because that’s all that’s going to be required for us to make this thing right.”

“We got to deal with police training. We’ve got to deal with sensitivity. Just having the cameras there to help verify what you’re doing, I don’t think that gets at the issue at all. The issue is whether or not you’re going to treat everybody out there with the same dignity and respect that you treat people who may be your next door neighbors,” Clyburn said.

“Or because we learn in the Book of Luke, the 10th chapter, that your neighbor is the one who shows compassion. And so we need to be neighborly, show compassion and stop being so trigger happy when we find ourselves in these kinds of situations.”

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Menendez Unloads on ‘Alarming’ Reports of Pressure from White House to Rush Removal of Cuba from Terror List

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) insisted that Congress step in if the Obama administration removes Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terror, as is expected soon.

Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told CNN yesterday that the State Department was conducting the review “based on the facts,” sending the recommendation to Secretary of State John Kerry who then makes the recommendation to President Obama.

“But again, this review is expressly focused on the question of: does Cuba sponsor terrorist organizations? If they do, they should be on the list. If they don’t, the recommendation will come to take them off the list,” Rhodes said. “I think the State Department has done a lot of work the last couple of months. So we’re awaiting that recommendation.”

Menendez issued a statement today following multiple reports that the administration will soon remove Cuba from the list, calling the move “another significant misstep in a misguided policy, and it is both discouraging and alarming to read about unwarranted pressure from the White House to rush the State Department’s review process.”

“As the Castro regime continues to provide sanctuary to Joanne Chesimard, who is on the FBI’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists for murdering a New Jersey State Trooper, the Obama Administration is ceding critical leverage in our efforts to bring a brazen criminal to justice,” the senator said. “This decision would also ignore the fact that Cuba is harboring dozens of American fugitives – including cop killers, plane hijackers, bomb makers, and arms traffickers – and Basque terrorists wanted by the Government of Spain.”

“In 2013, Cuba was caught colluding with North Korea to smuggle jets, missile batteries, and other weaponry in direct violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions. And, earlier this month, the Government of Colombia detained a Chinese ship trafficking explosives and arms to Cuba,” Menendez continued.

“The Castro regime’s utter disregard for international security standards should not be rewarded with continued concessions from the United States, and any decision to remove Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism must have close scrutiny by the Congress.”

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf wouldn’t confirm yesterday that the review is on Kerry’s desk. “I’m just not going to get into where it is in the internal process until we’re finished,” she said.

“You’ll recall that this is a process that begins at the State Department, but it doesn’t end there, that there are some other steps to the process beyond that. And we’re still, as — as far as I know, as of right now, that the — that the — that that designation — that that open policy question still resides in at the State Department,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Tuesday.

“I would anticipate that it will move to the next state relatively soon, as the deputy national security adviser referred to. But I wouldn’t necessarily expect a final decision in the next day or two.”

Obama arrives in Panama on Thursday evening for the Summit of the Americas. Earnest wouldn’t confirm if Obama plans on sitting down with Cuban dictator Raul Castro.

“At previous summits of the Americas, there have been occasion where the president’s been standing on stage with President Castro. I think this is true of previous presidents, too. I don’t have any additional — so I guess my point is that it wouldn’t be unprecedented for a president to interact with the leader of Cuba when he’s at a meeting with world leaders from throughout the Western Hemisphere,” Earnest said. “I don’t have any additional details about what the president’s planning while he’s in Panama. But we’ll certainly keep you posted on that.”

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McCain Running for Sixth Term Because World in ‘More Turmoil Than Ever’

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he’s running for a sixth term in 2016 because the world “is in more turmoil than ever before.”

The 78-year-old told Fox the decision “wasn’t too difficult.”

“There are threats to us that thanks to this failed presidency and this – the incredibly hands-off leading from behind foreign policy the country is in grave danger. And also there is a lot to be done here in Arizona as well. I’m looking forward to continuing serving as chairman of the Armed Services Committee,” McCain said of the post he assumed when Republicans won the Senate majority last fall.

“John Kerry has had a series of failures, whether it be trying to negotiate Bashar Assad’s departure from Syria or the Israeli Palestinian peace process. And it was obvious to all of us who know him that he was desperate for some kind of an agreement and this agreement is not only flawed but it’s dangerous. There is really no verification that’s meaningful. There is no restraint on things like their missile development and their warhead development and their continued behavior, sponsoring terror and on the move throughout the Middle East. And thanks to the failed policy of Barack Obama, we have now the Middle East who is going their own way in the Arab Sunni — Arab countries because they have no trust and no confidence in us and this is just another affirmation of that — this really bad deal.”

The Hill reported a few months ago that Reps. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) and Dave Schweikert (R-Ariz.), both considered Tea Party lawmakers, are considering challenging McCain, but the best friends won’t both get in the race.

McCain weighed in on the 2016 presidential race, calling Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) both “very bright.”

“Senator Cruz is a valuable member of the Armed Services Committee. Rand Paul obviously has a strong base, some of it inherited from his father. I’m very interested in Rand Paul’s past views as well as evolving views on national security. Obviously, it seems to me some of those have changed somewhat as the situation in the Middle East has deteriorated,” McCain said.

“But, look, I have been through it. It’s a tough grind. I wish them both well. And I will be supporting Lindsey Graham, who is the person who really knows how to handle these national security challenges.”

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White House: Obama ‘Not Going to Stand Idly By… If We See Plotting’ Against U.S. from AQAP

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House said that President Obama is poised to act decisively if al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula starts “plotting” against the United States.

Too late.

Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told CNN yesterday that “we’ve had a very active effort for several years now to disrupt the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, AQAP, that has involved U.S. airstrikes, direct action through drones and other means, and we’ve made very clear that we will continue to do what is necessary to disrupt AQAP.”

“Now, this conflict that has been ongoing inside the country has been more about its internal political situation and the Houthi rebels who’ve been advancing inside of Yemen,” Rhodes said. “But at the same time, we’re going to keep a very close eye on AQAP. And the president’s made clear that he’s not going to stand idly by. He’ll take action as necessary if we see plotting against the United States.”

Not only does AQAP publish Inspire magazine, which plots against the U.S. and gave Boston bombers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev the tech tips for building their pressure-cooker explosive devices, but the head of AQAP, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, is the general manager for “core” al-Qaeda, meaning he can call al-Qaeda attacks anywhere, anytime.

In a video released a year ago, Wuhayshi told fighters, “We must eliminate the cross. … The bearer of the cross is America!”

State Department press secretary Jen Psaki said of AQAP in 2013, “The fact that they continue to pose a serious threat to the United States and its interests, we consider this to be one of the foremost national security challenges we face.”

In December, American hostage Luke Somers was killed by AQAP during a rescue attempt. Obama said then that “terrorists who seek to harm our citizens will feel the long arm of American justice.”

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said today on a visit to Japan that “of course AQAP is a group that we’re very concerned with as the United States because in addition to having other regional ambitions and ambitions within Yemen, we all know that AQAP has the ambition to strike Western targets, including the United States.”

“And that’s why we’ve long conducted counterterrorism operations against AQAP in Yemen,” Carter said. “…The terrorism threat to the West, including the United States, from AQAP is a longstanding and serious one.”

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Sen. Scott Condemns ‘Unnecessary and Avoidable’ Police Shooting, Calls for Peace

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) spoke out quickly on the murder charges against a police officer in North Charleston captured on video shooting a fleeing 50-year-old man multiple times in the back.

“The horrific video that came to light yesterday is deeply troubling,” the senator said. “It is clear the killing of Walter Scott was unnecessary and avoidable, and my prayers are with the Scott family as they go through this ordeal. The swift action taken by [South Carolina Law Enforcement Division] and the relevant authorities upon receiving the video shows the severity of this terrible event.”

“With several protests planned today, I join community leaders in North Charleston in calling for peace. I understand the hurt, the frustration and the anger many are feeling today. But violence solves nothing,” Scott added.

“We must come together as a community, as a state, and as a nation in working to bring our communities together and rebuild trust.”

The senator was born and raised in North Charleston and is no relation to the victim.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the “horrific video is very difficult to watch and deeply troubling on many fronts.”

“I have full confidence this incident will continue to be investigated by the relevant authorities, the legal process will proceed, and ultimately, justice will be done,” Graham said. “I also know the actions of the officer in this situation do not accurately reflect on the many valuable contributions made by thousands of law enforcement officers in South Carolina and across our nation.”

Officer Michael T. Slager, 33, said he pulled over Walter Scott for a broken taillight and the man, whose family said he owed back child support, fled. The officer said Scott took his Taser during a struggle but then a video of the encounter surfaced:

But the video, which was taken by a bystander and provided to The New York Times by the Scott family’s lawyer, presents a different account. The video begins in the vacant lot, apparently moments after Officer Slager fired his Taser. Wires, which carry the electrical current from the stun gun, appear to be extending from Mr. Scott’s body as the two men tussle and Mr. Scott turns to run.

Something — it is not clear whether it is the stun gun — is either tossed or knocked to the ground behind the two men, and Officer Slager draws his gun, the video shows. When the officer fires, Mr. Scott appears to be 15 to 20 feet away and fleeing. He falls after the last of eight shots.

The officer then runs back toward where the initial scuffle occurred and picks something up off the ground. Moments later, he drops an object near Mr. Scott’s body, the video shows.

The police report also says CPR and first aid were administered to Scott, but the video shows two more officers arriving and no one performing CPR as he lay handcuffed, face-first on the ground.

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ISIS Hackers Warn Turkey to Release All Caliphate-Bound Detainees or Face Attack

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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A document claiming to be from a southeast Asian chapter of the Islamic State Hacking Division states that ISIS is ready for cyberwar with Turkey if the republic does not free jihadists caught trying to cross into the caliphate.

A handbook released by ISIS earlier this year detailed a web of sympathizers utilized on the Turkish side of the 500-mile border with Syria to smuggle in recruits from around the world. This includes special safehouses for women wanting to go to the Islamic State.

“Lately things have got harder at the Turkish border, so Islamic State members often meet new people in Turkey hotels and smuggle them across the border,” the guide said, stressing safehouses can only be accessed with “a paper signed by an existing member to show he is trustworthy.” It added that “the only reason members live in Turkey in some peace is because Turkey fears revenge attacks.”

Faced with international criticism and high-profile cases of teens running away to join the caliphate, Turkey has been making notable arrests including nine Brits nabbed last week trying to cross illegally into Syria. Among that group was Waheed Ahmed, the 21-year-old son of a Labour Party council member, and four small children.

In the past few days, Turkish border guards have caught people from Switzerland, Kosovo, Syria, Tajikistan, Russia, China and Iraq trying to sneak into Syria. A Dutch woman who Turkish officials said was sought by Interpol was also apprehended in the flurry of detainments.

Turkey’s Sabah newspaper reports “both the number and the variety of people illegally trying to cross the border has increased” since Turkey started cracking down on the ISIS pipeline, which consists not only of foreign fighters but smuggled goods.

Now, ISIS is warning Turkey to let their would-be caliphate citizens go or face the cyber consequences.

The warning, titled “Fight Them with Every Power,” was posted by the “MIT” cyber team of the Islamic State Hacking Division — Mujahidin Indonesia Timor.

It decries the “brothers who became prisoners when seeking to move to the caliphate” and those “repatriated back to their Kufr states” after being caught.

“Pay attention and take note of our terror threat, Erdogan!” it says, demanding that all destined for the Islamic State be immediately released “without condition” and deportations canceled for those designated to be returned to their home countries.

“By God, we will launch our attack in cyberspace to be a helper for our brothers” if all demands are not met.

The PDF released by the group cites numerous Quranic verses and warns against taking part in “this infidel coalition warfare.”

“You have seen our terror, you have been shocked by the terror… even through cyberspace. We who terrorize you with a variety of media releases, we are responsible for the publication of the identity of the soldiers (US. Army),” it states, referring to last month’s posting of the names, photos and addresses of 100 American service members with a call to ISIS recruits in the U.S. to kill them.

“If you say this as a joke (we hope so), wait until we arrive in front of your home and cut down your neck as Qisas
for the carnage you did to the Muslims,” it adds. Qisas is the Islamic principle ISIS said justified the murder by fire of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh.

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Halal or Haram? Turkey Fatwa Weighs in on Toilet Paper

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Turkey’s Diyanet, or Directorate of Religious Affairs, issued a fatwa on the use of toilet paper, according to Hurriyet Daily News.

The verdict? It’s permissible if you need it, but haram if water is your first option for lavatory cleansing.

“If water cannot be found for cleansing, other cleaning materials can be used. Even though some sources deem paper to be unsuitable as a cleaning material, as it is an apparatus for writing, there is no problem in using toilet paper,” the statement said in part.

Some manufacturers have marketed halal toilet paper in Muslim regions, as noted in this recent Malaysian op-ed:

The other day, I went to a store to get a packet of toilet paper and was shocked to read “Halal, recognised by Jakim Malaysia” on its packaging.

Wow, even toilet paper is certified halal nowadays!

What’s next? Halal tampons and condoms?

As a Muslim myself, I understand the sensitivity of Muslims regarding halal products. Yes, we want to ensure foods and products we consume are prepared and cooked in accordance to Islamic rules and regulations.

…At times I feel we are taking this halal thingy a little bit too far.

I remember going to a Halal Expo a couple of years ago. I was pretty interested in one of the booths at the expo, promoting real estate.

“Halal Homes.”

I was amused and had to ask the consultant at the booth what it meant to have a halal home.

“A housing area which is built on halal land, using quality products and situated in a good location, far from haram activities such as factories producing haram goods and pig farms” – that’s more or less how he described it to me.

According to him, a halal certificate will be issued to the house buyers to certify the home is halal.

The global market for halal products is $547 billion a year, according to writer Fa Abdul.

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At Prayer Breakfast, Obama Reflects on ‘Less Than Loving Expressions by Christians’

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

With an apparent reference to his critics, President Obama quipped at this morning’s Easter prayer breakfast about less-than-Christian things he hears.

“On Easter, I do reflect on the fact that as a Christian, I am supposed to love. And I have to say that sometimes when I listen to less than loving expressions by Christians, I get concerned. But that’s a topic for another day,” Obama said, prompting laughter and applause from the audience.

“Where there is injustice — I was about to veer off. I’m pulling it back,” he quipped. “Where there is injustice we defend the oppressed. Where there is disagreement, we treat each other with compassion and respect. Where there are differences, we find strength in our common humanity, knowing that we are all children of God.”

Obama was introduced by Vice President Biden, who said “we live our faith when we nurture the hope and possibilities that have always defined us as a country.”

“And that’s why I’ve been so honored to work every single day for the last six-plus years with a man who encompasses that faith to his core,” Biden said. “A man who knows what it is to enter into the mystery with a deep and unyielding conviction that it’s within each of our reach to make real the promise of the ongoing miracle that is the United States of America.”

Obama thanked the audience for their prayers “particularly at a time when my daughters are starting to grow up and starting to go on college visits.”

“We hold this Easter Prayer Breakfast every year to take a moment from our hectic lives for some fellowship, friendship, prayer and reflection. I know pastors here have had a very busy Holy Week, and so for you to travel here and take the time to spend with us is extraordinary after what I know is difficult. I can’t say that our work during this season is comparable, but you should try dealing with thousands of people in your backyard on an Easter egg roll,” he quipped about yesterday’s White House event.

“I am no preacher. I can’t tell anything to this crowd about Easter that you don’t already know,” the president said. “For me, the celebration of Easter puts our earthly concerns into perspective. With humility and with awe, we give thanks to the extraordinary sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our Savior. We reflect on the brutal pain that He suffered, the scorn that He absorbed, the sins that He bore, this extraordinary gift of salvation that He gave to us. And we try, as best we can, to comprehend the darkness that He endured so that we might receive God’s light.”

Obama quoted Pope Francis: “He says that we should strive ‘to see the Lord in every excluded person who is thirsty, hungry, naked; to see the Lord present even in those who have lost their faith… imprisoned, sick, unemployed, persecuted; to see the Lord in the leper — whether in body or soul — who encounters discrimination.’”

“Isn’t that how Jesus lived? Isn’t that how He loved? Embracing those who were different; serving the marginalized; humbling Himself to the last,” Obama said. “This is the example that we are called to follow — to love Him with all our hearts and mind and soul, and to love our neighbors — all of our neighbors — as ourselves. As it says in the first letter of John, ‘Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.’”

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‘Everyone Who Wants to Work Will Have a Job’: Paul Kicks Off Presidential Campaign

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) kicked off his 2016 presidential campaign by vowing to get jobs for all Americans and to take a tougher tack on foreign policy than his family is known for.

The Lexington event was emceed by former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), who asked Paul’s supporters to pray for the candidate “by name every single day.” The campaign has promised that Watts will be no stranger on the campaign trail.

Paul, with his dad, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) looking on, vowed to “not dilute our message or give up on our principles.”

“This message of liberty is for all Americans, Americans from all walks of life. The message of liberty, opportunity and justice is for all Americans, whether you wear a suit, a uniform or overalls, whether you’re white or black, rich or poor,” he said. “…If we nominate a candidate who is simply Democrat Light, what’s the point?”

The eye doctor said he ran for office “because we have too many career politicians,” and after his time in Washington “I believe it now more than ever.”

Outlining his platform, the candidate declared, “I have a vision for America where everyone who wants to work will have a job.”

“Many Americans though are being left behind. The reward of work seems beyond their grasp. Under the watch of both parties, the poor seem to get poorer and the rich get richer. Trillion-dollar government stimulus packages has only widened the income gap,” Paul said. “Politically connected crones get taxpayer dollars by the hundreds of millions and poor families across America continue to suffer. I have a different vision, an ambitious vision, an ambitious vision, a vision that will offer opportunity to all Americans, especially those who have been left behind. My plan includes economic freedom zones to allow impoverished areas like Detroit, West Louisville, Eastern Kentucky to prosper by leaving more money in the pockets of the people who live there.”

“Can you imagine what a billion-dollar stimulus could do for Detroit or for Appalachia? I’m convinced that most Americans want to work. I want to free up the great engine of American prosperity.”

Paul vowed to bring back manufacturing jobs with a plan to “dramatically lower the tax on American companies that wish to bring their profits home.”

“In my vision for America, freedom and prosperity at home can only be achieved if we defend against enemies who are dead-set on attacking us. Without question we must defend ourselves and American interests from our enemies, but until we name the enemy, we can’t win the war. The enemy is radical Islam. You can’t get around it,” he said. “And not only will I name the enemy, I will do whatever it takes to defend America from these haters of mankind.”

He touted his co-sponsorship of the Corker-Menendez bill to require congressional approval of an Iran deal because “not only is that good policy, it’s the law.”

“It concerns me that the Iranians have a different interpretation of the agreement. They’re putting out statement that say completely the opposite of what we’re saying. It concerns me that we may attempt, or the president may attempt, to unilaterally and prematurely halt sanctions,” the senator continued. “I will oppose any deal that does not end Iran’s nuclear ambitions and have strong verification measures.”

Paul became especially fired up talking about privacy. “I say that your phone records are yours. I say the phone records of law-abiding citizens are none of their damn business. Is this where we light up the phones?” he quipped.

“America has much greatness left in her. We are still exceptional and we are still a beacon for the world. We will thrive when we believe in ourselves again. I see an America strong enough to deter foreign aggression, yet wise enough to avoid unnecessary intervention. I see an America where criminal justice is applied equally and any law that disproportionately incarcerates people of color is repealed. I see an America with a restrained IRS that cannot target, cannot harass American citizens for their political or religious beliefs.”

Paul declared that to “rescue a great country now adrift… I am putting myself forward as a candidate for president of the United States of America.”

After the announcement, the audience was urged to stick around for an hourlong taping with Sean Hannity.

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‘Everyone Here is a Spy’: ISIS Backers Warn Followers to Mind Islamic State Secrets

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Warning of spies crawling around social media creating “fake muhajir” accounts in an effort to net supporters of the Islamic State, ISIS backers instructed followers in a message posted on a file-sharing site today to mind their personal information and Islamic State secrets.

“Although it would be nice to assume that most of us aren’t spies we cant be careless about it. USA is running thousands of undercover accounts on Twitter for intelligence gathering and combating us,” the message states.

It warns they have to distance themselves from users “obviously creating a fitna to break our bonds” as they’re “probably a man in a office building somewhere following a plan.”

“So instead of assuming that most of us aren’t spies, assume the opposite, that most of us ARE spies or undercover.”

ISIS supporters are then encouraged to keep all of their personal information under wraps on social media, including pictures of “cute babies or pets” and any “pictures that can…be linked to the real you.”

They’re encouraged to limit direct messaging on Twitter, lest personal information slip, and told to watch what they say about Islamic State operations. “Don’t share IS movements if you have knowledge. Don’t share unknown military capabilities (like saying that IS has AA missiles in a location).”

“Some people tweet screenshots where their carriers can be seen or are otherwise not careful about concealing what country they live in. Guess what? Yeah you guessed right, the kuffar are tracking your account and when you get suspended they will find your new account,” the message continues. “So what you might wonder. Well when they raid your house and they link all your accounts to YOU then you will face months if not years in jail. You will face consequence that will follow you throughout your life for something as stupid as this.”

“You think you are safe from ‘consequences’ because this is the virtual battleground? Akh Shami might face life in jail,
because he tweeted info and did otherwise benign stuff while some of you are tweeting day and night about beheadings.”

That’s a reference to Mehdi Masroor Biswas, a 24-year-old IT worker who ran the Shami Witness Twitter account and was eventually busted by Bangalore authorities. He faces years in prison on charges of “waging war against any Asiatic power in alliance with the Government of India.”

“To conclude everyone here is a spy and don’t trust anyone with any information, Muslim lives depend on it!” the ISIS tip sheet ends.

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Obama: ‘Fundamental Misjudgment’ of Netanyahu to Demand Iran Recognize Israel

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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President Obama grinned in an NPR interview when asked about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request that Iran recognize the state of Israel in a final nuclear deal.

“Well, let me say this. It’s not that the idea of Iran recognizing Israel is unreasonable. It’s completely reasonable and that’s U.S. policy. And I’ve been very forceful in saying that our differences with Iran don’t change if we make sure that they don’t have a nuclear weapon. They’re still going to be financing Hezbollah. They’re still supporting Assad dropping barrel bombs on children. They are still sending arms to the Houthis in Yemen that have helped destabilize the country,” Obama said.

“There are obvious differences in how we are approaching fighting ISIL in Iraq, despite the fact that there’s a common enemy there. So there’s still going to be a whole host of differences between us and Iran, and one of the most profound ones is the vile, anti- Semitic statements that have often come out of the highest levels of the Iranian regime,” he continued.

“But the notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons in a verifiable deal on Iran recognizing Israel is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms. And that is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment.”

Obama said that “if suddenly Iran transformed itself into Germany or Sweden or France, there would be a different set of conversations about their nuclear infrastructure.”

“The key here is not to somehow expect that Iran changes, although it is something that may end up being an important byproduct of this deal, but rather, it is to make sure that we have a verifiable deal that takes off the table what would be a game changer for them if in fact they possess nuclear weapons,” he added.

His message to the Israeli people?

“You are right to be suspicious of Iran. There’s no reason why you should let your guard down with respect to Iran. We have to make sure that Israel has the capabilities to protect itself, not only from Iran but also proxies like Hezbollah. But ultimately, Iran is deterrable, and it is deterrable not just because of Israelis — Israel’s superior military and intelligence capabilities but also because you got a really strong ally in the United States of America,” Obama said.

“And if, over time, there are opportunities in which we see changes in the Iranian regime, all the better. But we don’t have to count on that. We have to make sure that even if Iran doesn’t change the Israeli people are safe.”

Obama stressed that despite the statements of potential GOP presidential candidates to the contrary — most recently Gov. Scott Walker — he’s confident that they won’t end up overturning the Iran agreement.

“I am confident that any president who gets elected will be knowledgeable enough about foreign policy and knowledgeable enough about the traditions and precedents of presidential power that they won’t start calling into question the capacity of the Executive Branch of the United States to enter into agreements with other countries,” the president said.

“If that starts being questioned, that’s going to be a problem for our friends and that’s going to embolden our enemies. And it would be a foolish approach to take, and, you know, perhaps Mr. Walker, after he’s taken some time to bone up on foreign policy, will feel the same way.”

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Rand’s Campaign Website ‘About’ Page Scoops Presidential Announcement

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was scooped by his own campaign website today before his big announcement in the Galt House Hotel in Lexington.

The “about” page of the new site, randpaul.com, features a quote from the senator: “I am running for president to return our country to the principles of liberty and limited government.”

The home page of the site is a live-action donation count, flashing the names of small donors as they contribute and adding up the total, which was $40,508.66 as of this posting. It also has an endorsement map with grass-roots supporters.

On the news page, Paul touts the endorsement of former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), noting that the congressman will share the stage with the senator today and “is expected to be a vocal surrogate” for Paul as he makes “clear he is trying to show he can broaden the Republican Party’s base to newer voters.”

“Senator Paul has shown what I have always believed, a leader can be a strong economic and social conservative and yet be concerned about the least of these,” Watts said in a statement.

Paul’s Lexington event kicks off the “Stand with Rand” tour that moves tomorrow to New Hampshire, then South Carolina, Iowa and Nevada.

Paul said he will answer questions after today’s announcement on this Facebook post.

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Sen. Lee’s Prediction: With Three Colleagues in 2016 Race, Who Comes Out on Top?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

With three of his Senate colleagues in the presidential ring or about to be, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) predicted the victor will be about “policies rather than the specific personalities.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has already announced, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is announcing today, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has a big announcement scheduled for Monday.

Lee, elected in the Tea Party rout of 2010, told Fox “at this point, I think it’s a question of the more the merrier.”

“I work with all three of these gentlemen. They’re three of my closest allies in the Senate. And I have nothing but great things to say about all of them,” Lee said. “…It’s an issue of which one will represent us best in the White House and will help restore constitutionally limited government. And every one of these senators has something different to offer in that quest, and I wish them all well.”

The senator said he thinks there will be some consolidating of the conservative base before August.

“I think the policies that will emerge in this debate will help identify one of these candidates as the front-runner not based on who they are but based on what they do, based on the policies that they embrace,” Lee continued. “And I think the one that embraces constitutionally limited government and the need to restore it most effectively and most energetically will be the one who earns our nomination.”

“I think whoever gets the nomination is likely to be the one who can connect the dots, connect where we are now to where we want to be and help identify how it is that conservative principles, time-honored conservative principles and adhering to them, sticking to them, will help the poor get out of poverty, will help the middle class get ahead because, really, our government, our constitutionally limited government, works because it fosters an environment in which economic mobility is the norm. That’s what helps this be the kind of place where someone can be born into poverty and reasonably expect that they can retire comfortably if they work hard and play by the rules.”

Foreign policy will be a “big deal,” too.

“We face a lot of threats all over the world. And right now, we have a government led by an administration that projects weakness abroad and overbearance at home. I think we need to flip that around. I think we need to be stronger abroad,” he said. “We need to make sure that our enemies fear us. And at home, we need to make sure that our citizens don’t fear us. We want the government fearing the people, not the other way around.”

Like a 2016er, Lee released his new book today: Our Lost Constitution: The Willful Subversion of America’s Founding Document.

“I’ve got this visual aid in my office that I reference in the book. It shows that there are 80,000 pages added each year to our federal law by executive branch bureaucrats, and only a few hundred added each year by Congress,” the senator said.

“That means measured by volume and measured by economic impact, most of our laws are being made by people not of our own choosing. As well-intentioned, well — educated, hard-working and specialized as those people in the executive branch bureaucracies may be, they don’t work for you. They don’t work for me. We don’t have the opportunity to fire them. It’s one of the reasons I wrote this book.”

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A Tale of Two Stories on Iran Sanctions: Repealed or Wait-and-See?

Monday, April 6th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Obama administration is saying that there’s not really a discrepancy with Iran over when sanctions are lifted, asserting first that sanctions would be rolled back upon completion of the deal terms and now saying that the timing of sanctions still needs to be negotiated.

A senior administration official on Thursday, after the deal was announced in Switzerland:

“The main principle is that we’ll be matching our sanctions with the completion of all of Iran’s major nuclear steps.  So, in other words, like the Secretary said, they can do it as fast as they want, and it’s in fact in our interests if they do it as fast as they can and get their breakout timeline extended as quickly as possible.”

But after the White House and State Department released a fact sheet on the deal, Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was firing off a series of tweets:

“The solutions are good for all, as they stand. There is no need to spin using ‘fact sheets’ so early on.”

“Iran/5+1 Statement: ‘US will cease the application of ALL nuclear-related secondary economic and financial sanctions.’ Is this gradual?”

“Iran/P5+1 Statement: ‘The EU will TERMINATE the implementation of ALL nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions’. How about this?”

Iran, after all, had demanded — in weeks of public statements via its nuclear negotiators, parliament and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — no less than the lifting of all sanctions the moment the deal, which is due at the end of June, went into effect.

So what exactly was negotiated, then, when Zarif stepped out victoriously to announce Iran had what it wanted from marathon negotiations?

The White House trotted out Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz at today’s press briefing to explain the nuts and bolts of the nuclear framework. On Sunday, Moniz told CBS “the sanctions relief really kicks in only when they have complied with the core nuclear restrictions.

“And that’s what gets us to this two-month to one-year breakout time. So that’s when the sanctions relief will really kick in,” Moniz added.

Today press secretary Josh Earnest was peppered with questions about the sanctions discrepancy, replying:

“This issue that you have highlighted is one of those that still needs to be negotiated; that there are still details about the phase-out, if you will, of the sanctions that have not yet been agreed to.

And it is the strong view of the administration that it would not be wise and it would not be in the interests of the international community to simply take away sanctions, take away all of the sanctions on day one. It is our view that based on Iran’s history, that it would be most conducive to the success of the agreement for Iran to continue to have an incentive for complying with the agreement. And that is why we believe that this sort of phased approach is the best one. And it certainly is one that we will insist upon.

There are many of those who are sitting around the negotiating table — on our side of the negotiating table — who share that view. And that’s what we will insist upon. The reason that you’re hearing a slightly different message out of Iran is that this is — the details of this arrangement have not yet been agreed to.

This has been the negotiating position of the Iranians for some time. So I don’t think there’s anybody that’s particularly surprised about the fact that they continue to hold the negotiating position that they’ve had for some time.

…I don’t want to leave anybody with the impression that I’m suggesting, again, that the Iranian regime is somehow lying about this aspect of the negotiations. I’m not saying that. What I’m saying is that it is clear what their negotiating position is.”

A reporter noted “that is different than what you guys have said before, in that before, you said we’re not going to relieve sanctions until they take concrete steps, now what you’re saying is we would — we would start relieving sanctions as long as we’ve got an agreement on,” to which Earnest interjected, “No, no, no, no. No, no, no.”

“What I’m saying is, I’m talking — I’m talking about in the context of the talks, right? That as you sit down at the negotiating table, item 1 on the agenda at the negotiating table was not and could not be sanctions relief because sanctions relief would only be offered in exchange for significant commitments from Iran about curtailing their nuclear program. So the focus of the negotiations for more than a year now has been on what steps Iran is going to take, what commitments is Iran going to make to shut down every pathway they have to a nuclear weapon, right?

But that’s where we have to — we have to work all that out first and then we can get to the question of, well then once you have established what steps they’re going to take, then you can start laying out what steps will be matched with which sanctions relief. And so this is just a sequencing argument, but our view on this — just to go back to your question — our view on this has not changed. We are going to see specific commitments and follow-through from the Iranians as a part of our sort of phase down of sanctions relief.”

And the word from Iran?

Zarif said Saturday on state TV that Iran officially protested the U.S. statements to the EU negotiators. One of Iran’s top negotiators, Seyed Abbas Araqchi, said “the Lausanne statement explicitly states that the sanctions will be annulled; all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions will be removed in the first stage.”

Iran President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday: “We have never negotiated the suspension of sanctions and if it were the case, there would be no agreement” without full removal.

Commander of Iran’s Basij Force Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi today in Tehran: “The comments made after the Lausanne negotiations once again showed the United States’ strong grudge against the Iranians and proved that the US officials are liars and untrustworthy. After 9 days of breathtaking nuclear negotiations in Lausanne, the US president and other officials now deny the principal agreements and present opposing interpretations.”

In a Monday meeting between parliamentarians and Zarif, the semi-official Fars News Agency reported, “the immediate annulment of sanctions, safeguarding the nuclear rights and continued Research and Development (R&D) activities in the nuclear field were among the issues emphasized by the MPs.”

Summed up Iran Press TV, “no Iranian nuclear facility will be shut down or suspended while all sanctions against the Islamic Republic will be terminated.”

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U.S. Advised Citizens Stuck in Yemen to Fly Out of Closed Airports, Board Ship That Can’t Dock

Monday, April 6th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The State Department has a Yemen problem beyond the fall of the country to Houthi rebels and evacuation of U.S. diplomatic facilities.

It’s told U.S. citizens to get out, but they can’t. And the first U.S. citizen was just killed in the conflict: Jamal al-Labani of Hayward, Calif., was killed by shrapnel from a mortar round in Aden.

His family told CNN that he was trying to get out of the country, as directed by the State Department, but didn’t know how. He’d talked about crossing the border by land into Oman and then flying to Egypt, but was killed before he could put that plan into action.

The State Department suspended embassy operations back on Feb. 11. On April 1, the embassy sent a message to U.S. citizens in Yemen indicating there were “no plans for a U.S. government-sponsored evacuation of U.S. citizens at this time” and encouraging U.S. citizens “to monitor the news and seek available departure options from Yemen, via air, land, or sea.”

The travel warning for Yemen was updated on April 3. “We encourage all U.S. citizens to shelter in a secure location until they are able to depart safely. U.S. citizens wishing to depart should do so via commercial transportation options when they become available.”

An emergency message sent to citizens on Sunday said they “may be able to leave Yemen from either Aden or Mokha and cross into Djibouti by boat.”

“The Djibouti Foreign Minister confirms that Djibouti stands ready to receive any nationality and all evacuees from Yemen into Djibouti. Anyone who wishes to leave should possess either a U.S. or Yemeni passport,” the message continued. “Currently, there is a French frigate just off the coast of Aden called the Acronit. It’s a smaller boat that can accommodate a few hundred people and its mission is to transport all people who have a passport and can get to the boat. The boat is not in the port, therefore people will have to find their own way to get out to it. The window of time for when the boat may leave is uncertain.”

The situation grew so desperate that the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), and Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) launched StuckInYemen.com to gather information about Americans who need help evacuating from Yemen.

“All citizens are entitled to protection from their government. The United States government has an obligation to protect their citizens in foreign nations. This is one of the fundamental reasons for the existence of U.S. consultates and embassies in foreign nations. Unfortunately, the United States government and embassies abandoned Yemeni Americans in February 2015,” the site states, offering an intake form that includes questions about whether the embassy gave proper travel documents to citizens before it closed.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf clarified at today’s press briefing “it’s not that we can’t” evacuate Americans, as other countries are doing for their citizens stuck in Yemen, but they’re not.

“The airports are still closed, is my understanding, which is part of the challenge when we evacuate citizens from countries. Sometimes we do it commercially through aircraft or through chartered aircraft, so that’s obviously not a possibility at this time there,” Harf said.

“When you said that you alerted them to opportunities to leave the country, what are those opportunities now? Swim?” a reporter asked.

“We are alerting people to — these are mainly maritime opportunities,” Harf replied, referring to the boat that wouldn’t be able to dock.

Today India offered to help evacuate Americans from Yemen, including with flights out of Sana’a and ships from Aden. The first rescue flights are scheduled to leave Tuesday.

“The Department of State cautions that U.S. citizens should consider carefully the risks of traveling to or within Sana’a and Aden in order to board evacuation transport given security conditions in both cities,” the U.S. embassy said in its message to U.S. citizens with India embassy contact information.

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Dem Senator: ‘There’s No Way Congress Is Not Going to Weigh in’ on Iran Deal

Monday, April 6th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

A Senate Democrat vows that “there’s no way that Congress is not going to weigh in” on the nuclear deal with Iran.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) is an original co-sponsor of the Corker-Menendez bill to require congressional approval of a deal. The legislation is expected to move forward when Congress returns from spring break next week.

“Look, Iran is not a friend. Iran right now is a deep enemy. So the question isn’t are they a friend or an enemy. It’s whether you want to have an adversary with a nuclear weapon or without a nuclear weapon,” Kaine told CNN this morning. “The diplomatic effort underway has been to make sure this adversary does not have a nuclear weapon. ”

“And while I strongly that Congress needs to say grace over an ultimate deal that touches on Congressional sanctions, I do see many elements of the framework announced Thursday that are quite positive. Now, they have to be reduced to a deal that can be verified by the end of June. But the administration’s diplomatic effort here has, I think, produced some positives thus far and we need to just continue to monitor that.”

Kaine acknowledged that the success of the deal hinges on inspections. “The inspections are the guarantee that Iran doesn’t cheat,” he said.

“And frankly the inspections also gives us significant intel so if they were to cheat we could take more targeted military action against them. And so this is not about trusting Iran. This is about depriving them of a nuclear weapon so that they can’t harm Israel or other nations in the region or in the world,” he added.

The senator questioned the commitment in the deal framework for Iran to slash their stockpile of enriched uranium. “How are they going to do it? Can we trust them to do it? Can we inspect them to make sure that 300 is the limit? But if that sticks in an ultimate deal, that is a huge concession by Iran,” he said.

Kaine stressed “the stakes are high… but also fundamentally this is negotiation about what must Iran do to get out from under Congressional sanctions.”

“I think it strengthens the hand of the negotiators to say here’s the rules under which Congress is going to consent to this deal. We have to sell it. Frankly, I think it already has led to some strengthening of the deal, and we’ll see going forward. But I think if Congress establishes clear rules for the road about how we will engage, that will not weaken our negotiating hand, it will strengthen it.”

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Graham: Hillary Could Forge Better Iran Deal, But Rand Probably Couldn’t

Monday, April 6th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the best that may be hoped for at this point is locking in the interim nuclear agreement with Iran and “allow a new president in 2017, Democrat or Republican” to “take a crack at the Iranian nuclear program.”

Graham told CBS on Sunday that he thinks the framework announced last week by the P5+1 and Iran is “probably the best deal that Barack Obama could get with the Iranians, because the Iranians don’t fear or do they respect him and our allies in the region don’t trust the president.”

“Obama is a flawed negotiator. His foreign policy has failed on multiple fronts. Nobody in the region trusts him. The Iranians do not fear or respect him, so he will never be able to get the best deal,” he said. “The best deal I think comes with the new president. Hillary Clinton would do better. I think everybody on our side, except maybe Rand Paul, could do better.”

“That is one way of looking at this program, keeping the interim deal in place that’s been fairly successful and have a new crack at it with a new president that doesn’t have the baggage of Obama.”

Graham said the question should be whether Obama should be negotiating with Iran at all, “given his miserable foreign policy failure.”

“Does anybody really believe the Iranians will take the billions of dollars that we’re about to give them and build hospitals and schools? How many centrifuges should a nation have whose military leadership called for the destruction of Israel during the negotiations?” the senator said. “How many centrifuges should a nation have who is still the largest sponsor of state terrorism? Does anybody in their right mind believe that Iran’s behavior is going to change because you give them more money and more centrifuges to eventually make a bomb? What will the Arabs do in response to this deal? This deal doesn’t dismantle one centrifuge. It doesn’t close one site.”

“And I believe there is a better deal. I don’t want a war, but at the end of the day, I don’t want to give Iran the tools and the capability to continue to destroy the Mideast and one day attack us by building bigger missiles. And until they say they will not destroy the state of Israel, until stop their provocative behavior, I think we would be nuts to give them more money and more capability.”

Graham added that the Bush administration was also “a miserable failure when it came to controlling Iran’s nuclear ambition.”

“Having been at the table was result of sanctions that the Congress passed 100-nothing. If there’s nothing else from this interview, please understand the following. I think Congress will require any deal negotiated with the Iranians to come to the Congress for our review before we lift congressional sanctions,” he said.

“I don’t mind giving the administration the time between now and June to put this deal together, because when you listen to the Iranians and Secretary Kerry, you’re almost like you’re talking to two different deals.”

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Feinstein: Netanyahu Should ‘Contain Himself,’ Iranian Foreign Minister ‘Sincere’

Monday, April 6th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) opined that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs to “contain himself” in his criticism of the Iran nuclear negotiations framework.

Netanyahu did the rounds on CNN, ABC and NBC yesterday to protest the terms of the agreement. He shared that he’s talked with “about two-thirds” of the House and an equal share of the Senate about the next steps.

Feinstein is not a supporter of the Menendez-Kirk sanctions legislation or the Corker-Menendez bill to require congressional approval of a deal, and disagreed with the invitation for Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress a month ago, though she attended.

She told CNN on Sunday that the deal doesn’t threaten the survival of Israel.

“A precondition has to be that there’s going to be a real rededication in the IAEA to do the kind of work that’s going to be necessary to do 24/7, 365 days a year in the various facilities. But I think that, having watched this for a long time and knowing this particular foreign minister, I think this is the best that’s going to get done,” Feinstein said of Iran.

“It’s a framework. It has to be wrapped into a final agreement. There still can be some changes. But I don’t think it’s helpful for Israel to come out and oppose this one opportunity to change a major dynamic, which is downhill, a downhill dynamic in this part of the world.”

Netanyahu, she said, has “said what he’s had to say.”

“And, to be candid with you, this can backfire on him. And I wish that he would contain himself, because he has put out no real alternative, in his speech to the Congress, no real alternative, since then, no real alternative,” Feinstein said.

She said Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is “sincere”.

“I believe that this foreign minister and this Iranian president, both of whom are moderates, really want to show that there is another way for Iran, and, therefore, giving up this program is worth it,” the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee continued.

“I believe [Zarif] is sincere. I believe that President Rouhani wants this. And it looks like the supreme leader will be agreeable,” Feinstein added. “Now, having said that, we have got everybody jumping to conclusions in the Congress. This agreement has to be written up into a binding kind of agreement. And that’s the document that we all need to see, the final document.”

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Netanyahu Talks with ‘About Two-Thirds’ of House, Equal Share of Senate About Bad Iran Deal

Monday, April 6th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the rounds on the Sunday news shows to argue that the framework nuclear agreement reached between the P5+1 and Iran will turn out even worse than the failure to rein in North Korea’s nuclear program.

“The entire world celebrated the deal with North Korea. It deemed to be a great breakthrough, it would bring an end to North Korea’s nuclear program, you’d have inspectors. That would do the job. And of course everybody applauded it, but it turned out to be a very, very bad deal and you know where we are with North Korea. I think the same thing would be true in the case of Iran, except that Iran is a great deal more dangerous than North Korea,” Netanyahu told NBC.

Iran, he stressed, is “a militant Islamic power bent on regional domination, in fact, bent on world domination, as it openly says so.”

“They just chanted ‘Death to America’ a few days ago on the streets of Tehran, the same streets where they’re rejoicing right now,” Netanyahu said. “Don’t give the preeminent terrorist state of our time the access to a nuclear program that could help them make nuclear weapons. It’s very bad for all of us.”

The prime minister stressed on ABC that the billions to be quickly unlocked by the lifting of sanctions will be used “to pump up their terror machine worldwide and their military machine that is busy conquering the Middle East now.”

“It’s not even been on the table, nor have ICBMs, intercontinental ballistic missiles, that they can use to propel their nuclear weapons to any part of the world, including the United States,” Netanyahu said. “Nothing has been asked of Iran, to change its aggressive and terrorist policies, nothing. And I think it’s important to change the deal, to toughen up the deal, to get a better deal, because we all prefer to find a solution but it has to be the right one.”

Pressed about whether he’d launch airstrikes at the Islamic Republic to take out their nuclear program, he said, “I never talk about our military option or anyone else’s.”

“Once they’re at the table, why let up on those sanctions? In fact, that’s the time to increase the pressure and to get tomorrow what you can’t get today.”

On CNN, Netanyahu called “standing firm, ratcheting up the pressure, until you get a better deal” the “third alternative.”

“And a better deal would roll back Iran’s vast nuclear infrastructure and require Iran to stop its aggression in the region, its terror worldwide, and its calls and actions to annihilate the state of Israel,” he stressed. “That’s a better deal. It’s achievable.”

Regarding the absence of ICBMs from the deal, the prime minister noted, “Those missiles are only used for you. They’re not used for us. They have missiles that can reach us and are geared for nuclear weapons.”

“I wouldn’t bet the shop on inspections, because totalitarian regimes have a way of cheating,” he said. “Iran has cheated in the past. North Korea — they said the same arguments about North Korea. It will make them peaceful, it will make them moderate, it will make them abandon their program. And the opposite has happened.”

Netanyahu said he’s talked to “about two-thirds” of the House and an equal proportion of the Senate about derailing the deal. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) visited last week with a delegation.

“This is not a partisan issue. This is not even solely an Israeli issue,” he said. “This is a world issue, because everyone is going to be threatened by the preeminent terrorist state of our time, getting, keeping the infrastructure to produce not one nuclear bomb, but many, many nuclear bombs down the line. That’s a palpable danger to the peace of the world. And I think it should concern everybody, Republicans, Democrats, independents, I don’t care, and the citizens who want a peaceful world from every nation.”

“And I don’t think this is a personal issue, not between me and the president, or the president and me. We have — we had a respectful hour-long conversation the other day, as befits two allies, two democracies. And Israel views the United States as its great ally. And I think America has no greater ally in the world than Israel. But we do have a difference – it’s a difference of policy, not a clash of personalities.”

Asked if he trusts President Obama: “I trust that the president is doing what he thinks is good for the United States. But I think that we can have a legitimate difference of opinion on this, because I think Iran has shown to be completely distrustful. It’s not a country that you can place your trust in. And it’s not a country that you’re going to resolve its congenital cheating.”

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Al-Shabaab Attack: Kerry Keeps It at ‘Violent Extremism,’ While White House Mentions Christian Victims

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement Thursday remembering the “innocent victims” in the gruesome Al-Shabaab attack on a Kenyan university, while the White House statement acknowledged it “reportedly included the targeting of Christian students.”

The death toll in the assault on Garissa University College stood at 147, making it the deadliest terror attack in Kenya since the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in Nairobi. Officials said four gunmen were killed.

The attack began during an early morning prayer service, and as the Shabaab terrorists moved through the dorms they reportedly kept the Christians hostage and let Muslims go. Some students who escaped reported seeing beheaded victims.

“The United States condemns in the strongest terms today’s terrorist attack against the innocent men and women of Garissa University College in eastern Kenya. We extend our deep condolences to the families and loved ones of all those killed in this heinous attack, which reportedly included the targeting of Christian students,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers also are with the many injured. The United States is providing assistance to the Kenyan Government, and we will continue to partner with them as well as with others in the region to take on the terrorist group al-Shabaab. The United States stands with the people of Kenya, who will not be intimidated by such cowardly attacks.”

Kerry said the U.S. “strongly condemns al-Shabaab’s terrorist attack.”

“We extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the innocent victims who were killed in the attack. We also direct our thoughts to the many who sustained injuries,” he said.

“The United States stands resolutely with the government and people of Kenya in the effort to end the scourge of terrorism. The attack once again reinforces the need for all countries and communities to unite in the effort to combat violent extremism.”

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Netanyahu: Iran Deal on Current Framework ‘Would Threaten the Survival of Israel’

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

After speaking with President Obama today about the framework agreement reached between the P5+1 and Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned “a deal based on this framework would threaten the survival of Israel.”

“Just two days ago, Iran said that ‘the destruction of Israel is non-negotiable,’ and in these fateful days Iran is accelerating the arming of its terror proxies to attack Israel,” Netanyahu said in a statement posted by the prime minister’s office.

“This deal would legitimize Iran’s nuclear program, bolster Iran’s economy, and increase Iran’s aggression and terror throughout the Middle East and beyond,” he said. “Such a deal would not block Iran’s path to the bomb. It would pave it. It would increase the risks of nuclear proliferation in the region and the risks of a horrific war.”

Netanyahu said the alternative is “standing firm and increasing the pressure on Iran until a better deal is achieved.”

The White House, in a readout of the call from Air Force One, said Obama “emphasized that, while nothing is agreed until everything is, the framework represents significant progress towards a lasting, comprehensive solution that cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb and verifiably ensures the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program going forward.”

“He underscored that progress on the nuclear issue in no way diminishes our concerns with respect to Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and threats towards Israel and emphasized that the United States remains steadfast in our commitment to the security of Israel,” the administration said. “The President told the Prime Minister that he has directed his national security team to increase consultations with the new Israeli government about how we can further strengthen our long-term security cooperation with Israel and remain vigilant in countering Iran’s threats.”

While delivering a heated defense of the agreement earlier in the Rose Garden, Obama said, “It’s no secret that the Israeli prime minister and I don’t agree about whether the United States should move forward with a peaceful resolution to the Iranian issue.”

“If, in fact, Prime Minister Netanyahu is looking for the most effective way to ensure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon, this is the best option,” Obama added. “And I believe our nuclear experts can confirm that.”

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‘Chamberlain Got a Better Deal from Hitler’: Key Senators Sound Off on Next Iran Steps

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said now that the Obama administration has reached a framework deal with Iran, it’s time for Congress to do its duty and take steps to weigh in.

Menendez’s statement didn’t go into details of the deal, though he’s previously spoken out about things that were included in it — from enrichment capability to the length of the deal to the folly of thinking that sanctions can be snapped back into place.

The senator said the plan announced by the administration “deserves rigorous review and analysis.”

“In the coming days, this preliminary understanding will receive close scrutiny, and for that reason, Congress must fulfill its oversight responsibilities. That begins with taking up on April 14 in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015,” he said, referencing the Corker-Menendez bill that gained Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) as a co-sponsor last week.

“If diplomats can negotiate for two-years on this issue, then certainly Congress is entitled to a review period of an agreement that will fundamentally alter our relationship with Iran and the sanctions imposed by Congress,” Menendez continued. “The best outcome remains a good deal that ends Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program. That requires a strong, united, and bipartisan approach from the Administration and Congress.”

His co-sponsor on sanctions legislation, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), declared in a statement that “Neville Chamberlain got a better deal from Adolf Hitler.”

“Under today’s deal, the United States and its international partners will dismantle the sanctions regime against Iran, while Iran, the world’s biggest exporter of terrorism, will be allowed to keep vast capabilities to make nuclear weapons,” Kirk said.

Menendez’s co-sponsor on the review legislation, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), said they “must remain clear-eyed regarding Iran’s continued resistance to concessions, long history of covert nuclear weapons-related activities, support of terrorism, and its current role in destabilizing the region.”

“If a final agreement is reached, the American people, through their elected representatives, must have the opportunity to weigh in to ensure the deal truly can eliminate the threat of Iran’s nuclear program and hold the regime accountable,” Corker said. “Rather than bypass Congress and head straight to the U.N. Security Council as planned, the administration first should seek the input of the American people.”

The chairman stressed “growing bipartisan support” for his bill. “I am confident of a strong vote on the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee takes it up on April 14,” he said.

And the Democrat taking over Menendez’s top spot on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), stressed “there is no trust when it comes to Iran.”

“Congress has a role to play in this process and I look forward to reviewing all the details of this long-sought agreement that Secretary of State John Kerry and our allies have negotiated,” Cardin said.

Another key Democrat, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), said he “will advocate that Congress have an appropriate role in scrutinizing this framework and any final agreement.”

“This framework may reflect progress towards stopping a nuclear-armed Iran – a vital national interest – but it must be carefully reviewed and assessed,” Blumenthal said. “As a supporter of strong and strengthening sanctions, I believe these strictly-enforced economic measures brought Iran to the table. My views on best next steps will depend on an in-depth review of the framework’s details.”

And yet another Dem, Sen. Chris Coons (Del.), said he looks “forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that Congress’ voice is heard in this process.”

“As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I have urged Administration officials to not make any concessions on breakout timeline and capacity, centrifuge research and development, or the duration of any deal,” Coons said. “While I support the Administration’s efforts to seek a negotiated path towards ending Iran’s illicit nuclear program, I have also been clear that no deal is better than a bad deal.”

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who shot to mainstream media fame and MSNBC derision probably faster than any freshman senator after he helmed an open letter to the leaders of Iran, said “there is no nuclear deal or framework with Iran; there is only a list of dangerous U.S. concessions that will put Iran on the path to nuclear weapons.”

“Iran will keep a stockpile of enriched uranium and thousands of centrifuges—including centrifuges at a fortified, underground military bunker at Fordow. Iran will also modernize its plutonium reactor at Arak. Iran won’t have to disclose the past military dimensions of its nuclear program, despite longstanding UN demands. In addition, Iran will get massive sanctions relief up front, making potential ‘snap-back’ sanctions for inevitable Iranian violations virtually impossible,” Cotton said.

“…These concessions also do nothing to stop or challenge Iran’s outlaw behavior.  Iran remains the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism.  Iranian aggression is destabilizing the Middle East.  And Iran continues to hold multiple Americans hostage.”

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) found it “unsettling” that Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would remain in place. “Congress needs to weigh in on any decision to soften sanctions on a country whose leader has recently said ‘death to America,’ while simultaneously requesting additional nuclear capability,” Burr said. “This deal could lay the foundation for a nuclear arms race in the most unstable region in the world.”

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Cardin Taking Over for Menendez as Top Dem on Foreign Relations Committee

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

As Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) battles Justice Department corruption charges, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has named a replacement ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

It’s another pro-Israel senator with views similar to those of Menendez.

“I am humbled that Democratic Leader Reid has asked me to serve as Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at this time,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said in a statement. “It is clear to all of us that the pressing national security challenges facing our nation require having active and effective leadership in our engagement with Senator Corker and the White House. America is always stronger when we speak with one voice on foreign policy issues. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has an important role in defining that unified voice for America.”

Cardin has advocated for unobstructed inspections of Iran’s nuclear program and stressed that only Congress can remove the sanctions.

“As Ranking Member, I look forward to becoming even more engaged in our unified national effort to ensure Iran is not allowed to have nuclear weapons,” he said in today’s statement. “I also expect to fully participate in shaping an open and fair debate over the use of force against ISIL and how we deal with the growing instability that has opened the door for extremist activity in Yemen, Tunisia, and elsewhere. I plan to continue actively pressing for greater consequences for Russia as a result of its aggression against Ukraine and blatant disregard for its international commitments, human rights and the rule of law. I am looking forward to the upcoming Summit of the Americas, an opportunity to work with our very closest neighbors.”

“I will continue to champion U.S. engagement to tackle pressing global health, food security, economic development and environmental issues, and to promote strong U.S. support for civil society particularly in Africa. And I will keep a close eye on maritime security developments in Asia, which have been at the forefront of my agenda as Ranking Member of the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee.”

Cardin has served on the committee since 2007. He was a co-sponsor of Menendez-Kirk Iran sanctions legislation in the last Congress.

“I have been especially interested in Senator Corker’s aggressive campaign to combat human trafficking, as well as reform our food-aid programs and pass a State Department authorization,” Cardin concluded. “I look forward to working with him on these and other mutual priorities. I plan to engage Senator Corker in additional efforts to protect human rights, transparency and good governance worldwide, including passage of the Sergei Magnitsky Global Human Rights Accountability Act.”

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‘We Will Continue Enriching’: Iran Deal Reached with ‘Comprehensive Lifting of All Sanctions,’ ‘Announced’ Inspections

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The P5+1 agreed to the “key parameters” of a nuclear deal with Iran after marathon talks in Switzerland, including “ceasing application” of all sanctions — a must-have demand of Iran at the negotiating table.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini, appearing at a press conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, said parties agreed to a “comprehensive lifting of all sanctions” in the deal that is “laying the agreed basis for the final text for the Joint Plan of Action.”

The deal will be for 10 years and allow Iran to keep about 6,000 centrifuges.

Mogherini said the agreement leaves “no other enrichment facility than Natanz” and allows International Atomic Energy Agency inspections that are “mutually agreed” upon.

Fordow will become “a nuclear physics and technology center,” she said. “There will not be any fissile material at Fordow.”

Construction of the Arak heavy water reactor will continue; Mogherini said it “will not produce weapons-grade plutonium.”

They agreed on a “set of measures to monitor provisions” of the deal, including “announced access” to permit IAEA inspections.

Iran will take part in civilian nuclear energy programs, she said, including international efforts on nuclear safety and security.

The European Union and the United States “will cease the application of all sanctions,” Mogherini said, upon verification by IAEA of implementation.

The deal reportedly includes a “snap-back” provision to reimpose EU and U.S. sanctions if Iran violates the deal, though congressional lawmakers have consistently pointed out that these sanctions regimes take months or years to take effect.

“None of those measures include closing our facilities; the proud people of Iran will not accept that. We will continue enriching,” Zarif declared. “…We will focus our enrichment in Natanz” and “focus on other activities” at Fordow while keeping centrifuges there.

“When we implement our measures, there will be no sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Zarif stressed “there is an agreement that all Security Council resolutions will be terminated.”

President Obama emerged in the Rose Garden to declare victory on his “historic agreement” with Iran.

“If this framework leads to a final comprehensive deal it will make our country, our allies and our world safer,” Obama said. “…Because of our diplomatic efforts, the world stood with us.”

“It is a good deal, a deal that meets our core objectives” and cuts off “every pathway” to a nuclear weapon. “If Iran cheats, the world will know it.”

Obama said the sanctions relief will be “phased” without being clear on a timeline. Iran insisted on no less than sanctions relief as soon as the deal is signed.

He protested against a sanctions regime as something that has made Iran “not capitulate,” and argued against military action, stating that Iran won’t give up its nuclear weapons “because we command it to do so.”

The president generally addressed the “inevitable critics” of the deal, saying they should ask if it’s a “worse option than another war in the Middle East.”

Obama said he would be calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later today and called Saudi King Salman earlier.

“In the coming days and weeks my administration will engage Congress once again,” he said, promising lobbying against Iran bills likely to come to the floor after recess, calling the deal “bigger than politics, these are matters of war and peace.”

“This is not simply a deal between my administration and Iran,” Obama said. “If Congress kills this deal… then it’s the United States that will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy. International unity will collapse.”

Obama’s remarks were carried live on state TV in Iran.

Secretary of State John Kerry waited until after Obama spoke to deliver remarks in Switzerland, calling the agreement a “solid foundation for the good deal we are seeking.”

“Simply demanding that Iran capitulate makes a nice soundbite, but is not a policy,” Kerry said, adding he has “no illusion that we have a ways to travel before we arrive at the destination we seek.”

“I sincerely hope that members will continue to give us the time and space that we need to explain the agreement that we’ve reached,” he said of congressional efforts.

Neither Obama nor Kerry mentioned the four Americans held in Iran: Amir Hekmati, Jason Rezaian, Saeed Abedini, and Bob Levinson.

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Hundreds of Christians Still Believed Held by Al-Shabaab in Horrific University Attack

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Al-Shabaab confirmed it’s behind the bloody assault on a Kenya university that has killed at least 15, with unofficial death tolls much higher.

An unknown number of hostages were taken at Garissa University College as well, with Al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage telling Agence France-Presse that “when our men arrived, they released the Muslims. We are holding others hostage.”

“Our people are still there, they are fighting and their mission is to kill those who are against the Shabaab,” Rage said.

Gunmen attacked in the pre-dawn hours, at about 5:30 a.m. An Al-Shabaab news site put the death toll at “at least 20,” while local reporters on Twitter put the number even higher and accused Kenyan officials of withholding the true extent of the carnage.

The Al-Shabaab site said it didn’t know the number of hostages in the dorms in the “operation of the crusade.” But staff had accounted for only a fraction of the student body, and it would have been easy to corner students in their dorms at the early hour.

Garissa is located 90 miles west of Somalia. According to the university’s website, it is the only public college in the region and several hundred — believed to be more than 800 students — are enrolled there.

Kenyan authorities sent out a warning tweet threatening to take legal action on anyone posting photos of the bloody scene. Photos released by Al-Shabaab showed men and women laying on the ground among overturned desks, and were being circulated on social media by ISIS supporters.

They named an Al-Shabaab commander who once taught at a madrasa in town, Mohamed Kuno, as the mastermind of the attack and put a $53,000 bounty on his head. Kuno is in charge of Kenya operations for Al-Shabaab and oversees ops in the Somali Juba region, using his family contacts to slip in and out of the north part of the country.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta released a statement saying the terrorists “killed and wounded several people and have taken others hostage.”

“I also urge Kenyans to stay calm as we resolve this matter, and to provide the authorities with any information they may have in connection with any threats to our security,” Kenyatta said.

U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Robert F. Godec issued a statement stressing America “strongly condemns” the brutal attack.

“The attack once again reinforces the need for all countries and communities to unite in the effort to combat violent extremism,” Godec said. “The United States remains a committed friend of Kenya. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the government and people of Kenya in the effort to end the scourge of terrorism.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Menendez Rips DOJ, ‘Political Motive to Silence Me’ After 14-Count Indictment Unveiled

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Before a crowd of reporters and cheering supporters, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) furiously lashed out at the Justice Department for the indictment unveiled today as the administration again extended the deadline for a nuclear agreement framework with Iran.

The chief Democratic architect of Iran sanctions legislation that has angered the White House reportedly found out about his indictment not from the DOJ, but from the media who first received the leak.

Menendez said moments ago that for nearly three years the DOJ has followed him “like a cloud,” and he’s “outraged that this cloud has not been lifted.”

The DOJ was “tricked into starting this investigation three years ago,” the senator charged, with a “political motive to silence me — and I will not be silenced.”

“I am confident at the end of the day I will be vindicated and they will be exposed,” Menendez declared, adding that given his decades of public service “this is not how my career is going to end.”

“I have always conducted myself in accordance with the law,” he said. “I have always stood up for what I believe is right.”

The senator stressed, “I am not going anywhere… I’m angry and ready to fight because today contradicts my public service career and my entire life.”

In a 14-count indictment, the DOJ accuses Menendez of a “bribery scheme” in which the senator allegedly accepted gifts from Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen in exchange for using the power of his Senate office to benefit Melgen’s interests. Menendez charged that prosecutors “don’t know the difference between friendship and corruption” and chose to “twist” the relationship “into something improper.”

The charges for Menendez and Melgen are one count of conspiracy, one count of violating the travel act, eight counts of bribery and three counts of honest services fraud. Menendez faces an additional charge of making false statements. The Justice Department says the violations took place between January 2006 and January 2013.

To cries of “we support you,” Menendez admonished everyone to “remember all the other times when prosecutors got it wrong.”

He vowed to fight “no matter how long it takes to clear my good name.”

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said in a statement that “government corruption – at any level of elected office – corrodes the public trust and weakens our democratic system.”

“It is the fundamental responsibility of the Department of Justice to hold public officials accountable by conducting thorough investigations and seeking an indictment when the facts and the law support it,” Caldwell said.

The charges came not only as the Obama administration faces action on two Iran bills — the Corker-Menendez bill to require congressional approval of any Iran deal and the Menendez-Kirk sanctions bill — after lawmakers return from spring break, but as the Justice Department decided to not file any contempt charges against former IRS official Lois Lerner.

“Today’s announcement is disappointing and exhibits a disregard for the rule of law,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said of the Lerner punt. “[Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia] attempted to absolve Ms. Lerner of her actions by substituting his judgment for that of the full House of Representatives. It is unclear whether the Administration directed Mr. Machen not to prosecute Lois Lerner, or whether he was motivated by an ideological kinship with IRS’s leadership.”

“The Committee will continue to pursue its ongoing investigation into the targeting of American citizens based on their political beliefs,” Chaffetz added. “Our goal is to ensure that the people responsible, including Lois Lerner, are held accountable, and that appropriate reforms and safeguards are put into place at the IRS to guarantee that the rights of Americans are not trampled on again by overzealous bureaucrats with political agendas.”

The American Jewish Committee issued a statement praising Menendez: “His leadership in the defense of American values and interests around the world has been admirable, his thoughtful analysis of the threats posed by a nuclear-capable Iran persuasive, his identification with the aspirations and security concerns of Israel forthright and deeply appreciated, and his support for the protection of human rights, human dignity, and civil rights unflinching.”

“Regarding this week’s news of a federal indictment, unless and until the government proves its case, the Senator is presumed to be innocent,” the AJC continued. “We, therefore, intend to continue to work with him closely, as we have throughout his tenure. His leadership on pressing policy issues is too important to be silenced on anything less than proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Others jumped at the news.

 

 

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With Gratitude for ‘Most Tenacious Public Servant,’ Nevada Brothel Offers to Host Harry Reid’s Retirement Party

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

A brothel that benefited from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) support of the state’s legalized prostitution industry has offered to throw his retirement party.

The open letter from Sheri’s Ranch in Pahrump congratulates Reid on a “long and successful political career” and says they are “sorry to hear that the Silver State’s most tenacious public servant will not seek reelection in 2016, and your plan to retire from politics.”

“Your work over the years has positively affected the lives of the legal prostitutes of Sheri’s Ranch. You were a strong force in pushing Obamacare and passing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This law now provides Nevada’s legal prostitutes (each of them an independent contractor who must acquire their own health insurance) the right to health care. Despite the fact that legal sex workers in Nevada practice only safe sex and must be tested regularly for STD’s and HIV, health insurance was something that licensed working girls were often denied due to the reputation of unlawful prostitution. Thank you for making it illegal for insurance companies to deny Nevada’s legal hookers the right to health care,” the letter continues.

Even though Reid is a Mormon, the open letter says, he championed LGBT rights and fought against sexual orientation workplace discrimination.

“As you may be aware, many of the ladies of Sheri’s Ranch are bisexual and willfully practice a plethora of intimate activities with both male and female clients. We thank you for the peace of mind that comes with knowing that working girls can explore their pan-sexual desires without fear of discrimination,” it continues, with a segue into environmental causes: “As brothel workers who ply our trade in the rural desert areas of Nevada, we applaud your fight against the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. You have fought diligently to keep our backyard, Nye County, as environmentally safe as possible.”

“For these reasons, and for many more not mentioned in this letter, The Resort and Spa at Sheri’s Ranch would be honored if you would consider our brothel the official venue for your 2016 retirement party. We have a beautiful 20 acre property with a hotel and restaurant on-site, and a full time chef, service, and security personnel.”

Pahrump is directly west of Las Vegas, near the California border.

“As far as activities that we can offer attendees, many of your colleagues are intimately aware of our offerings, but we may have added new options since they last visited,” the letter states. “In addition to our VIP sex bungalows, BDSM chamber, and numerous Jacuzzi rooms popular with our friends from the political arena, Sheri’s has recently added a new massage room where your guests can receive full-body nude massages from one (or more) of the two dozen legal prostitutes on the property at any given time.”

“We’re sure that our venue will be a big hit with your friends, family, and co-workers. Heck, a retirement party at Sheri’s may even help lessen the animosity between you and your Republican acquaintances,” they add.

“Again, thank you so much for your years of public service and we anxiously await your reply.”

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UN: Boko Haram Should be Battled with Equality, Inclusivity, Reducing ‘Marginalization’

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said ISIS-aligned Boko Haram can be fought by addressing “profound inequalities” in Nigerian society and the “resulting marginalization.”

Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein argued to the Human Rights Council in Geneva that the terrorists need more economic, social and political opportunities to not be terrorists.

Just days ago, the terrorist group reportedly decapitated with chainsaws or burned to death 23 villagers, according to German news agency DPA.

The Jordanian prince told the Human Rights Council that his office has tallied more than 15,000 deaths since Boko Haram began its campaign of attacks in earnest in 2009.

“This despicable and wanton carnage, which constitutes a clear and urgent menace for development, peace and security, must be stopped,” said Zeid. “Boko Haram’s leaders must know that they will be held accountable in a court of law for these appalling violations of human rights.”

He warned that Boko Haram is spreading “bloodshed and desolation even more widely” and the crisis is “fast growing to very disturbing regional dimensions.”

He suggested getting to the roots of conflict by studying what is needed to build a more inclusive society.

“Vanquishing this threat to peace will require sustained attention that extends beyond the use of military force. Strengthening the rule of law, repealing discriminatory legislation, and implementing inclusive and non-discriminatory policies must be part of the response to the violations committed by Boko Haram,” Zeid said. “We must also reflect on some of the possible root causes of this insurgency.”

The State Department didn’t add Boko Haram to its list of terrorist organizations until November 2013 — on the eve of Nigerian activists coming to Congress to testify about Boko Haram’s crimes and demand the terrorist designation.  Emmanuel Ogebe, a Nigerian lawyer and human rights activist, said “part of the State Department’s response has been to deny the religious motivation of a rabid jihadist group that has repeatedly declared its goal of overthrowing the state and establishing a radical Muslim theocracy; to downplay the repeated threats to America going back several years by claiming this is all ‘local’; presenting arguments rationalizing terrorism by psycho-analyzing the emotional disconnect between the central government and northern Muslims who fuel the terrorism.”

Boko Haram formally pledged allegiance to ISIS in an audio recording released nearly a month ago, saying their vow represents “the completeness of the religion with the book that guides and the sword that favors.”

Boko Haram also made the move, leader Abubakr Shekau said, to “enrage the enemy of Allah” by “our gathering under one banner,” with more “enemy mortality.”

The latest issue of ISIS’ Dabiq magazine, released this week, lauds Boko Haram’s declaration “on the heels of a widely successful campaign being waged by the mujahidin across Nigeria and into neighboring regions.”

“Despite crusader hostility… the mujahidin carried the banner of tawhid, calling to the truth, clashing with the people of falsehood, and exacting revenge on the crusaders and apostates, until Allah’s decree came and the mujahidin were granted authority in the land. They implemented His Shariah, established the prayer, commanded the good, and forbade the evil… they continue upon this path today under the banner of the Khilafah, even as the forces of kufr redouble their efforts to stop their advance across West Africa.”

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