Breaking: Syria's PM Survives Car Bomb Attack
In the News
Agents Pore over Tsarnaev Russian Trip
Russia Caught Suspect on Wiretap
Persons of Interest/Holder/Misha
Charlotte Mayor gets Transport Nod
Pols Stronger Action in Syria
CIA Delivers Kash to Karzai!
Was Drone Over Israel Set by Iran?
Cancer Clinics: Why FAA Before Us?
Cuban-American Pols: Cuba is Terror State
Background Checks Back?
Black Voter Turnout Passes White
White House Correspondents Dinner
Extraterrestrials/Human Hearing Today!
Tamerlan Tsarnaev: Boxing Blow
* Tamerlan Tsarnaev only starting pursuing radical Islam after his secular dreams were dashed in 2010 and he was left adrift, NYT reported Sunday (interesting that the brothers targeted a sporting event)
* Tamerlan was devastated because, after capturing his second consecutive title as the Golden Gloves heavyweight champion of New England in 2010, he was barred from the national Tournament of Champions because he wasn't a U.S. citizen - they had just changed the rules
Agents Pore Over Russian Trip
* NYT reports TODAY that FBI agents are working closely with Russian security officials to reconstruct Tamerlan Tsarnaev's activities and connections in Dagestan during his six-month visit last year. They believe it's likely the brothers were self-radicalized but are exploring other influences
* Saturday, the Russian investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that Tamerlan had sought to join the Muslim insurgency in Dagestan and had been in contact with several rebels who were killed by Russian authorities in late spring of 2012 while he was staying in Makhachkala
* Tamerlan laft Dagestan just two days after a shootout between militants and police in which several militants were killed, including William Plotnikov, 23, a Russian Canadian. Investigators are trying to determine whether Tamerlan and Plotnikov met. Plotnikov was also a boxer, BTW
* Tamerlan's mother admitted he had been stopped by the police at least once. He occasionally prayed at a mosque in Makhachkala known as a gathering spot for some Salafists with extremist views. Videos posted by Tamerlan indicate he was familiar with Muslim rebel leaders in Dagestan
* Novaya Gazeta said that one of Tamerlan's contacts was Mahmoud Mansur Nidal, who was killed on 19 May after a standoff with Russian authorities. Another possible contact was Plotnikov, a member of the Mujahideen of the Caucasus Emirate. The Caucasus Emirate has denied any role in the bombing
Russia Caught Suspect on Wiretap
* AP reported Saturday that Russian authorities secretly recorded a phone conversation in 2011 in which Tamerlan vaguely discussed jihad with his mother, and the possibility of his going to Palestine, but he told his mother he didn't speak the language there
* In another call, the mother talked to someone in the Caucasus region of Russia who's under FBI investigation in an unrelated case. Nothing in the call suggested a plot inside the U.S.
* The Russians only turned over the information in the past week. Had the conversations been revealed earlier, there might have been enough evidence for the FBI to initiate a more thorough investigation of the Tsarnaev family. Initially, the Russians just said they had concerns that Tamerlan and his mother were religious extremists
* Meantime, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva says "It's all lies and hypocrisy. I'm sick and tired of all this nonsense that they make up about me and my children." She says she's just someone who's found a deeper spirituality
"Persons of Interest"/Eric Holder/Misha
* Three lawmakers in a position to know indicated on the Sunday game shows that there's an individual or some people in the U.S. connected to the Boston bombings, including Rep Dutch Ruppersberger, who's on the House Intel Committee (D-MD) (WaPo, Politico)
* Speaking of possible "trainers", House Homeland Security Committee chair Michael McCaul (R-TX) asked on Fox "Are they overseas in the Chechen region or are they in the United States?"
* CNN buttonholed AG Eric Holder as he went into the WH Correspondents Dinner. He said that "everything was done appropriately" in the questioning of Dzhokhar Tzarnaev. "Well I mean, the decision to Mirandize him is one that ... was totally consistent with the laws that we have."
* New York Review of Books has spoken to Misha - Mikhail Allakhverdov. He's an Armenian-Ukrainian, 39, living in Rhode Island. He says he's cooperating with the FBI and has given them his computer and phone. He said he wasn't Tamerlan's teacher, and would have made sure he never did anything like this
Charlotte Mayor Gets Transport Nod
* President Obama will nominate fast-rising Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Anthony Foxx as Transportation Secretary TODAY. He would replace Ray LaHood. The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on his nomination. Senate confirmation required (Huffington Post, Politico)
* Foxx's transportation credentials include his push for expanding the city's LYNX streetcar to UNC-Charlotte, creating the Charlotte Regional Intermodel Facility that transfers cargo between trucks and trains and building a new airport runway
* As an African-American, Foxx will also help address complaints about a perceived lack of diversity among Obama's top advisers. Conan O'Brien joked to the president on Saturday "your hair is so white, it could be a member of your cabinet."
* Also this week, Obama will name Chicago billionaire and Obama fundraiser Penny Pritzker as Commerce secretary, as well as with deputy national security adviser Mike Froman as U.S. Trade Representative
Pols: Stronger Action in Syria
* Lawmakers expressed concern about chemical weapons falling into the (even worse than now) wrong hands on the Sunday game shows
* "There's nothing you can do in Syria without risk, but the greatest risk is a failed state with chemical weapons falling in the hands of radical Islamists, and they're pouring into Syria," said Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC) (NYT, me)
* "We have unique weapons that no one else has. But you talk about a no-fly zone. It's easy to say it, by Syria is very sophisticated. Libya was not sophisticated ... we've got to get it right," said Rep Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD)
* The problem is that we don't know whether some weapons may already have fallen into the hands of bad actors. There are no good options here. No-fly zone, missiles from ships, 50-70,000 troops (from where?) to dismantle the weapons - all have unintended consequences, as does doing nothing
CIA Delivers Kash to Karzai's Office
* NYT reports that for more than a decade, wads of cash packed into suitcases, backpacks, and plastic shopping bags have been dropped off every month or so at the offices of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, courtesy of the CIA. All told, it adds up to tens of millions of dollars (stunning)
* There's little evidence the payments bought the influence the CIA wanted. Instead, some American officials said, the cash has fueled corruption and empowered warlords, undermining Washington's exit strategy. A few years ago, Iran regularly gave cash to one of Karzai's top aides (this gets better)
* The goal has been to maintain access to Karzai and his inner circle and to guarantee the agency's influence at the powerful presidential palace. However, Karzai's willingness to defy the U.S. - and the Iranians - on an array of issues seems to have grown as the cash has piled up (good for him!)
* Much of the CIA's money goes to paying off warlords and politicians, many of whom have ties to the drug trade or the Taliban (brilliant strategy)
* The result is the agency has greased the wheels of the same patronage networks that U.S. diplomats and law enforcement agents have struggled unsuccessfully to dismantle - leaving the government in the grips of what are basically organized crime syndicates (taxpayer dollars at work)
Was Drone over Israel sent by Iran?
* Israel believes that Iran's Revolutionary Guard was responsible for the unmanned drone launched from Lebanon that was shot down in Israeli airspace on Thursday. It was a few miles west of the northern port city of Haifa (Telegraph)
* The U.S. has urged Israel to demonstrate restraint in its response to the alleged incursion, according to Lebanese media reports. PM Netanyahu was flying across northern Israel when the drone was spotted above the sea. His chopper was forced to land. Unknown yet if the drone was armed
*According to Syrian rebels and Israeli intel, Tehran has poured Revolutionary Guard soldiers into Syria and Lebanon to support its Shiite allies. The Iranian fighters are to arm and train Syrian fighters
* It's Assad's vast cache of chemical weapons that are of urgent concern to Israel and the U.S. "Israel has laid down a clear red line that if strategic weapons are moved, it will take action," a diplomat told The Daily Telegraph
Cancer Clinics: Why FAA Before Us?/Air Shows Cancelled
* Congress should have addressed deep cuts to cancer clinics before tackling airline delays caused by sequestration, people at several of those clinics told the Hill Friday. Although delays in air travel affect lawmakers personally, cancer clinics say their cuts are far more serious (Hill)
* "I would invite anyone in Washington to come look my patients in the eye and tell them that waiting for a flight is a bigger problem than traveling further and waiting longer for chemotherapy," said William Nibley, a doctor at Utah Cancer Specialists in Salt Lake City
* Cancer clinics have seen their Medicare payments slashed under sequestration. They've had to turn away thousands of new patients, and some clinics say they will have to close their doors for good if the cuts aren't reversed soon
* Rep Renee Ellmers (R-NC) has introduced a bill to scale back the cuts to cancer clinics, which has roughly 50 bipartisan co-sponsors. Cancer clinics believe their budgets were cut excessively because of the way Medicare determines their payments
* Separately, dozens of air shows that draw tens of thousands of people and generate millions of dollars for local economies have been cancelled this year after the military grounded its jet and demonstration teams because of sequestration (I originally reported this weeks ago - shows are now coming up) (AP)
* WH Dinner "House of Cards" Intro
Cuban-American Pols: Keep Cuba on Terror List
* Seven Cuban-American lawmakers are pressing the Obama administration to keep Cuba on its list of state sponsors of terrorism (along with Iran, Syria and Sudan) as State prepares to release its annual assessment THIS WEEK (Hill)
* Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) is working with three other Cuban-American reps on a letter to SecState John Kerry. She's encouraged by news that Justice has indicted a former USAID employee for allegedly helping a convicted former DIA analyst spy for Cuba. There are reports that State plans to delist Cuba - State vigorously denies them
* To delist a country, State must make the case to Congress that a country has seen a change in leadership and policies or that it hasn't engaged in acts of international terrorism in the past six months and has provided assurances it won't in the future
* Cuba says it's stopped supporting Colombia's leftist rebels and is hosting peace talks, but U.S. lawmakers say the country's still running afoul of the law by serving as a safe haven for fugitives from U.S. law and keeping USAID contractor Alan Gross in prison
* WH Dinner Spielberg's "Obama"
Background Checks Back?
* Sen Joe Manchin (D-WV) said Sunday on Fox "The only that we've asked for is that people would just read the bill." He said the confusion arose from a misperception that gun owners' purchases would be tracked by the federal govt. He's willing to bring it back (CNN)
* President Obama's 23 Executive Orders are moving along - slowly. He issued a memo directing the CDC and Prevention to research the causes and prevention of gun violence. The NRA has stymied such research in the past. He's included $10 million in his budget - but Congress must allocate it... (WSJ)
* Justice has required federal agencies to file reports aimed at improving their procedures for submitting records to the background-check database. DHS will write new rules to ensure health privacy law doesn't prevent states from providing records to the background-check system
* But Obama's nominee to head BATF, which has looong lacked a permanent director, awaits a Senate hearing. The U.S Office of Special Counsel's investigating a complaint that acting director Todd Jones retaliated against a person described as a whistle blower
Black Voter Turnout Passes White Rate
* America's blacks voted at a higher rate than other minority groups in 2012 and by most measures surpassed the white turnout for the first time, reflecting a deeply polarized presidential election in which blacks strongly supported Barack Obama while many whites stayed home (AP)
* Had people voted last November at the same rates they did in 2004, when black turnout was below its current historic levels, Republican Mitt Romney would have won narrowly (analysis for AP)
* Last year's heavy black turnout came despite concerns about the effect of new voter-id laws on minority voting, outweighed by the desire to re-elect the first black president
* While Latinos are now the biggest driver of US. population growth, they still trail whites and blacks in turnout and electoral share, because many of the Hispanics in the country are children or noncitizens
* The 2012 data suggest Romney was a particularly weak GOP candidate, unable to motivate white voters let alone attract significant black or Latino support
* Obama's personal appeal and the slowly improving economy helped overcome doubts and spur record levels of minority voters in a way that may not be easily replicated for Democrats soon
* WH Dinner in two minutes
White House Correspondents Dinner
* "Some folks still don't think I spend enough time with Congress. 'Why don't you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?' they ask," Obama said. "Really? Why don't you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?" One of the best lines of the night - from either President Obama or Conan O'Brien (Politico, me)
* Both men took time to pay tribute to the victims in Boston, the people, the first responders and the press, and in Obama's case to West, Texas and those dealing with floods in the Midwest, as well as members of the military
* One thing [the Republican Party] agrees on is the need to do a better job of reaching out to minorities. And look, call me self-centered, but I can think of one minority they can start with." [Raises his hand.] "Hello! Think of me as a trial run, see how it goes."
* Conan: "The president is hard at work creating jobs. Since he was first elected, the number of popes has doubled. The number of 'Tonight Show' hosts has tripled. Congratulations."
* Not everyone was happy. Failed VP candidate, part term Alaska governor and fired Fox News analyst Sarah Palin wrote on Twitter "The #WHCA was pathetic. The rest of America is out there working our asses off while these DC assclowns throw themselves a #nerdprom." Guess she didn't get an invitation to the Vanity Fair party this year
* (BTW, in the end I wore a Nicole Miller black lace gown, with Oscar de la Renta earrings - am back working my pathetic ass off this morning)
Extraterrestrial/Human Hearing at Press Club Today
* There will be a citizen hearing about extraterrestrials engaging the human race at the National Press Club in DC from TODAY to 3 May. The main ballroom will be converted to look like a Senate hearing room (Epoch Times)
* The hearing committee will include former Sen Mike Gravel (D-AK), former Rep Darlene Hooley (D-OR), Carolyn Kilpatrick D-MI), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and former Rep Merrill Cook (R-UT). They'll hear from 30-40 (all allegedly human) witnesses
* Dr Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut and sixth man to walk on the moon, is the international spokesman. At the Sundance Film Festival, he said disclosure should provide "vital information that we need to know"
* The WH says "The U.S. govt has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet, or that any extraterrestrial presence has contacted or engaged any member of the human race. In addition, there is no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public's eye." (sure)