(WASHINGTON) -- Senior United States intelligence officials presented evidence on Tuesday that they say makes a "solid case" as to why the U.S. believes a Russian made SA-11 missile fired from separatist-held eastern Ukraine shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 last week.
While the leading theory is that Russian separatists brought down the plane, the U.S. intelligence community still cannot determine who pulled the trigger or why. The officials pointed the finger at Russia for having "created the conditions" behind the shoot-down and labeled as "not plausible" new Russian claims that the plane may have been brought down by a Ukrainian fighter jet.
In a briefing with reporters, senior intelligence officials pointed to a variety of evidence, including the detection of a surface-to-air missile launch from a separatist-held area of eastern Ukraine. They cited Russian training of separatists in air defense systems, though not necessarily the SA-11, and Russian separatists having used other air defense systems to bring down 12 aircraft in recent months.
They also noted images posted on social media showing an SA-11 missile system near the area of that launch and one system headed towards Russia missing at least one missile in the hours after the shoot down.
Though the images are not independently verifiable, the officials say they complement their intelligence. The officials also pointed to postings to social media in which separatists bragged about the shoot-down and which were quickly deleted.
One of the officials said photographs taken at the crash site show damage to the plane's skin that is "consistent" with that seen from shrapnel from a surface-to-air missile system.
Another official said the evidence made, "a solid case it was an SA-11 fired from eastern Ukraine under conditions created by Russia."
The leading theory is that Russian separatists were behind the launch, probably by mistake by an "ill-trained crew," officials said, they are still trying to determine precisely who fired the missile.
"We don't know the rank, we don't know the name, we don't know the nationality of the individual who pulled the trigger or why they did it," said the official.
The U.S. intelligence community is still trying to determine whether the trigger-puller was a Russian, a separatist trained by Russia, or possibly a volunteer familiar with the missile system from the Ukrainian military and who may have joined the separatists.
The officials discounted as "not plausible" a new Russian narrative released Monday that presented the possibility that a nearby Ukrainian SU-25 fighter jet may have downed the airliner.
One official said the fighter is a ground-attack aircraft not equipped with air-to-air missiles and was flying too far away from the plane at the time. The official added that the plane would have had to travel a great distance to track the plane and then would have had to persuade Russian separatists to brag on social media that they had shot the plane down. The official described the Russian narrative as, "a classic case of blaming the victims."
The officials acknowledged that U.S. intelligence did not know until the day of the shoot-down that Russian separatists were in possession of an SA-11 system. The U.S. was aware that separatists had received air defense training at a large training facility in southwestern Russia outside of Rostov, but it was not specific to the SA-11 system.
Nathaniel Chadwick/NBC(NEW YORK) -- Seems like Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former movie star and Republican governor of California, and Chuck Schumer, the long-time Democratic senator from New York, wouldn't have much in common.
Turns out, they both see eye to eye on at least one issue: Open primaries.
Schwarzenegger publicly tweeted his support for Schumer after the senator penned an Op-Ed for The New York Times suggesting that the country should adopt a Congressional open primary election system to reduce the polarization currently plaguing Congress.
What exactly was it about Schumer's piece that caught Schwarzenegger's attention?
The New York Democrat outlined what he believes to be the direct effects of the current primary election system and floated this recommendation:
"We need a national movement to adopt the 'top-two' primary (also known as an open primary), in which all voters, regardless of party registration, can vote and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, then enter a runoff. This would prevent a hard-right or hard-left candidate from gaining office with the support of just a sliver of the voters of the vastly diminished primary electorate; to finish in the top two, candidates from either party would have to reach out to the broad middle."
Schwarzenegger's home state of California has used the non-partisan, open primary system since 2010. Washington State uses an open primary election system too, along with Louisiana where the system is sometimes referred to as a "jungle primary."
According to Schumer, California was virtually a magnetic field for political polarization until voters decided to adopt the open primary system in 2010. He wrote, "The move has had a moderating influence on both parties and a salutary effect on the political system and its ability to govern."
And Schumer later tweeted back his appreciation for Schwarzenegger's endorsement.
NASA/Bill Ingalls(WASHINGTON) -- Legendary moonwalker Buzz Aldrin may have been “out of town” when the world celebrated Apollo 11's lunar landing, but he marked the anniversary on Tuesday with a presidential handshake and a meeting in the Oval Office -- the same spot from whence President Nixon made that famous interplanetary telephone call to the moon 45 years ago.
Nixon called July 20, 1969 -- the day Aldrin and Neil Armstrong stepped off the Apollo 11 lunar module and onto the moon -- the “proudest day of our lives.”
“For one priceless moment in the whole history of man all the people on this Earth are truly one -- one in their pride in what you have done and one in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth,” Nixon said during his satellite conversation with Armstrong.
Four months later -- following a 21-day quarantine procedure designed to shield Earth from possible lunar pathogens and a 24-country “good will tour” meant to demonstrate the United States’ willingness to share its lunar expertise -- the Apollo 11 team visited the president at the White House.
Since then, the astronauts have met with Presidents Carter, Bush, Clinton, Bush -- and now Obama.
Aldrin and Michael Collins (who remained in the orbiter during the moon walk) -- along with Neil Armstrong’s wife, Carol, and current NASA administrator Charles Bolden -- returned to the White House on Tuesday to celebrate the 45th anniversary of their moon landing.
It’s not known what the group discussed.
Before his death, Armstrong lambasted Obama for cancelling NASA’s moon return project “Constellation,” calling the U.S. spaceflight program “lamentably embarrassing and unacceptable.”
“A lead, however earnestly and expensively won, once lost, is nearly impossible to regain,” the astronaut told Congress.
Dr. Paul Wheeler of Johns Hopkins examines lung X-rays. (ABC News)(WASHINGTON) -- Federal labor officials told lawmakers Tuesday that they have notified dozens of coal workers they should re-apply for black lung benefits because their claims were denied in part based on medical reviews by a controversial Johns Hopkins physician.
Letters and calls to 83 miners in recent weeks were part of a raft of remedies lawmakers said would help “level the playing field” for miners suffering from black lung disease.
“Let me reassure you, the Department of Labor is committed to improving the effectiveness of these programs,” said Chris Lu, Deputy Secretary of Labor, at a Senate hearing convened to look at reforms to the government’s black lung benefit program.
The hearings and the Labor Department action came after troubling questions about the federal black lung program were raised in a year-long ABC News investigation with the Center for Public Integrity. The reports focused on the difficulties coal miners faced collecting benefits from coal companies that were intended to help miners and their families if they contracted the deadly and debilitating lung disease.
Sen. Robert Casey said at the hearing that he was appalled to learn that sick miners were being turned down for those benefits based in part on the medical opinions of a leading Johns Hopkins doctor. He noted that the news reports demonstrated examples of miners who were denied benefits based on doctors’ conclusions that they did not have severe black lung, only to have autopsies prove -- after their deaths -- that they had the disease.
“I am pleased with the Department of Labor’s efforts to begin leveling the playing field for black lung claimants, but there is still more that needs to be done,” Casey said.
Labor officials said they would begin to address an enormous backlog of unresolved black lung cases -- believed to be more than 14,000 of them -- by adding more than $2.7 million to the program’s budget. Casey urged them to seek a $10 million increase in the next federal budget “to not only stop the backlog from growing, but to actually begin reducing the number of backlogged cases.”
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) also attended the hearing, and described the pain he experienced watching coal miners, including his father, suffering from what then was only known as the “miners’ cough.”
“After years of hard, dirty work powering our country, the least we can do in return is make sure that we give the miners a fair shot at accessing earned benefits,” Harkin said in a prepared statement. “But that fair shot has been out of reach for many of those miners.”
The most significant moves described by Labor Department officials Tuesday involved actions they had taken to address the possibility that X-ray readings by Dr. Paul S. Wheeler of Johns Hopkins -- who was hired by coal companies to read films in black lung cases -- had skewed hundreds of cases against the miners.
The ABC News/CPI report found that Wheeler had not reported a single instance of severe black lung in the more than 1,500 claims that the news outlets reviewed going back to the year 2000. Labor department officials said they were unaware of Wheeler's record until the ABC News report was broadcast.
In court testimony in 2009, Wheeler said the last time he recalled finding a case of severe black lung, a finding that would automatically qualify a miner for benefits under a special federal program, was in "the 1970's or the early 80's."
Labor Department Solicitor Patricia Smith called those findings "shocking."
At the hearing, Lu told the lawmakers that his department had identified 83 claims that had been denied within the past year and sent a letter to those claimants alerting them to the “new guidance on Dr. Wheeler’s X-ray readings.”
“The letter informed the claimants that they could request reopening of their claims, included the date by which they had to make the request, and told them that the request could be made either by telephoning or writing,” Lu said in testimony he submitted to the senate committee. “In four instances, the one-year modification deadline was quickly approaching, so [the department] telephoned the claimants in addition to sending the letter. To date, 13 claimants have sought modification in response to OWCP’s letter.”
Lu added that the department had identified approximately 1,000 claims filed by miners between 2001 and 2013 that contained Wheeler X-ray interpretations. In those cases, miners were encouraged to file a new claim.
Hopkins suspended Wheeler's black lung unit a few days after the ABC News/CPI report was broadcast and posted online. Hopkins said it would conduct its own internal investigation, which a spokesperson said remains ongoing.
"We take these allegations very seriously and are still conducting the investigation into the [black lung] program," Hopkins spokeswoman Kim Hoppe said in a June email. "While our investigation is ongoing, nobody at Hopkins -- including Dr. Wheeler -- is performing" black lung X-ray readings.
Reached by phone in June, Wheeler said he hopes to be cleared by the internal Hopkins investigation -- which he said is being conducted by the Washington, D.C., law firm Patton Boggs.
"The hospital still believes in my approach," he said.
Wheeler told ABC News then he was unmoved by the Labor Department bulletin.
"They're not doctors," he said. "If they were from qualified medical institutions, I would be very unhappy."
State of Kentucky(NEW YORK) -- Alison Lundergan Grimes’ is out with a new television ad hitting her opponent, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on comments he made about his role in job creation in April.
ABC News got a sneak peak of Grimes’ second television ad, featuring Kentuckians asking questions to McConnell. The ad -- titled “Question from David” -- begins with Grimes sitting next to David Stanley from Putney, Kentucky outside of a gas station.
“I’m Alison Lundergan Grimes and David Stanley lost his coal mining job in Letcher County, and he has this question for Senator McConnell,” Grimes says.
“Mr. McConnell, in the last two years, we’ve lost almost half of our coal jobs in Eastern Kentucky. Why’d you say it’s not your job to bring jobs to Kentucky?” Stanley said, before taking a long pause.
There is no answer, but Grimes then says, “I couldn’t believe he said that either.”
“I approved this message because, Senator, that’ll be my number one job,” she says, while looking directly into the camera.
The ad refers to McConnell being asked by the Beattyville Enterprise in April what he would do to bring jobs to the county.
“Economic development is a Frankfort issue,” McConnell said then, according to the paper. “That is not my job. It is the primary responsibility of the state Commerce Cabinet.”
Grimes has been consistently hitting McConnell over the comments, but his campaign says he was taken out of context.
The Grimes’ campaign did not say how much money is behind the ad, but describe it as a significant, six-figure, statewide buy that begins airing Tuesday.
iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- WHO’S ON THE BALLOT?
Voters in Georgia will cast ballots in primary run-offs Tuesday. One race, the GOP run-off for the open Georgia Senate seat, will set up a 2014 fight between Tuesday night’s victor and a Democrat with a familiar name in the Peach State. No incumbents face the chopping block Tuesday night and while the Senate face off is the marquee race, it’s not the only one to watch. ABC News' friends at FiveThirtyEight.com have joined us again to explain the importance of Tuesday’s big race. Look for FiveThirtyEight.com senior political writer Harry Enten’s take below.
Here are three races to watch Tuesday:
GEORGIA’S GOP FEUD: Two months of nonstop Republican-on-Republican badmouthing will finally end in Georgia on Tuesday. With a merciful runoff vote, Georgia Republicans will choose either former Dollar General CEO David Perdue or Rep. Jack Kingston as their candidate for the state’s open Senate seat to replace retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss. WHY IT MATTERS: The top two finishers in a seven-way May 20 primary were Perdue, who received 30.6 percent of the vote, and Kingston, who came in second with 25.8 percent. Perdue has assailed Kingston’s 21-year record of earmarks, while Kingston has pointed to layoffs, offshoring, and a government bailout among companies with which Perdue was involved, with fact checkers tweaking parts of his claims. Both candidates are vying, as one would expect, for the mantle of “true conservative.” This isn’t a traditional Tea Party vs. establishment GOP fight as we’ve seen in primaries all over the country, most notably the Mississippi Senate primary. Rep. Jack Kingston has collected a wide array of endorsements, from former primary foe Karen Handel -- the Sarah Palin-endorsed tea partier in the multi-way first-round primary -- to conservative blogger Erick Erickson, the NRA and even the Chamber of Commerce. Perdue is backed by former presidential candidate Herman Cain, who called him his “brother from another mother,” because they’re so similar politically. No Democrat has won a Georgia Senate seat since 2000, but the GOP infighting has left some breathing room for Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, as Democrats have made good on their intentions to make the 2014 race competitive. After Republicans choose between two seemingly strong candidates, look for the attacks on Nunn to intensify and for a tough general election to get underway.
538′s Take: Key Counties
Perdue will likely need to over-perform in the Atlanta metropolitan area. Perdue led Kingston by 17 to 18 points in Cobb (a traditional swing county in Republican primaries), Gwinnett, and Fulton counties in the first round. Handel came in first or second in all of these counties. If Perdue is to win the runoff, he’ll need to fight off Handel’s influence and win these counties by potentially upwards of 10 percentage points. He’ll be building on his base anchored by Bibb and Houston counties around Macon in the middle of the state. Kingston, meanwhile, needs another strong performance around his Savannah (Chatham County) centered congressional district in the southeast. Kingston regularly won 75 percent or more of the vote and no less than 64 percent of the vote in 30 southeastern counties. More than that, turnout was up in these southeast counties, while it was down in most of the state. In Chatham, for example, turnout was up 7 percent from the competitive gubernatorial primary four years ago. It was down 11 percent statewide. Swing County: Augusta (Richmond County) in the center-eastern part of the state could be telling. It’s just outside Kingston’s sphere of influence in the southeast and Perdue’s core support in the center of the state. Both candidates finished within a point of their statewide performance in Richmond in the first round. THE OTHERS:
GEORGIA’S GOP RUN-OFF FOR THE 10TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: Trucking company executive Mike Collins and pastor and conservative radio talk show host Jody Hice are facing off again Tuesday after the initial primary separated the two by less than one percent of the vote, with Hice leading by just a few hundred votes. Hice received 33.50 percent to Collins’ 32.99 percent. WHY IT MATTERS: This seat is to replace the retiring Rep. Paul Broun, who ran unsuccessfully in the May primary for the U.S. Senate seat. Broun made a late endorsement of Hice, backing him just later this month. Collins is the son of former U.S. Rep. Mac Collins who represented Georgia in the House from 1993 to 2005. Mike Collins’ father actually defeated Broun in the 1992 Republican primary congressional election, making it no surprise Broun backed Hice, although he said he waited because he did not want to anoint his successor. Collins has received the backing of former Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and unsuccessful Georgia Senate candidate Karen Handel. The race hasn’t been without its odd moment. A Vanilla Ice parody even popped up titled “Hice Hice Crazy,” teasing Hice for some controversial comments he has made about women and gays. Collins has described himself as a successful businessman pushing that he can create jobs in the district, while Hice has been working the tea party vote, and cast himself as more of a cultural warrior. Eyebrow-raising comments Hice has made not only about women and gays, but also Muslims have been raised on the campaign trail. The winner will face Democrat Ken Dious, an attorney, but it’s likely Tuesday’s winner will also be the November victory in this bright red district. GEORGIA’S GOP RUN-OFF FOR THE 11TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: Former Congressman Bob Barr is trying to get back to Washington, facing off against former state Sen. Barry Loudermilk to replace the retiring Rep. Phil Gingrey, who also ran unsuccessfully for the Georgia Senate race. WHY IT MATTERS: Barr who served in the House from 1995 to 2003 is most well-known for helping lead the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and he’s seeking a comeback in this seat north of Atlanta. Tea party-backed Loudermilk beat Barr, coming in the initial primary 6,000 votes ahead of Barr. Barr -- who was the Libertarian candidate for president in 2008 -- was seen as the favorite thanks to his higher name recognition, but Loudermilk surprised with his initial victory and has even outraised Barr. Loudermilk went after Barr for writing a letter of recommendation six years ago for Attorney General Eric Holder. Barr says now he has called for his resignation. Barr has the backing of two of his primary opponents, while Loudermilk was backed by Sarah Palin. There is no Democratic candidate for the seat, so the winner of this primary is guaranteed to fill this district’s congressional seat.
Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Hillary Clinton has remained coy on her potential presidential candidacy in 2016, but that hasn’t stopped Democrats from endorsing her. The Ready For Hillary Super PAC has been in full swing organizing Clinton supporters, and in January, 60 congressmen said they would endorse her if she were to run.
Some major Democrats, however, have spoken out against endorsing Clinton too early, including some who have indicated they may challenge her for the nomination.
Here are six prominent Dems who aren’t ready for Hillary:
1. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick
He may share a hometown with Clinton (Chicago), but any Windy City solidarity hasn’t yet been extended to the realm of presidential politics. When asked in May on CNN’s State of the Union if Clinton’s potential candidacy would lead to an inevitable victory, he said, “I guess I worry a little bit. She’s an enormously capable candidate and leader. But I do worry about the inevitability thing, because I think it’s off-putting to the average…voter.”
2. Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown
The senior senator from one of the most important election states is already tired of all the 2016 press. When asked by U.S. News last month about endorsing Clinton, he said, “I’m not on board with anybody…It just doesn’t matter to me at this point. I’m not trying to be arrogant about it, I’ve just got more important things to do. It’ll matter to me sometime next year at some point, I guess.” He also chose to stay out of the 2008 Democratic primary, only endorsing then-Sen. Barack Obama after he had secured the party’s nomination.
3. Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin
A common criticism from Republicans about Clinton centers on the ambiguity of her core principles. But some on the left feel the same way, including Harkin. In June, Harkin told the Des Moines Register: “I think Hillary would be the first to say, no one ever has something all locked up. This is not a coronation or anything like that.” He added, “Democrats would rightfully say anywhere, ‘Wait a minute. No matter who is running, we want to know who, why, what do you stand for? What would your policies be as president?’ That is especially true in Iowa.”
4. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley
O’Malley has positioned himself as one of Clinton’s first prospective opponents, which explains why he would not be eager to endorse her this early. Regarding the recent controversy over immigration, he split with Clinton when speaking at a National Governors Association meeting earlier this month, saying, “We are not a country that should turn children away and send them back to certain death.” O’Malley has also been at odds with the Obama administration over their handling of the immigration crisis, leading to a public spat between him and the White House.
5. Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico and cabinet member
Richardson has been a vocal critic of Clinton in the past, and he doesn’t seem ready to change his thinking two presidential election cycles later. When asked by Larry King last week on King’s show Politicking if he thinks Clinton has the nomination in hand, Richardson stayed distant: “I want to see who the candidates are. I think there should be open competition. It’s not that I won’t ever be there, but right now I’m not one of those hundreds of Democrats flocking and saying the race is over.”
6. Brian Schweitzer, former Montana governor
Schweitzer didn’t mince words when asked about Clinton’s presidential aspirations, positioning himself as one of Clinton’s loudest critics on the left. In June he told Time, “You can’t be the candidate that shakes down more money on Wall Street than anybody since, I don’t know, Woodrow Wilson, and be the populist. You can’t be the one to say we’re going to focus on rebuilding America if you voted to go to the Iraq War.” When asked if he thinks he would be a better fit in the Oval Office, Schweitzer was adamant: “Well, I think so, of course.”
US House of Representatives(WASHINGTON) -- Todd Akin may regret how he said it, but he doesn’t regret what he meant.
The former Missouri Republican’s Senate campaign crumbled in 2012 after he said that “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down” and prevent an unwanted pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape.”
Now, just months before the 2014 mid-term election, Akin has returned with Firing Back -- a book about his life, his politics and, yes, an attempt to clarify what may have been the most notorious comment of the previous cycle.
“Obviously no rape is legitimate,” Akin told ABC News in an interview. “It's a serious, serious crime. But legitimate rape is a law enforcement term for legitimate case of rape. Rape is not legitimate, it’s the particular circumstances.”
Akin went on to say that his remark related to the female body’s ability to shut down reproductive abilities if raped was “not very well stated.”
“What I was simply saying is: stress plays a role in whether somebody's eggs fertilize or somebody gets pregnant,” Akin said. “The probability of pregnancy as a result of rape is less than it might be otherwise.”
Akin said he knows it is possible for women to get pregnant through rape, noting that he had volunteers working on his campaign who were conceived through rape.
The heart of the debate, from Akin’s perspective, is over whether children conceived through rape have the same right to life as children conceived through consensual sex. As a strict adherent to pro-life principles, Akin opposes abortion except in cases when it is necessary to save the life of the mother.
“The first question is, ‘Is it ever right to intentionally take the life of an innocent person?’” Akin said. “The second question is, ‘What is it that is inside a woman when she's pregnant?’ …They still have a right to life in my opinion; now, whether the rapist has a right to life, that's a different discussion.”
Akin said there’s an ironic contrast between his status as a Republican outcast and former President Bill Clinton’s revered status within the Democratic Party. About two weeks after Akin’s infamous remarks, Clinton was a speaker at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
“Clinton still has a long history of…sexual inappropriate behavior, and he gets a standing ovation or whatever it is, they're clapping, cheering because he's their keynote speaker,” Akin said. “Now, there's a difference between an action and a word.”
The timing of Akin’s book release during an election year begs the question of whether the disgraced politician is trying to make a political comeback. And while he said he doesn’t currently have any plans to run for office, he isn’t ruling it out.
He also had some choice words for Karl Rove, whose American Crossroads Super PAC has been a major force in supporting moderate Republican candidates in primaries across the country. He was also one of the earliest Republican operatives to denounce Akin following his “legitimate rape” remarks.
“[Rove says] we're going to give up on primary elections in various states, and we're going to select the guy we know that's the best, he says ‘the most conservative guy we can get elected,’” Akin said. “What they're saying is they believe in selection over elections. So, it's just a really dumb thing to do. And because I'm not running for office, I don't mind calling dumb dumb.”
Glu Games, Inc.(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water works to ensure that drinking water is safe and focuses on the safety of aquatic ecosystems.
But the office sent a tweet Monday night that didn’t have much to do with water.
“I’m now a C-List celebrity in Kim Kardashian: Hollywood,” the tweet said in reference to her new gaming app. “Come join me and become famous too by playing on iPhone!”
The tweet remained visible for hours, plugging the popular mobile game that allows you to join a cartoon version of Kardashian on a red carpet adventure, performing tasks to increase your celebrity profile.
Thousands of people responded to the tweet, sharing it and commenting as confusion grew. Eventually, it was deleted.
The game’s developers, Glu Games, poked fun at the situation, writing “Keep at it @EPAwater, you’ll get there.”
Kendra Helmer/USAID(NEW YORK) -- During back-to-back Facebook and Twitter chats Monday evening, Hillary Clinton weighed in again on the growing tensions in the Middle East, reiterating her hope for a ceasefire in the region and stressing her view that Israel has largely been “provoked” by Hamas throughout the conflict.
“You mention in particular the difficulties we currently are seeing in the Middle East because of the actions by Hamas, first to rain rockets on to Israel. Israel being provoked,” Clinton told Twitter’s VP of Global Media (and former State Department employee), Katie Jacob Stanton, when asked how social media has changed diplomacy between conflicting nations, particularly with IDF and Hamas, who regularly communicate via Twitter.
She added: “I do think that was part of the Hamas calculation, to provoke Israel to respond to defend itself, which any nation has to do if you are under attack like that.”
Clinton went on to give an idealistic view of how social media should be used between countries: “It is a fact of social media right now that too often people use it as a weapon, instead of an opportunity. And maybe one of the ways we can think together about the next phase in the development of social media is as a tool of outreach, a tool of reconciliation, a tool of negotiation, and maybe even resolution.”
Earlier in the day during the Facebook Q&A, Clinton, who as secretary of state helped to negotiate the last ceasefire in November 2012, said she hopes there can be another ceasefire soon to end the current conflict, and added that she is “fully supportive” of Secretary Kerry’s efforts do so.
Secretary Kerry is currently in Cairo, Egypt where he is working to negotiate a ceasefire in the Gaza strip. Early Monday he announced the U.S. would give $47 million in aid to Gaza and voiced “concern” over civilian deaths -- more than 583 Palestinians and 27 Israelis over the past two weeks -- and meanwhile reaffirmed support for Israel’s self-defense.
Hillary Clinton’s comments were part of the two social media chats she participated in Monday during a swing through Silicon Valley, where she visited the headquarters of Google, Facebook, and Twitter. In addition to the Middle East, Hillary Clinton answered questions about Ukraine, saying there “was no doubt” in her mind that the Ukrainian separatists were getting help from Russia and pushed for European nations to enact stricter sanctions on Putin; abortion rights, where she again slammed the Hobby Lobby ruling; and college tuition, which she says, “costs too much.”
During the Twitter chat, Clinton took questions not only from users who submitted them using the hashtag #AskHillary, but from a range of high-profile friends and celebrities, which drew a bit of cynical skepticism from people watching online.
The questions came from Amy Poehler (who Clinton conceded “did do a really wicked imitation of me.”), Malala Yousafzai, Melinda Gates, and Scandal star Kerry Washington (who Clinton called “terrific.”) In addition, soccer star, Julie Foudy, snuck in a question about 2016, asking who would be her VP pick. But Clinton didn’t even pretend to answer.
“I’m going to take a pass on that,” she said and moved on.
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- While there's a new move afoot in California to split it into six states, there has been talk for years about making Washington, D.C. the 51st state.
On Monday, President Obama revealed that he supports the idea of statehood for the District of Columbia.
The president explained his rationale like this: "Folks in D.C. pay taxes like everybody else. They contribute to the overall well-being of the country like everybody else. They should be represented like everybody else."
According to Obama, he's no Johnny Come Lately to making Washington a state, claiming that he's long been behind the idea.
However, the president acknowledged that getting Congress to approve statehood for D.C., just like other initiatives he's promoted during his five-plus years in office, would no doubt be difficult.
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts is the sole survivor of an outpost that came under fierce attack in one of the bloodiest battles of the war in Afghanistan. On Monday, the former paratrooper became the ninth living recipient of the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.
"In Ryan Pitts you see the humility and the loyalty that define America's men and women in uniform," President Obama said at a White House ceremony.
Pitts insists that the honor is not his alone. It's a distinction he shares with the men he fought alongside that fateful day in the summer of 2008. Nine died and 27 were wounded, including Pitts, in the battle of Wanat, one of the fiercest of the entire war.
"Valor was everywhere that day and the real heroes are the nine men who made the ultimate sacrifice so the rest of us could return home," Pitts told reporters Monday. "It is their names, not mine, that I want people to know."
It was before dawn when hundreds of Taliban fighters launched their attack, far outnumbering the United States troops defending their partially completed base outside the village of Wanat in northeastern Afghanistan.
For nearly two hours, Pitts, who was 22 years old at the time, helped fend off the enemy fighters from his isolated observation post. After suffering severe shrapnel wounds and being patched up by a fellow soldier who was later killed, Pitts crawled from position to position, lobbing grenades and firing at the enemy, resigning himself to certain death, the president said.
"As the insurgents moved in, Ryan picked up a grenade, pulled the pin, and held that live grenade -- for a moment, then another, then another -- finally hurling it so they couldn't throw it back. And he did that again. And he did it again," the president explained.
"Unable to stand, Ryan pulled himself up on his knees and manned a machine gun. Soldiers from the base below made a daring run, dodging bullets and explosions, and joined the defense. But now the enemy was inside the post -- so close they were throwing rocks at the Americans, so close they came right up to the sandbags. Eight American soldiers had now fallen. And Ryan Pitts was the only living soldier at that post," Obama said.
The enemy got so close that Pitts could hear their voices. "He whispered into the radio he was the only one left and was running out of ammo," Obama said.
The battle later spurred an investigation and, as the president noted, a report concluded Wanat had "significant vulnerabilities." As Commander-in-Chief, the president said one way to honor the fallen is, "by heeding the lessons of Wanat."
"When this nation sends our troops into harm's way, they deserve a sound strategy and a well-defined mission. And they deserve the forces and support to get the job done," he said. "That's how we can truly honor all those who gave their lives that day. … They're hard lessons, but they're ones that are deeply engrained in our hearts."
Pitts now lives in Nashua, N.H., where he works in business development for a software company. He is married and has a 1-year-old son, Lucas. Monday is also his second wedding anniversary.
"As Ryan put it, it's going to be tough topping this one, as anniversaries go," the president joked. "But let me just give you a piece of advice as somebody who now has been married for over 20 years: You should try."
Governor's Office/Tim Larsen(GREENWICH, Conn.) -- When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie traveled to Connecticut to campaign with Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley, the issue of gun control dominated the evening.
Outside one of the fundraisers Christie attended, he was greeted by about 170 protesters angry at his decision in July to veto legislation that would have banned magazines with more than ten rounds of ammunition. In this state still reeling from the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, protesters from Newtown, Connecticut held signs that said "Not One More" and "Be a Gun Sense Voter."
At a diner he stopped at with Foley earlier he was asked by a voter from Newtown how he would limit gun violence in the nation without limiting access to high-capacity magazines, and Christie answered that he believes there is, "no evidence that high capacity magazines does anything to limit violence."
"If you really want to limit mass violence in the country, you need to get at the mental health system in this country, which doesn't deal with these folks," Christie told the man named Richard Boritz. "Every one of these instances of mass killings, we had people with significant mental health issues. And that needs to be dealt with. It's not the sexy part of it. It's not the stuff that gets you big headlines when you are a politician. It's the stuff that actually gets the job done. So I think we should stop doing the headline-grabbing stuff and start doing the actual work that makes a difference."
Boritz attempted to continue the conversation, but Christie said he is "not engaged in a debate." "You asked a question," Christie told him. "That's my answer. I am not going to debate you. If you run against me someday I will debate you all you like."
Newtown families attempted to meet with Christie the day he vetoed the legislation and they have accused him of refusing to meet with them. On Monday, Christie told reporters that he met with the families a year ago, but he, "didn't feel like it was necessary to meet with them again, especially after I had made the decision."
"The fact is we have an honest disagreement," Christie told reporters at the diner. "Now people on issues across this country can disagree, we disagree. I made the decision that I felt was best, they disagreed, that is certainly their prerogative to do so and to express themselves."
He added that he has "nothing but sympathy" for the families, but he doesn't believe the bill in New Jersey, which passed the Democratic controlled state legislature, was an, "effective way to deal with it so I vetoed it; it's a difference of opinion, but it's nothing personal."
Foley chose not to reveal if he agreed with Christie's veto.
Christie was also asked if he thought he could be a viable 2016 presidential candidate if he did not veto the bill and he answered, "I don't make decisions on what bills to sign or veto based upon someone's perception of viability."
The protesters gathered at the bottom of a private road leading to the home of the fundraiser for the Republican Governors Association, where Christie serves as chairman. Katherine Morosky of Newtown, accompanied by her 7-year-old daughter Marie, held a politically-charged sign that read, "Stop Playing Politics, Children's Lives are Not Trivial, Fewer Bullets Save Lives."
It was a reference to what Christie said in his veto message, writing he could, "not support such a trivial approach to the sanctity of human life."
Marie was not a student at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, but her mother claimed she was friends with five of the children killed, as well as some of the surviving children who were able to escape when Adam Lanza reloaded. Morosky said she was "extremely offended" by Christie's veto, adding mental health is an issue, but there is still "easy access" for those with mental illness to ammunition making it possible to "kill 25 people in five minutes."
"It's such easy access to those weapons used for war and you can take out a lot more people out that way," Morosky said of the higher-capacity magazines. "It makes a very big difference."
Sandy Hook resident Cindy Carlson held a sign that read, "My Kids are Not Trivial," and said those moments when a murderer reloads is crucial. "The difference is when a person with bad intentions must stop and reload it gives potential victims time to escape," she said.
Christie and Foley appeared at the Glory Days Diner, appropriate for the devoted Bruce Springsteen fan. He was greeted there by a supportive crowd, with one woman shouting at the possible 2016 presidential candidate, "Hey good looking!" Another woman told him she once received a kiss from President George W. Bush so she needed one from him. He obliged saying to the cameras surrounding him, "You gotta do what you gotta do" with a smile.
Foley ran previously in 2010 losing to current Gov. Dannel Malloy by just over 6,000 votes. One of the fundraisers Monday night was for the RGA and the other was to raise money for the Connecticut GOP, that one was held at the home of former hedge fund manager Brian Olson.
Office of the Governor Rick Perry(AUSTIN, Texas) -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry calls it "Operation Strong Safety," but critics say it's closer to "operation symbolic act."
Perry announced Monday that 1,000 National Guard troops would be deployed over the next month to the southern border. But by law, they can't make arrests and instead will act only as a "visual deterrent."
"What we're asking the National Guard to do is to be a force multiplier, to be there as a partner with the law enforcement," Perry said Monday at a news conference. "Which they have done multiple times before."
In 2006 and 2010, presidents Bush and then Obama ordered the National Guard in to assist border patrol. In 2006, operation Jump Start brought 6,000 National Guard to work mainly in non-law enforcement duties, relieving the Border Patrol agents in those positions to move into border security rules.
But because the governor, and not the president, has ordered this deployment, the troops are unable to move into U.S. Customs and Border Protection jurisdiction without a coordinated effort with the federal government.
The Texas general in charge confirmed his troops cannot physically detain or send any of the thousands of surging immigrants, many of them mothers and children, back across the border.
"We are planning on referring and deterring -- so deterring with a visible presence," Major General Nichols, Adjutant General of Texas National Guard, said at the news conference.
And the troops cannot use their weapons to stop illegal immigration.
"You are not allowed to fire on someone who is fleeing away," Thad Bingel, former Chief of Staff for U.S. Customs and Border Protection under President Bush told ABC News Monday. "They can use their weapons in self-defense only if they are threatened by physical harm."
Ralph Basham, CBP commissioner under Bush (2006-2009), agreed, telling ABC News that they weapons they carry "are strictly for self-defense," and the National Guard is, "limited in terms of what they could do."
"They could best be used to go down and literally set up tents and medical facilities and housing and food services. And things that the border patrol are being asked to do today," Basham said.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest characterized the governor's action Monday as a publicity stunt.
"What we're hopeful is that Gov. Perry will not just take these kinds of steps that are generating the kind of headlines I suspect he intended, but will actually take the kinds of steps that will be constructive to solving the problem over the long term," Earnest said.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson testified in June that he'd want to, "understand better what the options are for the use of the Guard," and cited concerns about their limitations.
The National Guard, "can't be directly involved in law enforcement," he said. "And Department of Defense has a lot to say about this as well. It's their resource, comes out of their budget. Lot of demands on the Guard, particularly in this season, hurricane season."
The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 (updated in 1981) works to limit the federal government's use of the military to enforce state laws and, as such, bars it from performing tasks of civilian law enforcement such as arrests or apprehensions.
That could be why the head of the Border Patrol made it clear in a June interview with ABC News that the Guard isn't needed.
"I don't see the National Guard being particularly good help in this instance," said CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske. "Many of these people are not people that we're having to apprehend or chase, these are people that are turning themselves in asking for some type of status here in the United States."
Perry maintains that the use of the Guard will serves as, "a deterrent effect on criminal and illegal activity along the border," at a cost of $12 million per month -- a figure he plans to ask the federal government to reimburse.