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Familiar fight over whether to try terror suspect in U.S. court

BY Domenico Montanaro, Terence Burlij, Rachel Wellford and Simone Pathe  June 18, 2014 at 9:03 AM EDT
The capture of an alleged leader of the deadly 2012 attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya, gave U.S. officials a rare moment of good news. Now, they are preparing to try the captured Libyan in the U.S. court system. File photo from the scene of the explosion by STR/AFP/GettyImages

The capture of an alleged leader of the deadly 2012 attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya, gave U.S. officials a rare moment of good news. Now, they are preparing to try the captured Libyan in the U.S. court system. File photo from the scene of the explosion by STR/AFP/GettyImages

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • U.S. says it catches Benghazi mastermind
  • Familiar fight over trying suspect in U.S. court
  • Congressional leaders head to the White House on Iraq
  • Is Obama the Imperial President?
  • Hillary Clinton’s still thinking about running

Benghazi: The U.S. apprehended the man it says is behind the 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Ahmed Abu Khattala. “It’s important for us to send a message to the world that when Americans are attacked, no matter how long it takes, we will find those responsible and we will bring them to justice,” President Barack Obama said Tuesday. “That’s the message I said the day after it happened and regardless how long it takes, we will find you. I want to make sure everyone around the world hears that message very clearly.” Abu Khattala is being interrogated by intelligence officials before being turned over to the FBI and is being held in a “secure location outside Libya,” said Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby. Abu Khattala is expected to be brought to the U.S. at some point to face a trial in Washington, D.C.

To try or not to try in U.S. courts: There are questions of why the administration apprehended him now when shortly after the attacks on Benghazi, Abu Khattala sat down with journalists and gave interviews. Note this line from the New York Times: Abu Khattala “even gave an interview to a New York Times reporter over a strawberry frappé on a hotel patio without apparent fear of being found.” Republicans also immediately spoke out against what they saw as the administration treating this as a law-enforcement issue. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement that Abu Khattala faces criminal charges and promised to put him on “trial and seeking his conviction before a jury.” Instead, Republicans want Abu Khattala transferred to the prison at Guantanamo. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., charged: “We’re turning war into a crime, and it’s going to bite us in the butt.” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said the “administration has been more interested in the politics of the war on terrorism than the execution of it.” Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., spoke for Democrats rebuffing that. “Oh, for God’s sakes,” he told Roll Call, “We don’t have to run and hide. I like our justice system. I’m not afraid to try these people.” There used to be plenty of Republicans, for example, ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a former U.S. attorney, who made the same case Leahy’s making. But that was before 9/11. That changed everything for people like Giuliani, and for them and a new generation (remember, 9/11 was 13 years ago), it appears there’s no going back.

Meeting on Iraq: President Obama will meet at the White House at 3 p.m. Wednesday with congressional leadership about the way forward in Iraq. Expected in attendance: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. The White House wants to show a united front and make sure it fends off the attack that the president isn’t consulting with Congress. In a blog post, Boehner criticized the White House because it “should have seen this coming, but instead, it has been caught flat-footed.” An earlier statement from his office noted he supported more action to maintain security after “we spent years, vast sums of money, and — most importantly — thousands of American lives.” Translation: The political fight on Iraq has only just begun.

The Imperial President? Speaking of political fights, Republicans this midterm season are claiming Mr. Obama is an “imperial” president (while at the same time saying he’s feckless and weak, as the New York Times pointed out last month). One of the areas that has really rankled Republicans has been the president’s ramped up use of executive actions. Just this week, the president took unilateral domestic actions on LGBT rights and manufacturing. That’s in addition to his earlier controversial move imposing virtual carbon caps on states as well as acting on student loans. Some House Republicans want to sue for what they see as overreach on executive actions. Earlier this year, they even introduced the Stop This Overreaching Presidency Resolution, or STOP. But what do the numbers tell us? Has Mr. Obama really abused executive action? It turns out he actually ranks pretty far down the list on total number of orders issued. His 181 (soon to be 183 when he signs the LGBT and the manufacturing actions) ranks him just 19th of the 44 presidents — behind all of his modern predecessors except George H.W. Bush, who only served one term. George W. Bush (291), Bill Clinton (364), Ronald Reagan (381) and even Jimmy Carter (320), who served just four years, all issued more orders. Four American presidents issued more than 1,000 executive orders. Franklin Delano Roosevelt used executive actions the most with 3,522 in his three terms — 19 times what Obama has done. Check out NewsHour’s executive action interactive, based on data from The American Presidency Project at the University of California-Santa Barbara and the National Archives.

2016 watch — No news is good news for Clinton: Hillary Clinton had another whirlwind day on her book tour, with a CNN town hall and an interview on Fox News. During the town hall, she defended her tenure as secretary of state and on the current situation in Iraq — unlike current Secretary of State John Kerry, who said the administration is “open” to cooperation with Iran. She said, “I am not prepared to say we go in with Iran right now.” Clinton defended her handling of Benghazi in the town hall and on Fox News, where she was grilled on it and said she wasn’t sure at the time if a video did trigger the violence. “This was the fog of war,” she said. The fact that there wasn’t much out of the Fox News interview is maybe the biggest news. There are always risks with these rollouts that a candidate makes a gaffe or seems “overexposed.” But there’s very little risk doing this presidential test-run rollout this way. If she makes a gaffe, it’s only 2014, not 2015. And by answering all the questions on Benghazi, including from Fox News, in a year from now, she can begin every answer on it like it’s old news, “As I said a year ago, have said, and continue to say …”

New polls on Clinton: The one risk, of course, for Clinton doing this kind of rollout that seems so political, is that it can take a toll on favorability numbers because instead of lying low, it makes her look like she’s running. And if she’s viewed through a political lens, rather than a statesman-like lens, people put their partisan hats on and her numbers will likely suffer to a nearly even split. And that’s what a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds. Her favorability has also taken a bit of a hit in the past year: now only 44 percent view her positively while 37 percent view her negatively. That’s from the 48 percent positive to 32 percent negative in April of last year. And just 38 percent of those polled say they will “probably” vote for her while 37 percent said they’d definitely oppose her. That’s about the partisan baseline of support for anyone. Forty percent of independents say there’s no chance they will vote for her. A CNN/ORC poll released Tuesday showed 77 percent think she will win the Democratic nomination and 67 percent think she’ll then go on to win the presidency. Of course, back in 2007-2008, an even higher 74 percent thought she’d make it to the White House.

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1985, President Ronald Reagan called for the unconditional release of American hostages being held on TWA Flight 847. Where did the plan originally takeoff from? Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Amanda Art (‏@NYNewsgirl) for guessing Monday’s trivia: What was the name of the organization that the Watergate burglars worked for? The answer was: CREEP (Committee to Re-elect the President).

LINE ITEMS

  • President Obama’s job approval rating stands at 41 percent, while his handling of foreign policy hit a new low at 37 percent, according to the NBC/WSJ poll .

  • The three Republican lawmakers vying for the position of House Majority Whip — Reps. Peter Roskam, Steve Scalise and Marlin Stutzman — will address their colleagues Wednesday morning ahead of a vote by the GOP conference on Thursday.

  • The House is scheduled to vote Wednesday on moving forward on a Veterans Affairs reform bill, similar to the one the Senate already passed, NewsHour’s Quinn Bowman reports. The bill would allow veterans to get care at non-VA hospitals. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill could cost as much as $54 billion a year.

  • A new Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday shows Iowa Democratic Senate candidate Bruce Braley leading his GOP opponent, Joni Ernst, 44 percent to 40 percent. Women support Braley by 11 points while men back Ernst by 4 points. That’s a reverse from other polls showing Ernst ahead in the past two weeks.

  • Michigan Republican Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land released a new television ad Tuesday that likens the partisan fighting in Washington to misbehaving children. “As a mom, I know how to break up a fight. That’s a lesson I’ll teach to Washington, D.C. and Congress,” Land says in the spot.

  • The Washington Post’s Reid Wilson reports that Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) bought “$375,000 in ads during the three weeks leading up to the Aug. 7 primary, in which he faces a host of Republican challengers led by state Rep. Joe Carr (R).”

  • Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus criticizes Mr. Obama’s take on history, writing: “Every capable leader learns from history. But key moments of the Obama presidency demonstrate that he has erred in precisely the opposite direction, by being overly reluctant to repeat the mistakes of his predecessors.”

  • The New York Times’ Carl Hulse looks at how Wichita, Kansas, residents feel about the Koch Brothers, whose company is headquartered in the city.

  • The Senate Conservatives Fund is spending another $210,000 for a TV spot supporting state Sen. Chris McDaniel in Mississippi ahead of Tuesday’s runoff. It goes right at incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran’s length of tenure. The message: “If you haven’t gotten the job done in 41 years,” one man says, “you’re not going to get it done in six more.”

  • A Democratic political operative is working with Mississippi Conservatives PAC and All Citizens for Mississippi — a super PAC that shares an address with New Horizon Church — to boost African American turnout for Sen. Thad Cochran.

  • The National Republican Congressional Committee has reserved $30 million in TV ads for this fall.

  • The Florida Democratic Party is up with its first ad hitting Gov. Rick Scott. Here’s how it starts: “Maybe you’ve heard about what was the largest Medicare fraud in history, committed when Rick Scott was a CEO. Or that Scott’s company paid record fraud fines of $1.7 billion.”

  • New England’s governors, except for Maine Gov. Paul LePage, have agreed to work across state borders, including sharing prescription data, to reduce the drug overdoses afflicting their states.

  • After a day of mostly friendly questions from the Senate Banking Committee, it appears San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro will breeze through confirmation as Mr. Obama’s housing secretary.

  • The Senate Special Committee on Aging will report Wednesday that the Social Security Administration has been arbitrarily closing field offices and reducing services to communities just as the baby boomer generation needs them most.

  • Louisiana GOP Rep. Vance McAllister, the congressman who was caught kissing a staffer on a security camera, is now considering running for re-election, after previously announcing his retirement.

  • The former Republican who changed his name to Cesar Chavez has been removed from the Democratic ballot in Arizona’s heavily Hispanic 7th Congressional District because of invalid signatures.

  • A new study finds that the most corrupt states, including Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee, spend more on construction, highways and salaries than states that are less corrupt.

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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