News Briefs – April 25, 2018

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Senators considering a delay for VA confirmation hearing

Senators were discussing plans to delay the confirmation hearing for President Donald Trump’s pick to be Veteran Affairs secretary over growing questions about the nominee’s ability to manage the government’s second-largest department.
The hearing for Ronny Jackson, Trump’s White House doctor and a Navy rear admiral, was scheduled for April 25.
“Some Republican colleagues have told me that they think the hearing should be postponed, which certainly deserves consideration,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
“I think there may well be a need for more time, in fairness to Admiral Jackson, so he and the administration have an opportunity to answer these questions fully and fairly,” he said.
Blumenthal declined to discuss why more time might be needed.
White House and VA officials were also discussing a delay with key allies outside the administration
A spokeswoman for Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., the committee’s chairman, did not return requests for comment.
Trump selected Jackson to head the VA last month after firing former Obama administration official David Shulkin following an ethics scandal and mounting rebellion within the agency. But Jackson has since faced numerous questions from Republican and Democratic lawmakers as well as veterans groups about whether he has the experience to manage the massive department of 360,000 employees serving 9 million veterans.
Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., and a committee member, said Jackson’s small staff at the White House will be an issue as he prepares to lead the VA.
“We’ve got 360,000 people there,” he said. “Are they going to manage the secretary or is the secretary going to manage the VA? That’s a good question to ask, and he needs to answer it. He needs to be the leader. A lot of folks want to be led and managed.”
Rounds said the committee still needs more paperwork from the White House on Jackson before the nomination can go forward. AP
 

California man sentenced in Iran jet parts smuggling scheme

A Southern California man who wanted to smuggle fighter jet parts to Iran has been sentenced to nearly 3 1/2 years in federal prison.
City News Service says Zavik Zargarian of Glendale was sentenced April 23.
Authorities say Zargarian tried to buy aircraft parts used in F-18s and other jets from an undercover Homeland Security agent posing as a parts supplier.
Prosecutors say he and an Iranian citizen wanted to buy more than $3.5 million worth of parts.
Zargarian pleaded guilty last year to violating the U.S. embargo on Iran.
The Iranian citizen, Hanri Terminassian, was charged in the case but remains in Iran. AP
 

Bird strike in engine damages Blue Angels jet at air show

A bird strike caused $1 million damage to the engine of a Blue Angels jet at an air show in Florida.
Vero Beach Air Show spokeswoman Catherine Caddell tells TCPalm.com that the team’s No. 5 jet made a safe but early landing after the April 21 bird strike.
The Navy then brought in another FA-18 plane and put a number “5” on it so viewers could see a complete show on Sunday. The six blue and yellow planes then soared over Vero Beach, performing acrobatic skills for the crowd below. AP
 

Qatar denies UAE, Bahrain allegation over military jets

Qatar is denying an allegation by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain that it sent military fighter jets dangerously close to an Emirati commercial airliner.
Qatar’s Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement April 23 that the UAE sent a military aircraft into its own airspace “without prior permission … and in a flying route close to that of the UAE civil aircraft.” Qatar said its jets’ mission “was known.”
Bahrain’s state-run news agency early April 23 identified the flight April 22 as going from Dammam, Saudi Arabia, to Abu Dhabi. Only Abu Dhabi-based Etihad flies that route. Etihad did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This marks just the latest allegations between Qatar and the UAE over their flights being harassed since a diplomatic crisis between them began in June. AP
 

U.S. builds drone base in Niger, crossroads of extremism fight

On the scorching edge of the Sahara Desert, the U.S. Air Force is building a base for armed drones, the newest front in America’s battle against the growing extremist threat in Africa’s vast Sahel region.
Three hangars and the first layers of a runway command a sandy, barren field. Niger Air Base 201 is expected to be functional early next year. The base, a few miles outside Agadez and built at the request of Niger’s government, will eventually house fighter jets and MQ-9 drones transferred from the capital Niamey. The drones, with surveillance and added striking capabilities, will have a range enabling them to reach a number of West and North African countries. AP