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Tuesday
May212019

House Democrats pushing back on DOJ offer for limited Mueller testimony

Luka Banda/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are pushing back on terms offered by Justice Department officials for special counsel Robert Mueller's testimony, objecting to a proposal for him to give a public opening statement before answering questions behind closed doors, according to multiple sources familiar with the negotiations.

The ongoing back-and-forth over the special counsel's highly anticipated appearance to discuss the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and any efforts to obstruct the probe continues as Democrats battle with the administration over access to documents and witness testimony. A Justice Department official said Mueller's team is "directly negotiating with the Hill."

While House Democrats aren't ruling out having closed-door testimony for portions of the report, they want to have Mueller answer at least some questions in a public setting.

The committee has been in discussions with Mueller's team within the Justice Department over the past month. Sources have said that Mueller is seeking guidance from DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel ahead of any planned testimony to advise on what he can and cannot say.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment about the negotiations.

While Democrats had initially hoped that Mueller would testify by May 15, the ongoing discussions mean that the special counsel will not appear on Capitol Hill before next month.

Attorney General William Barr has said he has no objections to Mueller testifying, even though President Donald Trump has said publicly in a tweet that "Bob Mueller should not testify."

One complicating factor in the negotiations, according to people familiar with the talks, is Mueller's unwillingness to enter the political fray over his findings.

The Justice Department has also not complied with the committee's subpoena for the unredacted version of the Mueller report and underlying evidence. The White House has asserted executive privilege over the full report, which has raised new questions about Mueller's testimony and prompted Democrats to prepare to hold Attorney General Bill Barr in contempt of Congress.

President Trump has deferred to Barr but tweeted earlier this month "Bob Mueller should not testify. No redos for the Dems!"

Barr has said he has no objections to Mueller testifying before Congress, most recently in a Wall Street Journal interview.

In addition to the House Judiciary Committee, the House Intelligence Committee is also in talks with some officials at the Justice Department about Mueller appearing before the panel, which is also locked in a battle over access to the full Mueller report and underlying intelligence gathered in the probe.

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Tuesday
May212019

Trump expected to name Ken Cuccinelli to immigration 'czar' role

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump is expected to tap immigration-hardliner and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to a new immigration-focused role within the Department of Homeland Security, a source familiar confirmed to ABC News.

One source described it as a "czar-like" role, with many of the specifics of the job still in the process of being determined.

Cuccinelli had been critical of President Trump during his campaign for president and withheld his support for much of 2016. He was a strong supporter of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's campaign and led the presidential candidate's effort counting delegates to support his candidacy for the Republican convention.

Cuccinelli served as attorney general from 2010 to 2014. He ran for governor in 2013 but lost that race.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.


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Tuesday
May212019

House Dems to pursue contempt against McGahn after former White House counsel fails to testify

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Former White House counsel Don McGahn, as expected, failed to show at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday morning after being directed not to testify by President Donald Trump, and the Democratic chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler, vowed to pursue a contempt citation against him.

"Our subpoenas are not optional," Nadler said at the start of Tuesday's hearing as he faced an empty chair reserved for McGahn at the witness table.

"This committee will hear Mr. McGahn's testimony even if we have to go to court to secure it," he said.

“The president has taken it upon himself to intimidate a witness who has a legal obligation to be here today. This conduct is not remotely acceptable,” he said.

"We will not allow the president to prevent the American people from hearing from this witness. We will not allow the president to block congressional subpoenas, putting himself and his allies above the law. We will not allow the president to stop this investigation, and nothing in these unjustified and unjustifiable legal attacks will stop us from pressing forward with our work on behalf of the American people. We will hold this president accountable, one way or the other," Nadler said.

Republicans accused Democrats of staging a spectacle to attack President Trump.

“The theater is open,” Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., the top Republican on the panel, said Tuesday of the hearing without McGahn, and the Democrats' larger investigation.

“Democrats claim we need to dig deeper — deeper than the two years of investigation conducted by what is considered a prosecutorial dream team — because that probe ended without criminal charges against the president or his family,” he said.

“Now Democrats are trying desperately to make something out of nothing, which is why the chairman haphazardly subpoenaed today’s witness.”

Collins also took a jab at Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. who brought fried chicken to the committee's hearing at which Attorney General William Barr failed to show.

Trump on Monday told McGahn he shouldn't tell Congress about events relating to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation and in a letter to Nadler, the attorney for McGahn said he "remains obligated to maintain the status quo and respect the president's instructions. In the event an accommodation is agreed between the Committee and the White House, Mr. McGahn will of course comply with that accommodation."

Nadler, in a letter to McGahn Monday evening, argued that the former White House counsel isn't shielded from testifying about the episode of obstruction detailed in the Mueller report, and said the White House counsel did not formally invoke executive privilege.

He warned McGahn against skipping Tuesday's hearing, and said the committee would "use all enforcement mechanisms at its disposal," later telling reporters that the committee would move to hold him in contempt of Congress in the coming weeks.

Some Democrats have bristled at McGahn's dismissal of the committee's subpoena, and called for Democratic leaders to launch impeachment proceedings to aid in their investigations.

"There is a tremendous level of frustration at our inability to get witnesses and documents that are necessary to do our work," Rep. David Ciccilline, D-R.I., a member of the committee and Democratic leadership, told reporters Monday.

"We are getting to that point if Mr. McGann does not appear it will then establish a pattern from this president to not only have obstructed or attempted to obstruct justice as details in the Mueller Report, but an ongoing effort to prevent the American people from knowing the full truth engaging in a cover up and behaving as if he's above the law," he said.

"The Mueller Report documents a shocking pattern of obstruction of justice," Nadler said in a statement earlier Monday after news of the president's direction to McGahn. "The President acted again and again -- perhaps criminally -- to protect himself from federal law enforcement.

"Don McGahn personally witnessed the most egregious of these acts. President Trump knows this. He clearly does not want the American people to hear firsthand about his alleged misconduct, and so he has attempted to block Mr. McGahn from speaking in public tomorrow."

Earlier Monday, in a letter to Nadler, White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote "that McGahn is absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony with respect to matters occurring during his service as a senior adviser to the President," citing previous Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel opinions, along with OLC guidance specific to McGahn's testimony.

"The Democrats do not like the conclusion of the Mueller investigation -- no collusion, no conspiracy, and no obstruction -- and want a wasteful and unnecessary do-over," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement Monday.

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Tuesday
May212019

Trump Organization appeals ruling giving Democrats access to Trump's financial records

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Lawyers for the Trump Organization on Tuesday appealed a federal judge's ruling in favor of House Democrats in their efforts to obtain President Donald Trump’s financial records, marking the first legal victory for Democrats as the Trump administration stonewalls their attempts at congressional oversight.

“It is not for the court to question whether the Committee’s actions are truly motivated by political considerations.” Judge Amit Mehta wrote in a ruling Monday. “Accordingly, the court will enter judgment in favor of the Oversight Committee.”

President Trump and the Trump Organization filed suit against the Democratic chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings, last month, seeking relief from his subpoena request for the president’s financial records.

The court also denied their request for a stay pending appeal, which lawyers for Trump and the Trump Organization formally filed Tuesday to the U.S. Court of Appeals in the D.C. Circuit.

The president and his legal team decried Democrats’ efforts to obtain Trump’s financial information as an “all-out political war,” in which “subpoenas are their weapon of choice.”

But in his order on Monday, Judge Mehta, an Obama appointee, sided with Democrats, whom he wrote have “facially valid legislative purposes” to obtain information requested in their subpoena of Mazars USA, the president’s former accounting firm.

"It is simply not fathomable that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a President for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct — past or present — even without formally opening an impeachment inquiry," Mehta wrote.

Cummings served a subpoena to Mazars USA in April seeking ten years of the president's financial records in an effort to corroborate elements of Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen's testimony before the committee. Cohen claimed that Trump had defrauded insurance companies by misrepresenting the value of his assets.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat whose committee is also seeking information from the Trump administration, reacted to news of the decision, calling it "very important."

“It shows that the courts understand the importance of oversight even if the president does not,” Schiff said.

"Mazars USA will respect the legal process and fully comply with its legal obligations. We believe strongly in the ethical and professional rules and regulations that govern our industry, our work and our client interactions. As a matter of firm policy and professional rules we do not comment on the work we conduct for our clients," Mazars USA spokesperson Jennifer Farrington told ABC News on Monday.

Speaking to reporters as he departed the White House Monday evening, Trump said that he plans to appeal the judge's ruling.

"Yeah, they'll appeal it. They'll appeal it. Sure they'll appeal it," Trump said.

The president "disagreed" with the ruling and slammed the judge for being appointed by Obama.

"We disagree with that ruling. It's crazy because you look at this never happened to any other president. They're trying to get a redo. Trying to get what we used to call in school a do-over and if you look, you know, we had no collusion, we had no obstruction. We had no nothing," Trump said.

"The Democrats were very upset with the Mueller report as perhaps they should be, but, I mean the country is very happy about it because there was never anything like that. They're trying to get a do-over or redo. You can't do that as far as the financials are concerned it's totally the wrong decision by obviously an Obama appointed he was a recent Obama appointed judge," Trump added.

The House Oversight Committee was not immediately available for comment. The Trump Organization and lawyers for President Trump – both plaintiffs in the case – did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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Tuesday
May212019

Groups want probe into DeVos stance on states using federal funds to arm teachers

Zach Gibson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Advocacy groups on Tuesday asked the Education Department’s internal watchdog to investigate Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' handling of states' requests to use federal funds to arm teachers.

A letter obtained by ABC News and sent Tuesday to the Education Department’s acting inspector general argues that DeVos broke federal law when she said it was not within the department’s purview to decide how these funds were used by states.

Last month, DeVos appeared before the House Education and Labor Committee where she was pressed by Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., on the department’s stance regarding states using Title IV-A funds from the “Every Student Succeeds Act” to train and arm teachers.

DeVos told the committee that she did not believe it was the department’s responsibility to decide if arming and training teachers was a proper use of the funds, and only said that they had “not advocated for nor against” it.

Hayes, who in 2016 was the National Teacher of the Year, noted during the back-in-forth with DeVos that a previous legal analysis, done by the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, contradicted DeVos’ statement.

Hayes said that instead, the office’s conclusion advised that “the Secretary has discretion to interpret the broad language of the statute” and stated that “it is, therefore, reasonable for the Secretary to disallow this particular use of the funds absent specific Congressional authorization.”

A news release by Hayes’ office following the exchange said the money from this grant program is generally intended to “fund programs like STEM education, drug prevention programs, and mental health services.”

The letter, sent by American Federation of Teachers, Democracy Forward, Giffords Law Center, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that because of DeVos’ lack of input on the states’ requests, it “likely opens the door to the concerning policy outcome that grantees will be allowed to use SSAE funds to train and arm teachers.”

“Secretary DeVos’s repeated assertions – which open the door for states to use these federal funds to put more guns in school, thereby wasting SSAE program resources on costs that by no means serve the goal of the statute – are based on a legally erroneous understanding of the limits of the Department’s authority and violate the Administrative Procedure Act,” the letter reads.

In a joint statement, the groups said: “Secretary DeVos tried to wash her hands of the responsibility to decide whether federal funds can be used to arm teachers. But there is no question she has the authority to prevent this dangerous and misguided use of funds, as her own Office of General Counsel confirms, and it violates federal law to justify her inaction with misstatements. The only question here is whether she has the moral courage to keep our children safe.”

"Separate from any specific policy issues that we care about, we want reasoned decision making from our government and this is you know where the secretary is publicly making statements about her, about legal issues, about her legal authority to do or not do something and that is based on a mistaken view of the law, or even worse would just be an intentional misstatement about her limited authority when in fact she knows that she has authority to act," said Ben Seel, counsel and legal analyst for Democracy Forward.

"You know, that's not reasoned decision making, that's not how governments should operate, you should have the best information available to you and you should make accurate statements about what you can and can't do," he said.

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Tuesday
May212019

Pelosi clashing with Democratic leadership over impeachment: Sources

Zach Gibson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is facing mounting pressure to initiate impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, resulting in a clash behind closed doors with members of her own party on Monday evening in a House Democratic leadership meeting, according to sources familiar with what transpired.

Pelosi, Rep. Jim Clyburn and Rep. Steny Hoyer pushed back on the calls for impeachment from members of the Democratic leadership team and Judiciary Committee, as first reported by Politico and confirmed by ABC News.

Other members -- Rep. Jamie Raskin and Rep. David Cicilline, who are members of the House Judiciary Committee -- "stood tall" in their calls for impeachment, according to one source in the room.

Raskin specifically argued that it could streamline Democrats’ investigations and help them in court.

Pelosi responded by asking if he was advocating for shutting down the five other committees who are working, sources said.

"You want to tell Elijah Cummings to go home?" she asked, according to an aide in the room.

As for the impeachment advocates, they are arguing that it would help them strengthen their investigation and obtain documents and information the administration is blocking.

Those in favor of impeachment argue it would help them force administration compliance, and aren't necessarily calling for a quick push for a full House vote to launch a trial in the Senate.

Pelosi and Rep. Jerry Nadler have argued that Democrats’ success Monday in court regarding Trump’s financial records suggests they are on the right path.

"Now, what we said when we started it that these [investigations] will yield information to us. Today, we won our first case," Pelosi told Democrats in a second meeting Monday evening, according to an aide in the room.

"We’ve been in this thing for almost 5 months and now we’re getting some results," she added.

Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., an impeachment advocate, asked Pelosi if she was concerned about losing seats.

“This isn’t about politics at all. It’s about patriotism. It’s about the strength we need to have to see things through," she said.

"We still have un-exhausted avenues here" she said, referencing inherent contempt.

"We have invested this much time. I don’t know why we would say McGahn, that’s it," she added.

Chairman Nadler, even as he pointed to Democrats’ success in the civil courts, also suggested that Trump may not leave Democrats with any other options.

"The president’s continuing lawless conduct is making it harder and harder to rule out impeachment or any other enforcement mechanism," he said, according to an aide in the room.

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Tuesday
May212019

Democrats release Cohen testimony on his claim Trump lawyers knew he lied

Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee voted on Monday to release transcripts of its two-day closed-door interview with former Donald Trump fixer Michael Cohen -- interviews that highlighted Cohen’s claim that Trump's lawyers edited his testimony and knew he lied to Congress about Trump’s business ties to Russia.

Following the vote, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., released a statement about the release of the transcripts along with information provided to the committee by Cohen.

“With the completion of Special Counsel Mueller’s work and the release of his report, it is critically important that the Committee, and the Congress, make public as much information as possible that bears on Mueller’s findings, explain the evidence he uncovered, and expose the obstructive actions taken by this President and those who surround him, Schiff said. "It is in this light that the Committee today releases the transcripts of two days of interviews of Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen."

In March, Cohen told the House Oversight Committee that the president’s personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, changed his 2017 statement to the House and Senate intelligence committees regarding the duration of discussions about a potential Trump Tower Moscow project.

“I lied to Congress about when Mr. Trump stopped negotiating the Moscow Tower project in Russia. I stated that we stopped negotiating in January 2016. That was false – our negotiations continued for months later during the campaign," Cohen told the committee.

“You need to know that Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to Congress about the timing of the Moscow Tower negotiations before I gave it," Cohen said.

According to the interview transcript released Monday, Cohen told the committee that Sekulow suggested that the Trump Tower Moscow project ended in January of 2016, ahead of the Iowa caucus.

In his subsequent 2017 statements to Congress, Cohen said discussions about the Moscow project ended in January 2016, though they continued through the summer of 2016, after Trump had become the Republican nominee for president.

Cohen said Sekulow asked him to stick with the January 2016 date to "distance Mr. Trump from any relationships, any contacts, anything to do with Russia."

In July 2016, then-candidate Trump said, "I have nothing to do with Russia. I don't have any jobs in Russia. I'm all over the world but we're not involved in Russia."

Cohen also told the committee that he discussed pardons with Sekulow until he withdrew from the joint defense agreement with the president, and said he believed Trump was aware of the discussions.

"They raised the topic, and what they were doing, including publicly, they were dangling the concept of pardons, and the purpose of course was to keep everybody part in the joint defense team," Cohen told lawmakers, according to the transcript.

The reason Sekulow gave for considering pardons for Cohen and others, according to Cohen's testimony, was to "shut down the inquires and shut the investigation down."

Sekulow, in a statement through his attorneys Monday night, said Cohen's statements "are more of the same from him and confirm the observations of prosecutors in the Southern District of New York that Cohen's 'instinct to blame others is strong.'"

"That this or any Committee would rely on the word of Michael Cohen for any purpose – much less to try and pierce the attorney-client privilege and discover confidential communications of four respected lawyers – defies logic, well-established law and common sense," the statement read.

Cohen also told lawmakers that his then-attorney Stephen Ryan said that Abbe Lowell, a lawyer for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, had requested that he alter his statement to Congress to suggest that the president's eldest daughter had no role in the project.

Cohen testified under oath that he briefed members of the Trump family repeatedly about the Trump Tower Moscow effort.

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner did not immediately return ABC News' request for comment.

Cohen's attorney, Lanny J. Davis, praised Schiff for releasing the transcript.

“While we were not consulted, we applaud Chairman Schiff for making the transcripts of Michael Cohen’s House Intelligence Committee testimony public. Transparency and the truth are Donald Trump’s worst nightmares," Davis said in a statement. "Michael Cohen lied only once and that was to Congress —specifically for the benefit (and in accordance with the directives) of Donald Trump to cover for Trump’s repeated public lies during the 2016 campaign of no Russia deals or contacts."

"To anyone who questions the veracity of Michael Cohen’s testimony, I ask: 'Will you testify under oath?'" Davis said.

According to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, Cohen said he was instructed by Trump’s attorney to keep his 2017 statement to Congress short and "tight," and that he should stay on message and not contradict Trump.

While Mueller said there was evidence that Trump was aware of Cohen’s false statements to Congress, "the evidence available to us does not establish that the President directed or aided Cohen’s false testimony," according to his report.

Federal prosecutors in Mueller's office later wrote that Cohen also sought to "minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1," referring to then-candidate Trump.

The House Intelligence Committee has since sent letters to attorneys representing members of Trump and his family members’ legal teams in an effort to investigate the attorneys' involvement in drafting Cohen’s false statement.

Trump’s lawyers have pushed back against the request and argued that demands by the committee's chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff, for information would force them to violate attorney-client privilege.

Since March, Schiff has exchanged a series of letters with attorneys representing members of Trump's legal team. News of the nascent investigation and Schiff's letters to the attorneys was first reported Tuesday by the New York Times.

Earlier this month, Cohen reported to prison in New York to begin his three-year sentence, after an unsuccessful effort to delay his surrender to prison.

Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress in 2018, and to campaign finance violations and tax and bank fraud.

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Tuesday
May212019

Nancy Pelosi accepts the JFK Profile in Courage Award

Paul Marotta/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D- Calif. was honored Sunday night with the 2019 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award -- the first woman to net such an achievement.

The award recognizes a public official who demonstrates politically courageous leadership.

“Thanks to her courage we have healthcare for all Americans, and the most diverse Democratic Congress in American history,” said Caroline Kennedy. Speaker Pelosi was critical in passing The Affordable Care Act during the Obama administration.

Pelosi started her 17-term career in 1987 as a congresswoman in California, and she has been the only woman to be elected, then re-elected, as Speaker of the House.

She recognized the late President John F. Kennedy with kind words.

"His self-deprecating wit and the natural grace he symbolized and conveyed truly did captivate and inspire the country," Pelosi said. “Our presence…celebrates and honors him. I too am honored with this award as something I accept with a full and humble heart.”

Pelosi thanked her family, congressmen and the Kennedy family.

“The Kennedy family has given so much to America’s history and to America’s future,” she said.

She closed her acceptance speech by recounting fond memories of Kennedy: "In college, I attended the inauguration... and on that freezing, thrilling day, I heard his electrifying call to public service, never did I suspect then, later as House Democratic leader, I would participate in a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of his inauguration by hearing his voice reverberate through the rotunda of the Capitol with that beautiful, beautiful inaugural address; and never did I suspect, as Speaker of the House, I would be given this profile and courage award."

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Monday
May202019

Trump holds rally in Pennsylvania on heels of Biden's official campaign launch

Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump held his first campaign rally in Pennsylvania of 2019 just days after former Vice President Joe Biden officially kicked off his presidential over the weekend, as both party's continue to make plays for the critical state.

For Trump, Pennsylvania holds weight: The state was crucial to the president's 2016 victory, and it again will be for his reelection hopes. The president pulled off a narrow victory in Pennsylvania in 2016, becoming the first Republican to win the state in nearly two decades.

The president landed in dramatic fashion on Air Force One -- to cheers from the crowd -- and then took the stage. Trump wasted no time touting the booming United States economy.

"When you've had the best employment numbers in history, when you have the best unemployment numbers in history. When you have the best economy we've ever had -- how the hell do you lose this election?" the president asked the raucous crowd in Montoursville, Pennsylvania.

Trump continued to champion the American economy, saying that the U.S. has the greatest economy anywhere in the world.

Trump also explained that one key reason he came back to Pennsylvania is because of Tuesday's "crucial" Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District special election, where Republican state Rep. Fred Keller is looking to defeat Democrat Marc Friedenberg and replace Republican Tom Marino, who resigned shortly after the new Congress began earlier this year.

"You get out tomorrow. It's a little bit of a referendum," Trump urged his supporters Monday. "They'll say, 'President Trump came to Pennsylvania, and he went back home, a loser.'"

"I never want to be called a loser," Trump added.

Before the president took the stage, his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., hyped up the hot crowd, many of whom had waited hours in line to get into the event. This marked the president's son's first appearance at a campaign rally since being called back to Congress for further testimony.

"They still can't let it go. God knows I gotta deal with that one myself despite 30 hours of testimony," Trump Jr. said. "I've done, you know, 25 to 30 hours of testimony in front of multiple committees, Senate, Congress. The Mueller report cites my congressional testimony. They cite my Senate testimony. Think about it. They cite my stupid Twitter account."

"They've looked at it all. And we're clear, but they still want to send you in there to go back and two years later, answer questions about something because Michael Cohen," Trump Jr. added.

Also ahead of the rally on Monday, the Trump campaign told ABC News that the president was excited to to tout the economy in the Keystone State, a message that will likely be embraced by voters as Pennsylvania is experiencing record low unemployment at 3.8% in April, the lowest level since 1976. The state's unemployment numbers are largely reflective of the declining unemployment rate throughout the country, frequently championed by the president at both the White House and on the campaign trail.

But despite a booming economy and his previous upset victory, Trump's campaign follows Republican defeats in the 2018 midterms. Democrats clenched key statewide races including the U.S. Senate and the gubernatorial race. A year prior, Democrat Conor Lamb claimed victory in a special House election by captivating voters in the heart of Trump territory, a district the president won in 2016.

As Republicans acknowledge warning signs ahead of the 2020 election, Democrats hope to capitalize on the momentum. Just a few hours away from where Trump will address his supporters in Montoursville, voters in Philadelphia received a rival pitch from a former vice president who hopes to challenge Trump.

"If the American people want a president to add to our division, to lead with a clenched fist, closed hand and a hard heart, to demonize the opponents and spew hatred -- they don't need me. They've got President Donald Trump," Joe Biden told a crowd during his campaign kickoff speech in his home state of Pennsylvania.

"I am running to offer our country -- Democrats, Republicans and independents -- a different path," Biden continued.

The former vice president also claimed the Trump administration "inherited an economy from Obama-Biden administration."

"That was given to him. Just like he inherited everything else in his life," Biden said.

Trump went on a Twitter spree earlier this month in an attempt to show he has support from firefighters after Biden netted a key endorsement from one of the nation's largest firefighter unions. The pair have exchanged sharp words, with Biden calling Trump the "Divider-in-Chief" and the president labeling Biden "sleepy creepy Joe" following allegations of sexual misconduct against the former vice president.

The state's Republican party released a statement in response to Biden's campaign announcement calling his campaign one that "seeks to paint over the failures of the Obama-Biden years and his record as U.S. senator while offering nothing but a continuation of those failed policies."

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Monday
May202019

Trump blocks former White House counsel McGahn from testifying to Congress

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump has directed former White House counsel Donald McGahn not to testify on Tuesday before Congress about events relating to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, the White House said on Monday.

Late Monday afternoon, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler said his committee would meet as planned Tuesday morning and McGahn was expected to appear.

"The Mueller Report documents a shocking pattern of obstruction of justice," Nadler said in a statement. "The President acted again and again—perhaps criminally—to protect himself from federal law enforcement.

"Don McGahn personally witnessed the most egregious of these acts. President Trump knows this. He clearly does not want the American people to hear firsthand about his alleged misconduct, and so he has attempted to block Mr. McGahn from speaking in public tomorrow."

Earlier, in a letter to Nadler, White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote "that McGahn is absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony with respect to matters occurring during his service as a senior adviser to the President" citing previous Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel opinions, along with OLC guidance specific to McGahn's testimony.

“The immunity of the President’s immediate advisers from compelled congressional testimony on matters related to their official responsibilities has long been recognized and arises from the fundamental workings of the separation of powers. Those principles apply to the former White House Counsel," the Office of Legal Counsel opinion on McGahn reads. "Accordingly, Mr. McGahn is not legally required to appear and testify about matters related to his official duties as Counsel to the President.”

Because of this "constitutional immunity" -- Cipollone wrote -- "the President has directed Mr. McGahn not to appear at the Committee's scheduled hearing on Tuesday, May 21, 2019."

"The Department of Justice has provided a legal opinion stating that, based on long-standing, bipartisan, and Constitutional precedent, the former Counsel to the President cannot be forced to give such testimony, and Mr. McGahn has been directed to act accordingly. This action has been taken in order to ensure that future Presidents can effectively execute the responsibilities of the Office of the Presidency," press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

"The Democrats do not like the conclusion of the Mueller investigation – no collusion, no conspiracy, and no obstruction – and want a wasteful and unnecessary do-over." she said.

Nadler rejected those arguments.

"This move is just the latest act of obstruction from the White House that includes its blanket refusal to cooperate with this Committee," his statement continued. "It is also the latest example of this Administration’s disdain for law. This identical approach was rejected by a federal court in the Miers case, which held that even senior advisors to the President cannot simply refuse to appear in response to a congressional subpoena.

"It is absurd for President Trump to claim privilege as to this witness’s testimony when that testimony was already described publicly in the Mueller Report. Even more ridiculous is the extension of the privilege to cover events before and after Mr. McGahn’s service in the White House," Nadler said.

Earlier this month, the White House instructed McGahn not to comply with a subpoena from House Democrats for documents related to Mueller’s investigation.

Cipollone argued at the time that “McGahn does not have the legal right to disclose these documents to third parties” and asked that instead of directing requests for documents to McGahn’s attorney, the committee direct the requests to the White House.

McGahn was a central figure in the Mueller report and cooperated extensively with the special counsel’s probe. He met with Mueller's team multiple times for more than 30 hours and questioned more extensively than any other member of the White House staff who went in for an interview.

"Mr. McGahn is a critical witness to many of the alleged instances of obstruction of justice and other misconduct described in the Mueller report,” Nadler wrote last month in a press release accompanying his subpoena request. “His testimony will help shed further light on the President's attacks on the rule of law, and his attempts to cover up those actions by lying to the American people and requesting others do the same."

Mueller had requested to speak with McGahn about the circumstances surrounding former FBI Director James Comey’s firing and his reported involvement in the events surrounding Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusing himself from the Russia investigation, the sources said.

ABC News previously reported that McGahn was among the White House staffers who were against any notion of President Trump’s firing of Mueller last June when the president wanted to do just that, a source said.

After news broke that Trump ordered McGahn to fire the special counsel, Trump pressured McGahn to deny that he had been directed to do so, even suggesting to aides that he would fire him unless he complied. Mueller concludes that there is evidence to suggest Trump acted this way to impede his investigation, according to the special counsel's report.

Mueller concluded that "Substantial evidence indicates that in repeatedly urging McGahn to dispute that he was ordered to have the Special Counsel terminated, the President acted for the purpose of influencing McGahn's account in order to deflect or prevent further scrutiny of the President's conduct towards the investigation."

There is precedent for past administrations to declare immunity from congressional testimony based on an Office of Legal Counsel opinion.

For example, in 2014 the Obama administration blocked senior adviser and director of the White House Office of Political Strategy, David Simas, from testifying before the House Oversight Committee.

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