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Thursday
Jul192018

Putin: 'Certain forces' in the US want to 'disavow the results' of summit with Trump

Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that his summit with President Donald Trump this week had generally been a success but "certain forces in the U.S. now want to prevent what was achieved there."

“On the whole the meeting was successful,” Putin said in a televised speech to Russian ambassadors in Moscow, adding that “several agreements" had resulted from the Monday meeting in Helsinki, Finland.

“We will see how events develop further, moreover, as certain forces are trying to disavow the results of the meeting in Helsinki,” Putin said. “We see that in the United States there are forces that are ready to easily sacrifice Russian-American relations to their ambitions.”

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Thursday
Jul192018

Maxine Waters warns supporters of possible 'armed protests' against her

Emma McIntyre/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Maxine Waters warned supporters on Wednesday of potential "armed protests" against her after an extremist group called for ongoing demonstrations outside her office in Los Angeles.

In a lengthy statement issued late Wednesday, Waters, D-Calif., said she’d been notified about forthcoming protests by the Oath Keepers, which she described as "an anti-government militia" that's staged armed protests in cities across the country.

She warned her supporters against being "baited" into counter-demonstrations or confrontations with the organization, which she said has a track record of "violent and provocative behavior."

"I am requesting those individuals and groups planning a counter-protest to not be baited into confronting the Oath Keepers with any demonstrations in opposition," Waters said. "Such an occurrence would only exacerbate tensions and increase the potential for conflict."

She urged supporters to avoid protesting on the same date and time as protests planned by the Oath Keepers.

"The Oath Keepers would like nothing more than to inflame racial tensions and create an explosive conflict in our community," Waters said. "The group is known to protest in military-style clothing while carrying various assault weapons."

The Oath Keepers bills itself as a non-partisan association of current and former military officers, cops and first responders. The group issued a "call to action" against Waters on Tuesday, telling members to prepare for as many as several weeks of protests in the Los Angeles area.

"This is the launch of an ongoing protest that may go on for several weeks. Other patriotic groups are welcome to join us," the group's statement said. "This is both a protest against Maxine Waters’ incitement of terrorism, and a stand for ICE and the Border Patrol, as they enforce the perfectly constitutional immigration and naturalization laws of this nation."

The group said it was upset with Waters over recent comments she made about President Donald Trump and his administration that it claimed incited "far-left terrorist violence and threats of violence."

Waters, 79, ignited controversy last month when she called on her supporters to publicly confront and harass members of the Trump administration in response to the zero-tolerance immigration policy that led to the separation of families at the border.

The longtime Congresswoman attempted to clarify her comments a few days later after Trump claimed she had "called for harm" to his supporters.

"I believe in peaceful, very peaceful protests," Waters told reporters in June. "I have not called for the harm of anybody. This president has lied again when he's saying that I've called for harm."

She noted in her statement on Wednesday that Los Angeles Police Department officers and personnel would be on site Thursday "to ensure safety and security."

"My primary concern is to maintain the safety and security of the protesters, staff, and constituents of California’s 43rd Congressional District -- a task that would be exceedingly complicated by large crowds of protesters and counter-protesters," she said.

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Wednesday
Jul182018

White House disputes that Trump denied Russia still targeting the US

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- For the second time in as many days, the White House sought to clarify President Donald Trump's comments on whether Russia targeting the U.S. saying that the president's "no" was actually a no to taking reporters' questions.

ABC News' Cecilia Vega asked her question twice and for a clarification on the president’s response as reporters were gathered just ahead of a session at the White House with Cabinet members.

She received a "no" each time, which other reporters confirmed hearing as well. The president ignored her request for clarification.

“Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President,” Vega asked.

“Thank you very much, no,” he said.

Vega pressed: “No?! You don’t believe that to be the case?”

He responded: "No."

Vega asked again a third time: "But can you just clarify, you don't believe that to be the case?"

The president ignored that question.

At the top of the White House briefing, press secretary Sarah Sanders clarified that she spoke to the president after his exchange with Vega and he said he was not actually answering her question, but saying instead, "thank you, no" to answering any questions.

Asked again by Vega whether the president agrees with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats that the threat from Russia is still ongoing, Sanders answered, "certainly."

A "no" response would seem to contradict Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats who, in a speech on Friday at the Hudson Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, warned of Russian cyber attacks. "The warning lights are blinking red again."

Coats went on to say: “These actions are persistent, they are pervasive and they are meant to undermine America’s democracy.”

On that same day, 12 Russian military officials were indicted for hacking democratic infrastructure in the 2016 election.

Trump's most recent comments are part of a multi-day series of statements and clarifications following the president's press conference with Russian president Vladimir Putin on Monday.

During that news conference, Trump appeared to accept what he called Putin's "strong" and "powerful" denial that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.

Coats responded that the intelligence community stands by its findings.

"The role of the Intelligence Community is to provide the best information and fact-based assessments possible for the President and policymakers," Coats said in a statement. "We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security."

Keenly aware there was a problem after his news conference in Helsinki with Putin, Trump met with top advisers Tuesday morning to discuss what to do about it.

Sources tell ABC News the president himself came up with the idea of the "would" versus "would not" clarification, telling aides he had seen the clip, realized he misspoke and wanted to make a statement.

Those involved with crafting the statement, according to sources, were: White House adviser Steven Miller, press secretary Sarah Sanders, Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Bill Shine, Director of Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp and National Security Adviser John Bolton.

The president also discussed it with Newt Gingrich, who had called on Trump to clarify his comments in Helsinki on “the U.S. intelligence system and Putin,” calling the remarks “the most serious mistake of his presidency.”

Late in the process, Vice President Mike Pence also asked to see the statement.

The line "it could have been a lot of people" was not part of the prepared remarks. The president's aides were also not particularly surprised the president said it.

By Tuesday, the president said he used the wrong words and meant to say there was no reason "it wouldn't be Russia" behind election meddling.

"I said the word would instead of wouldn't...I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself."

The seeming contradiction in Trump's comments on Wednesday sparked anew congressional backlash as lawmakers press for clarification on the president's stance.

"A BIG discrepancy between President Trump’s statement and DNI Coates’ warning. It’s imperative we get to the bottom of what is going on so we can be prepared to protect ourselves in advance of the 2018 elections. My personal view: the Russians are at again," Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican tweeted.

Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, tweeted: "The Russians continue efforts to undermine Western democracies, including ours. The President is wrong and needs to heed the warnings from our Intelligence Community, including DNI Dan Coats."

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer was quick to put out a statement challenging the president's comments.

“Mr. President, it is time to stop taking the word of a KGB agent over that of your own intelligence officials. Russia interfered in our 2016 elections. They’re actively trying to do it again. You must wake up to that fact," Schumer said. "We won’t be able, as a nation, to fight back against foreign interference in our elections if the Commander in Chief doesn’t even acknowledge that it’s a real problem. The American people will not trust that you will protect them if you continue to put your interests ahead of those of our country.”

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Wednesday
Jul182018

Trump pays respects to family of fallen Secret Service agent, calling him an 'elite hero'

Olivier Douliery - Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump traveled to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland Wednesday for the return of a Secret Service agent who died Tuesday after falling ill during the president's overseas trip.

Nole E. Remagen suffered a stroke over the weekend while on duty during the president's trip to his Scotland golf club, according to the White House. He passed away Tuesday surrounded by family and fellow agents, the White House said, and was flown to Maryland on a U.S. Air Force plane Wednesday.

"Our hearts are filled with sadness over the loss of a beloved and devoted Special Agent, husband, and father," Trump said in a statement. "Our prayers are with Special Agent Remagen’s loved ones, including his wife and two young children. We grieve with them and with his Secret Service colleagues, who have lost a friend and a brother.”

Remagen served five years in the United States Marine Corps before beginning a 19-year career in the Secret Service.

"At the time of his passing, he was among the elite heroes who serve in the Presidential Protection Division of the Secret Service," Trump added. "Melania and I are deeply grateful for his lifetime of devotion, and today, we pause to honor his life and 24 years of service to our Nation."

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted sympathy for the Remagen family Wednesday morning.

"We are so sorry for your loss and are grieving with you," she tweeted.

Melania Trump tweeted her condolences along with praise for the Secret Service.

"The dedicated @SecretService work tirelessly & often behind the scenes to keep our family safe," she tweeted. "@POTUS & I thank you for your service & all that you do."

The Secret Service announced Remagen's return in a statement Wednesday, and tweeted that he was "one of America’s finest."

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Wednesday
Jul182018

Senate Democrats want to question Trump's interpreter at Putin summit 

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Democrats, who believe they won't get any insight into what actually took place during the private meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin from the administration itself, are now looking to the U.S. interpreter who was in the one-on-one encounter for more information.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is leading the charge among her colleagues in the Senate to bring in Marina Gross, the American interpreter who sat in on the private meeting with Putin, to talk to the committee.

“If the president won't share that information with us, then the interpreter is the only person we can look to,” the Democrat from New Hampshire told ABC News in an interview Wednesday.

She said she has asked several State Department officials what, if anything, the two leaders agreed to on Syria, where Russia has allied with the Assad regime. She said they didn’t know, a troubling notion that she said underscored the need to talk to the interpreter not just for Congress’ edification but for that of the entire administration.

The Democrats' questions came as the Russian Ministry of Defense released a statement Tuesday referring to "agreements" reached at the summit, although it was unclear whether it was simply summing up what the leaders said they discussed.

“The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation is ready for the practical implementation of the agreements between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump in the field of international security reached at the Helsinki summit. The Russian military department is ready to intensify contacts with its American counterparts in the General Staff and other available channels of communication to discuss the extension of the START treaty, interaction in Syria, and other topical issues of ensuring military security.”

Shaheen added that she has not yet spoken to committee chairman Bob Corker about the possibility of issuing a subpoena, but said such an action, if necessary, would be consistent with the committee’s role providing oversight of the nation’s foreign policy.

Corker said Wednesday he understands why Democrats would make such a request and is seemingly open to it.

"All of us want to know what took place in that meeting," Corker told reporters.

"That's been something that's been suggested, but again, is that really appropriate? We have to ask," Corker said. "One of the lowest levels that we've seen in our foreign policy is what we saw a couple of days ago in Helsinki, and I think all of us are incredibly still sort of wondering what thinking is taking place."

But he cautioned: "I don't want us to lower ourselves ... if it's appropriate we'll pursue it, if it's something that truly should be executive privilege, we won't."

On the notes specifically, Corker said: "These are notes taken by the translator at the meeting, I'm not sure it's even appropriate. We're checking that, if it is, certainly we're pursuing that."

Shaheen told ABC News that if the administration is to exert executive privilege, “we need to find another way to get the information.”

During a press briefing this afternoon, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert couldn't say if the White House can claim the conversations and notes from the Helsinki summit fall under executive privilege.

"That's the question I asked, is there any precedent for this?" Nauert told reporters Wednesday. "We've not been able to find that just yet. I can tell you there's no formal request to have the interpreter to appear before any congressional committees at this point, overall, as a general matter, you know we always seek to work with Congress."

It's expected Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who traveled with the president to Helsinki, will be pressed for his notes by Democrats when he appears before the Foreign Relations Committee in a public hearing next Wednesday.

But Democrats may be in for an uphill battle on their quest for information from Gross herself.

“I think the leaders on the Hill and their top staff people should know that trying to get the information out of the interpreter would be a wild goose chase," said Harry Obst, who was the Director of State’s Office of Language Services for 14 years and translated for presidents from Lyndon B. Johnson to Bill Clinton.

State Department staff interpreters, like Gross, are civil servants who take an oath that they will not reveal any classified information, according to Obst. Additionally, interpreters for a U.S. president have top secret clearances, and so they are bound by law to not reveal top secret or classified information.

According to Obst, the interpreter writes a memorandum of the conversation after every meeting, which is deemed as the property of the president, or whoever participated in the classified meeting. The memorandum could not be made public or shared with lawmakers without the permission of the owner, which in this case would be Trump. It goes through the same declassification process after 17 years, like other classified information.

To Obst’s knowledge, no State Department interpreter has ever testified on the Hill on the content of meetings.

And if an interpreter is to be subpoenaed, Obst said he believes the interpreter could and should, in his opinion, uphold their oath not to reveal information.

And some Republicans aren't keen on the idea, either.

"I think that would be a terrible precedent, to be pulling translators for meetings that presidents have," Sen. Ted Cruz told reporters. "I was not a fan of President Obama and his policies, and I certainly didn't call for translators who were in private meetings with President Obama to be pulled before Congress. I think there has to be some ability for the executive branch to operate."

"What you're seeing is an awful lot of Democrats playing politics," Cruz said.

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Wednesday
Jul182018

Trump orders redesigned red, white and blue Air Force One

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Air Force One could be one of the most recognizable airplanes in the world, but by 2024, the plane is getting a big patriotic makeover.

The next generation of Air Force One planes will feature a brand new red, white and blue color scheme, President Donald Trump said in an interview with CBS that aired Tuesday evening.

"Air Force One is going to be incredible," said Trump. "It's going to be top of the line, the top in the world, and it's going to be red, white and blue, which I think is appropriate."

At the cost of $3.9 billion, Boeing will be responsible for designing, building, and testing two new planes that can be used as Air Force One. The current fleet of two Presidential planes is just over 30 years old, according to White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders. The government started the process to replace the planes back in 2011.

Back in 2016, the president criticized the cost of a previous contract with Boeing to replace the aging presidential fleet, saying the cost was too high. The White House says the new contract is $1.3 billion less than the earlier $5.3 billion dollar proposal.

The new planes are expected to be completed by December 2024, which means they’ll be used mostly for future Presidents. President Trump would be in the final month of his potential second term by the time they are finished.

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Wednesday
Jul182018

Court filings allege Russian agent offered sex for access

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A new court filing alleges Maria Butina, the Russian gun-rights activist who was recently arrested and charged as a foreign agent, offered “sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization” as part of a bid to gain access and make contacts in American political circles.

Butina, the filing notes, is believed to have “cohabited and been involved in a personal relationship” with an unnamed U.S. person for the sole purpose of developing her alleged influence operation, sparking comparisons to the recent spy thriller “Red Sparrow” starring Jennifer Lawrence as a Russian femme fatale.

“This relationship does not represent a strong tie to the United States because Butina appears to treat it as simply a necessary aspect of her activities,” the filing said. “For example on at least one occasion, Butina offered an individual other than U.S. Person 1 sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization. Further, in papers seized by the FBI, Butina complained about living with U.S. Person 1 and expressed disdain for continuing to cohabitant with U.S. Person 1.”

At her first court appearance in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, a federal magistrate judge ordered Butina held without bond pending trial. Butina pleaded not guilty to criminal charges of conspiracy and failure to register as a foreign agent. If she is found guilty, Butina could face up to ten years in prison.

The 12-page filing -- which quotes from electronic messages in which a Russian official compares her to Anna Chapman, the red-headed Russian spy who operated under deep cover until she was discovered and deported as part of a prisoner swap in 2010 -- notes that Butina’s lease was scheduled to end on July 31, and she packed her belongings and wired money from her bank account back to Russia, which they believe were signs she was preparing to leave Washington.

“Her strong incentive is to retreat to Russia,” the court filing said. “Butina presents an extreme risk of flight.”

The case brought against her was not brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team, and it is not known whether it has any connection to the broader investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential campaign.

Butina’s attorney has offered a strong rebuke against the government allegations, calling them “overblown” and saying she only sought to build friendly relations between Russians and conservative American activists. But the filing by counter-intelligence prosecutors says only some of what is known of Butina’s activities in the U.S. have been made public so far.

“The weight of evidence against the defendant is substantial,” the filing said.

FBI agents have been monitoring Butina for more than a year, the filing said, and believe she maintained contact with the Russian spy agency FSB during her stay. They allege that she built close relationships with several politically-connected Americans for the sole purpose of exploiting them for access.

“The plan was calculated, patient, and directed by [a] Russian official,” the filing said. “The defendant’s covert influence campaign involved substantial planning, international coordination and preparation. The plan for Butina also required, and she demonstrated, a willingness to use deceit…to bring the plan to fruition.”

Butina, 29, had been a mysterious presence in conservative circles over the past several years. She cofounded the Russian gun-rights group “The Right to Bear Arms” with Alexander Torshin, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies, and then, according to prosecutors, used those seemingly shared interests to cultivate ties to high-ranking NRA officials and conservative politicians in the United States.

Butina and Torshin were frequent attendees of the annual NRA conventions, and former NRA president David Keene returned the favor. In 2013, Butina introduced Keene at the Right to Bear Arms annual conference in Moscow, and in 2015, she hosted a delegation of NRA board members, including Keene, in Moscow.

The relationship with Keene, who has not responded to requests for comment from ABC News, appears to have positioned her to get close to other powerful people, including the president. At the FreedomFest conference in Las Vegas in July 2015, Butina asked then-candidate Donald Trump a question about whether he would uphold “damaging” Russian sanctions. She also attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. in February 2017, where President Trump was the keynote speaker.

Meanwhile, she was pursuing a master’s degree in international relations from American University, where she graduated in May, but law enforcement officials now believe that was just a cover as she acted as a “covert Russian agent” seeking to “exploit personal connections” and “infiltrate organizations active in U.S. politics in an effort to advance” Russian interests.

Throughout her time in the United States, according to the affidavit attached to the initial criminal complaint, she received guidance from an unnamed Russian official who, based on the description, appears to be Torshin, and coordinated with two unnamed U.S. persons, whose identities remain opaque.

According to the affidavit, Butina and the Russian official “took steps to develop relationships with America politicians in order to establish private, or as she called them, ‘back channel’ lines of communication. These lines could be used by the Russian Federation to penetrate the U.S. national decision-making apparatus to advance the agenda of the Russian Federation.”

That effort appears to have been focused on the NRA. In private messages, Butina emailed one of the unnamed U.S. persons, describing what she called the “central place and influence” an unnamed gun-right groups enjoys in an unnamed political party as the “largest sponsor of the elections to the US congress, as well as a sponsor of The CPAC conference and other events.”

The following year, that U.S. person emailed an acquaintance, saying “I’ve been involved in securing a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin” and leaders of an unnamed political party through an unnamed gun rights organization.

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Wednesday
Jul182018

Air Force chief of staff praises administration for Space Force 

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON)-- If the Air Force Chief of Staff doesn't support President Donald Trump's idea of a separate Space Force, he did not reveal his feelings to the press Tuesday, instead praising his administration for putting focus on space as a "war-fighting domain."

"One of my challenges when I first came in this job two years ago was actually finding enough people interested and passionate about what I'm passionate about, which is where we move militarily but also nationally relative to space," Gen. David Goldfein said.

In the past, the Air Force has angled to keep the space domain under its command, but Goldfein would only heap compliments on the Trump administration's excitement about space, saying he's glad the president "is leading that discussion."

"So now," Goldfein added, "I've got the president of the United States that's talking openly about space as a war fighting domain. I've got a vice president of the United States that stood up a National Space Council and is moving that. I've got Congress that's engaged and now interested in talking a lot about space. I've got the Secretary of Defense working space. I've got a Deputy Secretary. So I see this as a huge opportunity right now that we've been given to have a national level dialogue about where we're going in space and so I love the fact that the president is leading that discussion."

Goldfein said the president was "loud and clear" on his directive to stand up a separate Space Force, and that the Department of Defense has "begun that planning effort."

"This is a dialogue that is going to include a lot of votes and stakeholders, and so we're moving under the secretary of defense's guidance to do just that," he said.

Goldfein said the Department of Defense is putting its "final touches" on its report to Congress that looks at how a separate Space Force would operate. That report, led by the deputy secretary of defense and due Aug. 1, grew out of language in Congress' National Defense Authorization Act, before Trump publicly directed the Pentagon to stand up a Space Force.

The general acknowledged that part of the analysis of a separate force is looking at the "bureaucratic angle ... to make sure we're moving forward smartly" -- the only time he came close to acknowledging that a command of space could remain under Air Force control.



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Wednesday
Jul182018

Trump's comments on meddling put cybersecurity back in spotlight

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As President Donald Trump stood next to Vladimir Putin in Helsinki and called the Russian president's denials of Russian meddling "extremely strong," he snapped back into focus for lawmakers and cybersecurity experts alike the subject of election meddling.

Trump's remarks, which he has since tried to clarify, are in sharp contrast to the findings of the U.S. intelligence community. They provoked criticism from both sides of the aisle, and cybersecurity experts said Trump's stance could be putting the upcoming midterm elections at risk.

"Make no mistake, Russia was successful, and as the director of national intelligence recently stated, they continue their efforts to undermine our democracy," said John Cohen, the former acting undersecretary for intelligence at the Department of Homeland Security and an ABC News contributor. "From all I have seen and heard from law enforcement and intelligence professionals we are woefully unprepared to stop Russia's attack."

During the Helsinki summit, Trump said he had no reason not to believe Putin when the Russian president denied meddling. This runs counter to findings of the U.S. intelligence community that has repeatedly asserted that Russians interfere in the election.

The president has since walked back his remarks, telling reporters on Tuesday he misspoke during the press conference with Putin and that he has full faith in the intelligence community.

"It is deeply deeply troubling that anyone would equate the denial of the Russian president as somehow equal evidence to the professional opinions and judgments of the intelligence community," said Michael Sulmeyer, the Director of Harvard's cybersecurity project. "But for the most part I don't see very many other people making that comparison."

Trump's stance Monday contrasts sharply with the views of his national security adviser Dan Coats, who released a statement Monday maintaining his belief that Russian election meddling occurred.

"We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy," the statement said. "We will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security."

The intelligence community first released its findings in a January 2017 report that concluded "Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump's election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him."

Despite the president's recent claims, the administration has long maintained that it is taking aggressive steps to prevent Russian meddling.

In March, administration officials told ABC News that there is, in fact, a comprehensive effort to combat Russian meddling, and, more broadly, foreign interference in our election systems, but offered few specifics, noting that some of the information is classified.

The officials said the FBI and Department of Homeland Security have met with all 50 states and offered federal assistance, but said it's up to the states as to whether they take or refuse the assistance.

DHS has teamed up with the Election Assistance Commission along with election officials in many states and has "already given technical assistance in both prevention and implementation to secure voting systems," a White House official said.

Sulmeyer, who has spoken with secretaries of state from across the country about elections as part of his research, said he’s seen the impact of some congressional and administrative efforts to improve security.

"We've also seen some good efforts by Congress to try to get more money available for states and local jurisdictions to help," Sulmeyer said. "I think despite what we've seen the president say over the last few days, the Department of Homeland Security, there are pockets of it that have really been trying to be constructive and help."

In addition to congressional funding and administrative action, prosecutors have also been narrowing in on Russians who may have engaged in election interference during the 2016 election.

On Friday, 12 Russian nationals were charged for their efforts to hack emails from the Democratic National Committee, then nominee Hillary Clinton and her campaign chairman John Podesta.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the email hacks were part of a larger attempt to influence the 2016 elections.

"Free and fair elections are hard fought and contentious. There will always be adversaries who work to exacerbate domestic differences and try to confuse, divide, and conquer us," Rosenstein said. "The blame for election interference belongs to the criminals who committed election interference."

Another group of Russian nationals was indicted as part of the probe earlier this year. 13 Russian nationals were indicted in February for violating criminal laws with the intent of meddling "with U.S. elections and political processes" as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation in Russia election interference.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Jul182018

A number of new citizens are now seeking political office

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Although she has lived in the U.S. since she was 2 months old, Maria Palacios was disqualified from running for a Georgia House seat because she became a citizen just last year.

According to Georgia state constitution, candidates are required to be a “citizen of the state” for a minimum of two years before being elected to a government position. Palacios has partnered with ACLU of Georgia to sue the state’s secretary of state to reinstate her on the ballot.

She is scheduled to be in court on Wednesday.

"[It is] important that no other U.S. citizen is denied the right to run for office because they are naturalized," Palacios said. "I believe in our democracy allowing equal opportunities for naturalized citizens."

Palacios is among a small wave of formerly undocumented immigrants candidates running for offices this year -- many of them on the state and local level.

Organizations that promote the election of immigrants say it is important that the government better reflects the U.S. population.

Latinos and Asian-Americans comprise over 22 percent of the population in the U.S. but hold fewer than 2 percent of more than 500,000 elected positions, from county commissioners to school board members, mayors and Congress, according to a report by New American Leaders, a group that encourages immigrants to run for office.

"That means just one in 50 elected officials nationwide is Latino or Asian American," the report said.

Sayu Bhojwani, founder of New American Leaders, said newcomers to the U.S. may bring notable dedication to an elected office because they, or their families, made a conscious choice to become Americans.

"Most of us have thought to come here or to be here, and we are very committed to democracy," Bhojwani said.

New American Leaders has helped 38 immigrants win election to state and local office. Among the immigrants who hope to win election this year are some who were formerly undocumented. Here are a few:

Maria Palacios

A mother of three, Palacios said that when she found out she became ineligible to run for the Georgia state House, she became concerned about the future of other previously undocumented people who aspire to engage civically.

"When you’re growing up, you’re always looking to identify yourself," Palacios said. "Younger generations shouldn’t feel limited because they don’t identify with the people [...] in our government. If we truly want to be the best and the brightest we need to truly embrace all ethnicities and have them feel comfortable."

Catalina Cruz

Catalina Cruz said she is running for the New York state Assembly to set policies that will help people like her mother, who had to scrounge to make ends meet as Cruz was growing up, including by selling tamales and collecting cans.

"It gives me the opportunity to fight in a way I haven't been able to do or frankly had the courage to do until now," Cruz said.

If she wins the Queens, New York, seat, Cruz, who became a citizen in 2009, said she is not worried about any criticism because of her previous status as undocumented.

"If you grew up undocumented you already had enough hardships,” Cruz said. “What is an anti-immigrant going to do to you that this system and this society hasn’t already done to you as an undocumented person?"

Farrah Khan

Farrah Khan, an immigrant from Pakistan, quotes an adage to explain the need for minorities to run for office: "If you're not at the table, you're on the menu.”

In 1974, Khan came to the U.S. with her mother on a sponsorship from her father until she was naturalized years later. Now, she's running for city council in Irvine, California.

Khan, the executive director of a local non-profit, the Newport Mesa Irvine Interfaith Council in southern California, said immigrants face a number of challenges in winning election including work to gain “name recognition, support from elected officials or even party folks."

"It is much harder for immigrants, people of color to attain these positions because there isn't a natural pipeline of people coming into politics and there are many obstacles to overcome," Khan said. "It's mostly been these amazing unpredicted wins, which is a problem in itself. There needs to be a natural process by which immigrants, people of color are pushed up to feed into the leadership roles."

If Khan wins the seat, she will become the first Asian-Pacific Islander woman to serve on the Irvine City Council.

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