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Monday
Jul242017

Jared Kushner set for closed-door interview with Senate Intelligence Committee

ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) -- Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and a senior White House adviser, is expected on Capitol Hill Monday for a closed-door interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The panel, which is one of several congressional committees investigating Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, has interviewed dozens of individuals as part of its probe.

Kushner is one of Trump's closest confidants, an adviser who has been at his side since the campaign trail and the transition to the White House. He is the first member of Trump's family to appear on Capitol Hill as part of the Russia probe.

His contacts with Russian officials are a focus of congressional investigators and of the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading a separate probe into Russian election interference.

Kushner was one of several Trump associates to meet with a Russian attorney linked to the Kremlin in Trump Tower in June 2016.

Donald Trump Jr., the president's eldest son, organized the meeting with Russia lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya after receiving a message from a business associate who promised to share incriminating information about Hillary Clinton passed along from a Russian government official, according to an email exchange he released.

He invited Kushner and Paul Manafort, then Trump's campaign chairman, to the meeting.

Though Donald Trump Jr. has said nothing came of the controversial meeting, lawmakers hope to interview all the participants as they continue to investigate whether Trump's campaign worked with Russia during the presidential election. Kushner did not stay for the entire meeting and left early.

"The committee's going to reach out to everybody we feel has some contribution to make," Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said to reporters last week.

Manafort and Trump Jr. are in discussions with the Senate Judiciary Committee about sitting for closed-door interviews. Both men have expressed a willingness to cooperate with congressional investigators.

ABC News first reported Kushner's interview with Senate investigators last week.

Kushner, who has been cooperating with investigators, is also expected to appear before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.

He's also expected to face questions about a meeting he had after the election last fall with Sergey Gorkov, the head of the Russian bank VneshEconombank, which has been sanctioned by the U.S. government.

The White House and the bank provided conflicting explanations for the meeting.

In December, Kushner met with then Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak at Trump Tower, and discussed establishing a possible secret back channel for diplomatic communications between Russian and the United States.

Kushner served as Trump's liaison to foreign governments during the transition.

"There is a lot we want to know," Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on CBS News' "Face the Nation" Sunday. "His counsel has said they will make him available for two hours so we expect this is just going to be the first interview."

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Sunday
Jul232017

Trump spokeswoman dismisses ‘Russia fever’ as attempt to take away legitimacy of his victory

ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) -- The president’s new press secretary dismissed the media’s focus on the Russia investigation, what she called “Russia fever,” as an attempt to delegitimize Trump’s election victory.

“There's a ton of focus on what I like to call Russia fever,” press secretary Sarah Sanders told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” Sunday.

She said the allegations swirling around Russia and Trump associates is a “total made-up story about the president, trying to take away the legitimacy of his victory in November.”

Instead, she said the focus should be on leaks of sensitive information to the media. “We need to focus on these leaks. This is the only illegal thing that has taken place, and it's a real serious problem.”

Sanders was responding to a question by Stephanopoulos about a tweet by the president Saturday decrying what Trump called "a new intelligence leak" about Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

 

 

Stephanopoulos pressed Sanders on the tweet: "That appears to be a confirmation that the attorney general was talking to the Russian ambassador about the campaign" during the 2016 presidential race.

Sanders disagreed.

"I think the president's point is that there's a real problem with leaks, whether they're actual leaks or not. There's an issue that there are constant stories, sometimes true, sometimes not, that are being leaked out of the intelligence community," she said.

Earlier this week, President Trump, in a lengthy interview with The New York Times, said he would not have appointed Sessions as attorney general if he knew the former Alabama senator would recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

Sanders said on "This Week," "The president knows the attorney general is trying hard and he appreciates that. But at the same time, he's disappointed that he chose to recuse himself. I don't think that that's inconsistent or hard to understand, that there would be frustration with that."

The president’s spokeswoman also said Trump will support proposed legislation slapping new sanctions on Russia.

“The administration is supportive of being tough on Russia, particularly in putting these sanctions in place,” she said.

The House and Senate struck a deal on a bill that puts new sanctions on Russia for its interference in the U.S. 2016 election and its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria.

The bill also gives Congress the power to review any effort by the Trump administration to ease or end sanctions against Moscow. The legislation includes stiff economic penalties against Iran and North Korea as well.

“The original piece of legislation was poorly written, but we were able to work with the House and Senate, and the administration is happy with the ability to do that, and make those changes that were necessary, and we support where the legislation is now,” Sanders said.

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Sunday
Jul232017

Trump lawyer says it's an open question whether president could pardon himself

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Jay Sekulow, a member of President Trump’s legal team, said it’s an open question whether the president has the authority to pardon himself.

Sekulow was responding to a question from ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" Sunday.

“We have not, and continue to not have conversations with the president of the United States regarding pardons. Pardons have not been discussed. And pardons are not on the table. With regard to the issue of a president pardoning himself, there’s a big academic discussion going on right now,” Sekulow said. “From a constitutional, legal perspective you can’t dismiss it one way or the other."

He added that he thinks such a question would ultimately have to go before the Supreme Court.

But Sekulow emphasized that the president's legal team is not looking into the question of pardons.

"We're not researching the issue because the issue of pardons is not on the table. There's nothing to pardon from,” Sekulow said. “We’re not researching it; I haven’t researched it because it’s not an issue we're concerned with or dealing with.”

Trump himself, however, brought up the issue of pardons in a tweet Saturday asserting that the president has "complete power to pardon."

In a later interview on “This Week,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., warned that if President Trump were to pardon himself or to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, “I think it would cause a cataclysm in Washington.”

“I cannot imagine our Republican colleagues, including [House Speaker Paul] Ryan and [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell, just standing by if he were to do either of those things,” the Senate minority leader said

In the Sekulow interview, Stephanopoulos pressed the lawyer about another of Trump’s tweets Saturday that asked why Attorney General Sessions and Mueller aren’t looking into what the president called "crimes" by former FBI Director James Comey and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

"[What] Comey crimes does the president believe the Justice Department or Mueller should be investigating?" Stephanopoulos asked.

Sekulow said the memos that Comey had written about his conversations with Trump and which he leaked through an associate after the president fired him were written on a “government computer” and were “in fact government property.”

“He took government property … and leaked them to the press,” Sekulow said.

In addition, the Trump lawyer said that Comey’s conversations with the president “would have been covered by executive privilege.”“James Comey ignored that, did not give the president or anyone else at that point when he leaked the information the opportunity to assert that privilege,” Sekulow continued. “And I think that was not only a dereliction of his duties, I think it was a violation of his constitutional oath, and violated criminal statutes.”

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Sunday
Jul232017

Donald Trump Jr. adds DC-based attorney to legal team

Rick Wilking-Pool/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Donald Trump Jr.'s legal team is expanding its operation, bringing on D.C.-based attorney and longtime regulatory lawyer Karina Lynch, his team told ABC News.

Lynch also confirmed to ABC News that she is joining the team.

Donald Trump Jr. is one of the people connected to the Trump administration whom the Senate Judiciary Committee has said it wants to interview as part of its investigation into possible Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

Lynch had been at the law firm Williams and Jensen since 2000, and became a principal in 2005, according to the firm's website.

She "concentrates on legislative, regulatory, and oversight issues affecting various sectors of the health care industry and clients with an interest in education and tax policy," her bio says.

Before that, she spent five years on Capitol Hill, serving as counsel to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Committee on Government Affairs, which was chaired by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

She had previously served as investigative counsel for Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

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Sunday
Jul232017

Democrats open to single-payer health insurance, a party leader says

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The Democratic Party will consider proposing a single-payer health insurance system, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said.

“We’re going to look at broader things [for the nation’s health care system.] Single-payer is one of them,” Schumer said to ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” Sunday.

The top Democrat in the Senate added that single-payer is among a number of health insurance options.

“Many things are on the table,” Schumer said. “Medicare for people above 55 is on the table. A buy-in to Medicare is on the table. Buy-in to Medicaid is on the table.”

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Sunday
Jul232017

Trump Jr., Manafort agree to cooperate with Senate panel and won't attend Wednesday hearing, Grassley says

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort have both agreed to negotiate with the Senate Judiciary Committee to provide documents "and be interviewed... prior to a public hearing" in regards to its Russia probe, according to statement from the office of committee Chairman Chuck Grassley.

Representatives for both Trump Jr. and Manafort did not respond to requests for comment from ABC but previously said they are cooperating with the Congressional investigations.

The announcement comes a day after senators threatened to subpoena the pair in pursuit of their investigation into Russian election interference. Both Grassley, R-Iowa, and committee ranking member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., had expressed confidence on Thursday in achieving cooperation with the president's son and former campaign chair.

“I’m not concerned, because if they don’t they will be subpoenaed," said Feinstein.

On Wednesday, the committee invited the men -- who have come under scrutiny for their attendance at a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in which Trump Jr. believed they would receive incriminating information about Hillary Clinton -- to appear at a hearing next week and turn over documents related to their contacts with Russian nationals. They will not appear at Wednesday's session in light of their willingness to cooperate, according to an aide to Feinstein.

Glenn Simpson, founder of Fusion GPS, a research firm hired by Trump political opponents to investigate the GOP nominee's Russia ties, was also invited to next week's hearing, but declined, according to the statement from Grassley's office.

"A subpoena has been issued to compel his attendance," the statement said.

"Simpson's attorney has asserted that his client will invoke First and Fifth Amendment rights in response to the subpoena," continued the statement.

While Trump and Manafort will be cooperating with the committee, the statement adds that the panel "reserve[s] the right" to issue subpoenas for each in the future.

 

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Saturday
Jul222017

New White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci 'deleting old tweets'

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Anthony Scaramucci, the newest member of the Trump administration, took to Twitter Saturday to say he’s deleting some old tweets that “shouldn’t be a distraction.”

 

 

On Friday, Scaramucci was announced as President Trump’s new White House communications director, a position that’s been open since Mike Dubke resigned in May. Scaramucci, a well-known Wall Street financier who was a member of Trump’s transition team, will officially begin the job on Aug. 15, reporting directly to the president, according to the White House.

While Scaramucci has tweeted many comments in support of Trump in the past -- before, during and after Trump’s campaign -- he has also tweeted many opinions that are at odds with the administration’s agenda.

Though he's purging his Twitter feed, most of the deleted tweets have already been archived and are viewable on the Wayback Machine web archive.

Scaramucci has tweeted multiple times about increasing gun control in the U.S. In August 2012, he tweeted, and has since deleted, "We (the USA) has 5% of the world's population but 50% of the world's guns. Enough is enough. It is just common sense it apply more controls(.)"

On July 8, 2015, he tweeted, “Daily liquidity in alts = keeping a gun in home. Illusion of security, but more likely to cause you harm.” That tweet was deleted but it has been archived on the Trump Twitter Archive. The Wayback Machine did not archive this tweet.

In that tweet, he also linked to an article he wrote about daily liquidity and alternative investments that begins with the line, “Daily liquidity in alternative investments is like keeping a gun in your home – it might provide the illusion of security but statistics show it’s more likely to cause you harm.”

Trump is a strong supporter of gun rights -- in Atlanta in April, he told National Rifle Association members that he “will never, ever infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”

In December 2015, Scaramucci tweeted (and has since deleted) a photo of the Berlin Wall preserved in the Newseum in Washington and wrote, “Walls don't work. Never have never will. The Berlin Wall 1961-1989 don't fall for it.”

Building a “big, beautiful wall” along the United States-Mexico border was one of Trump’s key campaign promises.

Scaramucci has also in the past voiced his feelings on climate change.

In February 2016, he retweeted an Associated Press article titled, "The heat goes on: Earth sets 9th straight monthly record." In his tweet, he wrote, "(D)on't stand on the wrong side of history #climatechange". Then, in March 2016, he tweeted, “You can take steps to combat climate change without crippling the economy. The fact many people still believe CC is a hoax is disheartening.” That tweet has now been deleted.

Most recently, in December, he tweeted, “No matter your view on climate science, we can take common sense steps that spur econ growth & US energy security w/out harming environment.” This tweet has not been deleted.

In June, Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, saying it “is very unfair at the highest level to the United States,” and that he would try to renegotiate it to “see if we can make a deal that’s fair."

The goal of the agreement is to slow and perhaps reverse global climate change. Syria and Nicaragua are the only other United Nations member countries that didn’t sign the deal.

In a statement announcing Scaramucci’s appointment, Trump said, “He has been a great supporter and will now help implement key aspects of our agenda while leading the communications team. We have accomplished so much, and we are being given credit for so little. The good news is the people get it, even if the media doesn’t.”

In his own statement, Scaramucci said that he’s “proud to join [Trump’s] Administration as he continues to deliver for the American people.”

At the beginning of the 2016 presidential election cycle, Scaramucci was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's fundraising chairman. When Walker's campaign ended, he then joined Jeb Bush's campaign. When Bush dropped out of the race, he then joined Trump's campaign.

On Friday, Trump tweeted that Scaramucci would've supported him originally if he had known he was running.

 

 

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Saturday
Jul222017

In Twitter tirade, Trump blasts 'leak' on Sessions and notes presidential power to pardon

Olivier Douliery/Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump, in a long tweetstorm on Saturday morning, slammed what he called "a new intelligence leak" against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an apparent reference to a report that Sessions discussed campaign-related matters with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. during the presidential race.


The Washington Post reported Friday evening that Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, told Russian officials that during the presidential election he and Sessions talked about the campaign and policy matters when Sessions served as an adviser to Trump's campaign.

The report does not say that that Sessions discussed with the ambassador Russia's interference in the election, and the Department of Justice in a statement responding to the Post report said Sessions had no meetings or discussions with foreign officials "concerning any type of interference" with the U.S. election.

The president also in one of his many tweets Saturday morning brought up his power to issue pardons, apparently in the context of the Russia probe.


Trump's highlighting his power as president to issue pardons comes on the heels of his legal team's assertions that the question of pardons related to the Russia investigation is "not on the table."

"Pardons are not being discussed and are not on the table,” Jay Sekulow, a member of President Trump’s legal team, told ABC News.

Sekulow's comment came in response to a Washington Post report Friday that Trump was asking people on his team about the extent of his ability as president to pardon people in relation to the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the election and possible collusion with members of the Trump campaign.

The president also, in his Twitter rant Saturday, defended his son, Donald Trump Jr., who has come under scrutiny for his meeting with a Russian lawyer during the election, and returned to a campaign theme on alleged wrongs by Hillary Clinton and her associates.

In contrast to President Trump's ongoing criticism of the nation's news media, which he often calls "fake news," former CIA Director John Brennan in his remarks at the Aspen Security Forum on Friday night said a free press is "one of the real foundational pillars" of U.S. democracy and that the intelligence community has a responsibility to defend it.

"The effort to delegitimize the press and the media ... is something that we should not ever allow," said Brennan, who headed the CIA under President Obama. "Part of what the intelligence community's mission was, was to make sure that this great country can have a free and open press. And it's something that we have fought for and many people have died for."

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Saturday
Jul222017

In midst of Russia probe, NSA chief vows: 'I will not violate' my oath to Americans

Zach Gibson/Getty Images(ASPEN, Colo.) -- In unusually passionate and stark terms, the head of the nation’s top spy agency made clear on Saturday in Colorado that he will stand up to anyone -- even the president of the United States -- who asks him to use the U.S. intelligence community as a political prop.

“We are not about particular viewpoints. We are not about particular parties. We just can’t work that way,” National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers said at the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado.

Rogers added that the U.S. intelligence community owes U.S. citizens “honesty and integrity.”

Saturday’s remarks come only months after Rogers and at least two other senior U.S. officials were personally asked by President Trump to publicly rebut news reports laying out details of the federal government’s probe into Russia’s alleged efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Although Rogers has refused to publicly discuss his private conversations with Trump, he has previously vowed to keep politics out of his agency’s work. But his remarks on Saturday at the annual gathering of senior officials, reporters and others tied to the U.S. intelligence community were noteworthy in their intensity and passion.

Punctuating each word -- one by one -- the U.S. Navy admiral said, “I will not violate the oath that I have taken in the 36 years as a commission officer.”

Rogers’ face hardened and his voice cracked as he added: “I won’t do that.”

He went on to say that he often relays this message to his workforce: “We are intelligence professionals. We raise our right hand and we take an oath to defend the citizens of this nation and the values that are embodied in the Constitution …” he said. “Your integrity isn’t worth the price of me or anybody else. You stand up and you remember that oath that we take.”

Rogers’ comments drew a round of applause inside the room.

Nevertheless, Rogers added he has “never been directed to do anything that I felt was illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate. Nor have I felt pressured to do so. Nor would I do so.”

Rogers also said he’s more than willing to offer Trump his assessment even when he knows the president disagrees.

“He has never shut me down,” Rogers said. “He gives me good, direct feedback, sometimes, ‘Mike I don’t agree with that. Mike I’m in a different place than you are.’”

“That’s exactly the way this is supposed to work,” Rogers insisted.

Rogers joined other senior officials at the Aspen Security Forum in affirming the U.S. government’s conclusion that Russia is to blame for a cyber assault on the 2016 election.

“No doubt at all,” Rogers said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Jul222017

Politicians, celebrities react to Sean Spicer’s resignation

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sean Spicer resigned as White House press secretary on Friday, and members of the Trump administration, lawmakers, celebrities and Spicer himself quickly took to Twitter to comment on the move.

Spicer called it "an honor and a privilege" to serve the president and said he would stay on through August.

President Trump made a statement thanking Spicer for his service, which was read by the new White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

“I am grateful for Sean's work on behalf of the administration and the American people. I wish him continued success as he moves on to other opportunities. Just look at his great television ratings. Sean will continue to serve the administration through August," the statement read.

In an interview Friday with ABC Kansas City affiliate KMBC-TV, political reporter Mike Mahoney said to Vice President Mike Pence that Spicer's resignation "sounds like it's a resignation under protest."

Pence responded, "Well, look, Sean Spicer has been a friend of mine for many years. He is a great guy. He served his country in uniform and served this administration in our first 6 months. And I respect his decision to step aside. I just wish him every continued success. And we’re just going to continue at this White House and to continue to focus on the agenda that carried President Trump to victory last fall."

Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director, said of Spicer: "He's a military serviceman, he's got a great family, and he's done a great job," adding that "this is a difficult situation to be in and I applaud his efforts."

For her part, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, tweeted about Spicer before welcoming Scaramucci to the West Wing.

California Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democrat and outspoken critic of the Trump administration, was quick to jump on the news.

Comedians weighed in on Twitter, too.

Host Jimmy Kimmel wrote, saying Spicer should "immediately” write a book.

Stephen Colbert, host of The Late Show on CBS, chimed in too.

Others lamented that Spicer’s departure from the White House meant actress Melissa McCarthy would no longer have the chance to parody him on NBC's “Saturday Night Live.”

Actor George Takei kept his message short and sweet, tweeting: “Spikey out.”

 Some were already suggesting replacements to fill Spicer’s role.

Prominent Black Lives Matter activist Deray Mckesson took Spicer's resignation as an opportunity to address the Trump team, tweeting, “It was clear that Sean Spicer was in over his head from the beginning, just like the entire administration.”

Others suggested they sympathized with Spicer.

David Axelrod, an Obama administration senior adviser, tweeted that Spicer “was in an impossible position from the start, trying to make sense of the nonsensical.”

Chandler Thornton, national chairman of the College Republicans National Committee, tweeted that Spicer "has been one of the strongest and most effective advocates" for Trump.

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