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Friday
Jul192019

Some GOP‪ lawmakers push back on Trump's threats to intervene in possible Amazon contract with DOD

iStock(NEW YORK) -- Top Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee are warning President Donald Trump against intervening in a $10 billion cloud computing contract the Department of Defense (DOD) is considering awarding to Amazon, according to a letter first obtained by ABC News.

"While it is understandable that some of the companies competing for the contract are disappointed at not being selected as one of the finalists, further unnecessary delays will only damage our security and increase the costs of the contract," writes Rep. Mac Thornberry, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Trump suggested Thursday at the White House that he could intervene in the process, which would be an unusual move, especially in light of the attacks Trump has launched against Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Companies who submitted bids for the contract included Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle. Amazon and Microsoft are the finalists, and the DOD is poised to make a decision next month. Amazon is viewed as the favorite to win the contract, but the process has been disputed by the competitors.

“I'm getting tremendous complaints about the contract with the Pentagon and with Amazon," the president said Thursday in the Oval Office. "They're saying it was not competitively bid. This is going a long time, I guess probably before this administration. And we're looking at it very seriously. Great companies that are complaining about it, so we’re going to take a look at it. We'll take a strong look at it.”

Trump has often criticized Bezos, complaining that Amazon takes advantage of the U.S. Postal Service, that the company does not pay enough taxes, and that the Washington Post, which is personally owned by Bezos, covers his administration unfairly.

It is common practice for U.S. companies, especially defense contractors such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, to fight and go to court over massive defense contracts. But it is unusual for a president to become involved in the process.

In the letter, committee members say they are in charge of the process.

"Our committee has conducted oversight of this contract from the beginning," it says.

Not all Republicans agree with Thornberry. Senator Marco Rubio wrote a letter to National Security Advisor John Bolton this week, urging a delay in awarding the contract, because it "suffers from a lack of competition."

"Even though 200 companies were initially interested, DOD instituted such a restrictive criteria that only four companies bid on JEDI. DOD then further used the arbitrary criteria to eliminate two of the bidders, IBM and Oracle, leaving only Amazon and Microsoft," Rubio wrote.

Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) also expressed concerns about the process directly to President Trump while they flew on Air Force One together last week. Johnson has raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest in the process, including the involvement of two DOD employees who may have had connections to one of the competing companies, and has encouraged the DOD Office of the Inspector General to investigate the matter.

"Given the significant amount of taxpayer dollars associated with this particular contract, I respectfully request DOD to delay awarding this contract to any company until DOD OIG completes its investigation," Johnson wrote in a letter to Acting Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jul192019

Julián Castro calls on Puerto Rico governor to resign as mass protests take over San Juan

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As tensions rise in San Juan, Puerto Rico following reports of controversial leaked group chats between Gov. Ricardo Roselló and a number of his advisers and Cabinet members, former Obama administration Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro is the first Democratic presidential candidate to call on Roselló to resign.

“Americans in Puerto Rico are holding Governor @ricardorossello accountable for his disgraceful comments & corruption,” Castro wrote in a tweet Friday. “I stand with the Puerto Ricans in the streets protesting for his resignation. Excessive force against them is not acceptable.”

Castro’s Tweet comes after several of his opponents have expressed solidarity with Puerto Rican protesters, but do not match his calls for a resignation.

Among the candidates who have voiced support of the protestors via tweets, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and author Marianne Williamson.

Castro also told Buzzfeed while at event in Manchester, New Hampshire that he doesn’t “think that Rosselló can be effective anymore…The way they’ve treated the people of Puerto Rico, the administration has treated the people of Puerto Rico, I believe that he should resign."

Castro’s calls for a resignation comes after days of dramatic protests shutting down streets in San Juan, Puerto Rico, with protestors demanding Gov. Roselló give up his seat after a series of leaked group texts released by the Center of Investigative Journalism revealed Roselló and some of his closest advisers and Cabinet members speaking about female politicians and reporters in misogynistic terms and making jokes about the number of dead bodies in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Gov. Roselló has said he will not resign.

On Friday, Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard arrived on the island to join protesters in front of the Governor's Mansion, tweeting that ""Hawaii and Puerto Rico share many of the same experiences and stories. I stand with Puerto Ricans demanding change, who have had enough of government corruption, and who deserve a government of, by, and FOR the people. El pueblo unido jamás será vencido. #RickyRenuncia"

Also on Friday, New York Rep. Nydia Velasquez and Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez called for Roselló’s resignation. Gonzalez is a member of the same political party as Roselló and is the island’s highest-ranking representative in Washington DC.

"It is time to give stability to Puerto Rico so that we can continue the reconstruction that was planned before the events of the last weeks and return the credibility of the government of Puerto Rico before the Federal Capital, the financial markets, tourism and the whole world," Velasquez said in an open letter to Roselló. But more importantly, it is time to give peace to a people who need it so much."

As a representative of the people of Puerto Rico in the federal capital," she continued in the statement. "I cannot marginalize myself from the reality we live. Your leadership has been questioned to direct the destinies of the island, as well as our recovery after the hurricane. When that happens, the government, the state, loses strength in its credibility and legitimacy."

On Thursday, President Donald Trump weighed in on the protests, tweeting “a lot of bad things are happening in Puerto Rico. The Governor is under siege,” before also attacking San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who was the target of some of the misogynistic messages. Cruz has said she is on the side of the protesters.

Back in January, Castro’s first trip as a presidential candidate was to Puerto Rico. While there he criticized the federal government’s response to the crisis following Hurricane Maria. Two other candidates who have visited Puerto Rico this election cycle are Sen. Warren and Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Puerto Rico participates in primary elections, but they do not ultimately vote in the November 2020 presidential election.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jul192019

Michelle Obama named 2019's most admired woman in the world in new poll

Erika Goldring/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Angelina Jolie may be a better actress and director, but Michelle Obama's got her beat in one category -- this year, at least.

The former first lady beat out Jolie as the world's most admired woman in an annual study conducted by online research firm YouGov.

Obama topped the list this year, while Jolie -- who was first last year -- came in third.

Oprah Winfrey was second.

Also included in the top 10 of most admired women are Queen Elizabeth II, actress Emma Watson, activist Malala Yousafzai and chemist Tu Youyou.

First ladies had a good showing on the list: alongside Obama, Hillary Clinton came in eighth, Melania Trump is 19th and Peng Liyuan, a singer and the wife of Chinese President Xi JinPing, is seventh.

World leaders, too, were featured on the list, including Queen Elizabeth II, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May.

On the men's side of things, Microsoft founder Bill Gates came out on top, with Obama's husband, Barack, in second. President Donald Trump is 14th on the men's list, while Russian President Vladimir Putin is 10th.

The men's list also features soccer players Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi at seventh and ninth, respectively.

Unsurprisingly, considering their high placement on the global scale, the Obamas top both the male and female list of most admired people in America alone.

On the men's side, Trump comes second, and on the women's side, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is his parallel. Melania Trump takes third, and Clinton came in eighth.

Just two presidential candidates are featured on either list of America's most admired: former Vice President Joe Biden in sixth and Sen. Bernie Sanders in seventh.

It's been a remarkable 12 months for Obama, whose memoir "Becoming," released last fall, "could be the most successful memoir in history" after selling about 10 million copies, per its publisher, Penguin Random House.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jul192019

2020 candidate John Hickenlooper on 'The View': 'This campaign is wide open'

Sean Rayford/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Former Governor John Hickenlooper told the hosts of The View that, despite low fundraising figures and polling numbers, he believes "this campaign is wide open."

"I think all politics is about how you communicate things...But you don't quit," he said. "You just keep trying to shake things up... I think this campaign is wide open... if I get my message out - I'm the one candidate who's actually done the big progressive things others are talking about."

He launched his 2020 bid appealing to both sides of the Democratic aisle - those on the progressive wing – and moderates in the center field. With a pitch leaning on his Western roots and decades of experience and success as a purple state businessman, mayor and governor – he attracted initial notice for his ability to bring together warring political factions in a state that swings with the Rocky Mountain winds.

But in the wake of a debate performance where his increasingly middling bid was not re-energized by the spark of a breakout moment - polls after saying he failed to stand out on a crowded stage – even after weeks of volleyed barbs with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., over socialism; his staff began to see an uphill trail and a donation jar half-empty. The campaign’s second quarter FEC filings reveal just $1.15 million raised – and, sources familiar with the situation tell ABC News, just about 13,000 donors - about one tenth what’s needed to qualify for the September debate.

Six key aides abruptly left the campaign - sources telling ABC News, growing frustrated after urging him to withdraw and pursue other options - but the former governor would not be deterred.

“I think most people haven't really started paying attention yet,” he said on The View. “If I get focused on my message, I think that I’m the one person out of all the people running is actually done the big progressive things that everyone else is just talking about.”

The next generation of the Hickenlooper campaign presses on as well and says they undaunted by their currently thin financial margins. His new communications director Peter Cunningham told ABC News he’s now focused on sharpening their message – one they feel voters will respond to – Hickenlooper’s proven record of centrist leadership and contrasting accomplishments with aspirations.

"We're trying to find the lane that gets people to pay attention," Cunningham says. "People want fireworks - they want Kamala Harris and Joe Biden arguing about busing. But that's not the number one issue people are voting on."

Hickenlooper worries that the American Dream is at risk and is focused on jobs, the economy and retirement and the candidate feels that he can offer tangible solutions to save that dream in a way that other candidates simply propose.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jul192019

Ilhan Omar gets standing ovation at town hall after Trump attacks

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call(MINNEAPOLIS) -- Congresswoman Ilhan Omar received a warm welcome back home in Minneapolis Thursday, with supporters cheering her on at the airport and at a health care town hall event after a week of racist attacks from President Donald Trump, who told four Democratic congresswomen of color to "go back " to where they came from, and from supporters at a Trump campaign rally, who chanted "send her back" on Wednesday night.

"I know there are a lot of people that are trying to distract us right now, but we are not going to let them," she said at her "Medicare for All" town hall event with Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., after the crowd of 500 constituents and supporters gave her a standing ovation.

"There is no doubt in my mind that we have a great American ... who is shaking up Congress and the United States of America in all the best ways," Jayapal, the author of the House Mediacare for All bill, told the crowd.

More than 100 supporters warmly greeted Omar at the airport. Speaking with a megaphone at baggage claim, Omar teed off on Trump, who attempted to distance himself from his attacks and the cheers at his Wednesday rally.

"Everybody is talking about that he is threatened because we criticize him," she said. "But the reality is that he is threatened because we are inspiring people to dream about a country that recognizes their dignity and humanity."

"We are not deterred, we are not frightened, we are ready," she said. "We are in the ring, we are in the people’s house ... we are going to continue fighting until we have the America we all deserve."

Omar returned home a day after Trump reveled in his feud with the four freshman members, telling the crowd in Greenville, North Carolina: "I said I have a suggestion for the hate-filled extremists who are constantly trying to tear our country down. They never have anything good to say. That's why I say, hey, if they don't like it let them leave. Leave, let them leave."

Three of the women were born in the U.S., and Omar, who came to the U.S. as a refugee when she was a child, has been living in the country since she was 12 years old and is a U.S. citizen. In the 2018 midterm elections, all four women won a popular vote to claim their seats in Congress.

Trump focused on Omar, who was born in Somalia, during the rally, eliciting scattered "send her back" chants from the audience of supporters. The president made no attempt to stop the cheers, though falsely claimed on Thursday that he had attempted to do so and disavowed them.

Omar, who was part of the historic wave of women elected to Congress in 2018, overwhelmingly defeated GOP candidate Jennifer Zielinski for Minnesota's 5th Congressional District seat.

She carried the strongly Democratic district, which sits in the lower eastern region of the state and includes the entire city of Minneapolis, by more than 56 percentage points. In 2016, 73% of voters in the district preferred Hillary Clinton to Trump. Former President Barack Obama also heavily won the district in both 2008 and 2012.

Omar, one of only two Muslim women in Congress, represents a district with a 16% foreign-born population, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Minnesota is home to the largest Somali community, with about 52,333 Minnesotans reporting Somali ancestry in 2017, the second-largest foreign born group in the state. Within the 5th Congressional District, 8% of people report sub-Saharan ancestry, Census data show.

Constituents and supporters at her town hall Thursday night said they were proud of Omar's handling of Trump's attacks.

"I think it’s important we show up in support of Ilhan and also in support of health care," Kava Zawaba, a woman from a neighboring congressional district, told ABC News. "I think she’s incredibly brave."

Musa Said, a city bus driver and constituent who grew up in Trinidad and Sudan, and came to the United States at a young age, called Trump’s attacks "unacceptable" and "racist."

Omar, he said, has handled them "very well" and with "a lot of support."

"She’s fighting for people of lower income, people who have been ignored and who the president has appealed to, but has not delivered," he said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jul192019

Hickenlooper plows onward despite staff shakeup and fundraising issues

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Just two weeks after a major staff exodus from John Hickenlooper's campaign -- six key aides abruptly headed for the door on the heels of a debate performance where the former Colorado governor failed to dazzle -- the former governor, despite fundraising and donor-number issues, is plowing straight ahead.

Among those who left -- his campaign manager, communications director, digital director, New Hampshire political director, national finance director and his deputy finance director -- sources told ABC News aides sat Hickenlooper down after the Democratic National Committee announced requirements for the September debate to discuss with him other options.

But, sources told ABC News, Hickenlooper was undeterred, adding staffers who'd stay the course.

Sources with knowledge of both eras of the campaign said they feel Hickenlooper has chosen the "less graceful route" -- not bowing out at a dignified moment, but scraping it out to the bitter end -- and that those surrounding him won't tell him otherwise.

The plight of Hickenlooper's campaign illustrates a critical question for candidates in a race brimming with contenders: With such an arrhythmic, flavor-of-the-week news cycle, at what point, if at all, should a candidate consistently in the lower polling tiers decide to pull out?

For many candidates "they're 'never say die.' They're people who believe victory is just around the corner -- that it's always darkest before the dawn," expert political analyst Larry Sabato told ABC News. "Now, that doesn't mean they'll stay in forever, because obviously only one is going to be the nominee. But when do they get out? I don't think they decide to get out: It's decided for them: when their money dries up, when they can't pay their staff, they can't pay for travel."

"If they're wealthy like Tom Steyer, I guess that doesn't matter," Sabato added. "But we're not even there yet, because we haven't even had the second debate. They're looking for their moment that they are 'made' -- and then, when that's over, reality is going to sink in with them, their staffers and their donors."

Many candidates have previously won elections before where they were long shots, and they're convinced they can do it again.

"That's what creates the psychology that the press and the pundits and the donors 'don't know what I know,'" Sabato continued. "'I know how to win. I've done it before. They were all wrong before.' And it's hard to argue with that. So they continue running until they run out of fuel."

Hickenlooper's campaign financials reveal he's raised just $1.15 million this quarter, with less than $1 million cash on hand. Sources have told ABC News it's from about 13,000 donors, roughly one-tenth of what's required to qualify for the September debate.

Amid such a wobbly showing, fresh hands now stand at the campaign helm -- steering a "reboot" era.

Peter Cunningham takes the communications wheel vacated by Lauren Hitt. He inherits the "heavy lift" with eyes open about the campaign's threadbare pockets.

"Obviously, we've got a big hill to climb," Cunningham told ABC News. "I didn't pay close attention to the last campaign, so I can't tell you what they did wrong. … It's unequivocal that our polling is low, and our fundraising is low, and we've got to address both. My job is message. And we have to sharpen our message -- we have to get it out."

Connecting with people -- "People start to say, 'He's right,'" Cunningham said of Hickenlooper -- will be key.

Cunningham also told ABC News he won't be the one calling it quits, and he won't lean on Hickenlooper to instead run for the Senate -- positions with which others in the governor's previous campaign era would object.

"I feel in that role, you have a responsibility to really advise someone, regardless of your paycheck," a source familiar with the situation told ABC News. "If you're taking money from someone, I think you need to advise honestly. But there are other consultants who feel it's not their role."

Cunningham said: "That's not up to me -- that's up to him. He asked me to help him run for president, and I'm here to help him run for president."

Hickenlooper's record of success as a businessman, mayor and governor in a purple state still can be leveraged into a stronger run, Cunningham said. The campaign is focusing, at least for now, on Iowa.

"We need to move the polls in Iowa, and that'll get attention outside of Iowa," Cunningham said. "We have to show that we could be viable in Iowa. And Iowa's not far from Colorado -- it's a big rural state, got a big rural segment, practically speaking. We're not able to compete in that many states right now, so if we can move the numbers there, then I think we can make a difference."

"People want fireworks," Cunningham continued. "They want Kamala Harris and Joe Biden arguing about busing. But that's not the number one issue people are voting on."

More people care about jobs, the economy, retirement, he said.

Sources with firsthand knowledge of the campaign bankroll -- and staff -- don't know how the campaign will afford the road ahead -- in Iowa, or beyond. A source familiar with the situation told ABC News several more staffers have left the campaign in recent weeks -- first deputies, a financial staffer and two digital staffers.

"There aren't a whole lot of people left," the source said. "Many are people who just want to stay in Denver, and want to end things on good terms."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jul192019

Trump to nominate Eugene Scalia as new secretary of labor

Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump announced that Eugene Scalia, son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, is his pick to become the next secretary of labor.

The president made the announcement via Twitter on Thursday night, praising Eugene Scalia's work as a lawyer and in the field of labor.

The president's announcement of Scalia to fill the post comes less than a week after the president announced that Alexander Acosta had submitted his resignation as labor secretary amid a firestorm over a prior plea deal Acosta secured for disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.

The announcement came after Scalia was spotted at the White House on Thursday. An aide familiar with the search process confirmed that Scalia was there to interview for the job as labor secretary and that the president extended the job offer directly to Scalia earlier in the day before the announcement on Twitter.

A person familiar with the matter said that Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton recommended Scalia as a possibility for the post to the president earlier the week, and that the president liked the idea. Cotton also consulted with his acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and White House counsel Pat Cipollone on Scalia, according to the aide, and all three men were present for Scalia's interview with the president on Thursday.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jul182019

Biden v. Harris, Sanders v. Warren at next Democratic debates in Detroit

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Democratic National Committee announced Wednesday which of the 25 Democratic presidential candidates will be participating in the second Democratic primary debates set for July 30 and 31 in Detroit.

Only 20 candidates in the large primary field will debate on stage over the two nights, a cap previously set by the DNC. On Thursday, CNN, the network hosting the debates, announced the lineups for each night as well as the podium placements based on polling during a live drawing.

The candidates appearing on the first night of the debate, on July 30, with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the center of the stage, are:

  • Marianne Williamson
  • Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan
  • Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
  • South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg
  • Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders
  • Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren
  • Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke
  • Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper
  • Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney
  • Montana Gov. Steve Bullock

The candidates appearing on the second night of the debate, on July 31, with former Vice President Joe Biden and California Sen. Kamala Harris in the center of the stage, are:

  • Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet
  • New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
  • Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro
  • New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • California Sen. Kamala Harris
  • Andrew Yang
  • Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
  • New York Mayor Bill de Blasio

This will be Bullock's debut on the Democratic debate stages, after failing to qualify for the first debates in Miami at the end of June. California Rep. Eric Swalwell, who dropped out of the race on July 8, was the 20th candidate on stage for the first debates.

The candidates who will not be debating on either night are former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, Miramar, Florida Mayor Wayne Messam, Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak and Tom Steyer, the billionaire activist who entered the race just over a week ago.

CNN also announced on Wednesday the randomization of their live drawing on Thursday at 8 p.m.

The candidates will be split into tiers before the live drawing, with the first draw including 10 candidates (Bennet, Bullock, de Blasio, Delaney, Gabbard, Gillibrand, Hickenlooper, Inslee, Ryan and Williamson), the second including six candidates (Booker, Buttigieg, Castro, Klobuchar, O'Rourke and Yang) and the final draw including the four polling frontrunners (Biden, Harris, Sanders and Warren).

CNN and the DNC decided on this methodology, based on polling, "to ensure support for the candidates is evenly spread across both nights," according to CNN and DNC officials.

CNN also reported that to determine the lineups for both nights, each candidate's name will appear on a card and will be placed into one box, and another box will hold cards with the date of each night. A CNN anchor will pick a card from both the first and second boxes for each drawing. Once every candidate is matched with one of the two nights of debates, the network will announce the podium positions for each night, according to public polling.

The DNC announced in February that candidates could qualify by either meeting a grassroots fundraising threshold or polling threshold. The only candidate who met one threshold but will not be on stage is Gravel, who met the grassroots fundraising threshold by achieving more than 65,000 unique donors. In announcing the ways to qualify, however, the DNC explicitly said the polling threshold would take primacy over the grassroots fundraising threshold.

The debates aren't just an opportunity for candidates to pitch their campaigns to voters as they try to break out among the crowded field, but a chance to make a splash on stage that leads to an increase in donations, which some of the lower tier candidates need after spending more money than they raised in the second quarter of 2019, according to reports filed to the Federal Election Commission Monday.

On the heels of last month's debates, some candidates touted strong fundraising hauls, and a couple saw a bump in polls.

In two recently published polls conducted after the debates, Warren had 19% support among Democratic voters, one of her best showings in polls in the early months of the campaign.

During the second night of debates on June 27, Harris saw a breakout moment when she took on Biden over his comments on working with segregationists, which he has since apologized for, and his stance against busing to integrate schools decades ago, telling a personal story of being bused.

Her campaign said the California senator raised $2 million in the 24 hours following the debate, the most in a single day since her campaign launch. She also saw some of her highest poll numbers since the start of the cycle, with 20% support in a Quinnipiac national poll conducted right after the debates and 23% support in a Quinnipiac California poll released Monday.

Another candidate who sparred with a competitor on stage was Castro, during a heated exchange with fellow Texan Beto O'Rourke, in which he called out the former congressman's stance on decriminalizing border crossings.

In a press release Monday, Castro's campaign said he raised $1.1 million of his $2.8 million haul between April and June in the four days following the debates.

Candidates won't debate again until September, when ABC News, in partnership with Univision, hosts the third primary debates in Houston on Sept. 12 and 13. These debates, and the debates in October, which the DNC hasn't announced a date for yet, have more stringent qualifying guidelines. Candidates must meet both the polling and the individual donor threshold, requiring candidates get at least 2% support in four DNC-approved polls and at least 130,000 individual donors over the course of the election cycle, with a minimum of 400 unique donors per state in at least 20 states.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jul182019

Trump administration invokes privilege again, blocks intel committee from classified Mueller docs, sources say

Marina Imasheva/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Trump administration has been quietly engaged in an escalating tug-of-war with the House and Senate intelligence committees over sensitive documents from the special counsel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, the latest in a series of attempts to stymie Congress, including with claims of executive privilege, sources have told ABC News.

“The scope of confidentiality interests being asserted by the executive branch is breathtaking,” said Andrew M. Wright, an expert on executive privilege who served as a congressional investigator and as a White House attorney in two Democratic administrations. As is “the lack of accommodation and compromise,” he added.

Members of the Senate intelligence committee sent a letter in mid-April to the CIA and other covert agencies asking them to share copies of all the materials they had provided to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team over the course of their 22-month investigation, according to sources familiar with the request. The requests were referred by the intelligence agencies to the Department of Justice, which has custody of all of the records gathered as part of the Mueller probe.

Though Mueller’s report does not discuss the classified intelligence gathered during the investigation, congressional investigators believe the team was given access to a range of materials that could include intercepts, secretive source interviews, and material shared by the spy agencies of other foreign governments.

More than three months later, the attorney general’s office has still not produced them. Sources told ABC News that Justice Department officials have argued that they are, for now, shielded by the same blanket privilege they initially asserted in response to a subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee for the entire trove of special counsel records.

Trump administration attorneys declined to comment on the matter, and the Department of Justice has not responded to questions. Experts said the response was part of a pattern.

A spokesman for the House Intelligence Committee said the DOJ did produce a subset of underlying documents related to the special counsel’s investigation to their members for review, “although it has failed in recent weeks, despite repeated requests, to produce key materials central to the Committee’s oversight work.”

The House committee said Justice Department lawyers did not invoke privilege with them when refusing the requests. “None would be warranted given the Committee's jurisdiction,” a committee spokesman said. “The Committee remains engaged with DOJ to ensure it complies fully and completely with the Committee's duly authorized subpoena.”

Experts have been monitoring the conflict between branches as it has escalated.

“The way the administration has been using executive privilege has been extraordinary,” said Steven Schwinn, a professor at the John Marshall Law School and a co-founder and co-editor of the Constitutional Law Prof Blog. “It’s a level of non-cooperation with Congress that has been striking. We’ve never seen it to this degree.”

Congress and the White House have been locked in a range of disputes over records and testimony that the administration has withheld – covering a variety of subjects that includes the president’s personal finances, his tax returns and the administration’s policy on the census. Just Wednesday, the Democratic-controlled House voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt over their refusal to produce documents concerning the addition of a citizenship question to the census.

In May, the Trump administration invoked executive privilege for the first time in response to the request from Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, for the un-redacted Mueller report and the entire trove of investigative documents.

“Faced with Chairman Nadler’s blatant abuse of power, and at the attorney general’s request, the president has no other option than to make a protective assertion of executive privilege,” then-White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said at the time.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at the time that members of Congress were exercising their proper authority to review the Mueller material on behalf of their constituents.

“This is not about Congress or any committee of Congress,” Pelosi told ABC News at the time. “It’s about the American people and their right to know and their election that is at stake and that a foreign government intervened in our election and the president thinks it is a laughing matter.”

This latest stalemate – over sensitive materials gathered in connection with the 2016 elections -- has frustrated leaders on the intelligence committees, sources told ABC News. In part, that is because the committees have sweeping oversight powers when it comes to the secretive agencies. The National Security Act says “congressional intelligence committees [must] be kept fully and currently informed of all intelligence activities.”

The congressional committees have invoked such powers during a range of sensitive probes. Congress fought for and received intelligence documents during its investigation into the Iran-Contra affair during the late 1980s. And more recently, the senate prevailed during a review of allegations that the agencies engaged in torture during the interrogation of terror suspects. After a protracted fight, the senate received the documents and drafted its scathing report.

One Trump administration source familiar with the matter told ABC News that the stand-off is temporary – with the response to the intelligence committee on hold until the Department of Justice finishes releasing Mueller-related materials to the Judiciary Committee.

In early June, the DOJ and House Judiciary Committee reached an agreement allowing committee members access to some of the documents that underpinned Mueller's investigation of possible obstruction of justice by President Trump. Members and some committee staff were also allowed to see a less-redacted version of the full Mueller report, with the exception of grand jury material that was included.

The DOJ is in the midst of reviewing the special counsel documents, and under an agreement with the Judiciary Committee, has pledged to turn over documents they believe do not run afoul of their assertions of privilege.

As the review process for the House Judiciary Committee grinds forward, an administration official familiar with the effort said that may free up some of the documents in the subset of materials requested by the intelligence committees. But, the source said, the intelligence request will have to wait until the negotiations with Judiciary are resolved.

Congressional sources told ABC News they believe Justice Department officials have no grounds to hold the intelligence records, and are merely stalling.

Experts said the stand-offs between branches of government may ultimately force the third branch of government – the judiciary – to get involved.

“A lot of it is going to get resolved in court,” said Wright, the expert on executive privilege who served in two Democratic administrations. “But some may only get resolved at the ballot box.”

This story has been updated to reflect the addition of a statement from the House Intelligence Committee saying that the Department of Justice did not invoke executive privilege in denying material to their members. The committee spokesman said there are materials that the Department still has not shared.

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Thursday
Jul182019

In wake of 'send her back' Trump rally chants, Democrats reframe 2020 race as fight for the identity of the country

Zach Gibson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --  In the middle of one of the most rancorous weeks in the race for the White House, fueled by President Donald Trump's own racist rhetoric telling four Democratic congresswomen of color to "go back " to where they came from, the field of 2020 Democratic presidential contenders are drawing battle lines for the general election election to come focusing on a message of morality.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said that watching Trump's rally took him back to his parent's time to the language used by late Alabama governor and presidential candidate George Wallace, who proudly advocated for segregation and against the civil rights movement.

Booker, in an interview with The Washington Post Live on Thursday, said the 2020 election is about more than Trump.

"The referendum in this election is not on one guy in one office," he said. "The referendum in this election is a referendum on who we are, and who we are going to be to each other, and if we can get back to seeing each other with a more courageous empathy, we can have a revival of civic grace and create a new American majority."

In many ways, he was summing up a sentiment seemingly shared by the Democratic presidential hopefuls, who often squabble over policy differences on the trail but appear united as they confront Trump over his divisive comments.

The undercurrent of the brawl tees up an election fight that is, as Booker said, not only a referendum on Trump's presidency but on the identity of the country.

Booker's comments came after the president amplified his attacks from the weekend at a campaign rally Wednesday night in Greenville, North Carolina, in which he told the four freshman members to "go back" to their home countries, telling the fervent crowd, "I said I have a suggestion for the hate-filled extremists who are constantly trying to tear our country down. They never have anything good to say, that's why I say, hey, if they don't like it let them leave. Leave, let them leave."

Three of the women were born in the U.S., and Omar, who came to the U.S. as a refugee as a child, has been living in the country since she was 12 years old and is a U.S. citizen. In the 2018 midterm elections, all four women won the popular vote to claim their seats in Congress.

Trump continued to dig in on his home turf, inflaming tensions as he targeted the cohort of lawmakers, known as the "squad," and particularly Somali-born Omar.

"Omar blamed the United States for the crisis in Venezuela," Trump said, eliciting scattered "send her back" chants from the audience of supporters. "I mean, think of that one. And she looks down with contempt on the hard working Americans saying that ignorance is pervasive in many parts of this country."

The cheers from the crowd grew louder as Trump continued: "And obviously and importantly, Omar has a history of launching vicious anti-Semitic screeds."

The chants, which hearken back to calls of "lock her up" during the 2016 election that are still invoked among some Trump supporters even as a new parade of Democrats are challenging him for the White House in 2020, echo the tenor of Trump's Sunday tweets, in which he wrote, "Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came."

Amidst a steady stream of backlash from Democrats and Republicans on Thursday, the president has since disavowed the chants, telling reporters in the Oval Office he "was not happy with it" and "I disagree with it."

While this most recent campaign rally provided Trump with a platform to energize his base, ahead of a tough re-election fight, it also presented an opportunity for the Democrats, who have tried to cast 2020 as a battle for the "soul" of the country, to fill what they see as a moral void in leadership under the current administration.

"It is not what you want our president to be," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said on Capitol Hill Thursday. "He is doing this to distract people. He's doing it to invigorate a band of people that support him... This is not leadership. This is using people as political pawns."

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., one of the two women of color running for president, said, "The chant was created not by the crowd, but by the president's tweets."

"It is clearly not a sign of real leadership ... Contrast it with a real American leader like John McCain, who during the campaign in 2008, he stood up, he spoke up ... He understood as an American hero that the voice of someone who wants to be, much less is the president of the United States, must be a voice that is about elevating discourse, that is about speaking to our better selves," she added.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who said in the announcement video launching his candidacy, "we are in the battle for the soul of this nation," condemned the president's remarks during a gaggle with reporters in Los Angeles Wednesday.

"This is a game. This about dividing the country. This is about dividing and raising the issue of racism across the country. Because that’s his base. That’s what he’s pushing," he said, before adding, "Mr. President condemn, outright condemn those folks that came out of those fields. Outright condemn the Ku Klux Klan. Outright condemn white supremacists. Let me hear you say, I condemn them."

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said on MSNBC that being an American citizen is an honor, and said he believes there's a responsibility that comes with that to "protect... the most treasured thing we have" in America, which is "building a new nation every day with people from around the world."

"We should continue that tradition."

Before taking off North Carolina Wednesday afternoon, Trump asserted to reporters he was "winning the political fight" in his fight with the four progressive Democrats, because he claimed they are not "espousing the views our country."

"We have never seen a President use this kind of racist language in modern times, and the only other Presidential candidate to talk even closely in these terms was George Wallace," said ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd said, reiterating Booker.

Dowd, though, said the president's rhetoric benefits the Democrats vying to take on Trump in 2020, and those in Congress.

"It allows them to consolidate their base voters with solid support behind them, and it offends the swing voters who will be key for the presidential and congressional elections in 2020," he told ABC News. "Absent a deteriorating economy, Trump’s base of 40% is solidly behind him, but he continues to not expand to voters above that which is problematic in 2020."

Earlier on Thursday, Biden said the Democratic nominee must "be the opposite of what (Trump) is."

"I said when I announced my candidacy... that I was running to restore the soul of this country, and I was being literal, not figurative," he said.

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