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Tuesday
Aug142018

WH press secretary: Can't offer 'guarantee' there is no N-word recording 

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Tuesday that she could not offer a "guarantee" that the president has never been recorded using the N-word.

"I can't guarantee anything," Sanders said when asked to rule out that such a recording exists. "I can tell you the president addressed this question directly. I can tell you I have never heard it. I can tell you if myself or the people in this building serving this country every single day doing our very best to help people all across this country and make it better, if at any point we felt that the president was who some of his critics claim him to be, we certainly wouldn't be here."

During the White House press briefing, she referred reporters to the president’s own tweet where he claims the word is not in his vocabulary.

Sanders also disputed that there’s a pattern of the president insulting African-Americans, casting the president as an "equal opportunity" attacker.

"This has absolutely nothing to do with race and everything to do with the president calling out someone's lack of integrity... the fact is the president's an equal opportunity person that calls things like he sees it. He always fights fire with fire and he doesn't hold back," she said as she defended the president for "voicing his frustration" with Omarosa Manigault Newman.

Earlier in the day, Trump fired off an incendiary tweet at his former aide who has written in her new book, "Unhinged," that a tape exists of Trump using the N-word from his days on "The Apprentice."

"When you give a crazed, crying lowlife a break, and give her a job at the White House, I guess it just didn’t work out. Good work by General Kelly for quickly firing that dog!" Trump tweeted.

Asked by ABC News' Jonathan Karl during the press briefing why the president would hire someone who he now describes in such terms and whether his language is appropriate, Sanders defended the president for "voicing his frustration" and described his decision to hire her as generous.

"The president wanted to give her a chance," Sanders told Karl. "And he made clear when General Kelly came on and he voiced concerns that this individual didn't have the best interests of the White House and the president and the country at heart, the president said do what you can to get along. If you can't, he gave him full authority to carry out the decision to let her go."

The president's tweet came after he denied claims of racism made late Monday by Manigault Newman.

Appearing on MSNBC Tuesday, Manigault Newman responded to Trump's name-calling.

"If he says that publicly, what would he say privately? He has no respect of women and African-American women and having the chief of staff lock me up for two and a half hours to harass me and tell me that things can be ugly for me and there is damage for my reputation. He is unfit to be in this office and to be serving as the president of the United States."

Another taped conversation

Manigault Newman also released yet another recording Tuesday morning that she says records a conference call among several Trump campaign aides in which she has said the group discussed how they would deal with the potential fallout of the release of any N-word tape.

Describing a clip she provided to CBS, Manigault Newman said on CBS "This Morning" that the call contradicted denials recently issued by former Trump campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson and former campaign aide Lynne Patton, who in their most recent statements disputed Manigault Newman's previous descriptions of the call.

In the audio, Pierson can be heard saying she wanted more info on how the word might have been used so they could "maybe try to figure a way to spin it."

Patton then recalled how she personally asked the president about the existence of the audio and said Trump denied it, though Patton added that Trump still asked, "Why don’t you just go ahead and put it to bed?"

Soon after in the conversation, Pierson can be heard saying, "He said it [the N-word]. No, he said it. He’s embarrassed."

But no officials on the call, including Manigault Newman, say they have personally heard the audio of the alleged tape.

Both Patton and Pierson Tuesday issued a joint statement in response to the audio release, arguing it does not contradict their previous denials.

But the joint statement does not directly address the portion of the recording where Pierson is heard saying the president "said it" and was "embarrassed."

Trump goes on the defensive

Trump has spent much of the past two days attacking the former "Apprentice" star after Manigault Newman leaked a recording of her firing by Chief of Staff John Kelly on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday. Trump said Monday he spoke to "Apprentice" producer Mark Burnett, and claimed Burnett said no tapes exist of Trump using "that word."

"I don't have that word in my vocabulary and never have. She made it up," Trump tweeted.

There was some confusion over whether Manigault Newman had actually heard him use the word on tape or whether someone made the claim to her. She attempted to clear up that discrepancy -- in her book she says she didn't hear it herself -- when she said she heard him use the N-word after the book had gone to press.

Trump counselor offers an explanation

Talking to White House reporters on the North Lawn driveway Tuesday, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, suggested she had actually briefed the president during the campaign regarding the possible release of an N-word tape.

"It was my job to tell the president every rumor, innuendo, fact, fiction," Conway said.

Trump, after calling her a "low-life" a day earlier, referred to Manigault Newman as "deranged" in Monday's tweets.

Manigault Newman released audio of her conversation with Kelly Sunday and then followed that up by releasing a conversation with Trump himself on Monday's "Today" show. She played just a brief clip -- not independently verified by NBC -- in which the president seemed surprised by her exit and said he was not responsible.

It's unclear whether Manigault Newman recorded any other conversations during her time at the White House when she was the most senior African-American in the West Wing.

Trump has been accused of racist behavior many times over the past two years since he took office. He has been accused of racial insensitivity in everything from his criticism of NFL players' protests to LeBron James' intelligence and his statement that there were "very fine people on both sides" at the Charlottesville riots in August 2017.

Two days ago, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., told ABC News' "This Week" that the president's words on racism "ring hollow."

"He has not gone far enough," Cummings said. "I think it's a low bar for the president of the United States to simply say he's against racism. He's got to do better than that."

Trump counselor Conway appeared on the same show Sunday and said she wouldn't be working for Trump if he were racist.

"I have never a single time heard him use a racial slur about anyone,” Conway said. “I also never heard Omarosa complain that he had done that, and so the only thing that's changed is that she's now selling books."

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Tuesday
Aug142018

Defense Department's top spokesperson under investigation for misusing staff for personal reasons

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon’s Inspector General is investigating the Defense Department's top spokesperson for the possible misuse of her authority for personal purposes.

Two U.S. officials confirm that the Department of Defense's Inspector General is investigating Dana White, the chief spokesperson for the DOD, for potential misconduct of misusing her authority for personal reasons.

The allegations were made by former staffers who worked for White and have been reassigned within the department.

CNN was first to report the existence of the investigation.

One U.S. official said among the allegations being made against White are that she asked staffers to make personal errands and purchases, get her dry cleaning from the Pentagon's dry cleaner and drive her to work at least a dozen times, including on snow days. One staffer was asked to assist in the adoption of a foster child.

The allegations also note that staffers who raised complaints were reassigned. Government ethics rules strictly forbid the use of government staff for personal reasons.

"This is an ongoing review about which we cannot comment," said Charlie Summers, the principal deputy assistant to the secretary for public affairs

When Dana White was asked by a TV network pool reporter in Argentina about the investigation, she deferred to the statement from Summers and would not add an additional comment. White is in Argentina traveling with Defense Secretary James Mattis, who is carrying out official visits to South American countries.

"The DOD IG does not deny or acknowledge the existence of an investigation," said Bruce Anderson, a spokesman for the DOD IG, when asked for comment .

Typically the Inspector General's office does not comment on ongoing investigations.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Aug142018

White House sources: Special counsel’s team never requested to speak with Omarosa Manigault Newman while she was a White House staffer

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sources close to the White House tell ABC News that the team that worked with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office for interviews with Trump administration employees never had Omarosa Manigault-Newman on their list and the special counsel never requested to speak with her while she a White House staffer.

Sources go on to tell ABC News as far as the White House is aware she never met with the special counsel during that time. Mueller’s team contacted the Trump legal team anytime they had a request to speak with an administration member.

The White House announced Manigault Newman's departure Dec. 13.

Earlier in the day, Manigault Newman claimed on MSNBC that she has been interviewed by the special counsel’s office.

It’s unclear when that alleged interview would have happened.

The special counsel has not responded to an ABC News request for comment.

This is a developing story. Please refresh for details.


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Tuesday
Aug142018

Omarosa: Trump trying to 'silence me'; campaign files arbitration and alleges she violated nondisclosure

Michael Reynolds - Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Apprentice contestant turned White House aide Omarosa Manigault- Newman says her former boss, President Donald Trump is trying to "silence" her.

Her latest comments come on the heels of his campaign filing arbitration against the reality tv star on Tuesday morning in New York for allegations that she violated her non-disclosure agreement with the Trump campaign.

"I don't believe that I have violated, but I will leave it to the lawyers to sort it out," she told MSNBC. "It is interesting that he is trying to silence me. And what is he trying to hide or (is) afraid of? If he had not said anything that is derogatory or demeaning to African-Americans and women, why would he go to the extent to shut me down?"

In a statement to ABC News, a senior Trump campaign official confirmed to ABC News the: “Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. has filed an arbitration against Manigault-Newman with the American Arbitration Association in New York City, for breach of her 2016 confidentiality agreement with the Trump Campaign. President Trump is well known for giving people opportunities to advance in their careers and lives over the decades, but wrong is wrong, and a direct violation of an agreement must be addressed and the violator must be held accountable.”

Like all employees of the Trump presidential campaign, Manigault-Newman was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. That agreement, as described by a source familiar with its contents, tells ABC News it sought to protect the president, the Trump family, Trump Organization.

In her new book, “Unhinged”, Manigault-Newman says she was offered a position in the Trump 2020 re-election campaign but was asked to sign another non-disclosure agreement. A source familiar with that agreement tells ABC News the difference between the previous agreement she signed and the new one was that this new agreement included Vice President Mike Pence and his family.

ABC News has reached out to Manigault-Newman for response.

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Tuesday
Aug142018

Manafort attorneys opt to skip defense, proceed to closing arguments

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(ALEXANDRIA, Va) -- Attorneys for Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who is on trial for financial crimes in federal district court Alexandria, Virginia, will not call additional witnesses to present a defense.

“The defense rests,” Manafort’s lead attorney Kevin Downing said in court on Tuesday.

Government prosecutors from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office rested their case on Monday, so without a defense, the jury is expected to begin deliberations following closing arguments.

Legal experts told ABC News this strategy is common but risky.

“This is very common after prosecution rests to file a motion saying they didn’t meet the burden beyond a reasonable doubt,” said former homeland security official and ABC New contributor John Cohen. “Typically, this doesn’t work.”

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



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Tuesday
Aug142018

Governors' races take on an understated but outsize role in 2018 landscape

Bob Falcetti/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Less than three months out from the first major election since the inauguration of President Donald Trump, much of the national focus remains on high-profile U.S. Senate and House races that could determine control of Congress.

But while millions of dollars pour into those important congressional races, voters in 36 states will choose governors this year, including 26 currently under Republican control. That has Democrats hoping for a resurgence on the state level in places where they’ve been pushed out of power.

The wide range of gubernatorial contests has seen Democrats looking to expand the map into red states where they have not been competitive for years. At the same time, Republicans are looking for unique opportunities to pick up seats in states that may tilt blue in presidential years but trend purple in off-year and statewide races.

Following the 2008 elections, the Democratic Party held 32 governorships. In the aftermath of the Republican wave election of 2010, the balance of power in governorships was flipped, and the GOP took control of 32 seats nationwide, a dramatic shift that has endured for the rest of the decade.

Wisconsin a test case for Democratic inroads
Republicans have total control of half of the state legislatures across the country and make up 56 percent of state legislators, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Democrats are eyeing an end to the GOP dominance on the state level this cycle, a road that runs through states like Wisconsin, where the party views Gov. Scott Walker, who is running for a third full term, as particularly vulnerable.

"In Wisconsin, Scott Walker is right. He is in deep, deep trouble. It is very difficult to see how he survives," Democratic Governors Association Chairman Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington State told ABC News.

A recent NBC News/Marist poll showed Walker trailing Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, one of eight Democrats competing in Tuesday’s primary to take on Walker in November, by 13 points.

 

Other Democratic contenders in the crowded and complicated primary include former state lawmaker Kelda Roys, the African-American leader of a state firefighter union Mahlon Mitchell, former state Democratic Party chair Matt Flynn, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and state lawmaker Kathleen Vineout. Whoever emerges from the crowd Tuesday has a tall task in unseating Walker, who alongside the state GOP has built a powerful infrastructure in the state that has allowed him to win two full terms and survive a recall election in 2012.

That a state like Wisconsin, which has trended red in recent cycles and in 2016 sided with the Republican nominee for president for the first time since 1984, is in play for Democrats this year shows the breadth of the opportunity they see for pickups on the state level.

Democrats view the Midwest as a particularly fertile ground to pick up governorships this cycle. In addition to Wisconsin, the open seat races in Michigan and Iowa are possible pickup opportunities. In Illinois, GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner is viewed as the most vulnerable Republican in the country, and Democrats are hoping that the deep pockets of Hyatt hotel chain heir J.B. Pritzker will help them take back control of the governor’s mansion.

There are 15 governorships currently held by Republicans that the University of Virginia (UVA) Center for Politics rates as either "Lean Republican" or "Toss-up," giving Democrats a vital opportunity to rebuild their strength at the state level.

"This year’s midterm is absolutely critical to regaining Democrat strength in governorships and also state legislative seats, where Democrats lost well over 900 during Obama’s two terms as president," Larry Sabato, director of the UVA Center for Politics, told ABC News. "Redistricting is coming up in 2021-22, and most of the people elected this year will be in office then. Democrats got skunked in 2011-2012 in redrawing the lines, and they can’t afford to let that happen again."

"With 26 GOP governorships on the chopping block and only 9 Democratic ones, this is the exact mirror of the Senate elections," Sabato added. "Just as Democrats are disadvantaged in the Senate by having to defend so much territory, so too are Republicans in the governorships."

Other key pickup opportunities for Democrats include blue states like Maine and New Mexico, where term-limited GOP governors are likely to give way to well-funded and established Democratic candidates. In Maine, Democrats nominated state Attorney General Janet Mills, who has the chance to be the first female governor in its history, and in New Mexico Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham is looking to succeed GOP Gov. Susana Martinez.

Democrats are also hoping to compete in redder states where a favorable national political environment could help push compelling candidates over the top. States like Georgia, where Stacey Abrams is aiming to become the nation’s first female African-American governor, Kansas, where a bitter GOP primary may drag on for weeks in a recount, and South Dakota, where state lawmaker Billie Sutton is running as a "prairie populist," hoping to appeal to the state’s overwhelmingly conservative electorate.

But despite the Democratic optimism, there are still states where Republicans see opportunities to go on offense.

GOP sees opportunity in 'purple' territory

Democrats' strategy of exploiting Trump's unpopularity to energize voters might be creating gains in some red states, but in historically blue states, a changing of the guard might be coming.

Connecticut and Minnesota voters are less than 24 hours away from shaping the ballot for the next chief executive, and with the specter of a blue wave looming over the GOP across the country, Democrats in these states are contending with a similar, deeply troubling reality: Republicans taking back the governorship.

The Nutmeg State has not supported a Republican nominee for president since 1988 and Democrats hold a tight grip on federal offices: Both Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal and all five congressional representatives are Democrats. In the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes, the GOP has not won a statewide election in over a decade, both U.S. Senators are Democrats, and Democratic House members outnumber their Republican counterparts 5-3.

But there is growing optimism for the Republican Party at the state level, where Connecticut’s state Senate is evenly tied and Democrats are defending a slim 9-seat majority in the state House, and the GOP controls both chambers of Minnesota's state legislature. It wasn’t that long ago that the top office in either of these states was held by a Republican -- former Gov. Jodi Rell in Connecticut who preceded Malloy before he was elected in 2010, and former Minnesota governor and now-candidate Tim Pawlenty in 2011.

In a state in which among registered voters, Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 5 to 3, Connecticut is shifting from a deep blue towards purple in the Trump era, and in a strong signal of the state’s dissatisfaction with a stagnant economy and Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy -- who is not seeking re-election -- the race for the state’s top office is a toss-up.

Five Republican contenders are seizing on the opening to succeed Malloy: Bob Stefanowski, Stephen Obsitnik and David Stemerman are all political outsiders coming from the upper echelons of the private sector; and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, the GOP-endorsed candidate, and former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst, are tethering their candidacies to their experience in local politics.

The GOP primary echoes a reappearing theme this cycle, one that is splitting the party in races with a crowded field: voters must choose between establishment, politically experienced candidates and Washington outsiders that bring a 2016 Trump-like style to the trail.

Tapping into the more rural, blue-collar parts of the state that better reflect Trump country than the Golden Coast, the Republicans have focused on blaming Malloy for the current state of the economy and promising a comeback for Connecticut by embracing the president’s agenda.

On the Democratic side, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim is challenging Greenwich-based cable television executive, Ned Lamont, who secured the party’s endorsement in May. Ganim is no stranger to underdog status -- he made a stunning return to Connecticut politics in 2015 when he was elected to a sixth term as mayor after serving seven years in prison for corruption.

Making the case for his candidacy, Ganim said in a statement to ABC News, "It is important for Democrats to pick a candidate to run for governor who connects with ordinary working people in the state of Connecticut and I am that candidate."

But Lamont is confident that he will be successful as the outsider candidate Tuesday.

"I think we're in a pretty strong position but I have to earn it every second," Lamont told ABC News. "We're gonna come in as an outsider, a problem-solver who makes the changes to get Connecticut moving again."

Yet some political experts are wary about the Democrats' grip on the state.

"You wouldn’t expect Connecticut to vote for a Republican," said Geoffrey Skelley at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "However, Malloy is really unpopular."

Halfway across the country, in another staunchly blue state, is a toss-up race and possible Democratic anomaly in 2018. Minnesota’s gubernatorial contest to succeed sitting Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton is turning into an opportunity for Republicans to capture the governorship. Leading that effort is presumptive front-runner Pawlenty.

After serving two terms as governor from 2003-2011 and launching a comeback bid for his old job, the former governor and presidential candidate is using name recognition and a deep chest of fundraising cash to fuel Republican energy.

Pawlenty, who skipped the Republican convention, is also hinging his hopes on the Trump factor. Hillary Clinton won the state narrowly in 2016, by less than 2 percentage points.

Pawlenty faced a few stumbles early on, including losing the party’s endorsement to Jeff Johnson, the 2014 Republican nominee. But he is still favored in Tuesday’s primary, according to the NBC News/Marist poll, which puts him in the lead by 15 points.

A lot is at stake for Democrats to stem a "red wave" in this liberal stronghold, as the next governor will be involved in redrawing Minnesota’s congressional map for the next decade after the 2020 census, possibly reshaping the balance of power in Congress.

The Democratic field is a tight three-way fight between Rep. Erin Murphy, who clinched the party’s endorsement, Rep. Tim Walz and the more moderate Attorney General Lori Swanson.

According to the NBC News/Marist poll, the top two contenders are neck-in-neck: Swanson captures 28 percent support from registered voters, compared to Walz’s 27 percent. State Rep. Erin Murphy trails with only 13 percent of voters.

With a strong candidate at the top of the ticket in what is expected to be a competitive general election race, Minnesota Republicans may have a fighting chance to propel Pawlenty to the governor’s mansion.

Victories are looking more and more possible for Republicans, who are targeting governorships in Alaska, Minnesota, and Connecticut, according to Sabato.

"Realistically, that’s their playing field," he said.

Connecticut and Minnesota are in the GOP’s crosshairs, and these deep blue states represent outliers for Democrats this cycle. But voters will ultimately decide who lands on the general ballot, and usher in a fierce yet uncertain November.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Aug142018

Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont and Wisconsin head to the polls as primary season continues

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Voters in Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont and Wisconsin head to the polls Tuesday as primary season slowly begins to give way to what promises to be a highly competitive general election in races across the country.

Governorships and U.S. Senate seats are up in all four states holding primaries, and both parties are again watching to see which candidates emerge victorious and advance to November. A combined 22 U.S. House seats are also at stake in the states voting Tuesday, many of which could factor heavily into the balance of power in Congress' lower chamber this fall.

Here's a look at some of the key storylines and races the ABC News Politics team will be watching on Tuesday.

Wisconsin a political barometer of the Midwest

Donald Trump's 2016 victory in Wisconsin was the first for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984, and now the state faces yet another test of its political identity on Tuesday.

Gov. Scott Walker is running for a third full term this cycle, which presents yet another chance for Democrats to defeat the former presidential candidate and longtime foe. The Democratic primary is a crowded and complicated field of eight candidates all vying to take on Walker and flip one of a number of Midwestern gubernatorial seats that fallen out of their grasp in recent years.

The top candidates on the Democratic side include Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, former state lawmaker Kelda Roys, the African-American leader of a state firefighters union, Mahlon Mitchell, former state Democratic Party chair Matt Flynn, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and state lawmaker Kathleen Vineout. Whoever emerges from the crowd Tuesday has a tall task in unseating Walker, who alongside the state GOP has built a powerful infrastructure in the state that has allowed him to win two full terms and survive a recall election in 2012.

Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin is also up for re-election this cycle, and the GOP primary to take her on in November has been a bitter battle between state lawmaker Leah Vukmir and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Kevin Nicholson.

Vukmir won the endorsement of the state GOP last month and has the backing of House Speaker Paul Ryan, while Nicholson has attempted to paint himself as a political outsider taking on a party insider. Hope for Democratic victories in the state were bolstered by special election wins in a state Supreme Court race and for a number of state senate seats, and losing Baldwin's seat would be a large blow to the party's hopes of taking back control of the U.S. Senate.

The liberal Baldwin, the Senate's first openly gay member, is one of 10 Democratic incumbents up this cycle in a state that Donald Trump won in the 2016 presidential election.

GOP on offense in Minnesota

While Republicans are likely to lose a number of U.S. House seats this cycle, the state of Minnesota presents the GOP a rare chance to go on offense in a year where they are almost exclusively playing political defense.

The retirement of Rep. Rick Nolan in the state's 8th Congressional District and the decision by Rep. Tim Walz in the state's 1st Congressional District to run for governor has given Republicans hopes that they could gain seats in a year where the national political environment is less than favorable.

While Donald Trump narrowly lost Minnesota in the 2016 election, he carried both the 1st and 8th congressional districts by more than 15 points -- another factor that makes these open-seat races highly competitive. Army veteran Dan Feehan, a former acting assistant secretary of Defense in the Obama administration, is the candidate with the backing of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party and is on the DCCC’s “Red to Blue” list for top-tier candidates.

The Republican race in the 1st District is between state Sen. Carla Nelson and Jim Hagedorn, who has been the GOP nominee against Walz the last two cycle.

Democrats have held the 8th District in all but one congressional election since Harry Truman’s administration -- Republicans held it from 2011 to 2013, but with voters leaning to Trump, it may open the door for the GOP.

(MORE: Bredesen, Blackburn win Tennessee primary elections for Senate)
Five Democrats have run to succeed Nolan, including Nolan’s former campaign manager Joe Radinovich. State Rep. Jason Metsa leads all Democrats in total fundraising. Republican candidate Pete Stauber, who campaigned with and has the backing of President Trump, leads the field in fundraising and will face former Duluth school board member Harry Welty.

Vermont Democrats poised to make history


Phil Scott has cemented himself among the rare breed of popular Northeast Republican governors and is in solid position to win re-election this cycle.

But Scott's popularity will likely not stop Democrats in the state from making history by nominating Christine Hallquist, who would be the nation's first transgender woman to hold a governor's seat if she is able to win Tuesday's primary and pull an upset against Scott in November.

Hallquist, 62, is the former chief executive of the Vermont Electric Cooperative and said she is seeking to utilize both her local experience and national profile in a potential race against Scott.

"That’s how I want to be known in Vermont," Hallquist said of he progressive platform and executive experience in a recent interview with the Associated Press, "Nationally, I want to be known as the first trans candidate."

Other key races to watch:

Connecticut governor:
In a counter to the conventional wisdom that Democrats have the advantage in 2018, the Nutmeg State may provide an opportunity for Republicans to make inroads in a typically blue state.

Incumbent Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy leaves office as one of the least popular governors in the nation, and several Republicans are trying to take advantage. The GOP primary has seen a similar embrace of Trump that we've seen in races across the country, but there's no way to know how that strategy will play out in a state that is deep blue in presidential cycles, but much more purple in gubernatorial races and off-year elections.

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who fell short in a run for the Republican nomination for Governor in 2014, has the backing of the Republican Party in advance of the primary and is running against former nominee for state treasurer, Tim Herbst, and businessmen Stephen Obsitnik, David Stemerman and Bob Stefanowski.

Democrats have backed a familiar name in state politics in businessman Ned Lamont, who ran for U.S. Senate in 2006 in a challenge to then-Senator Joe Lieberman. Lamont has the state party’s backing, but will have to defeat Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim.

Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District:
In the Connecticut district that includes some of the most Republican parts of the state, Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Esty is stepping aside after allegations that her chief of staff committed sexual assault.

Democrats have endorsed Mary Glassman, a former lieutenant governor candidate who served as First Selectman-- a similar position to mayor in other states-- of Simsbury. She will face Jahana Hayes, a former National Teacher of the Year and first-time candidate who received encouragement to run from Sen. Chris Murphy. Murphy, however, has not issued a formal endorsement in the race.

Republicans may have the opportunity to pick up their first congressional victory in the state in a decade, with three candidates throwing their hats in the ring for the seat-- former Meriden mayor Manny Santos, businessman Rich DuPont and retired professor Ruby Corby O’Neill.

Minnesota governor: The Land of Ten Thousand Lakes is another spot where Republicans will potentially be able to reverse the tide of the “Blue Wave,” as they may be able to ride the name recognition of a former Governor who wants another crack at the office.

Tim Pawlenty, former governor and Republican presidential candidate, has decided to run for his old job, but has stumbled a bit in the early going. Pawlenty lost the party endorsement to Jeff Johnson, the previous nominee in 2014, but is still favored in Tuesday’s primary.

If Pawlenty withstands Johnson’s challenge, he will face a tough battle against the winner of a Democratic-Farmer-Labor primary with several viable candidates. The focus, however, has been on the late decision by Attorney General Lori Swanson to run for governor, a move that triggered Rep. Keith Ellison to run for the newly open Attorney General post.

Swanson faces a difficult primary against Rep. Tim Walz, who decided to run for governor over re-election in the 1st district. Along with two high-profile candidates, the state Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party added an additional wrinkle when it endorsed the bid of state representative Erin Murphy, who supports a statewide single-payer healthcare system.

Democrats may have a slight advantage, as Republicans have not won a statewide election in over a decade, but considering that Trump came within 2 percentage points of winning the state in 2016, Republicans may have a fighting chance.

Minnesota U.S. Senate Special Election: Democrats will have a relative advantage in both of their Senate elections, as in addition to popular Senator Amy Klobuchar running for her regularly scheduled re-election, there will also be a special election to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Al Franken.

Sen. Tina Smith, appointed to the seat earlier this year, is facing an unconventional primary challenge from Richard Painter, a former White House ethics lawyer for George W. Bush. Painter, a former Republican, has become a vocal anti-Trump voice on Twitter and has leveraged his social media presence during his campaign.

Smith, however, has the endorsement of most Democratic leaders in the state as well as from Senate colleague Elizabeth Warren.

Republicans have a three-way primary, but the only candidate who has filed contributions with the FEC has been state senator Karin Housley.

Minnesota 2nd Congressional District: Incumbent Rep. Jason Lewis could have a more challenging re-election bid now that a CNN report has unearthed Lewis’ previous statements. Lewis referred to women as sluts and that African-Americans have an “entitlement mentality.”

The general election is all set, however, as no Republican is running against Lewis. Presumptive Democratic nominee Angie Craig will likely attempt to take advantage of Lewis’ attacks for the general election campaign, as she is running unopposed. Craig has been backed by progressive organizations including EMILY’s List and the Human Rights Campaign.

Both Democrats and Republicans have listed the race as a target for extra funds, which makes sense for a largely suburban district that has been decided by one point or less in the last two presidential elections -- Obama won it in 2012 while Trump won it in 2016.

Minnesota 3rd Congressional District:
Democrats have identified Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen’s seat as a potential target, as the 3rd district has backed Democrats in the last three presidential elections.

Paulsen has continued to survive in the suburban Twin Cities districts with a relatively moderate voting record and has distanced himself from Trump.

Democrats will seek to take advantage of a relatively favorable electorate in the 3rd District and have given extra financial support to Dean Phillips, the owner of a local coffee chain. Phillips has run on a progressive platform including Medicare-for-All and ending Citizens United.

If Democrats want to successfully take back the House of Representatives, this seat will be crucial to their path to control.

Minnesota 5th Congressional District:
DNC vice chair Keith Ellison won this seat in 2007 and became the first Muslim-American elected to Congress and may be succeeded by the first Muslim woman elected to Congress.

Ellison stepped aside to run for Minnesota attorney general and the local Democratic-Farmer-Labor party has endorsed state Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Somali-born hijab-wearing refugee. Omar has run on a strongly progressive platform and has faced controversy for her criticism of Israel, but is favored in her primary race.

Four other candidates, including state Sen. Patricia Torres Ray and former State House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, are also running in the Democratic primary.

Three Republicans are running in the primary but will face a tough battle in a seat where Ellison won his last election with 69 percent of the vote.

Wisconsin 1st Congressional District: While Republicans need to defend all the seats they can in 2018, losing this seat would be especially painful as it currently belongs to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

Ryan is not running for re-election and six Republicans have jumped into the race. Ryan has endorsed former staffer Bryan Steil, but arguably the most prominent candidate among Republicans is Paul Nehlen, who lost the support of the conservative website Breitbart for his white supremacist views and anti-Semitic comments.

Democrats have a pair of candidates in teacher Cathy Myers and ironworker Randy Bryce, but the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has backed Bryce, who has raised nearly $5 million in his campaign. Bryce, an army veteran who has gained national attention, has earned also earned the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The district swung Trump’s way in 2016 thanks to the support of its substantial white working-class population, but if Bryce wins, Democrats may be able to rely on his background as an ironworker and his pro-labor policies to earn enough support to flip the seat.

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Tuesday
Aug142018

14-year-old is running to be Vermont's next governor

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- One of the candidates in Vermont’s Democratic primary for governor is too young to vote -- even too young to get his learner’s permit.

Ethan Sonneborn, 14, is on the ballot Tuesday, just a few weeks before he is set to begin his freshman year of high school.

“Just about everywhere I go people think what we’re doing is important,” he told ABC News. “We need to have leadership that’s listening to Vermonters instead of having leadership that makes Vermonters listen.”

Sonneborn’s primary comes among a surge in youth participation in politics. Last week, a group of teenagers ran in the Republican and Democratic gubernatorial primaries in Kansas.

Vermont has no minimum age requirement to run for governor; a candidate only has to have lived in the state for four years. Vermont’s secretary of state office said that no other minor in recent history has run for governor.

Sonneborn is running on a progressive platform, supporting a carbon tax, a higher minimum wage and a worker’s bill of rights. On his campaign website, he calls himself a “proud backer” of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ "Medicare-for-All" legislation.

The 14-year-old has been involved interested in politics for as long as he can remember, recently serving as a legislative page in Vermont’s legislature.

“I’ve been an activist pretty much my whole life,” he said. “I’ve been active in my community on issues that I’ve cared about.”

Sonneborn has been traveling the state, talking to Vermonters about the issues. He said that “almost nobody” in the state has told him he’s too young to run for governor, although there have been a few internet hecklers.

Sarah Anders, a spokeswoman for James Ehlers, another Democratic candidate for governor, said that Ehlers “admires Ethan’s engagement on the issues and his activism as a young person and feels that Ethan has elevated the discourse throughout the course of the gubernatorial primary.”

His parents haven’t had a huge influence on his campaign, which has been mostly self-driven. While they knew their son was interested in running for governor, they didn’t know when he announced he was running.

Sonneborn has endorsed candidates for the legislature and participated in a gubernatorial candidate forums.

Kate LaRose, a candidate for the Vermont House of Representatives, said she was honored to have Sonneborn's endorsement.

“Ethan’s campaign and the issues he champions provide a needed response in this atmosphere—revival, interest, and youth engagement, while building our the bench strength of our democracy for years to come,” she told ABC News in a statement. “I’ve no doubt he’ll be the youngest governor of Vermont someday.”



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Tuesday
Aug142018

Omarosa says price of silence for ex-Trump aides is $15,000. What do campaign records show?

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Campaign finance records show several former aides to President Donald Trump have received payments of roughly $15,000 per month from campaign or party accounts, bolstering part of former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman’s claim that she was offered the same amount to keep quiet about her time in the White House.

The Apprentice contestant turned White House aide Manigault Newman has alleged that multiple former Trump Administration aides have been taking money for their silence since leaving their posts, a hush money payment under the guise of a no-show job that she says she turned down.

"They were not offering me a real job," Manigault Newman told NBC on Sunday. “They didn't really care if I showed up. In fact, there are several former employees from the White House who actually signed this agreement, who are all being paid $15,000 for their silence.”

Federal election filings reviewed by ABC News support her allegations that payments were made but do not indicate whether the payments were contingent on signing some kind of nondisclosure agreement.

All Trump campaign staffers were required to sign a nondisclosure agreement upon joining the campaign. After Trump took office, some White House staffers signed similar agreements, but it is unclear how enforceable such agreements would be for government employees.

A number of former Trump aides – including two who served in sensitive positions in the White House – have been paid roughly $15,000 per month by either the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee or America First PAC, a political action committee dedicated to Trump’s re-election for various services described only briefly in filings.

Campaign or party coffers made monthly payments to former director of Oval Office operations Keith Schiller for “security services,” former personal assistant to the president John McEntee for “payroll,” former digital media director of the Trump campaign Brad Parscale for “digital consulting [and] management consulting” and former director of advertising for the Trump campaign Gary Coby for “media services [and] consulting.”

Neither the White House nor the Trump campaign has directly addressed the hush-money claim, but White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders broadly called Manigault Newman, who is currently promoting her forthcoming book, a disgruntled ex-employee who was spreading “lies and false accusations.”

One of Sanders’ predecessors behind the podium, however, did address the accusations and was similarly forceful in his denial. Manigault Newman alleged that Trump’s former press secretary Sean Spicer signed a non-disclosure agreement similar to the one she was offered, which Manigault Newman says would have prohibited her from making any comments that could damage the president.

"Which is why Sean Spicer described Donald Trump as a unicorn jumping over rainbows,” Manigault Newman told NBC News. “It’s because he signed this same agreement."

Spicer called her claims "completely fictional," telling ABC News that he did not sign a non-disclosure agreement and called her assertion that he was paid hush money "false." There are no listings in federal election reports showing payments to Sean Spicer or RigWill LLC, his communications consulting firm.

Records show a number of payments to former Trump aides – or firms owned and operated by former Trump aides – who have been tied to some of the recent scandals plaguing the White House.

The RNC has been paying KS Global Group, Schiller’s private security firm, $15,000 per month since Schiller left government in October of 2017, according to the records. Schiller, the longtime Trump security adviser, was interviewed by congressional investigators as part of their ongoing probe into Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 elections, where he answered questions about Trump’s now infamous 2013 trip to Moscow.

The RNC has said the payments were for Schiller’s help in preparing for the 2020 national political convention, but Schiller could not be reached for comment.

The Trump campaign has been paying McEntee about $14,000 per month since he left the White House in March over what sources said were “issues with his security clearance.” McEntee, who shadowed the president during much of his first term as Trump’s “body man,” was hired by the campaign within hours of being escorted from the White House.

McEntee declined to comment, but sources familiar with his role say he was working on voter engagement, surrogate messaging and campaign event planning but recently told campaign officials he intends to leave his job at the end of this month.

America First PAC, the political action committee backing Trump, and the RNC have paid Parscale, the former head of the 2016 campaign’s digital media outreach effort, who is now the campaign manager for Trump’s nascent reelection bid, in 15 separate payments of $15,000 from March 2017 to June 2018.

The RNC also made monthly $15,000 payments between mid-2017 and mid-2018, amid several other sizabale payments, to Direct Persuasion, a consulting firm owned by Gary Coby, a former RNC digital specialist who helped manage online advertising during the 2016 campaign.

The social media outreach efforts that Parscale and Coby worked on have since become a focus of the ongoing special counsel and congressional investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

A campaign official said the payments to Parscale were not related to a “hush agreement” and were for “services rendered” but would not elaborate on what those services were. Parscale, like many other campaign officials, signed a non-disclosure agreement.

Coby declined to comment, but a source familiar with Coby’s work at the RNC were for actual digital advertising advice, not for his silence.

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Monday
Aug132018

FBI agent who sent anti-Trump texts fired

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The FBI agent who came under scrutiny for anti-Trump texts he sent from a work phone during the 2016 presidential campaign has now been fired, according to his lawyer.

Peter Strzok was fired on Friday after serving in the FBI for 21 years, his lawyer Aitan Goelman said in a statement.

"Deeply saddened by this decision," Strzok posted Monday on Twitter. "It has been an honor to serve my country and work with the fine men and women of the FBI."

Goelman said Strzok's firing "departed from established precedent by firing" Strzok, especially because the deputy director's decision to terminate Strzok went even further than the recommendation of the FBI's ethics office.

Strzok's public profile reached a tipping point in July when, during an open hearing, Republicans on the House Judiciary and Oversight committees got their first opportunity to publicly press him on a slew of anti-Trump text messages he sent in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. At the time of those text messages, Strzok was leading the FBI's probe of Russia's meddling in the election.

Strzok also helped lead the FBI's probe of Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, and Republicans have insisted Strzok's role in both cases raises questions over whether the probes were tainted by politics.

On Monday, Goelman said Strzok's firing "should be deeply troubling to all Americans."

"A lengthy investigation and multiple rounds of Congressional testimony failed to produce a shred of evidence that Special Agent Strzok’s personal views ever affected his work," Goelman said in the statement.

"In fact, in his decades of service, Special Agent Strzok has proved himself to be one of the country’s top counterintelligence officers, leading to only one conclusion – the decision to terminate was taken in response to political pressure, and to punish Special Agent Strzok for political speech protected by the First Amendment, not on a fair and independent examination of the facts. It is a decision that produces only one winner - those who seek to harm our country and weaken our democracy," the statement said.

President Donald Trump has publicly criticized Strzok in the past and weighed in on the news of his firing.

"Agent Peter Strzok was just fired from the FBI - finally. The list of bad players in the FBI & DOJ gets longer & longer. Based on the fact that Strzok was in charge of the Witch Hunt, will it be dropped? It is a total Hoax. No Collusion, No Obstruction - I just fight back!" he wrote in the first of two tweets Monday.

"Just fired Agent Strzok, formerly of the FBI, was in charge of the Crooked Hillary Clinton sham investigation. It was a total fraud on the American public and should be properly redone!" Trump wrote in the second tweet.

During his testimony to the House panel last month, Strzok told chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia: "I can assure, Mr. Chairman, at no time, in any of these texts, did those personal beliefs ever enter into the realm of any action I took."

"This isn't just me sitting here telling you – you don't have to take my word for it," Strzok continued. "At every step, at every investigative decision, there were multiple layers of people above me -- assistant director, executive assistant director, deputy director, and the director – and multiple layers of people below me ... all of whom were involved in all of these decisions. They would not tolerate any improper behavior in me any more than I would tolerate it in them. that is who we are as the FBI. And the suggestion that I in some dark chamber somewhere in the FBI would somehow cast aside all of these procedures, all of these safeguards, and somehow be able to do this, is astounding to me. It simply couldn't happen. And the proposition that that is going on, that it might occur in the FBI, deeply corrodes what the FBI is in American society, the effectiveness of their mission, and it is deeply destructive."

After news of Strzok's firing on Monday, Goodlatte's son took to Twitter to praise Strzok as a "patriot" and condemn his father's behavior.

"I’m deeply embarrassed that Peter Strzok’s career was ruined by my father’s political grandstanding," Bobby Goodlatte wrote. "That committee hearing was a low point for Congress."

The FBI declined to comment to ABC News on Strzok's firing.

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