Senators ask Mattis for more information on Niger attack -- After meeting separately with Secretary of Defense James Mattis, both Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain said the military should do more to keep members of Congress aware of its counterterrorism operations around the world.

Sen. Graham told reporters that one of the open questions surrounding the ambush in Niger, which killed four Americans, is whether it was the result of an intelligence failure.

“It’s too early to say. That’s exactly the questions we should be asking ourselves. In war you fail, you make mistakes and the whole goal is to learn from your mistakes and not repeat them.”

Graham said Sen. McCain will likely hold a hearing on the operation, and the strategy more broadly, next week. A spokeswoman for the Senate Armed Services Committee did not comment.

Graham also said the military will likely change its rules of engagement in Africa, and anywhere else they need to be changed, so that forces can hit targets based on their status – for example, a member of the Taliban or ISIS – versus their conduct.

That will likely prompt a debate in Congress over the broader counterterrorism strategy and the need for an updated Authorization for the Use of Military Force or "AUMF" – a debate which certain members have called for repeatedly over the years but which has largely been stagnant.

Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will testify at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the current AUMF next week.

“The many questions surrounding the death of American servicemembers in Niger show the urgent need to have a public discussion about the current extent of our military operations around the world,” Sen. Tim Kaine, a longtime proponent of an updated AUMF, said in a statement.

The counterterrorism fight is going to shift to Africa more and more, Graham said.

“You're going to see more actions in Africa, not less. You’re going to see more aggression by the United States towards our enemies, not less. You're going to have decisions being made not at the White House but in the field. And I support that entire construct.”

McCain met separately with Mattis, and after the meeting, with the secretary at his side, McCain said he and Mattis talked about the need for his committee to receive more information about the Niger ambush.

"I felt that we were not getting sufficient amount of information and we are clearing a lot of that up," McCain said.

Mattis added, "We can do better at communication. We can always improve on communication and that's exactly what we'll do.

Ahead of his meeting with McCain, Mattis was asked if the threat of the subpoena prompted him to meet with the senator. "Are you kidding me?" Mattis said to the reporter.

Mattis said the president is "kept fully informed' on the Niger ambush, but declined to say how often he is briefed about the timeline.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


White House officials used private email, violated federal record-keeping rules, top Democrat says 

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- White House officials have violated federal record-keeping laws by not promptly forwarding private emails to public accounts, a top House Democrat said Friday.

In a letter to House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said White House lawyers told committee staff that "several White House employees came forward and 'confessed' that they failed to forward official records from their personal email accounts to their governmental email accounts within 20 days, as the Presidential Records Act requires."

"However, the White House officials refused to identify these employees," Cummings wrote. "When asked whether Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner complied with the Presidential Records Act, these White House officials replied, 'You should talk to Mr. Kushner’s counsel about that.'"

It's unclear whether the White House employees ever forwarded their personal emails to their governmental email accounts.

The Maryland Democrat is pressuring the chairman to push the White House to turn over documents on the use of private email in the West Wing, after reports that at least six senior officials, including President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, have used private email while working at the White House.

Cummings has also asked Gowdy to allow a committee vote on a subpoena to the White House for email documents and information.

The White House declined to identify any of the individuals to the committee while the White House counsel's office continues to review private email use internally, Cummings said.

Several White House aides did not respond to ABC News’ requests for comment on Cummings's account of the briefing.

In a statement, Gowdy pushed back on Cummings's description of the White House briefing, saying "allegations that we have completed our engagement with the White House on this issue are absurd."

"The Democrats assertion that the White House has not cooperated is false. Our investigation into private email use for official business is government-wide and not about one entity. The Committee has been looking at the use of private email for years. I’m glad my Democrat colleagues now acknowledge the severity of the issue. The White House provided a briefing this week to share specific details on all of our outstanding questions and committed to follow up at the conclusion of an ongoing investigation," he said.

Gowdy also said he spoke with a cabinet-level official to "ensure their full compliance" in the investigation of private email use at the White House and all federal agencies.

"We need the documents -- not the drama," he said.

Gowdy sent letters to the White House and federal agencies Friday afternoon urging cooperation with the panel's investigation into private email use. The White House committed to following up with the panel's initial request for information following the internal review of staff email practices, he indicated in his letter.

While it is not illegal for West Wing employees to use private email, White House officials are required to forward any official business done on private email accounts to their government email accounts within 20 days, under the Presidential Records Act.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Rep. Wilson alleges White House chief of staff used 'racist term' in criticism

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Representative Frederica Wilson alleged that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly employed "a racist term" in his criticism of her actions after she assailed President Donald Trump over his call to the widow of a U.S. soldier killed in Niger.

Kelly, who addressed reporters at the White House press briefing Thursday, rebuked Wilson, D-Fla., for deriding Trump's comments on the condolence call. Without mentioning Wilson by name, Kelly also appeared to attack her for comments he said she made at the opening of a FBI field office in Miami in 2015, which was named for FBI agents killed in the line of duty.

"A congresswoman stood up, and in a long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there in all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building," Kelly said Thursday. "We were stunned, stunned that she'd done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned."

The congresswoman responded to Kelly in an interview with CNN Friday morning, taking umbrage at the metaphor Kelly employed in his criticism of her.

"I think that's a racist term too, I'm thinking about that when we looked it up in the dictionary because I had never heard of an empty barrel and I don't like to be dragged into something like that," Wilson told CNN.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders repeated Kelly's "empty barrel" comment to reporters at Friday's press briefing and explained, "If you don't understand that reference I'll put it a little more simply. As we say in the south, all hat, no cattle."

Sanders further pointed to Kelly's military rank as a reason not to question his criticism of the congresswoman after reporters pointed out Friday that video of Wilson's speech at the FBI event obtained by The Sun-Sentinel newspaper appeared to refute Kelly's account.

"If you want to go after General Kelly, that's up to you, but I think if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general I think that's something highly inappropriate," Sanders said.

In her interview with CNN, Wilson called attention to the fact that she wasn't serving when funding for the FBI office was secured.

"I was not even in Congress in 2009. So that's a lie. How dare he? However, I named the building at the behest of Director [James] Comey with the help of Speaker [John] Boehner working across party lines, so he didn't tell the truth and he needs to stop telling lies on me," she responded.

Wilson was in a car with Myeshia Johnson when she received a call from Trump earlier this week about the death of her husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, in Niger earlier this month. She took issue with what she said Trump told Mrs. Johnson: that her husband "must have known what he signed up for."

Trump later criticized the congresswoman and denied her account of the conversation on Twitter.

Kelly said Trump's comments to Johnson were based on what he was told in 2010 by Gen. Joseph Dunford, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when his son Robert Kelly was killed in combat. Kelly said the president asked him for advice about what to say.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Breaking down the fiscal 2018 budget passed by Senate 

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- By a vote of 51-49, Senate Republicans passed a fiscal 2018 budget right along party lines, with every single Democrat voting against the budget framework, and all Republicans, save for one, voting for it.

The fiscal 2018 budget passed late-Thursday night is not a legally binding document, but it does serve as an outline of federal spending and revenues. It gives Congress some level of control over the appropriations process of how funds will be spent.

The measure is estimated to add $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years, and contains about $5.1 trillion in spending cuts.

The bill now heads to the House for approval.

Comprehensive tax overhaul

The ultimate goal for the GOP is to overhaul the U.S. tax code system, which would be a much-needed victory for the party after numerous failed attempts at passing legislation earlier this year.

The budget framework sets up rules that allow for a reconciliation process that tells the Senate Finance Committee that a tax bill cannot be filibustered if it adds $1.5 trillion or less to the deficit over the next 10 years.

Under the process of reconciliation, the GOP tax bill only needs a simple majority of 51 votes to clear the Senate chamber. It also means Democrats will not be allowed to filibuster on the floor, a stalling tactic that requires 60 votes to break.

Republicans wouldn’t need a single Democratic vote to pass their tax bill under this process.

Cuts to Medicare and Medicaid

Democrats have warned more than $1 trillion will be cut from Medicaid, and about $470 billion would will be cut from Medicare over a decade.

“This nasty and backwards budget green lights cuts to Medicare and Medicaid in order to give a tax break to big corporations and the wealthiest Americans,” Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said. “It shifts the burden from the wealthy and puts it squarely on the back of the middle class, and blows a hole in the deficit to boot.”

But the chairman of the Budget Committee, Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., has rebutted such claims as being “false accusations.”

“Let me be clear: The budget we have put forward does not cut Medicare. Medicare spending increases every year,” Enzi said earlier this month.

Oil exploration

The budget could also pave the way for opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration.

Nearly every Republican voted to block an amendment that would have protected the mass of land from oil exploration. Republicans can pass a bill that would open the land for drilling with a 51-majority in the Senate rather than the 60-votes needed for most legislation.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Woman who accused Trump of groping her on an airplane doubts Weinstein backlash will prompt change -- One of the roughly dozen women who came forward with accusations of sexual harassment or assault against Donald Trump during the presidential campaign doubts that the uproar over allegations against Harvey Weinstein will lead to lasting change.

Jessica Leeds alleged last year that Trump groped her on an airplane in the late-1970s, which the president has repeatedly denied. Leeds, 75, said she is skeptical that any changes in the handling and prevention of sexual assault and harassment will occur, likening the public uproar to the call for action when controversial events prompt heated debate about race relations in America.

“Every once in a while, we say we need to discuss the problems with racial issues and we don’t, so I somewhat fear that after the headlines fade… it won’t change things,” Leeds told ABC News of the Weinstein backlash.

The chorus of claims against Hollywood producer Weinstein have prompted renewed national discourse about sexual harassment and assault, with more and more women – including a number of A-list celebrities – coming forward with their allegations, which include rape.

A spokesperson for Weinstein has denied any allegations of non-consensual sex, in a statement to The New Yorker.

The reverberations are being felt outside Hollywood, too, with the popular #MeToo social media campaign prompting women across the world to talk about their experiences, in the hopes of showing how widespread sexual harassment has become.

Leeds, when asked whether she thinks momentum from the Weinstein allegations will have an impact, said, “I would love to believe so,” adding it would be good “if it is empowering that women feel that they don’t have to put up with this s---.”

“I sense [that] since we don’t see really any men coming forward [in support of women], that we've got a long way to go,” said Leeds, who lives in New York City.

Leeds noted how while Weinstein has faced consequences from the outcry over the allegations against him, including his dismissal from the board of his eponymous company and from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts, Trump did not face similar consequences, and “now have Trump as our president.”

She noted that Billy Bush lost his job at NBC IN 2016 after release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” recording MADE IN 2005 on which Trump was heard talking to Bush about grabbing women “by the p----,” which Trump defended as “locker-room talk” before going on to win the election.

“I must admit I’ve found myself saying that after Trump was elected and people would still come up to me and thank me, and I would say ‘But it didn’t help.’ I truly was disappointed that we couldn’t make the objections for Trump the person stick. It’s like he is Teflon,” she told ABC News

“I don’t expect fairness in the world. It’s always a problem,” she added. “But Trump has got so many other problems that he's inflicting upon the United States that the sexual harassment is kind of low on the totem pole of problems that we have with him being president.”

Leeds went public in a New York Times article on Oct. 12, 2016 – discussing an alleged decades-old interaction with Trump -- four days after the “Access Hollywood” recording was released, and three days after the second presidential debate, during which Trump denied ever kissing or groping women without consent.

“That so infuriated me,” Leeds said.

Leeds had been telling friends throughout the campaign about the alleged interaction she had with Trump in the late-1970s when she was a traveling businesswoman. She first went public with her allegations in The New York Times, saying she and Trump were seated beside each other in the first class cabin of a plane. During one point in the flight, Trump lifted the armrest and grabbed her breast and put his hand up her skirt, she alleged to The Times.

Leeds never pursued any legal action against Trump, and Trump has repeatedly denied all of the allegations made by Leeds and the other women who came forward during the campaign. Ten days after The Times article appeared, Trump threatened to sue the women who made the allegations, though he never did so.

Leeds heard Trump’s threats on TV "but nothing came of it," she told ABC News.

The trauma from the alleged incident on the plane still resonates with Leeds, she said.

“It doesn’t mean a lot to men that they exercise this power over women,” Leeds added.

“The harassment is like, ‘Oh, well, I have this itch.’… They don’t think, ‘I’m going to bother this woman and she’s going to have nightmares,’” she said.

“It doesn’t even get on their radar the emotional trauma that they are inflicting.”

After coming forward, Leeds said, her children guarded her from the negative reactions. They “would not let me answer the phone, and I didn’t have any interest in checking Facebook or whatever it is because I don’t know how,” she said.

“All of the reaction I got face to face ... [which was] mostly in New York City, was unbelievably positive,” she said, noting how nearly every woman who would come up to her after the article was published would say two things.

“They would say, ‘Thank you’ and, ‘You're so brave,’” she said.

“I didn’t feel particularly brave. I was just angry at Trump lying, but he does have a problem with telling the truth but that's a different story all together,” Leeds said.

The time gap between her alleged incident with Trump and the recent accusations against Weinstein and others sent an disturbing message to Leeds, she said.

“I had been wrong: I really had thought that things were better for women, working women, and there was less of the sexual aggression in the work place,” she said.

“It still happens.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Pelosi: Trump 'would not walk away' from Dreamers

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Friday that while President Donald Trump’s actions on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program have been “heartbreaking,” she has “confidence” he will stand by the young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, known as "Dreamers," going forward.

Pelosi told ABC's The View Friday that every president "in recent history," including Republicans like Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush, "have been respectful of what immigration means to our country."

In contrast, she said Trump “is the first president who’s made a departure in a very negative way. It’s unfortunate.”

Specifically, the California congresswoman said it was “heartbreaking” that the Trump administration imposed an Oct. 5 deadline for young immigrants who had been covered under DACA to renew their permits. After that deadline, no DACA recipients have been allowed to renew their protected status. Many missed that deadline.

However, Pelosi said she has confidence that Trump "would not walk away from his support for the Dreamers."

"I think he supports the Dreamers because the American people support the Dreamers," she added.

She said she opened the conversation about DACA with Trump during a dinner in September with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

The pair came to the table with "a list of concerns" and disappointments about Trump's actions, Pelosi said. They were looking for an issue they could work with Trump on as "a confidence builder" so that Democrats could feel it was possible to move forward and work with the president.

“For us, that is DACA,” Pelosi said of the key “threshold” the president needed to cross with the two Democratic party leaders.

“If we can have agreement on this and confidence, then we can do other things,” Pelosi said. “If we don't have that confidence, it will be very hard to do it."

Ultimately, the president said he would support the DREAM Act and in exchange, Pelosi said, “We would work with him on some border issues.”

“We have a responsibility to protect our border,” Pelosi said. “We don't have a responsibility to…start a reign of terror by going after families and other people."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


First lady Melania Trump's inaugural gown unveiled at Smithsonian

Win McNamee/Getty Images(NEW YORK) --  First lady Melania Trump’s inaugural gown went on display Friday at the Smithsonian, part of an exhibit that features various inaugural gowns of former first ladies.

Trump, who participated in the gown’s unveiling at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, offered praise for the designer Herve Pierre, who collaborated with Trump on the off-the-shoulder, full-length creme-colored couture gown.

“It can be a daunting task to choose an outfit that will be mesmerized and become part of our nation's story and forever history,” Trump said of deciding what to wear for the inaugural ball.

Sharing the story of the gown’s creation, Trump revealed that she was so focused on the dramatic changes that she and her family were facing in the wake of her husband’s election victory, Pierre only had two weeks to design and create the gown.

“We were very busy with all that goes into preparing for a new administration and all of the changes that we, as a family, would be facing,” Trump said. “To be honest, what I would wear to the inaugural ball was the last thing on my mind. By the time I got around to thinking about my choice, poor Herve was only given two weeks this piece.”

In donating the gown, Trump conveyed her family’s gratitude in representing the nation at the White House and said she hoped the gown serves as one piece of her family’s legacy in Washington.

“It is now my hope that this piece is one of the many great beginnings to our family’s history here in Washington, D.C. The president, Barron, and I love living here, and we are so honored to represent this country,” she said.

The gowns in the Smithsonian’s first ladies collection span over 200 years and includes the historic silk pink gown worn by Martha Washington at the nation’s first inauguration as well as the gown worn by Trump’s most immediate predecessor, Michelle Obama.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Senate Republicans pass budget that will add $1.5 trillion to deficit, slash Medicare and Medicaid

U.S. Government (NEW YORK) --  Senate Republicans passed a budget late Thursday night following a series of votes, setting the stage for the GOP's ultimate goal of tackling tax reform later this year.

The measure is estimated to add $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years, and contains about $4 trillion in spending cuts, including nearly $500 billion in cuts from Medicare over 10 years and more than $1 trillion from Medicaid.

“We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to replace America’s failing tax codes,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor after the bill was approved.

The Senate’s plan passed along party lines, with 51 Republicans voting in favor of the bill, and all Democrats voting against it.

The 51-49 vote sets the stage for debate later this year to dramatically overhaul the U.S. tax code for the first time in three decades.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was the lone Republican senator who opposed the measure.

“I could not in good conscience vote for a budget that ignores spending caps that have been the law of the land for years and simply pretend it didn’t matter,” Paul said in a statement.

Following the budget's passage, the White House released the following statement: "President Donald J. Trump applauds the Senate for passing its FY 2018 Budget Resolution today and taking an important step in advancing the Administration’s pro-growth and pro-jobs legislative agenda. This resolution creates a pathway to unleash the potential of the American economy through tax reform and tax cuts, simplifying the overcomplicated tax code, providing financial relief for families across the country, and making American businesses globally competitive. President Trump looks forward to final enactment of the Fiscal Year 2018 budget resolution so we can bring jobs back to our country."

And White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted a photo of President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump at a gala dinner benefiting the UNHCR at the Kuwaiti embassy at which the first lady was honored. "Great night honoring @FLOTUS & perfect ending w/ @POTUS announcing passage of budget—major step forward for tax cuts," Sanders tweeted.

The resolution is a nonbinding budget framework, and is a legislative vehicle that will allow Republicans to pass a tax plan under the rules of reconciliation. This means the GOP tax bill could pass without a single Democratic vote. It also avoids a filibuster attempt by Democrats.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., a member of the Budget Committee, told reporters Thursday afternoon, "This is the biggest hoax hatched upon the American people ever, that this budget process even exists. The only thing about this that matters is preparation for tax reform."

The Senate opted to fast-track the bill by adopting an amendment that aligned its budget to the House's version of the bill, which was approved in the House chamber last week.

The move to align the two plans is intended to help speed up the process in getting final passage from both chambers of Congress, by foregoing a conference committee to work out the difference in the two documents.

Before the final vote, the Senate agreed to a bipartisan amendment that called the entire budget voting process "utter nonsense."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said, I think it will go down in history as one of the worst budgets Congress has ever passed."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Senators push bill to prevent Russian-linked election ads online

Credit: Architect of the Capitol(WASHINGTON) -- Responding to growing revelations about the scale of the Russian effort to influence the 2016 presidential election over social media, a pair of Senate Democrats introduced a bill Thursday to force Facebook and other social media companies to disclose more details about political ads on their platforms.

The proposal from Sens. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, which is also backed by Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, would update existing election law governing political television and radio ads to also include digital ads.

It would also require platforms to keep a public file on any ads from groups and people spending more than $500 -– which would include copies of the ads, the number of views, and contact information for the purchaser. Facebook revealed earlier this month that fake accounts linked to a Russian company spent $100,000 on roughly 3,000 political ads on the platform, a disclosure Warner referred to as the “tip of the iceberg.”

While Facebook, Twitter and other social media sights have fought regulation efforts on Capitol Hill in the past, the companies have pledged to do a better job self-policing their platforms. Klobuchar said any changes should be written in into law. “It has to cover everyone. you can't just have a few companies doing it voluntarily,” she said.

A Facebook spokesman said the company is open to working with lawmakers and reviewing the proposal.

“We look forward to engaging with Congress and the Federal Election Commission on these issues,” a Twitter spokesman said.

The legislative push comes amid new fears that the United States has done little to address concerns about Russian interference in the U.S. election ahead of gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, and the 2018 midterm elections.

“Our next election is only 383 days away, Russia will keep trying to divide our country,” Klobuchar said.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, said the United States is “probably not” doing enough to defend against future meddling by Russia and other foreign powers. “We’re not,” Sessions said. “It requires a real review.”

Warner, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the United States still lacks a “whole-of-government approach” to addressing foreign interference.

“Many members of the Trump administration acknowledge this problem,” he said. “I don't think we are helped in terms of making Americans fully aware when the president continues to dismiss the evidence of Russian intervention.”

He also said the Russian efforts are still underway, citing a report that Twitter suspended a fake account purporting to be the Tennessee Republican party that linked to a Russian-backed “troll farm.”

The senators hope to pass the legislation early in 2018, ahead of the midterm primary elections. They suggested it could make it through the Senate as part of a larger legislative package -- potentially from the Senate Armed Services Committee led by McCain, who is also a longtime advocate of transparency in campaign finance.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Obama slams state of US politics in 1st post-presidency campaign stops

DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images(NEWARK, N.J.) -- Former President Obama made his much-anticipated first post-presidential appearance on the campaign trail Thursday, speaking at events for Democratic gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey and Virginia before elections there next month.

Appearing at a rally in Richmond, Virginia with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam, Obama commented on the political climate in the country.

“Folks don't feel good right now about what they see, they don't feel as if our public life reflects our best,” Obama said, “Instead of our politics reflecting our values, we've got politics infecting our communities.”

Obama did not mention President Trump by name, but did offer some pointed criticism that appeared to be directed at him.

"You'll notice I haven't been commenting on politics a lot lately, but here's one thing I know: If you have to win a campaign by dividing people you're not going to be able to govern them. You won't be able to unite them later if that's how you start,” Obama told the crowd of thousands at the Richmond convention center.

Obama also got animated when offering some deeply personal thoughts on the events over the summer in Charlottesville.

“We saw what happened in Charlottesville, but we also saw what happened after Charlottesville, when the biggest gatherings of all rejected fear and rejected hate and the decency and goodwill of the American people came out,” Obama said. “That's how we rise. We don't rise up by repeating the past, we rise up by learning from the past.”

The race between Northam and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie is considered the only competitive statewide race in the nation this year, raising the stakes for Obama’s visit to the state with the election less than three weeks away.

Obama slammed Gillespie for television advertisements attacking Northam over recent MS-13 gang violence in the Commonwealth, dismissing it as nothing more than fear-mongering.

“It's a tactic by the way that shows Ralph's opponent doesn't really think very highly of Virginians,” Obama said, adding, “If he honestly thought these were serious issues he'd offer serious solutions. But he's not because what he's really trying to deliver is fear. What he really believes is if you scare enough voters you might score just enough votes to win an election.”

The former president is still popular in Virginia, a state he won in 2008 and 2012.

Appearing at an event earlier in the day in Newark with Phil Murphy, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Germany during the Obama administration, the former president praised Murphy as the right choice for New Jersey voters.

"When Phil and his family said I’m ready to go, I’m willing to step out there and step into what can be a pretty tough political environment, I wasn’t surprised because I knew him," Obama said, "I knew their character."

Obama’s re-emergence comes as President Trump has taken aim at various parts of his legacy, including the Iran nuclear agreement and the Affordable Care Act and as the controversy around Trump’s interactions with families of fallen U.S. soldiers persists.

Obama shied away from calling out Trump directly in his remarks in Newark, instead hammering his critique of the state of U.S. politics Thursday.

"Some of the politics we see now, we thought we put that to bed. That’s folks looking 50 years back, it’s the 21st century, not the 19th century," Obama said.

The former president also told the crowd to ignore the polls and focusing on turning out as much grassroots support as possible.

"I don't know if y'all noticed, but you can't take any election for granted," Obama said, "I don't care what the polls say. I don't care what the pundits say."

Aides to the former president said Obama planned to stick to policy instead of political attacks on President Trump.

“It’s in no one’s interest – including the former president’s, the Democratic Party’s, or the country’s – for President Obama to become the face of any resistance or the party,” a senior adviser to the former president wrote in a statement to ABC News, “Instead, he is creating the space for leaders in the party to craft the best path forward that will make our country better.

“He is acutely aware that when he consumes political oxygen, it can stifle the attention that should be on current and emerging leaders in the party.”

The elections in New Jersey and Virginia will take place Nov. 7.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

ABC News Radio