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Saturday
Jan192019

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand speaks at Women's March in Iowa: 'We would change everything'

Steve Pope/Getty Images(DES MOINES, Iowa.) -- New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand kicked off her 2020 presidential campaign in Iowa this weekend by tackling a controversial subject head-on and being a marquee speaker at the Women's March in Des Moines on Saturday.

Although the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and NAACP withdrew their support from the Women's March amid accusations of bigotry by some of the lead organizers, Gillibrand spoke at the rally in which the 14-degree weather pushed marchers into the Iowa State Capitol building, where she was swarmed before and after taking the stage.

“I will make this very clear. We know there is no room for anti-Semitism anywhere in our movement. We know this. We know that our movement is empowered when all of lift each other,” Gillibrand told the crowd, which was dotted with women wearing pink "pussy hats" and holding signs.

Her decision to speak at the march has garnered some criticism as two of the Women's March leaders have been accused of anti-Semitism, drawing scrutiny to the marches, which have become an annual global movement. Co-president Tamika Mallory’s ties to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan have come under fire.

During an appearance on "The View," Mallory did not condemn Farrakhan over his alleged anti-Semitic comments but said she didn’t agree with those statements.

Women's March board member Linda Sarsour drew criticism from Jewish groups when she told a magazine in 2017 that it would be impossible to be both Zionist and feminist.

"You either stand up for the rights of all women, including Palestinians, or none. There’s just no way around it," Sarsour told The Nation.

“Women built new organizations and led the resistance. Black women made sure that a credibly accused pedophile did not win in Alabama,” Gillibrand added, referring to the defeat of Senate candidate Roy Moore.

“Let us commit ourselves to this fight. The battle ahead is long. It is hard but it is worth it because everything you know and love is at stake do not give up. Do not grow weary," Gillibrand said.

The senator chatted with young girls who approached her, making small talk about school and sharing anecdotes about her sons.

The rally provided a national stage for the New York senator to speak about some of the issues she has confronted legislatively in the Senate.

“Despite that progress, women still do not represent 51 percent of elected leaders in this country. Imagine just for a moment what America would look like if it did. Imagine what would be possible. Do you think we would still be fighting tooth and nail for basic reproductive freedoms in this country? Do you think that we’d be hesitating to pass a national paid leave bill? Do you think it would be so hard to end sexual violence in our military, on college campuses and in society?“ Gillibrand said.

“The truth is, if we changed who is at the decision-making table, we would change everything,” she said.

Over the weekend, she also defended remarks she made about her ex-colleague, former Sen. Al Franken. She reportedly caught flack from her Democratic peers for calling on Franken to resign after allegations of sexual misconduct were raised against him.

At a Friday night event in Sioux City, Gillibrand was asked repeatedly about comments she had made about Franken, who resigned in December 2017 after multiple women accused him of touching them inappropriately. Gillibrand was the first Democrat to call for his resignation.

"I know it makes a lot of Democrats sad, some angry. But the truth is, Sen. Franken had eight credible accusations against him, for harassment and groping. They were corroborated in real time and they were deemed credible by those who investigated them," she said. "For me, that eighth allegation that came out from a congressional staffer, before he was senator, I couldn't remain silent anymore. Because what my silence meant was defending him."

Choosing to take the stage in Iowa, an early primary state, allows Gillibrand to get a head start on a presidential race that is expected to see a record number of women running for president.

“I’m going to run for president of the United States because, as a young mom, I’m going to fight for other people’s kids as hard as I would fight for my own,” she told Stephen Colbert earlier this week when she announced her run on an appearance on The Late Show.

Gillibrand has led three successful re-election bids as senator and has sponsored bills that focus on combatting sexual harassment, providing national paid family leave and promoting gender equality.

She is also a vocal critic of President Donald Trump and voted against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Gov. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii have also joined the race with other prominent women reportedly contemplating a presidential bid.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Jan192019

Trump would extend 'Dreamers' and TPS protection in exchange for full border wall funding

Pete Marovich/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --  President Donald Trump announced on Saturday that in exchange for border wall funding and ending the partial government shutdown, he would extend temporary protections for so-called "Dreamers" and those with Temporary Protected Status -- two key issues for congressional Democrats who nevertheless appeared to hold their ground on refusing the president's demand for $5.7 billion in wall funding.

"Our plan includes the following," Trump announced in a speech from the Oval Office. "$800 million in urgent humanitarian aid, $805 million for drug detection technology to help secure our ports of entry, an additional 2,750 border agents and law enforcement professionals [and] 75 new immigration judge teams to reduce the court backlog..."

Additionally, Trump promised "critical measures to protect migrant children from exploitation and abuse," and "a new system to allow Central American migrants to apply for asylum in their countries."

In return, Trump said he wants his $5.7 billion in border funding, which he said would be "a strategic deployment of physical barriers, or a wall."

Trump added that he and Republicans “hope [Democrats] will offer their enthusiastic support and I think many will. This is a common sense compromise both parties should embrace. The radical left can never control our borders. I will never let it happen.”

Trump also said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would bring the proposal to a vote in the Senate this week.

Trump noted that he promised a wall on the southern border during his campaign and “I intend to keep that promise one way or another."

"Our immigration system should be the subject of pride, not as a source of shame....our immigration systems should be the envy of the world, not a symbol of disunity and dysfunction. These problems can all be solved.”

Yet, before Trump even made his 4 p.m. speech, House Democrats were calling it a "non-starter."

Twenty-five minutes before the planned start of the president's speech, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released a statement, saying that "initial reports" about Trump's announcement "make clear that his proposal is a compilation of several previously rejected initiatives, each of which is unacceptable and in total, do not represent a good faith effort to restore certainty to people’s lives."

"It is unlikely that any one of these provisions alone would pass the House, and taken together, they are a non-starter," Pelosi continued in the statement. "For one thing, this proposal does not include the permanent solution for the Dreamers and TPS recipients that our country needs and supports," Pelosi said, referring to Temporary Protected Status designations.

Pelosi also said that House Democrats would pass a package of "six bills agreed to by House and Senate negotiators and other legislation to re-open government so that we can fully negotiate on border security proposals."

After the speech, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer rejected Trump's plan.

“It’s clear the President realizes that by closing the government and hurting so many American workers and their families, he has put himself and the country in an untenable position," Schumer said in the statement. "Unfortunately, he keeps putting forward one-sided and ineffective remedies. There’s only way out: open up the government, Mr. President, and then Democrats and Republicans can have a civil discussion and come up with bipartisan solutions."

“It was the President who singled-handedly took away DACA and TPS protections in the first place –- offering some protections back in exchange for the wall is not a compromise but more hostage-taking.”

Bi-partisan legislation known as the BRIDGE Act (Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy) would extend protections and provide work authorization for three years for TPS individuals and "Dreamers" -- some 750,000 young, undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children and have met the requirements to participate in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

The continuing shutdown -- which could head into its second month this week -- affects about a quarter of the federal government. Trump has said he will keep the government shut down until and unless the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives heed his demand for $5.7 billion to build more than 200 miles of walls between the U.S. and Mexico borders. Democrats recently offered about $1.3 million for border barrier funding.

Trump’s announcement followed a visit Saturday morning to Dover Air Force Base in Maryland, where the president met with the families of the four Americans killed in Manbij, Syria. At the base, Trump participated in the dignified transfer of Scott Wirtz, a 42-year-old civilian contractor who was killed in the deadly ISIS bomb blast on Wednesday.

The so-called transfer of the remains of a fallen military member unfolds with strict solemnity, as a casket draped in an American flag is carried off an aircraft to a waiting vehicle which takes the remains to a mortuary.

In a somber moment, the president walked on board a C-17 aircraft that held the transfer case. Inside, a chaplain led a prayer over the deceased. The president, who was joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, stepped off the plane and stood silently in formation with his right hand in a salute as the case was carried to a transfer vehicle by the Navy Ceremonial Team.

The four Americans – an interpreter, a Navy chief cryptologic technician, a Department of Defense civilian and an Army chief warrant officer – were killed in a suicide bombing last week, the deadliest attack on US military since troops went into Syria. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.

The deadly bomb blast came one month after President Trump declared plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, having – he said -- completed the mission to defeat ISIS.

This is not the president's first time to pay his respects to the fallen at Dover. Last February, the president made an unannounced trip with Ivanka Trump for the dignified transfer of a Navy SEAL killed in Yemen.

Before departing for Dover the president told reporters on the White House South Lawn that meeting with the family members of fallen soldiers is one of the "toughest things I have to do as president."

"I think it is the toughest thing I have to do,” Trump said. “When I'm going to meet relatives of some of our great, great heroes that have fallen, I think it might be the toughest thing I have to do as president.”

In a video posted to Twitter Friday evening, Trump called the situation at the southern border both a "humanitarian crisis" and a "national security crisis." He added that it would be necessary to secure the border and that "if we don't do that, we're a very, very sad and foolish lot."

The president's promised announcement came amid an increasingly nasty back-and-forth with Democratic leaders over the protracted government shutdown -- which this week could head into its second month -- and funding over his long-desired border wall.

The president's promised announcement came amid an increasingly nasty back-and-forth with Democratic leaders over the protracted government shutdown -- which this week could head into its second month -- and funding over his long-desired border wall.

After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked the president to postpone his State of the Union speech due to security shortages brought on by the shutdown, Trump blocked her use of a military aircraft for an official overseas trip with a congressional delegation, and suggested that she could make the trip to the war theater in Afghanistan.

On Friday, Pelosi accused the president and his administration of leaking her plans to possibly fly commercially instead and endangering lives as a result.

Immediate reaction among Trump's base was mixed, with conservative commentators Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter offering opposing takes on the speech.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Jan192019

Special counsel office: Parts of Buzzfeed article tying Trump to Cohen’s lies to Congress are not accurate

Martin H. Simon - Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Special counsel Robert Mueller on Friday took the unusual step of publicly denying portions of a media report published by BuzzFeed News.

The article, posted Thursday night on BuzzFeed, suggests that President Donald Trump directed Michael Cohen, his former personal attorney and fixer, to lie in his testimony to Congress and that special counsel Robert Mueller has evidence to support that claim.

“BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate,” special counsel spokesman Peter Carr said Friday evening in a brief statement to ABC News.

In a tweet late Friday night, President Trump criticized both the news organization's journalistic work and the broader Russia probe.

"Remember it was BuzzFeed that released the totally discredited 'Dossier,' paid for by Crooked Hillary Clinton and the Democrats (as opposition research), on which the entire Russian probe is based! A very sad day for journalism, but a great day for our Country!"

On Saturday morning, the president called the story "phony," and that he "appreciated the special counsel coming out a statement."

The story, he added, "was a disgrace to our country, to journalism."

BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith stood by the organization's reporting on Friday, tweeting, "In response to the statement tonight from the Special Counsel's spokesman: We stand by our reporting and the sources who informed it, and we urge the Special Counsel to make clear what he's disputing."

It was a position he reiterated later during an appearance on CNN.

On Saturday afternoon, BuzzFeed released another statement defending the accuracy of its report.

"As we've reconfirmed our reporting, we've seen no indication that any specific aspect of our story is inaccurate. We remain confident in what we've reported, and will share more as we are able to," Matt Mittenthal, a BuzzFeed News spokesman, said in a statement released on BuzzFeed News' Twitter account.

Democrats in Congress pledged to investigate allegations in BuzzFeed’s media report published Thursday night suggesting President Donald Trump instructed Michael Cohen, his former personal attorney and fixer, to lie to Congress about a proposed project to build a Trump-branded property in Moscow.

“These allegations may prove unfounded, but, if true, they would constitute both the subornation of perjury as well as obstruction of justice,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement Friday morning.

As part of his plea deal with Mueller, Cohen admitted that he made the misstatements about the Trump Organization’s “Moscow Project”, in an August 2017 letter to the House and Senate intelligence committees, which were conducting inquiries into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

ABC News has not confirmed the allegations in BuzzFeed’s story that Trump directed Cohen to lied to Congress.

Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, called BuzzFeed’s report “categorically false” and said “today’s claims are just more made-up lies born of Michael Cohen’s malice and desperation, in an effort to reduce his sentence.” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Friday called the allegations laid out by BuzzFeed "absolutely ridiculous."

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., joined Schiff’s call to investigate, pledging that his committee will “get to the bottom of it.”

Others went further. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, tweeted late Thursday that Trump “must resign or be impeached” if the BuzzFeed report is proven truthful. And Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., called on special counsel Robert Mueller “to show Congress his cards before it's too late for us to act.”

Much remains unknown about the plans for a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Cohen worked hand-in-hand with Felix Sater, a Russian-born business associate who scouted deals for the Trump Organization, to set in motion plans for a Trump Tower in Moscow. The two even conceived an idea to offer a $50 million penthouse in the prospective building to Russian President Vladimir Putin, a source familiar with the deal told ABC News.

The public first learned in the summer of 2017 that Cohen had been pursuing a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow even after his boss had begun to campaign for president.

At the time, Cohen told members of Congress the deal never progressed beyond an initial "letter of intent" and it was halted in January of 2016, before the Iowa caucuses.

But later, Cohen admitted in court that he made the false statements about the project “to be consistent with Individual 1’s political messaging and to be loyal to Individual 1.” Individual 1 was believed to be Trump, based on the description in court documents.

The president during the campaign denied working on any deals with Russia but tweeted late last year that he “lightly looked at doing a building in Moscow.”

Cohen was sentenced in December to three years in prison for financial crimes, lying to Congress, and for two violations of campaign finance law.

He’s scheduled to report to prison in early March, but he could have a busy month of congressional testimony before then.

He has already agreed to appear publicly before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Feb. 7, and Schiff has expressed interest in bringing Cohen back to the House Intelligence Committee for an interview behind closed doors.

On Friday morning, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said “we expect to have him back… in February, we've got a lot of questions to ask.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Jan192019

President Trump meets with families of soldiers killed in Syria

Martin H. Simon/Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Saturday to meet with the families of four Americans killed last week in a terrorist attack in Syria.

After spending time with the victims' families, the president participated in the dignified transfer ceremony of Scott Wirtz, a contractor who was killed in the deadly bomb blast.

In a somber moment, the president walked onboard a C-17 aircraft that held the transfer case, draped in an American flag. Inside, a chaplain led a prayer. The president, who was joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting Secretary of Defense Shanahan, stepped off the plane and stood silently in formation, saluting the case as it was carried to a transfer vehicle by the Navy Ceremonial Team.

The president told reporters on the White House South Lawn before departing for Dover that meeting with the family members of fallen soldiers is one of the "toughest things I have to do as president."

"I think it is the toughest thing I have to do. When I'm going to meet relatives of some of our great, great heroes that have fallen, I think it might be the toughest thing I have to do as president," Trump said.

Wednesday's attack in Manbij was the deadliest for the U.S. military since troops went into Syria.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. Last month, Trump declared the U.S. would withdraw troops from Syria.

"We've been hitting ISIS hard over the last three weeks," he said outside the White House Saturday morning. "It's been moving along very well. When I took over, it was a total mess."

He added that killing members of ISIS may be inadvertently helping some countries, including Russia, Iran and Syria.

"At some point, you want to bring our people back home," he said of troops in Syria.

At the Pentagon on Thursday, Trump expressed his condolences for the families of the four Americans.

"I want to take a moment to express my deepest condolences to the families of the brave American heroes who laid down their lives yesterday in selfless service to our nation," Trump said.

"We never forget their noble and immortal sacrifice," he added.

The Department of Defense has identified three of the four Americans killed. They are Army Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Florida; Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician Shannon M. Kent, 35, of upstate New York; and DOD civilian Scott A. Wirtz of St. Louis, Missouri.

The president is also mired in a monthlong stalemate over funding for his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. More than 800,000 federal workers are on furlough or working without pay as part of a partial government shutdown.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Jan192019

Government shutdown having a 'rippling effect on the community'

iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The hundreds of thousands of federal workers who are either furloughed or working without pay are not the only ones reeling from the partial government shutdown.

Kings Floyd, who suffers from muscular dystrophy and epilepsy, is a federal worker who has been furloughed. That stop in pay meant she could not afford both her epilepsy medication and electric bill.

So Floyd said she went without her medication for several days -- a gap that made it tough for her to function. She felt disoriented and even fell.

And, without income, she couldn't afford to pay the personal care attendants who rotate through and help her with daily tasks.

“These are five women in the D.C. community who are relying on me as a part-time income, and I’m saying, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I can’t pay you,’” she said.

Eventually, her family was able to lend her some extra financial support -- but that assistance doesn't cover all of her needs.

It's a tight position for both her and the attendants she can no longer pay, a problem she feels lawmakers are in a position to resolve.

She's not alone. Since the federal shutdown began, ABC News has spoken with dozens of people like Floyd and her assistants.

Below are the stories of non-federal workers struggling to keep their heads above the waves of the shutdown's ripple effect.

Cab drivers

“Before, we were working short hours -- eight hours -- but now it's working more than 14, 12 hours," said veteran D.C. cabbie Berhane Berhe. "Before, if you're working six hours, you're making $200, maybe $150. But now, to make that amount of money, you have to work long hours."

Fewer federal workers are hailing cabs to work and fewer tourists are coming to town for federally funded museums such as the Smithsonian.

This means less income for taxi drivers.

And when they do work, they don't make much money.

"Yesterday, for 12 hours, I made $120," Berhe said.

But his fuel expense was about $20. Add to that the cost of vehicle maintenance, insurance and the fees he pays for the credit card system in his car, and his take-home pay is even lower.

"It's painful," he said.

Berhe has worked a cab in Washington for nearly 25 years. And he has driven through several government shutdowns.

But he said he has never felt the impact so acutely.

If the shutdown persists, Berhe may look for other work to keep up with his mortgage.

"If you keep it like this for a long time, I have to," Berhe said.

Child care

For Raechell Redmond, director of the Milestones Enrichment Center in Washington, the shutdown has meant the federal subsidies for child care and food assistance her business depends on to keep staff paid and kids fed in the upcoming weeks haven't been approved.

The center services 46 families, 35 of whom receive federal subsidies. Her facility provides breakfast, lunch and snacks for children every day through a Food and Drug Administration grant.

Without that funding, Redmond said already financially strapped parents may have to start providing food for their children.

As a preventative measure, Redmond has had to reduce hours for her staff.

And if the shutdown continues and subsidies aren’t paid, she said her business will be unable to continue.

Kids also feel the emotional impact of the furlough, Redmond said.

Younger children in her program are reverting to behaviors that they learned as babies -- clinging to parents more, confused why their parents aren’t rushing to work in the morning, instead of dropping them off in casual clothes since they aren’t going to work.

Parents are now picking up their children earlier in the afternoon, oftentimes before recess, Redmond said. The change in schedule has been noticed by children who wonder why their parents aren’t allowing them to play with their friends.

Some children look at the early pickups as a sort of punishment.

“Sometimes the parents are a little sad because they want them to come with them. But no, they want to play with their friends.”

Food trucks

In D.C., the wintry weather has made it a tough start to the year for food trucks -- normally a staple for tourists and locals looking for fun, quick meals in the city.

The furlough has made it even tougher.

Doug Povich, who owns Red Hook Lobster Pound, has been in business for over eight years. He knew winter would provide some difficulties, and has described the season as the “worst time of the year for trucks and restaurants.”

Povich, like many of his colleagues in the food truck business, wasn’t able to save a rainy day fund to get through the winter. The shutdown caused his business to decrease nearly 34 percent compared to January 2017. Because of the dip in business, he’s had to temporarily furlough two of his staffers until the shutdown ends.

“It's an ugly picture," he said. "I'm digging into my savings to try to make ends meet."

Povich told ABC News that paying his employees is very important to him, so he has made changes at home. He and his wife are not going out to dinner, going to the movies is out of the picture, and he has even changed his cat’s food in an effort to save money. "It’s pretty dire.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jan182019

Trump to make ‘major announcement’ on shutdown, border

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump tweeted Friday evening that he will be making a "major announcement" relating to the government shutdown and the United States’ southern border with Mexico on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. from the White House.

The announcement comes as the longest government shutdown in U.S. history approaches a month in length.

Asked in a conversation with reporters at the White House Friday evening if the announcement related to declaring a national emergency to use funds to construct a border wall, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to specify what exactly the announcement would entail.

The president's promised announcement comes amid an acrimonious back-and-forth with Democratic leaders over the protracted government shutdown and funding over his long-desired border wall.

The bitter words continued Friday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose official trip overseas on a military aircraft was abruptly blocked Thursday by President Donald Trump, accused the president and his administration of leaking her plans to possibly fly commercially instead and endangering lives as a result.

"After President Trump revoked the use of military aircraft to travel to Afghanistan, the delegation was prepared to fly commercially to proceed with this vital trip to meet with our commanders and troops on the front lines. In the middle of the night, the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service provided an updated threat assessment detailing that the President announcing this sensitive travel had significantly increased the danger to the delegation and to the troops, security, and other officials supporting the trip," Hammill said.

Due to "grave threats" the delegation decided to postpone the trip, Hammill said.

The White House called the assertion a "flat out lie."

Meanwhile, hundreds of furloughed federal workers waited on Friday to get free food at a pop-up kitchen on Pennsylvania Avenue — not far from the White House and Capitol — on Day 28 of the longest-running government shutdown. A similar scene played in cities such as Atlanta.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jan182019

'Depth of the horror of family separation is unknown,' says congresswoman in border district

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) --  Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX) said she and her constituents suspected the initial numbers the government was providing about child separations were inaccurate.

“We knew the numbers were greater. We kept asking for information. We kept asking for transparency,” she said on ABC News’ The Debrief. "Of course, none of that happened."

Her reaction comes on the heels of a federal report that stated more children were separated at the border than originally estimated.

Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of the department of homeland security, has defended the so-called zero-tolerance and said it was never U.S. policy to separate children.

 

 

On Thursday, a spokesman for DHS said the department was looking at every option.

“The Trump administration has made clear that all legal options are on the table to enforce the rule of law, rein in mass unchecked illegal immigration, and defend our borders," said a spokeswoman in an emailed statement.

Still, Escobar does not feel confident the American public is getting the complete truth.

“I think the depth of the horror of family separation is unknown,” she said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jan182019

White House sets record for longest span with no press briefings during Trump presidency

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- White House press secretary Sarah Sanders spent most of Thursday afternoon stepping in and out of her private office to field questions from reporters huddled in the hallway, seeking more answers on the president’s surprise letter denying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi use of military aircraft for her congressional delegation overseas.

The crowding of the West Wing hallway, in what is known as 'upper press,' has become the new norm for reporters seeking information or comment from the White House on major headlines over the past 31 days – a record for the span of time without an on-camera briefing during President Donald Trump’s time in office.

Sanders has not briefed once yet in 2019, and has broken the previous Trump White House record for no press briefings set between Oct. 29 and Nov. 27 last year, a 29-day period during the fall where the 'disappearing' press briefing seemed to enter the 'endangered species' territory.

Two weeks ago, reporters were informed via an overhead announcement that Sanders would be holding her first briefing of the year. But instead, the president entered the briefing room for the first time.

He then refused to take any questions after delivering a statement on border security surrounded by various Customs and Border Patrol agents.

In Sanders' most recent briefing on Dec. 18, the leading headlines involved the president moving forward with his ban on bump stocks and the delay in the sentencing for his former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

She claimed at the time that the White House was actively finding ways to fund the president’s border wall from outside agencies and signaled to Congress that the president would accept a continuing resolution to keep the government open that did not include wall money.

It was the next day that the White House announced Trump wouldn't accept any funding bill without money for a wall, setting the stage for the partial government shutdown that has roiled Washington the past 28 days and left 800,000 government employees either working without pay or furloughed.

Other major stories in the 31-day span with no briefings have included the departure of the White House chief of staff, the resignation of the defense secretary, the sudden announcement of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria and other major headlines in the Russia investigation.

In contrast, former Obama White House press secretary Jay Carney held 10 daily briefings with reporters through the 17-day government shutdown in 2013, in addition to a more than hour-long press conference held by former President Obama in the White House briefing room.

In order to receive comment on news-of-day stories from the White House as daily briefings have phased out, reporters often reach out over email or walk up to the press office to seek comment from officials in person.

The only on-camera opportunities for reporters to question White House officials have come when they gather on the driveway in front of the West Wing to conduct short gaggles with Sanders, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley following their appearances on cable networks, predominantly Fox News.

Sanders, for example, most recently spoke to reporters in a driveway question-and-answer session Friday for less than four minutes after a pre-taped interview with Fox News, where she took questions on North Korea, the government shutdown and the president's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, among other topics.

Sanders did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment on this story.

The trend of fewer briefings is in sharp contrast to President Trump’s own frequent engagements with reporters.

According to data compiled by presidential press scholar Martha Kumar, Trump is well on track to become the most “accessible” president based on statistics dating back to the time of Ronald Reagan.

 The measure is based on the total number of interviews, short Q&As and news conferences he has held compared to his predecessors.

According to the UCSB presidency project, "the length of time between briefings is longer than any of the preceding 13 press secretaries."

But that access has been effectively traded off with the growing absence of daily briefings, which previous administrations dating back to the Clinton administration generally utilized to offer official responses to major stories, as well as to transmit some of the more mundane and process-oriented messaging in specific policy areas.

It allowed reporters from outlets around the world and in different coverage areas to press the White House on its positions, and ask questions that wouldn't typically be put to the president.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jan182019

President Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong Un to hold second summit next month: White House

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) --  President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will hold a second summit near the end of February, the White House announced Friday.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders put out a statement confirming the summit after Trump met with North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator Kim Jong Chol Friday in the Oval Office.

It wasn't immediately known whether he carried a message from the North Korean leader as he did when he visited the White House in June before the first Trump-Kim summit in Singapore.

“President Donald J. Trump met with Kim Yong Chol for an hour and half, to discuss denuclearization," Sanders said in the statement. Sanders said they discussed "a second summit, which will take place near the end of February. The President looks forward to meeting with Chairman Kim at a place to be announced at a later date.”

Prior to meeting with the president, Kim Jong Chol met Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as the administration pushed ahead with plans for a second summit between Trump and Kim.

The two men did not make any statements or answer reporters' questions.

The meeting comes amid a stalemate in nuclear talks, with North Korea demanding the U.S. first ease sanctions and the U.S. saying there will be no relief until North Korea takes steps to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

Kim Yong Chol, the regime's former spy chief, arrived in Washington late Thursday night, staying at a hotel just blocks north of the White House.

Pompeo and Kim Yong Chol have met several times before, including in New York last May just before Trump and Kim Jong Un met in Singapore. In that meeting, Pompeo and his counterpart hashed out plans for a summit.

Friday's meeting in Washington was key to taking the North Koreans' temperature ahead of a second summit and see if such a meeting would be productive, a U.S. official told ABC News.

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Friday
Jan182019

Leaked memo shows Trump administration weighed separating families at border, Sen. Merkley wants Nielsen investigated for perjury

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(WASHINGTON) --  Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley on Friday asked the FBI to open a perjury investigation into Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen following the leak of an internal draft 2017 document that detailed the administration's legal options for separating families as a way to curb illegal immigration at the border.

The memo challenges the assertion by Nielsen last June on Twitter and in media briefings saying "we do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period."

The Dec. 16, 2017, document, provided by Merkley's office, which said it received it from a whistleblower, appears to be an internal memo on legal options to address families who were arriving at the border. Among the options listed: the "prosecution of family units" and "separate family units."

"Announce that DHS is considering separating family units, placing the adults in adult detention, and placing the minors under the age 18 in the custody of (Health and Human Services) as unaccompanied alien children," states one option in the document.

Merkley notes that Nielsen made similar comments in congressional testimony, at one point telling the House Judiciary Committee: "I'm not a liar. We've never had a policy of family separation."

"Compelling new evidence has emerged revealing that high-level Department of Homeland Security officials were secretly and actively developing a new policy and legal framework for separating families as far back as December 2017," Merkley, from Oregon, wrote in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray.

On Thursday, a spokeswoman for DHS said the document was intended to examine the administration's options. The spokeswoman did not immediately respond to Merkley's request for a perjury inquiry.

“The Trump administration has made clear that all legal options are on the table to enforce the rule of law, rein in mass unchecked illegal immigration, and defend our borders," said spokeswoman Katie Waldman in an emailed statement.

Waldman said the administration saw an uptick of border arrests, which it blamed on a lack of a border wall and a court settlement that prohibits detention of children for longer than 20 days. Officials have said previously they believe that court settlement, known as the Flores Agreement, encouraged people to travel with minors.

"In part we were predicting -- and trying to prevent -- the exact humanitarian and security crisis we are confronted by now," Waldman said. "It would be malpractice to not seriously examine every single avenue to gain operational control of the border and ensure that those who are entering our country have a legal right to be here."

Shortly after the December 2017 memo was drafted, in April 2018, the Trump administration announced a "zero-tolerance" policy at the border that resulted in the separation of some 2,700 kids from their families in a matter of weeks.

In court filings, the administration has estimated a total of 2,737 children were separated from their families under "zero tolerance." But a report released Thursday by internal government investigators found that there were likely "thousands" more kids separated from families in 2017, before that policy took effect. The Health and Human Services inspector general said that the number of kids separated from their families under the current administration is "unknown."

While enforcement deterrents like the ones described in the memo have been effective in stopping adult men from entering further into the U.S. for economic reasons, experts at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute say those methods don't address the current humanitarian crisis.

"There is no evidence that such deterrence tactics work against the humanitarian flows today," MPI analyst Sarah Pierce told ABC News. "So not only is it immoral, but it is misguided and foolish."

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