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Thursday
Jul182019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jul182019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jul182019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We should continue that tradition."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jul182019

Trump says he disagrees with 'send her back' chants, despite fanning flames for days

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump disavowed a campaign rally chant of "send her back," where the president's supporters targeted Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., during a campaign event in Greenville, North Carolina, on Wednesday evening, telling reporters on Thursday afternoon that he "was not happy with it."

"I disagree with it," Trump said in the Oval Office, encouraging reporters to ask the supporters for an explanation of why they chanted during his remarks last night.

Trump would not say whether he would tell his supporters to not repeat the chant.

"I was not happy with it, I disagree with it," he said. "But again, I didn’t say that, they did. But I disagree."

The president on Wednesday night let the chant go on for about 12 seconds without saying a word. On Thursday, pushed by ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl on why he did not begin speaking sooner, he claimed he did.

"If you would have heard, there was a tremendous amount of noise and action and everything else," he said. "I started very quickly. And I think you know that."

The top Republican in the House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, adamantly defended Trump, asserting that the president bears no responsibility for the chants of "send her back" after a week-long back-and-forth with progressive Democrats and charges of racist rhetoric.

McCarthy told reporters earlier in the day that the chants "have no place in our country," but when pressed why it's OK for the president to use that language, but not his supporters, the California Republican insisted the president never said that.

"The president clarified very clearly that he did not tell somebody –" McCarthy told ABC News senior congressional correspondent Mary Bruce, cutting himself off. "He talked about the love of this country."

"He talked about people who don't love this country, you can leave," he continued. "This is an issue about ideology."

In a series of tweets last weekend, Trump first criticized the progressive Democratic congresswomen for what he characterized as "horrible and disgusting actions," telling them to stop criticizing the government and "go back" to where they came from.

Asked about the president’s muted response in North Carolina, where Trump did not intervene but just stood on stage as supporters chanted, McCarthy contended he was told "it was a small group off to the side."

"The president did not join in. The president moved on," McCarthy said. "You want to dislike the president so much you've gonna accuse him of trying to do something he did not do? From the places that he moved on in the speech -- he never joined in on it -- and you want to try to hold him accountable for something that happened in a big audience?"

"What he did, in his responsibility was right," McCarthy insisted. "He moved on to make them stop in the process. That's exactly what the president did and the president talked about the greatness of this country."

Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the unofficial captain of the so-called "Squad," told reporters that the president’s campaign rhetoric targeting her Democratic colleague, Omar, is putting "millions of people in danger."

"I think the president put millions of Americans in danger last night. His rhetoric is endangering lots of people," Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, said. "This is just not just about threats to individual Members of Congress, but it is about creating a volatile environment in this country through violent rhetoric that puts anyone like Ilhan, anyone who believes in the rights of all people, in danger. And I think that he has a responsibility for that environment."

The House of Representatives voted largely along party lines Tuesday to formally condemn the tweets, with just four House Republicans and one independent lawmaker siding with Democrats to adopt the measure.

North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, one of the president’s top allies on Capitol Hill, said that the president’s supporters at last night’s rally in his home state were not repeating the president’s language.

"If you've been at any rally you know the president doesn’t control the chants," Meadows told Bruce.

"The president obviously loves this country and wants people here to love this country. And anything that would indicate there is not a love for this country is something people are going to react to," he continued. "Too much emphasis is being placed on rallies and chants."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jul182019

New Cohen documents reveal calls with Trump, National Enquirer publisher before payment

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Even though Hope Hicks, one of President Trump’s closest aides, may have had detailed knowledge of the scheme to pay off porn star Stormy Daniels, federal prosecutors decided privately that they didn’t have the evidence to charge Hicks with a crime, sources revealed to ABC News for the first time today.

The news comes only hours after a trove of documents connected with the hush-money probe were released by the US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. The records – hundreds of pages connected with search warrants issued in 2018 – show that Hicks, along with Trump, spoke by phone to former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen as Cohen formulated his plan to pay $130,000 to Daniels. The goal was to keep Daniels from going public with her allegations about a tryst with Trump in 2006.

The newly-unsealed court records suggest that President Donald Trump and his campaign may have had prior knowledge of a deal to silence Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress who allegedly engaged in an extra-marital affair with the then-presidential candidate in the weeks leading up the 2016 election.

In unredacted search warrant documents unsealed on Thursday, an FBI special agent described a series of phone calls in October of 2016 between the president’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, the president’s then-campaign press secretary, Hope Hicks, and Trump himself.

In between calls with Hicks and Trump – one of which was a three-way phone conversation – Cohen communicated by text and phone with two executives at American Media Inc., publisher of The National Enquirer, at times immediately afterwards. In those discussions, Cohen repeatedly invoked the name “Keith,” referring to Keith Davidson, the lawyer representing adult film-star Stormy Daniels.

The content of these communications is not made explicit by the FBI agent, but the timing suggests the group was discussing the hush-payment deal with Daniels.

In a footnote in the documents, the FBI special agent says Hicks later told investigators that “to the best of her recollection, she did not learn about the allegations made by Clifford until early November 2016. Hicks was not specifically asked about this three-way call.”

During her testimony before Congress last month, Hicks denied ever being present during conversations between Cohen and Trump about Daniels, or ever having direct knowledge of Cohen's payments to Daniels. Efforts by ABC News to reach Hicks for comment through her attorney were not immediately successful.

Two sources briefed on the matter told ABC News Hope Hicks will not be charged by prosecutors in the Southern district of New York. While Hicks did not have a formal cooperation agreement, the the sources told ABC News that she answered questions when confronted about the phone call.

In no way, the sources said, could Hicks be described as forthcoming. However, she answered questions when asked and her answers led prosecutors to conclude they could not establish that she committed a crime.

As part of the timeline of calls disclosed by prosecutors, after Cohen spoke with Daniel’s attorney Keith Davidson, he reached out on Oct. 8, 2016 to Trump, whom he was unable to connect with less than an hour later. According to prosecutors, Cohen then calls then-campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, but they don’t connect at first, but then speak for six minutes.

Conway has been previously asked if she had any knowledge about the hush money payments. “They didn't cross my desk as campaign manager,” Conway told CNN in May 2018. Reached by ABC News Thursday, the now senior counselor to the president confirmed her past statements still stand as accurate and she had no knowledge of the payments.

These new revelations come from a cache of documents unsealed on Thursday after the judge in Cohen's case ordered prosecutors to make public some documents related to Cohen's campaign finance violations, which he pleaded guilty to in August.

The violations to which Cohen pleaded guilty stem from the hush-money agreements which the documents released Thursday show were possibly being discussed by Cohen, Hicks and Trump.

Cohen was sentenced to 3 years in prison for his admitted crimes. He's been in ongoing cooperation with prosecutors since he entered his plea. During his plea hearing, Cohen told the court he had made payments to the women "in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office" who was later identified as Trump.

These new records were unsealed by an order from U.S. Judge William Pauley, who said that "every American" should have the opportunity to "scrutinize" the materials after prosecutors signaled that they had ended their investigation into the Trump Organization's involvement in the hush money payments.

"The campaign finance violations discussed in the materials are a matter of national importance," Judge Pauley said, denying the government's request for limited redactions.

The government confirmed the conclusion of the its investigation in a letter filed Thursday.

On Wednesday, after Judge Pauley suggested that the government’s probe had concluded, the president's attorney, Jay Sekulow, said the president’s legal team was “pleased” by the news.

Cohen's attorney, Lanny Davis, however, expressed displeasure with prosecutors decision to drop the proceedings in his own statement issued Wednesday evening.

“Case closed? Why is Michael Cohen — after all his voluntary cooperation and testimony that Mr. Mueller said was credible and went to “core issues” and all the information and documents he voluntarily provided to prosecutors and to congress — the only member of the Trump company to be prosecuted and imprisoned?" Davis said in the statement. "Especially since prosecutors found that virtually all of Michael’s admitted crimes were done at the direction of and for the benefit of Donald Trump? Why?”

In a statement of his own that he made from prison on Thursday, Cohen said that "as I stated in my open testimony, I and members of The Trump Organization were directed by Mr. Trump to handle the Stormy Daniel`s matter; including making the hush money payment. The conclusion of the investigation exonerating The Trump Organization`s role should be of great concern to the American people and investigated by Congress and The Department of Justice."

During his congressional testimony in February, Cohen testified that he had "pled guilty in federal court to felonies for the benefit of, at the direction of, and in coordination with Individual #1" who is known to be Trump. Trump has denied these claims.

Cohen had previously testified before Congress, and later pleaded guilty to lying about elements of his first testimony.

This is a developing story, check back for updates.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jul182019

Top Republican Tom Emmer says 'no place' for 'send her back' chants at Trump rally

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- The congressman leading Republicans' efforts to retake the House in 2020 disavowed the "send her back" chants at President Trump's rally last night in North Carolina, saying there's "no place for that kind of talk."

"I didn't watch the rally last night, sorry, but there's no place for that kind of talk. I don't agree with it,"Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, appearing at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters Thursday.

Emmer also defended Trump, saying he doesn't have a "racist bone" in his body and that the criticism has been "manufactured" by Democrats in Washington.

The House voted on Tuesday to condemn Trump's attacks, and one Texas Democrat forced the House to consider an impeachment resolution against Trump based on the attacks, which was defeated in an overwhelming vote on Wednesday.

"What he was trying to say he said wrong. What he was trying to say is that if you don't appreciate this country you don't have to be here," Emmer said. "It has nothing to do with your race or gender, or your family history. It has to do with respecting and loving the country that is giving you the opportunities that you have."

"I had somebody say to me recently, 'You know when Ilhan talks, Ilhan makes it look like she lets people believe she hates America.' Now I don't know if that's true, but as somebody said to me back at home, they said to me, 'How about a little gratitude with that attitude?'"

Emmer was referring to freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who Trump lambasted for comments about 9/11 and al-Qaida. In a highly controversial tweet, Trump told Omar, as well as New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other members of the "squad" of progressive female Democrats to "go back" to their home countries.

Three of the four members of the group -- Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley -- were born in the U.S. and Omar was a refugee from Somalia who came to the U.S. as a teen.

Asked if he would advise Republicans to break with the president -- particularly around his comments on race -- Emmer said "I'm not gonna tell somebody what they should do."

The Minnesota Republican also defended the NRCC's hardball messaging tactics this cycle.

After the House vote to condemn Trump's attacks on Tuesday, the NRCC flooded reporters' email inboxes with messages referring to Democrats as "deranged." The committee has also increasingly given Trump-style nicknames to Democrats, a tactic that has been criticized by current and former House Republican lawmakers.

The NRCC is an "organization whose job is to define who they are, to make it clear to the American public," Emmer said.

The committee is working, as Trump has done, to make Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues the new face of the Democratic Party, and lump all Democrats in with their progressive proposals.

"If you want to call them the 'Squad,' you should call them the 'Leadership Squad,'" Emmer said. "The rest of their conference you can call the new 'Red Army of Socialists.'"

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jul182019

Trump tweets about Puerto Rico being 'under siege' amid violent protests over governor

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump weighed in for the first time on the protests in Puerto Rico, where thousands have called on Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to resign.

Trump's tweets come as the unrest on the island grew more violent Wednesday night, when police fired tear gas on those marching in San Juan.

The president tweeted the people of Puerto Rico "are great" but "much of their leadership is corrupt" -- a charge he's made before.

He noted Rosselló was "under siege" and, as he has before, lambasted San Juan's mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, saying she "is a despicable and incompetent person who I wouldn’t trust under any circumstance."

The mayor has made clear in recent days that she's on the side of the protesters, and she was also among the targets of the profanity-filled secret Telegram chat group that included the governor and other top officials that helped spark the protests.

In a new statement issued Thursday morning, Rossello acknowledged the widespread protests, saying they "have not gone unnoticed for me, my family and certainly for anyone in Puerto Rico."

He said he respected the demonstrations "not only as a democratic exercise, but as a natural manifestation of the anger at recent events," but criticized what he said were the minority of protesters who "chose the wrong methods and violence, even with the use of weapons, Molotov cocktails and other explosives, causing injuries and impacting officers of the Puerto Rico Police."

"This challenge to law and order will be addressed accordingly," he said of the violent demonstrators.

"In the past few days I have apologized to the Puerto Rican people and that request remains alive. I have the commitment, stronger than ever, to carry out the public policy for which we have worked so hard in all areas of government. I recognize the challenge before me for recent controversies, but I firmly believe that it is possible to restore confidence and that we can, after this painful and painful process, achieve reconciliation," he said.

The uproar began Saturday, after the nonprofit journalism group Center of Investigative Journalism published nearly 900 pages of conversations from a leaked group chat between Rosello and several top aides that detail efforts to manipulate public narratives, operations to discredit negative press coverage and criticism of opposition leaders.

The conversations, made through the Telegram app, also contain sexist, homophobic and misogynistic comments from the members of the group, according to the report. These messages have not been independently authenticated by ABC News. After the revelation of the messages, Rossello announced the resignation of a number of government officials including Luis Rivera Marin, the secretary of state.

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Thursday
Jul182019

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin expresses confidence in budget deal as negotiations continue

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin expressed confidence a budget deal with Democrats could be reached ahead of a looming deadline, but said hurdles still remain for negotiations between the Trump administration and Democrats on Capitol Hill.

On Thursday, during an interview on CNBC, Mnuchin said the Trump administration, House and Senate have agreed on raising the federal borrowing limit for two years and have set budget cap numbers for 2020 and 2021.

"The good news is we've reached an agreement between the administration, the House and the Senate on top line numbers for both year one and year two. We're now discussing offsets, as well as certain structural issues and we've agreed as a part of that deal, there would be a long-term two-year debt ceiling increase," Mnuchin said on "Squawk Box."

"So I think all of our first choice is to try to reach an overall agreement and we are working hard to do that. But if for whatever reason we don't get there in time I am encouraging a debt ceiling increase," he added.

Mnuchin warned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a letter that the Treasury Department could run out of money in early September, and asked for an increase to the debt ceiling before Congress leaves for summer. Congress leaves for recess on July 26, leaving little time for negotiators to strike a deal.

In the meantime, Democrats have balked at the reported $150 billion in budget the Trump administration has demanded to offset spending increases. At stake is the potential for another government shut down after the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

On Wednesday, Mnuchin spoke on the phone with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. He said he has plans to talk with Pelosi again Thursday. He was at a meeting in France with G7 finance ministers.

Despite the ticking clock, Mnuchin sounded optimistic about reaching a deal before Congress skips town.

"I don't think the market should be concerned. I think that everybody is in agreement that we won't do anything that puts the U.S. government at risk in terms of our issue of defaulting. And I think that nobody wants a shutdown in any scenario," Mnuchin said.

Pelosi said that she hopes to present legislation to floor by next Thursday.

"That's so that we can send it in a timely fashion to the Senate so that they can go through their, shall we say, particularly senatorial process to get it done in time before they leave," she said.

President Donald Trump has not weighed in on the current negotiations.

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Thursday
Jul182019

Trump nominates 3-star admiral to lead the Navy after Senate-confirmed pick retired

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump has nominated Vice Adm. Michael Gilday to lead the Navy, after his Senate-confirmed pick suddenly decided to retire.

Earlier this month, Adm. William Moran, who was slated to become the next chief of naval operations on Aug. 1, announced he would retire because of his association with a former Navy public affairs officer, who was investigated two years ago for inappropriate conduct.

Moran, who is a four-star admiral serving as the deputy chief of naval operations, was highly regarded, but Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said Moran's contacts with the former public affairs officer called into question his judgment.

Trump's new nominee is currently the director of the Joint Staff and previously commanded the U.S. 10th Fleet and Fleet Cyber Command, the Navy's cyber component.

If confirmed, he would be the first officer to lead a military service who has also commanded a service cyber component, according to Fifth Domain.

"The entire Navy should be very excited by today’s announcement," tweeted the current chief of naval operations Adm. John Richardson on Thursday. "Admiral Mike Gilday is a true cutting edge warfighter, a surface warrior who, by virtue of his leadership at 10th Fleet, fully appreciates the challenges we face in the cyber warfare arena and the increasing pace of competition in new domains."

"His experience as the director of the Joint Staff will ensure that the Navy continues to look for every opportunity to collaborate with other services, allies, and partners around the world. Pending confirmation, the Navy will be in good hands with Admiral Gilday at the helm," Richardson continued.

The president bypassed seven sitting four-star admirals in picking Gilday, according to the U.S. Naval Institute. The last time a three-star admiral was nominated to be the chief of naval operations was in 1970.

Gilday is a native of Lowell, Massachusetts, and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. He holds graduate degrees from the Harvard Kennedy School and the National War College.

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Thursday
Jul182019

Trump administration stops sending kids to controversial Homestead migrant facility

Brad Greeff/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Trump administration has stopped placing children at Florida's Homestead Shelter, a facility for undocumented migrant teens that's become a lightning rod for 2020 politics.

The suspension was confirmed by government officials who say demand for beds at the temporary influx shelter has declined, although 1,300 teens remain at the site and local officials are concerned that proper hurricane evacuation plans are not in place.

Democrats have called for the site to be closed, and several 2020 presidential candidates have joined protests against the facility. On a recent trip, Sen. Elizabeth Warren said she saw children there "being treated like prisoners."

Sen. Bernie Sanders called the facilities "racist child prisons" and pinned the blame on the Trump administration -- although the practice of holding kids in such facilities was also employed under President Barack Obama.

Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, whose district includes the grounds of the Homestead facility, expressed concern that federal officials don't have a plan to evacuate the shelter in the event of a hurricane.

"I still have not seen a hurricane evacuation plan for the Homestead facility, and as long as they continue to hold children during hurricane season, this is an extremely dangerous form of neglect," she tweeted Tuesday.

Amnesty International -- a group that details abuse and torture by governments -- is calling today for Homestead to close.

In a new report, Amnesty International said the center for undocumented migrant children had an "inadequate system" for kids to report sexual abuse by staff.

The facility provides booths with direct phone lines for children to report abusive behavior. But the Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, Margaret Huang, told ABC News there are still barriers for those children who need to report malpractice.

"The challenge is the booths are in very public locations, there's no privacy," Huang said. "So there's no privacy and no protection for kids to report abuse."

A spokesperson for Caliburn, the private company contracted to run Homestead, disputed Amnesty International's claims, saying children also have access to the lawyers to report abuse on site.

"We follow [Office of Refugee Resettlement] policy in reporting any significant incidents or sexual abuse allegations revealed on site," spokesperson Tetiana Anderson said in a statement to ABC News.

The Amnesty International inspectors also raised concerns about privacy for children using the bathroom, saying there were only shower curtains and no doors in some of the kids' restrooms.

When minors are taken into Border Patrol custody at the southern border, the agency classifies them as "unaccompanied alien children" if they are not traveling with a parent or legal guardian. The Department of Homeland Security is then responsible for taking them to the government network of private care providers.

The federal government uses facilities like the one at Homestead to handle surges of new arrivals when the network of nonprofit and commercial housing organizations runs out of space to take children from the border.

Those "temporary influx shelters" are used as a last-resort option, but an HHS spokesperson said there's no plan yet to close the shelter completely.

"It is premature to speculate about putting the shelter into 'warm status' like happened in April 2017," HHS spokesperson Mark Weber said in a statement to ABC News.

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