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Tuesday
Jan242017

Trump Press Secretary Doubles Down on Voter Fraud Claim

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- After being repeatedly pressed about President Donald Trump's unsubstantiated claims that "millions" of people voted illegally in the presidential election, White House press secretary Sean Spicer left the door open to a possible investigation into the claims during a press briefing Tuesday.

On Monday, Trump said during a meeting with congressional leaders in the White House, that "3 to 5 million illegals" voted, according to two Democratic aides who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Spicer told reporters Tuesday "maybe we will" launch an investigation into Trump's claims.

"Anything's possible I think at some point," he later added. "There is no investigation. I said it was possible. Anything is possible. It was a hypothetical question."

Trump has made repeated claims about alleged voter fraud after losing the popular vote in the election in November, though thus far no evidence has been presented that backs up his claims.

"He continues to maintain that belief based on studies and evidence people have presented to him," Spicer said Tuesday.

At least five reporters asked questions on the issue during the press briefing, and at one point Spicer dismissed the suggestion that Trump kept bringing up the topic of the unsubstantiated voter fraud because the president was upset about the vote count. Spicer said that Trump "won very handily" and "he's very comfortable with his win."

When pressed for specific examples of the evidence that Trump has used as the basis of his "longstanding belief," Spicer cited a 2008 study by Pew and "other studies that have been presented to [Trump]."

The Trump transition team was previously asked about this topic and cited the same Pew Research Study, which came out in 2012 but focused on the results of the 2008 election and the need to update voter registrations.

The primary author of the study in question previously responded, tweeting that "the report made no findings re: voter fraud."

Spicer did not give names or sources for the "other studies."

"We'll see where we go from here but right now the focus that the president has is putting Americans back to work," Spicer said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Jan242017

Democrats Grill Trump HHS Nominee over Stock Trades, Obamacare Plans

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services, fended off accusations from Democrats that he acted improperly as a member of Congress by trading shares of a pharmaceutical company, while offering few concrete details about the president’s plans for an Obamacare replacement or entitlement reform.

The physician-turned-lawmaker was questioned early in the hearing by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., regarding a series of trades he made in an Australian pharmaceutical company. The company could benefit from a bill passed by Congress to expedite the drug approval process.

Democrats have questioned whether Price acted on inside information after learning about the company from Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., a major shareholder. Price has flatly denied that he violated the STOCK Act.

“Doesn’t this show bad judgment?” Wyden asked.

“No,” Price responded. “The reality is that everything that I did was ethical, and above board and transparent.”

Tuesday's hearing follows a Senate committee review of Price's tax returns from 2013, 2014 and 2015, in addition to other financial documents. The review found that Price didn't include late property tax payments and undervalued pharmaceutical stock on his disclosure forms, according to a bipartisan committee memo obtained by ABC News.

Price did not disclose an ethics investigation into his fundraising practices either, the memo said, though the House Ethics Committee ultimately found no wrongdoing.

Price said Tuesday that the filings had been corrected. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, blasted Democrats' line of questioning: "I have never seen this level of partisan rancor when it comes to dealing with a president from an opposing party."

The Office of Government Ethics has approved Price's plan to divest himself of all medical-related stocks and assets that could pose potential conflicts of interest.

Price had few details about Republican plans to repeal and replace Obamacare, arguing that his role as an administrator will be to implement the laws Congress passes and carry out the president’s directive.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, asked Price if the replacement will be revealed once he is confirmed, as Trump has suggested.

“It’s true that he said this, yes,” Price replied.

“Did he lie to the public about working with you?” Brown asked.

“I’ve had conversations with the president about health care, yes," Price said, later adding that the goal is to provide all Americans with access to health insurance, rather than the universal coverage Democrats have aimed to achieve.

Later in the hearing, he suggested Democrats were trying to score political points against him.

“We know what’s going on here, and I understand. And as my wife tells me, I volunteered for this," he said.

Asked about the implementation of an executive order Trump signed to begin the dismantling of Obamacare, Price told Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., that he wouldn't use the order to begin rolling back the law before a replacement is passed.

"Our commitment is to carry out the law of the land," Price said.

Despite his support of converting Medicaid to block grants in his budget proposal as chairman of the House Budget Committee last year, Price would not directly answer questions from Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., about whether he still supports changes to the program.

"What I believe in is a Medicaid system responsive to the patients and provides the highest quality care possible. And I would respectfully suggest to you that that's not the Medicaid system we currently have," Price said.

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Tuesday
Jan242017

Trump Moves to Advance Keystone XL, Dakota Access Pipelines

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump used his second weekday in office to sign memoranda aimed at advancing the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, which pleased supporters of the projects and brought immediate condemnation from environmentalists and other opponents.

Trump said as he signed one of the memoranda, "This is with regard to the construction of the Keystone pipeline, something's that's been in dispute ... We'll see if we can get that pipeline built. A lot of jobs, 28,000 jobs. Great construction jobs."

He also signed a memorandum on the Dakota Access Pipeline, and announced that construction of both pipelines would be "subject to terms and conditions to be negotiated by us."

The response, pro and con, was swift.

"Today's news is a breath of fresh air, and proof that President Trump won't let radical special-interest groups stand in the way of doing what's best for American workers," said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate.

Trip Van Noppen, president of Earthjustice, a national environmental organization, said: “Four days after taking the oath of office, and three days after millions across the country and world marched in protest of his administration," Trump appears to be ignoring public sentiment on the pipelines. “He should brace himself to contend with the laws he is flouting and the millions of Americans who are opposed to these dangerous and destructive projects."

The Keystone XL project was killed when President Obama rejected it in November 2015 and decided not to approve a presidential permit that was necessary because the project would cross the U.S. border from Canada.

The 1,179-mile pipeline, which would stretch from Canada through Nebraska to the Gulf Coast, was supported by Republicans and some Democrats who said the project wouldn't harm the environment and would create thousands of construction jobs as well as decrease America’s dependence on oil imports from the Middle East. But opponents argued it would contribute to climate change by producing more gases through the extraction of oil sands.

Obama cited concerns over climate change in his decision and said Keystone XL's delivery system of crude oil from Canada "would not serve the national interests of the United States."

The other pipeline that Trump addressed on Tuesday, the Dakota Access Pipeline, was stopped in December 2016 when the Army Corps of Engineers denied a crucial easement needed for the project to cross under Lake Oahe, a large reservoir on the Missouri River in North Dakota just upstream of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation.

Construction of the pipeline prompted big, prolonged protests with thousands of Native Americans, environmental activists and allies camping out for months near Standing Rock reservation. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in July sued to block the four-state crude oil project, claiming that the tribe was never meaningfully consulted before construction began. They also cite an 1851 treaty that they say specifies that the land in question was designated for Native American tribes.

In response to Trump's executive memorandum Tuesday, the tribe said in a statement that the "administration’s politically motivated decision violates the law and the tribe will take legal action to fight it."

“President Trump is legally required to honor our treaty rights and provide a fair and reasonable pipeline process,” said Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “Americans know this pipeline was unfairly rerouted towards our nation and without our consent. The existing pipeline route risks infringing on our treaty rights, contaminating our water and the water of 17 million Americans downstream.”

Earthjustice, which has been representing the tribe in its court battle against the Dakota Access project, said the president's "move is legally questionable, at best."

After signing the memoranda Tuesday, Trump said he wants to make it a requirement that when new pipelines are constructed in the U.S., the pipes themselves are also built in the country.

"If we are going to build pipelines in the United States, the pipes should be built in the United States," the president said. "We build the pipelines, we want to build the pipe, going to put a lot of workers, lot of steel workers back to work.”

Trump also signed actions to expedite environmental reviews and approvals for high-priority infrastructure projects and to streamline what he called "incredibly cumbersome" regulations for domestic manufacturing.

"We intend to fix our country, our bridges, our roadways. We can't be in an environmental process for 15 years if a bridge is going to be falling down or if a highway is crumbling. So we're expediting environmental reviews and approvals," Trump said.

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Tuesday
Jan242017

A Look at Trump's Cabinet Nominees

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Before taking office, Donald Trump and his transition team managed to fill each Cabinet position, checking off one of the top priorities in the transition process by staffing the incoming administration.

At a Jan. 19 press conference, then-Vice President-elect Mike Pence said, "I'm proud to be at a place where we've named our entire cabinet before we reach that historic day tomorrow."

More than 170 people interviewed for a position in the Trump administration prior to the election and more than 200 people received a "full vetting and full review" since the election, according to Pence.

A number of appointees have already had their Senate confirmation hearings. All Cabinet-level appointments need to be confirmed by the Senate before they are officially appointed.

While it's been a custom for the next president to pick an appointee from the opposite party as a way to extend an olive branch, none of Trump's Cabinet nominees are Democrats. His Cabinet includes one African-American man and three women -- one of which is Asian-American and another is Indian-American.

Here is the full list of Cabinet picks:

Secretary of State
Rex Tillerson, CEO ExxonMobil Corporation - Offer announced Dec. 13.

Tillerson, who has spent his career at ExxonMobil, would be the first secretary of state without government or military experience if confirmed. He has a decades-long business relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which has raised eyebrows among Democratic and some Republican lawmakers.

The Senate Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Tillerson in early January.

Attorney General
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. - Offer announced on Nov. 18

Sessions, the senator from Alabama who is currently in his fourth term, has been a longtime Trump supporter who campaigned with him throughout the election.

Education Secretary
Betsy DeVos - Offer announced on Nov. 23

DeVos, a Michigan education activist and major GOP donor, is an advocate for school choice and charter schools, and has drawn criticism in conservative circles for being associated with groups that support Common Core.

Secretary of Health and Human Services
Rep. Tom Price - Offer announced on Nov. 28

The Georgia Republican, who met with Trump in New York City earlier this month, is a longtime Obamacare critic and was one of the first House committee chairmen to endorse the presidential candidate.

Secretary of Transportation
Elaine Chao - Offer announced Nov. 29

Chao previously served as labor secretary for former President George W. Bush and was the only Cabinet official to serve through all eight years of his presidency.

Secretary of Treasury
Steven Mnuchin - Announced Nov. 30

Mnuchin worked for 17 years at Goldman Sachs where he served as the chief information officer. He also founded the investment firm Dune Capital Management and the entertainment financing company RatPac-Dune Entertainment.

Secretary of Commerce
Wilbur Ross - Announced Nov. 30

Ross is a billionaire investor and founder of the investment firm W.L. Ross and Co. Ross has been described as the "King of Bankruptcy" for his work restructuring failed companies, and was a key economic adviser to Trump during his run for the presidency.

Secretary of Defense
Gen. James Mattis (Ret.) - Confirmed Jan. 20

Mattis retired from the Marine Corps in 2013 following a storied 41-year career that included leading U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and in Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War. He most recently served as head of U.S. Central Command. In addition to his nomination requiring Senate confirmation, Congress would also have to pass a special law to exempt Mattis from the requirement that commissioned officers be out of active duty at least seven years before serving as defense secretary. Congress passed a measure last week to expedite that process.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Dr. Ben Carson – Offer announced Dec. 5

Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, was once Trump’s rival during the 2016 Republican primaries and now serves as the vice chairman on the Trump transition team. He has never held elected office or worked in government.

Secretary of Department of Homeland Security
Gen. John Kelly - Confirmed Jan. 20

Kelly is a retired four-star general and the former commander of U.S. Southern Command. In addition to his experience leading troops overseas, he is known for his strong knowledge of border issues and the drug trade in South and Central America.

Secretary of the Interior
Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont. - Announced Dec. 15

Zinke is the member of Congress from Montana and a retired Navy SEAL. Zinke endorsed Trump for president back in May.

Donald Trump Jr., an avid hunter and outdoorsman, was involved in the Interior secretary selection process, including telephone calls and meetings with the candidates, according to a source familiar with the process.

Secretary of Energy
Rick Perry - Announced Dec. 14

The former Texas governor will lead the federal agency he said he wanted to eliminate but couldn't name in his famous "oops" moment during a 2011 GOP primary debate.

Secretary of Veteran Affairs
Dr. David Shulkin - Announced Jan. 11, 2017

Shulkin is currently serving as under secretary of health for the VA under the Obama administration. If confirmed, Shulkin would be the first VA secretary in the agency's history not to have served in the military.

Secretary of Agriculture
Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Purdue - Announced Jan. 19, 2017

Perdue, 70, served as the Republican governor of Georgia from 2003 to 2011. He worked on Trump's agricultural advisory committee during his presidential campaign.

There have been several other high-profile picks for positions considered Cabinet-level:

Chief of Staff
Reince Priebus - Appointed Nov. 13. This is the only Cabinet-level position that does not need Senate confirmation.

The selection of Priebus as Trump's chief of staff was the first Cabinet-level announcement.

Ambassador to the United Nations
Gov. Nikki Haley - Offer announced on Nov. 23. This position requires Senate confirmation.

Haley, the child of Indian immigrants, brings diversity to the nascent administration but has had little international experience as governor of South Carolina.

Administrator of Small Business Administration
Linda McMahon - Announced Dec. 7

Linda McMahon is the co-founder and former CEO of WWE, and prior to the announcement was an adviser to global businesses as part of APCO Worldwide's International Advisory Council. McMahon also served on the Connecticut Board of Education and serves on the boards of Sacred Heart University and the Close Up Foundation. She was a top donor to Trump through his campaign. She ran for the U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut in 2010 and 2012, losing both times.

Administrator of Environmental Protection Agency
Scott Pruitt - Announced Dec. 7

Pruitt is the Oklahoma Attorney General and has been a critic against the EPA. Pruitt's actions largely mirror Trump's own rhetoric on the campaign trail, framing the EPA as an all-too-powerful agency pursuing an ideological agenda based on what he considers dubious science.

And then there were two other early announcements that are senior positions but outside of the Cabinet:

National Security Advisor (non-Cabinet senior position)
Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (Ret.) - Offer announced Nov. 18

Flynn was a prominent campaign surrogate for Trump throughout the election cycle, often introducing the candidate at rallies and appearing on television in support of Trump.

CIA Director (non-Cabinet agency position)
Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan. - Offer announced Nov. 18. This position requires Senate confirmation.

Pompeo, who supported Sen. Marco Rubio during the GOP primaries, represents Kansas’ 4th Congressional District.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Jan242017

Ryan Invites Trump to Address Joint Session of Congress

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has invited President Trump to address a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, Feb. 28.

Ryan made the announcement during a GOP leadership press conference Tuesday morning.

"With this unified Republican government, we have a unique opportunity to deliver results to the American people. And in the days and weeks, we look forward to laying out more of our agenda," said Ryan.

"To that end, I am inviting President Trump to address a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28. This will be an opportunity for the people and their representatives to hear directly from our new president about his vision and our shared agenda," the Wisconsin Republican said.

In 2009, President Obama also addressed a joint session of Congress, as is tradition for the incoming president.

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Tuesday
Jan242017

Trump Asks James Comey to Stay on as FBI Director

FBI(WASHINGTON) — FBI Director James Comey has told top FBI officials that President Trump asked him to stay on as head of the bureau. Comey told the officials on a conference call in recent days.

Asked about the report Tuesday by ABC News, Trump had no comment. The White House has not responded to ABC News' inquiries about the news.

Comey was appointed by President Obama in 2013 for a 10-year term, but his future at the FBI came into question after his handling of the FBI probe into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's email server.

On July 5, 2016, Comey held a news conference, announcing that the FBI was recommending no charges be filed against Clinton.

Although Comey called Clinton’s actions “extremely careless,” he said the FBI concluded there was no evidence that Clinton intended to violate laws.

Trump, then the Republican presidential nominee running against Clinton, released a statement the same day calling the FBI’s conclusions part of a “rigged system.”

“… Because of our rigged system that holds the American people to one standard and people like Hillary Clinton to another, it does not look like she will be facing the criminal charges that she deserves,” Trump said in the statement, later tweeting that it was “unfair.”

Then at the end of October, with 11 days until Election Day, Comey sent a letter to Congress informing them that the FBI had learned of the “existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” into Clinton’s email server. The new emails had been discovered through a separate FBI investigation into former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner. The emails came from Weiner's now estranged wife, Huma Abedin, who is one of Clinton's closest aides and worked in the State Department under Clinton.

Trump and his supporters praised Comey’s decision to announce the new email review, while Democrats were flabbergasted. Comey’s letter was viewed by leaders in the Justice Department as a break in a longstanding tradition of avoiding actions that could potentially influence an election’s outcome.

On Nov. 6, 2016, Comey wrote a second letter to Congress, alerting them that the review of the newly discovered emails was complete and the FBI found nothing criminal that would change its July conclusion that Clinton shouldn’t be charged.

With the FBI now clearing Clinton a second time, Trump criticized Comey and the FBI again. "It’s a totally rigged system,” Trump said a campaign rally in Michigan.

After Clinton lost to Trump in the election, the Democrat said she believed Comey’s announcement of the email review 11 days before the election was a turning point in the race.

The Justice Department inspector general has opened an investigation into Comey and the FBI's handling of the Clinton email investigation. The probe will look at whether Comey failed to comply with department “policies and procedures” by publicly releasing details of the Clinton case and announcing that the investigation was being reopened so close to a presidential election.

On Sunday, President Trump and Comey embraced before cameras during a White House reception to honor law enforcement leaders.

“He’s become more famous than me,” Trump said as he singled out Comey for recognition.

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Tuesday
Jan242017

Judge Neil Gorsuch Emerges as Leading Contender for Supreme Court

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — ABC News has learned that Judge Neil Gorsuch has emerged as the leading contender to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, and his nomination is expected as early as next week, according to sources familiar with the selection process.

Gorsuch, 49, is currently a judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, to which he was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2006 and confirmed by voice vote. He would be the youngest Supreme Court nominee in about 25 years.

Gorsuch clerked for Judge David B. Sentelle on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and then for Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy. He attended Harvard Law, and has a Ph.D. from Oxford, where he was a Marshall Scholar. In legal circles, he’s considered a gifted writer. Like Scalia, he's also both a textualist and an originalist.

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Tuesday
Jan242017

Trump Repeats Unsubstantiated Claim About Voter Fraud During Election

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — Donald Trump has repeated the unsubstantiated claim that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election, a claim that he used after the election to justify his loss of the popular vote, Democratic and Republican sources told ABC News.

"Serious" voter fraud and a "rigged" system were themes of Trump's campaign, both in the primaries and general election, assertions that carried past Election Day. Trump, who has made a series of unsubstantiated or false claims, won the Electoral College with 306 votes (2 eventually defected), but lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots.

During the meeting with Congressional leadership, Trump said "3 to 5 million illegals" voted, according to two Democratic aides. But a Republican aide said the comments were made in jest.

"He was giving them a hard time," the Republican aide said, a characterization a House Democratic aide disputed.

ABC News contacted several White House officials who have not responded to a request for comment.

In the wake of the Nov. 8 election, Trump tweeted that he won the Electoral College in a "landslide" and claimed that millions had voted illegally.

 

 

He also claimed on Nov. 27, again without offering evidence that there was "serious" voter fraud in three states.

 

 

During the election, Trump repeatedly made the claim that the system was "rigged," despite little evidence of voter fraud over the past several elections.

 

 

 

 

 

 

An ABC News fact-check found the claim about serious voter fraud to be false.

Trump transition spokesman Jason Miller cited two studies as evidence for the then-president-elect's claim, but the authors of both of those studies disputed his characterizations.

A spokeswoman for the National Association of Secretaries of State, Kay Stimson, said in November the organization has "no information that can help to explain what sources or information are behind the basis of the tweets" by Trump.


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Tuesday
Jan242017

Two Unsubstantiated Claims Made by Trump Since He Became President

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Donald Trump made multiple unsubstantiated claims during the presidential campaign, and he has not stopped doing so since he assumed the presidency.

President Trump is five days into his term and there have been at least two instances in which he made statements that have not been backed up by any evidence.

The first was one about the size of the crowd at his inauguration -- a topic that has raised questions for White House press secretary Sean Spicer as well. The second relates to unproven allegations of voter fraud, which he has stated before.

1. Trump Makes Unproven Claims About Inauguration Audience

The question of how many people attended Trump's inauguration ceremony in person on Friday has been a hotly debated topic since it unfolded after photos of the National Mall from the vantage point of the Washington Monument were compared to that of former President Barack Obama's first inauguration in 2009. The side-by-side photos showed the crowds gathered on the Mall as the inaugurations were underway.

No official crowd counts were ever released because the National Park Service, which oversees the Mall, does not provide them.

That didn't stop Trump from making his own estimates and sharing them when he went to CIA headquarters to speak to members of the intelligence community the next day.

"We had, it looked honestly, looked like a million and half people, whatever it was. But it went all the way back, to the back of the Washington Monument and by mistake I get this network [on TV] and it showed you an empty field, and it said we drew 250,000 people. Now, that’s not bad but it’s a lie. We had 250,000 people literally around in the little bowl that we constructed," Trump said.

In his press briefing on Monday, Spicer defended his own earlier claim that it was the most-watched inauguration ever based on the cumulative number of people who watched it unfold in person as well as those who watched online, on television, or through streaming services. That total number of viewers has not been tabulated.

2. Trump Repeats His Earlier Unproven Claims that There Were Millions of Cases of Illegal Voting


During his first meeting with congressional leaders in the White House after his inauguration, Trump reportedly spent several minutes talking about the election results. Democratic and Republican sources familiar with the conversation told ABC News that as part of that discussion, Trump said that he lost the popular vote because of millions of illegal votes.

He specifically said that "3 to 5 million illegals" voted, according to two Democratic aides who spoke on condition of anonymity. A Republican House aide corroborated the account, but said the comments were made in jest during a jovial exchange with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

On Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan was asked at a news conference about what Trump said, and Ryan responded that he did not want to get into a discussion on the topic but reiterated that he has not seen anything to back Trump's claim.

"I have seen no evidence to that effect. I have made that very, very clear," said Ryan, R-Wis.

This is not the first time that Trump has made this unsubstantiated claim. After he became president-elect, Trump posted at least two tweets about "serious voter fraud" and "millions of people who voted illegally."

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly three million ballots.

In December, then-Vice President-elect Mike Pence, defended Trump, citing a Pew study as the source for the "millions" who allegedly voted illegally.

But the Pew study's primary author, David Becker, tweeted in response to references to his research: "As primary author of the report the Trump camp cited today, I can confirm the report made no findings re: voter fraud. We found millions of out of date registration records due to people moving or dying, but found no evidence that voter fraud resulted. Voter lists are much more accurate now than when we issued that study in 2012, thanks to the 20 states sharing data through @ericstates_info."

In another tweet as president-elect, Trump wrote that there was “serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California." There is no evidence to back up the claim, and it's unclear why those states were singled out.

ABC News reached out to election officials in all 50 states shortly before Election Day and not one had any evidence or reason to believe that widespread voter fraud has or would occur in their states.

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Monday
Jan232017

Trump Foreign Profits in Violation of Constitution, Suit Claims

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Two days after staff at Donald Trump’s Washington hotel dropped balloons and popped champagne corks to salute his inauguration, America’s first billionaire President was put on notice – he is being sued because of profits that the hotel and other businesses earn from foreign governments.

“The founders of our country were so worried about foreign governments paying cash and giving other benefits to an American president, and the distortion that can have on a President's decision making, that they put a prohibition on it in the Constitution,” said Norm Eisen, a former White House ethics counselor to President Obama.

Eisen helps run the non-partisan watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, which filed the suit in federal court in New York, calling President Trump’s continued ownership of his vast business empire a violation of what’s called the “emoluments clause” of the U.S. Constitution.

“It's the original conflicts law of the United States, it's called the foreign emoluments clause,” Eisen said. “Emoluments is just a fancy, 18th century word for payola.”

Trump brushed off the lawsuit with just two words Monday, calling it “without merit,” but he also “resigned from all position of management and authority with the Trump Organization and its affiliates,” according to a statement for that organization.

“President Trump also transferred title, management and authority of those companies to a trust, or subsidiaries thereof, collectively managed by his children, Don and Eric, and longtime executive and chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg,” the statement also said.

A copy of the resignation letter dated Jan. 19 -- the day before the inauguration -- seen by ABC News reads: "I, Donald Trump, hereby resign from each and every office and position I hold in the entities listed."

A list of business holdings follows his signature.

But ethics and constitutional scholars, as well as some members of Congress, have been sounding alarms about the potential violation for months.

Many assumed Trump would relinquish control of his business empire in order to put the issue to rest. Instead, during a press conference earlier this month, Trump announced that he would not give up ownership.

Trump lawyer Sheri Dillon said at the time she had taken efforts to iron out potential conflicts by transferring operation of the company to Trump’s adult sons, Don Jr. and Eric Trump.

“President-elect Trump should not be expected to destroy the company he built,” she said, noting that Trump would “take all steps realistically possible to make it clear that he is not exploiting the office the presidency for his personal benefit.”

That, said Harvard Law Prof. Laurence Tribe, is not enough.

“You could be President of the United States or you could be a tycoon, but you can’t be both at the same time,” said Tribe, who is assisting with the lawsuit. “He is enriched not by a penny here or a penny there, it’s a billion dollars here, a million dollars there. And pretty soon it adds up.”

The Trump International Hotel, just a few blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, may be of greatest concern, Eisen said.

In one of the great product placement campaigns of all time, Trump twice showed up at his new Washington hotel before being sworn in, complimenting himself on its design.

“This is a gorgeous room, a total genius must have built this,” he said. “Under budget, ahead of schedule.”

Among the claims in the lawsuit – taking money from foreign governments to rent rooms at the hotel violates the Constitution.

Eisen noted that officials from Bahrain chose the hotel just a few weeks ago to hold a reception. And others are likely to follow.

And the hotel is not the only concern, according to the case.

Anything from foreign interests leasing space at Trump Tower in New York, money from development deals, even foreign residuals from his TV program the Apprentice, could create an issue.

The President has said he is trying to resolve the matter. He told reporters, for instance, that he would channel hotel profits from foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury.

“He has resigned from the company as he said he would before he took office,” Press Secretary Sean Spicer said. “Don and Eric are fully in charge of the company. He's taken extraordinary steps to ensure that that's happened.”

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