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Saturday
Jun242017

Sally Yates goes after Attorney General Jeff Sessions over criminal justice reform

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates is publicly criticizing Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his hardline stance on drug-related crimes.

In a highly publicized end to her 27-year career with the Justice Department, Yates was fired by President Donald Trump in January. On Friday, Yates published her first tweet as a "private citizen,” in which she linked to an op-ed she penned for The Washington Post.

“Attorney General Jeff Sessions rolled back the clock to the 1980s, reinstating the harsh, indiscriminate use of mandatory minimum drug sentences,” she writes in the editorial.

The opinion piece was a direct response to one written by Sessions in the Post last week in which he advocated for a “tough” approach to fighting crime and echoed the president’s mantra to “make America safe again.”

Sessions was defending a memo he’d issued in May reminding federal prosecutors that pursuing sentences less than the mandatory minimum requirements would require a supervisor’s approval.

Citing what she called historically low violent-crime rates, Yates argues that Sessions’ memo limits the ability of prosecutors to pursue an appropriate sentencing for drug offenses.

In her piece, Yates references a 2014 study that found drug defendants with shorter sentences were slightly less likely to commit additional crimes. However, the study notes, the analysis showed "no statistically significant difference in the recidivism rates of the two groups.”

She was quickly praised for her public advocacy by fellow former prosecutor Preet Bharara, who was also fired this year by Trump.

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Saturday
Jun242017

Trump questions Obama's response to 'election meddling by Russia'

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Hours after a Washington Post article detailing the Obama administration’s response to Russian cyberattacks was published, President Donald Trump reacted to the issue on Twitter.

Trump’s response comes amid an ongoing investigation of his current and former administration members’ activities with Russians. The president has been quick to defend himself against any allegations suggesting his personal involvement with Russia in terms of the election, tweeting that after months of investigation, there has been no evidence of “collusion.”

While Trump’s tweet in response to the Washington Post story questions why the Obama camp “did nothing” about Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the article itself indicates otherwise.

According to the article, Obama’s actions in response to findings that the Russians were specifically targeting Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president in an effort to elect Trump were “modest,” not nonexistent.

Though some staffers of the former president reportedly believe the Obama administration could have been more aggressive in its response to the threat, others stand by his actions.

Obama issued economic sanctions on Russia in late 2016, in addition to approving a “cyber-weapon” to be used on Russia to defend America from further threats. That cyber-weapon was never used and is now under the jurisdiction of Trump for release.

Additional efforts by the former president have been released in the months following the election, including Obama verbally telling Russian President Vladimir Putin to “cut it out” in terms of hacking at the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China, in September.

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Saturday
Jun242017

'Handmaid's Tale' protesters greet Mike Pence at Colorado speech

Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images(COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.) -- Protesters outfitted in red robes and white bonnets -- the signature look of "handmaids" in the Hulu series "The Handmaid's Tale" -- greeted Vice President Mike Pence Friday outside a speaking engagement in Colorado at the conservative Christian organization Focus on the Family.

"The Handmaid's Tale" is set in a dystopian future, where fertile women are forced into sexual servitude and identifiable by their distinct wardrobe.

The robe-wearing protesters -- who were part of a larger group of about 100, according to Colorado Springs ABC affiliate KRDO -- carried signs that read "Abort Mike Pence," "Stop Targeting Women's Healthcare" and "Stop Teaching Hate."

"This organization believes being gay is a sin and that it's possible to convert people from being gay to straight -- it's ridiculous,” protester Nancy Stilwagen told KRDO about Focus on the Family. "So many people say we don't want sharia law in this country. People are pushing it. It's just not Islamic law. It's Christian law."

Stilwagen carried a sign that read, "The Handmaid's Tale is not an instruction manual. It's a warning."

Pence told the audience of 1,650 that the organization should rekindle its interest in politics, especially in light of the Trump administration's proposal to slash funding to Planned Parenthood.

"The time is now," Pence said, explaining that former President Barack Obama's health law is "dead."

Then, to a roar of applause, he said, "This is when we are going to defund Planned Parenthood once and for all."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Jun242017

How the Senate health care bill will affect women

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Republican leaders are planning to move fast now that legislation was revealed on Thursday to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- otherwise known as Obamacare -- and drastically change the current health care landscape.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he ambitiously hopes to pass the bill before the July Fourth recess. In order to do so, Republicans would need to bypass the traditional committee process and forgo public hearings.

While advocacy groups argue the effects of the bill are complex and demand debate, many health care providers argue that women's health in particular could be greatly impacted if the bill were to pass.

Here are some of the ways the legislation could potentially impact women in the U.S.:

Medicaid

One program the bill contains significant cuts to is Medicaid, which currently provides health insurance for 74 million Americans. Experts argue that the Medicaid cuts proposed in the bill could impact women in particular, because of the disproportionately large number of low-income women and women of color who depend on the program, particularly for maternity care.

“Women are much more likely to work in low-wage jobs and be tip workers. All of those jobs are more likely to come without health insurance,” said Andrea Flynn, an economic policy fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

The Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit focusing on major health care issues, reported in 2015 that about half of all births in the U.S. were covered through Medicaid.

By cutting federal funding to states to cover Medicaid, states would then have to decide to either cover fewer people, provide less substantive coverage or find alternative ways to shoulder the costs.

Women of color could be particularly affected by such Medicaid cuts. According to the Center for Global Policy Solutions, one in four black women of reproductive age is on Medicaid.

The bill also states that in order to remain eligible for Medicaid, a woman must return to work 60 days after she gives birth. Judy Lubin, a project director for Allies for Reaching Community Health Equity at the Center for Global Policy Solutions, notes that because there is currently no work requirement to be on Medicaid, the inclusion of this clause underscores the “false narrative” that “people on Medicaid do not work.”

Maternity Care

Under the proposed bill, states would also be able seek a waiver from Obamacare rules and specifically permit insurance companies to offer plans that don’t meet the current baseline benchmarks for care and coverage.

For example, under current law, all plans must cover so-called essential health benefits, including maternity care, prescription drugs and ambulances. Under the Senate bill, states could do away with those regulations. Supporters argue that this makes the bill amenable to distinct, individual needs, namely those of men who do not want to pay for plans that cover maternity care. The Affordable Care Act precisely aimed to prevent the uneven opportunity and cost disparity between men and women.

Flynn argued that when men buy into the same pool, costs equalize.

“We all pay into a system, and some of us use some benefits and some of us use some others," Flynn said, adding that it isn't just a "women's issue."

"It’s a family issue," she said.

Under the Senate bill, insurers cannot outright charge someone more for insurance based on gender, but experts worry that by changing plan requirements, the costs of individual plans that cover maternity care could skyrocket. According to Flynn and several other health care experts, the price of maternity care coverage for women buying their own insurance in individual marketplaces was prohibitively expensive prior to the ACA.

“What could happen under this bill is that some states will continue to mandate the coverage and others wouldn’t, and you would see some plans that stop offering that coverage or charge much, much more for it,” Flynn added.

The National Women’s Law Center reports that a hospital bill for childbirth care ranges, on average, from $30,000 to $50,000.

The bill notes that these regulations would not apply to situations where an abortion is “necessary to save the life of the mother” or cases of rape or incest.

Christy Gamble, the director of health policy and legislative affairs at the Black Women's Health Imperative, said insurance can be a safeguard against unexpected events.

“Insurance is a safety net," Gamble said. "A lot of times the financial means to afford an abortion is not available to these women, so insurance provides the ability to get the necessary services without going bankrupt and affecting every other area of your life.”

Gamble also notes the tangible effects this will have on women’s health coverage.

“There are not going to be plans that see the benefit of having abortion coverage, because individuals who need access to insurance are no longer going to be able to afford it since the means to pay for those premiums are going to be taken away when it comes to the federal tax credit,” she said.

Defunding Planned Parenthood

The current legislation would also completely defund Planned Parenthood for one year -- for all medical services. Under federal law, Planned Parenthood already cannot use any federal funds to perform abortions. But this bill would go further.

Women on Medicaid, for instance, could not be reimbursed for any services at these clinics, even for cancer screenings or STI and PAP tests. According to the organization’s official page, Planned Parenthood administers 320,000 breast exams in a given year, and 80 percent of clients seek services to prevent unintended pregnancy.

According to previous estimates from the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, dismantling federal funding to organizations such as Planned Parenthood would likely increase costs to the federal government. A 2015 report found that implementing such a bill to defund the group would increase direct spending by $130 million over 10 years. Women who can no longer afford these services will turn to hospitals and emergency rooms, according to Planned Parenthood.

This provision on Planned Parenthood presents a potential legal roadblock, and reproductive health activists hope the Senate parliamentarian will prohibit Republicans from including it in the final bill. Republicans want to pass the health care bill through a budget reconciliation process, which requires fewer votes, but has strict rules keeping out any “extraneous” language.

Planned Parenthood has released a statement opposing the bill, with President Cecile Richards stating, “One in five women in this country rely on Planned Parenthood for care. They will not stay silent as politicians vote to take away their care and their rights.”

Contraception

One of the most popular parts of the ACA was access to free birth control. Obamacare designated contraception as a preventive service, and insurers had to front the cost. Flynn and others confirm that the Senate bill, as currently written, would not change that for now.

Flynn notes how the contraceptive mandate of the ACA is currently not under attack, likely because of the reconciliation regulations. However, as Flynn notes, millions of women will "lose access to health insurance, and therefore they will lose access to family planning.”

McConnell needs 51 votes to pass the legislation. At least five Republican senators have said publicly that they will not vote for the bill in its current form. There are currently 52 Republican members of the Senate.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jun232017

Rep. Steve Scalise out of ICU, listed in 'fair condition'

Allison Shelley/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., is out of the intensive care unit, a source familiar with his recovery said, nine days after the House majority whip and three others were shot at a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia.

Scalise has not been released from the MedStar Washington Hospital Center and is still listed in "fair condition."

Hospital officials said earlier this week that "Scalise continues to make good progress" and "is beginning an extended period of healing and rehabilitation."

Dr. Jack Sava, the director of trauma at the MedStar Washington Hospital Center, said last week that Scalise had "sustained a single rifle wound that entered in the area of the left hip. It traveled directly across toward the other hip in what we call a trans pelvic gunshot wound. The round fragmented and did substantial damage to bones, internal organs and blood vessels.

"I understand he was awake on scene but by the time he was transported by helicopter to the MedStar trauma center, he was in shock," Sava said. "When he arrived, he was in critical condition with an imminent risk of death." His condition later improved.

The alleged shooter, identified by police as James Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Illinois, was killed in a shootout with police after shooting Scalise, a Capitol Police officer and two others at a practice for the annual charity congressional baseball game. Hodgkinson's wife emotionally told reporters, "I can’t believe he did this," saying there were no signs.

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Friday
Jun232017

Trump supporter who called for Clinton to be 'shot' attends bill signing

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A controversial New Hampshire state representative who once said that former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton "should be shot for treason" was among the attendees at a White House bill signing Friday morning.

Al Baldasaro, who served as a delegate for then-candidate Donald Trump at last year's Republican National Convention, was present as the president signed a bill to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Baldasaro's presence drew particular notice given recent calls by the administration, and across Washington, for dialing back partisan rhetoric in the aftermath of last week's shooting at a Republican congressional baseball practice in Virginia that left House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., in critical condition. (He has since been upgraded to fair condition.)

Asked about Baldasaro's presence at Friday's press briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer condemned all comments suggesting violence against another person.

“I don’t believe, and the president has said this as well, that anybody that goes out and tries to highlight those kinds of actions, should not be welcome,” said Spicer. “I’m not aware of the comments [Baldasaro] made, but again, I’ll say it right now, I don’t think we should be resorting that kind of language with anyone in our country."

Baldasaro's attendance also comes at a time when the White House has condemned a series of incidents in popular culture in which violence against Trump has been made light of or otherwise depicted.

Earlier during the briefing, Spicer said he found it troubling that more outrage hasn't been raised over the incidents, which most recently include a comment by actor Johnny Depp, who asked, "When was the last time an actor assassinated a president?" A representative for Depp later said Depp's remark was a "bad joke."

“It is, frankly, in my belief, a little troubling, the lack of outrage in some of these instances where people have said what they’ve said with respect to the president and the actions that should be taken," said Spicer. "The president has made it clear that we should denounce violence in all of its forms."

Last July, Baldasaro was investigated by the Secret Service after his comments about Clinton, which came in a radio interview in which he criticized the former secretary of state for her response to the 2012 attack on a United States compound in Benghazi, Libya and her use of a private email server.

"Hillary Clinton should be put in the firing line and shot for treason," said Baldasaro.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jun232017

'Pizzagate' gunman recorded 'goodbye' video message to his family

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Edgar Maddison Welch, who was sentenced to four years in prison on Thursday, recorded a "goodbye" video on his way from North Carolina to Washington, D.C., where he entered Comet Ping Pong restaurant last December with a firearm and opened fire into a closet while investigating a discredited conspiracy theory.

The U.S. attorney played the video, which was recorded in his car during the six-or-so-hour trip north, in the courtroom during Welch's sentencing hearing. Although the ambient noise drowns out a lot of his voice, he can be heard saying, "Girls, I love you all more than anything in this world."

Welch is father to two daughters. His defense attorney said that he is an "extremely devoted father" during the sentencing hearing.

"I can't let you grow up in a world that's so corrupted by evil. I have to at least stand up for you and for other children just like you," Welch says in the recording. "Like I always told you we have a duty to protect people who can't protect themselves ... I hope you understand that one day."

The lead prosecuting attorney, Demian Ahn, described the video that Welch recorded as a "goodbye" message.

"He’s calm, he’s deliberate ... in a calculated manner, he says goodbye to his family," said Ahn.

According to prosecutors, Welch drove to D.C. to investigate a conspiracy theory that had been peddled on numerous websites and shared on social media accounts. No legitimate law enforcement agency ever took the claims seriously, but at the time, Welch described it as a "sick" conspiracy involving the restaurant, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and a child-trafficking operation, which became known as "Pizzagate."

While the conspiracy was fake, his actions had real-world consequences. He terrified customers and staff when he entered the restaurant with an AR-15 rifle to look for so-called evidence. Patrons were rushed outside as he roamed around the restaurant looking for proof.

He then tried to open a locked closet door with a butter knife and when he couldn't do that, he fired shots at the lock, causing physical damage to the interior of the pizza joint. At one point, he encountered a shocked employee who was returning from outside. Eventually he put his weapons down, was arrested and charged under federal and local statutes.

The persecutor said that Welch was inspired by an "internet conspiracy theory" and "traumatized" everyone in the pizza place that afternoon.

He pleaded guilty in March and was sentenced 48 months for the D.C. crime and 24 months for the federal crime to run concurrently for a total of four years, as well as 36 months of supervised release. In addition, he was ordered to pay $5,744.33 in restitution to Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis' company for damages.

Alefantis told the court that "so many" people had suffered because of Welch's actions.

"I will now try to rebuild my life and my name and my business and I think that there are many other people who have pushed this conspiracy theory who have created an enormous amount of harm to all of our community," said Alefantis after the sentencing hearing.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jun232017

Trump: 'I did not make, and do not have' Comey tapes

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Despite his tweet in the aftermath of James Comey's dismissal in May, President Donald Trump did not make and does not have tapes of his conversations with the former FBI director, he tweeted Thursday.

"With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are 'tapes' or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings," wrote Trump in a pair of tweets.

Trump appeared to leave open the possibility that recordings of their conversations exist, saying only that he did not create and is not in possession of any such tapes. At a press briefing Thursday, White House principal deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she was not aware of other recordings.

In May, three days after Comey's firing, Trump wrote: "James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"

Asked by ABC News' Jonathan Karl why Trump played "the game" of raising the matter and waiting over a month to reveal that he did not have tapes, Huckabee Sanders said, "I don't know that it was a game."

Trump previously declined to confirm or deny the existence of tapes, even as Comey shared details of his interactions with the president with associates and testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

"I'll tell you about it over a short period of time. I'm not hinting at anything," said Trump at a joint press conference with the president of Romania on June 9, a day after Comey met with the panel. "You're going to be very disappointed when you hear the answer," Trump added.

The same day, a bipartisan group of leaders from the House Intelligence Committee submitted a request to White House counsel Don McGahn to inform the committee — which is conducting its own investigation of Russian election interference -- by June 23 whether recordings exist.

The potential existence of recordings of Trump and Comey's conversations took on increasing importance as the pair offered contradicting claims about the nature of their discussions.

In his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey described Trump allegedly asking for the director's loyalty during a private dinner on Jan. 27.

"The president said, 'I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.' I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed," said Comey in a written statement submitted to the committee.

Two days later, Trump denied such an exchange.

"I hardly know the man. I'm not going to say I want you to pledge allegiance," said Trump at the June 9 press conference. "What would do that? Who would ask a man to pledge allegiance under oath" Think of that. I hardly know the man."

Comey additionally detailed, in the written statement, a Feb. 14 Oval Office meeting in which Trump allegedly discussed former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

"I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go," said Trump, according to Comey.

Asked by a reporter at a May 18 press conference whether he urged Comey "in any way, shape, or form to close or back down the investigation into Michael Flynn," the president offered a curt response.

"No. No. Next question," said Trump.

The possibility that tapes existed eventually led Comey to direct a friend to release information about his interactions with Trump to The New York Times. Comey explained the process during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.

"The president tweeted on Friday after I got fired that I better hope there's not tapes," said Comey. "I woke up in the middle of the night on Monday night because it didn't dawn on me originally there might be corroboration, a tape. And my judgment was I needed to get that out into the public square."

Earlier in his testimony, he said he wished such recordings exist, saying he was "stunned by the conversation" about Flynn and was attempting to "remember every word he said."

"Lordy, I hope there are tapes," said Comey.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, still wants a formal response in writing from the White House regarding the committee's request for Trump's "tapes," despite the president's tweets this afternoon.

"We're going to need to go back to the White House to find out whether his tweets constitute an official response to the House Intelligence Committee," he told reporters Thursday afternoon.

Minutes later, in an official release from his office, Schiff said the White House "must respond in writing" to the committee "as to whether any tapes or recordings exist."

In a letter Friday, Marc T. Short, assistant to the president for legislative affairs, responded to the House Intelligence Committee's request, citing the president's tweets as a formal presidential statement.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jun232017

White House responds to Johnny Depp's assassination remarks

ABC/Randy Holmes(WASHINGTON) -- Hours after actor Johnny Depp made controversial comments about President Donald Trump, the White House issued a statement condemning anyone who makes threatening remarks about the commander-in-chief.

While introducing his new film, The Libertine, at England's Glastonbury Festival Thursday night, Depp brought up Trump.

"I think he needs help," Depp told the crowd. "When was the last time an actor assassinated a president? I want to clarify: I'm not an actor. I lie for a living, however, it's been a while. Maybe it's about time."

Depp did not say whether he was referring to the assassination of President Lincoln by actor John Wilkes Booth in 1865.

The White House criticized Depp's comments in a statement to ABC News on Friday.

"President Trump has condemned violence in all forms and it's sad that others like Johnny Depp have not followed his lead. I hope that some of Mr. Depp’s colleagues will speak out against this type of rhetoric as strongly as they would if his comments were directed to a Democrat elected official," the statement read.

In addition to the White House, the Secret Service issued its own statement.

"We actively monitor open source reporting, including social media networks, and we evaluate potential threats. For security reasons, we cannot discuss specifically nor in general terms the means and methods of how we perform our protective responsibilities," the Secret Service told ABC News.

Depp's publicist issued a statement from the actor:

"I apologize for the bad joke I attempted last night in poor taste about President Trump.  It did not come out as intended, and I intended no malice.  I was only trying to amuse, not to harm anyone."

Depp isn't the first public figure to come under fire for making questionable statements about Trump. Last month, comedian Kathy Griffin was featured in a video holding a decapitated likeness of Donald Trump's head. Griffin later apologized but said she remains under investigation from the Secret Service.

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Friday
Jun232017

Senate probes Loretta Lynch's alleged interference in Clinton email investigation

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A bipartisan group of Senate Judiciary Committee leaders is examining former Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s alleged interference in the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

The group is seeking details about Lynch's communication with a Clinton campaign aide, Amanda Renteria, as well as copies of documents and information about whether the FBI investigated the alleged communication.

The letters, sent Thursday, are signed by Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley, ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein, as well as Sens. Lindsey Graham and Sheldon White House, the chair and ranker on the subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism.

The senators question Open Society Foundations' Leonard Benardo and its General Counsel Gail Scovell, as well as Renteria and Lynch, about a May 24 story from the Washington Post that reported Lynch assured Renteria that she would not let the FBI investigation into Clinton go too far.

An email reportedly recounting that alleged conversation and authored by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who served at the time as DNC chair, was allegedly hacked by Russia, though the FBI later discounted its reliability.

The inquiry comes as the Senate Judiciary Committee examines the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, who President Trump says he dismissed due in part to his handling of the Clinton email probe.

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