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Sunday
Oct132019

Hunter Biden to step down from Chinese company board amid 'false attacks' by President Trump: Lawyer

iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will step down from the board of directors of a Chinese-backed private equity company by the end of this month and commit to halting all work with foreign entities if his father wins the White House in 2020, according to his attorney.

The announcement on Sunday of Hunter Biden's impending plans to dispel "purported conflicts of interest, or the appearance of such conflicts" stemming from his overseas business interests comes amid unsubstantiated allegations by President Donald Trump and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, that he sought to cash in on his farther's power as vice president in the Obama administration.

The actions being taken by Joe Biden's 49-year-old son also come as Democratic leaders have launched an impeachment probe against Trump, who a whistleblower claims pressured newly-elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens.

In a July 25 phone call, Trump, according to the unnamed whistleblower, asked Zelensky to look into alleged criminal wrongdoing by the Bidens in connection with Hunter Biden's job with a Ukrainian gas company. U.S. arms sales to Ukraine have become embroiled in a controversy after the White House ordered nearly $400 million in military assistance to Ukraine to be withheld.

In a lengthy statement released on Sunday to ABC News, Hunter Biden's lawyer George Mesires said the accusations leveled by Trump and Giuliani bear "little resemblance to the public records."

In recent days, Trump has turned his attention to China, and specifically Hunter Biden's involvement in negotiating a deal to create a joint investment fund between his company, Rosemont Seneca, and a Chinese state-run bank. Earlier this month, Trump called on Beijing to launch an investigation into the Bidens.

Mesires said Hunter Biden plans to resign from the board of BHR Equity Investment Fund Management Co., which is backed by the Chinese government, by Oct. 31.

"To date, Hunter has not received any compensation for being on BHR’s board of directors," Mesires said in statement that was first posted on the website Medium and reported by Bloomberg News.

Mesires said that while Hunter Biden has committed to invest about $420,000 to acquire a 10% equity position in BHR, "he has not received any return on his investment; there have been no distributions to BHR shareholders since Hunter obtained his equity interest. Moreover, Hunter played no role in directing or making BHR’s investments."

In April, Hunter Biden resigned from the board of directors of Burisma Holdings, a major Ukrainian natural gas company.

"Despite extensive scrutiny, at no time has any law enforcement agency, either domestic or foreign, alleged that Hunter engaged in wrongdoing at any point during his five-year term" with Burisma, Mesires said.

Acknowledging that he has become an issue for his father's campaign for president, Hunter Biden, according to Mesires, is also making a commitment to forgo work overseas if his father wins the 2020 presidential election.

"Under a Biden Administration, Hunter will readily comply with any and all guidelines or standards a President Biden may issue to address purported conflicts of interest, or the appearance of such conflicts, including any restrictions related to overseas business interests. In any event, Hunter will agree not to serve on boards of, or work on behalf of, foreign-owned companies," Mesires said in his statement.

"He will continue to keep his father personally uninvolved in his business affairs, while availing himself as necessary and appropriate to the Office of the White House Counsel to help inform his application of the Biden Administration’s guidelines or standards to his business decision-making."

During a gaggle with reporters in Iowa, Joe Biden told reporters that he did not consult with his son on what the statement said, but said it “represents the kind of man of integrity he is and what in fact he has done and why he stepped down.”

“He’s decided that he does not think that is good to do. He has said that he does not like the appearance of it,” Biden said, when pressed by reporters on why his son felt he needed to step down from the company if there was nothing wrong with the work he did abroad.

Biden also pledged he would take steps to ensure that there was no conflicts or appearance of conflicts with members of his family if he were elected in 2020.

“No one in my family will have an office in the White House, will sit in at meetings as if they’re a cabinet member, will in fact have any business relationship with anyone that relates to a foreign corporation or a foreign country. Period. Period. End of story.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Oct132019

2020 candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren uses false ads to lash out at Facebook CEO

Twitter/@ElizabethWarren(WASHINGTON) -- Massachusetts senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren continued her campaign against Facebook on Sunday, one day after she posted false advertisements to Facebook on Saturday to see if she could prove to voters that the social media platform values profit over facts.

"Facebook holds incredible power to affect elections and our national debate. They’ve decided to let political figures lie to you -- even about Facebook itself -- while their executives and their investors get even richer off the ads containing these lies," Warren wrote in a series of Twitter posts Saturday criticizing Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg.

The ads, publicly sponsored by the Warren campaign, claim Zuckerberg endorsed President Donald Trump for reelection, showing a photo of Trump and Zuckerberg in the Oval Office. Then the ads immediately take it back, ironically slamming Zuckerberg for giving politicians free reign to post false information.

"You're probably shocked, and you might be thinking, 'How could this possibly be true?' Well, it's not," the ads say. "But what Zuckerberg has done is given Donald Trump free reign to lie on his platform -- and then to pay Facebook gobs of money to push out their lies to American voters."

On Sunday, Warren levied criticism at Facebook over a reported settlement over a lawsuit related to inflated video metrics.

"Companies shifted their resources and strategies because of Facebook's inflated metrics, costing them money and contributing to job losses," Warren tweeted. "We need to do a lot more to hold Facebook accountable."

Criticism of the platform's ad policy broke out last week as Facebook political ad transparency reports showed Trump's reelection team dropped a total of $1.1 million on political ads between Sept. 22-28, pushing against an impeachment inquiry by House Democrats.

Warren said her campaign intentionally made the ad to see if Facebook would approve it, and they quickly did. She said many of the ads Facebook approves are ones TV stations won't even air.

"Once again, we’re seeing Facebook throw its hands up to battling misinformation in the political discourse, because when profit comes up against protecting democracy, Facebook chooses profit," Warren wrote.

She added, "Facebook just takes the cash, no questions asked."

Facebook tweeted about the ad via its newsroom account on Saturday in an effort to explain why it decided against pulling the fake ad.

"@ewarren looks like broadcast stations across the country have aired this ad nearly 1,000 times, as required by law," Facebook tweeted. "FCC doesn’t want broadcast companies censoring candidates’ speech. We agree it’s better to let voters—not companies—decide. #FCC #candidateuse"

The social media giant's response only seemed to intensify Warren's furry as she immediately responded in a tweeted that accused the company of changing its ad policies to boost what she called it's "the disinformation-for-profit business."

"You’re making my point here. It’s up to you whether you take money to promote lies," she wrote Saturday evening in a tweet that quoted the company's earlier statement. "You can be in the disinformation-for-profit business, or you can hold yourself to some standards. In fact, those standards were in your policy. Why the change?"

Facebook did not immediately respond to ABC News' e-mail request on Sunday asking for a response to Warren's claims about it changing its advertising policies.

Warren's campaign declined to detail how much they spent on this particular ad or how long they're planning on letting it run, but according to Advertising Analytics, a firm that tracks campaign spending, the price tag most likely fell somewhere in between $4,000 and $5,000.

In the last week, Warren's election team has spent a little more than $172,000 on Facebook advertising, bringing her total ad spending on the platform to about $4.1 million. According to analytics from Facebook's ad library, the fake ads have overwhelmingly and disproportionately reached women over men across all age demographics. They also weren't being shown in any or the four primary states as it's focus has been primarily targeted to states like California New York, Florida and Texas, according to ABC News' analysis of the public data.

This isn't the first rift between the lawmaker and Facebook.

In March, Warren unveiled her plans to break up "big tech" companies. Through the policy, Warren would "unwind tech mergers that illegally undermine competition " -- citing Amazon for its takeover of Whole Foods, Facebook for its takeover of WhatsApp and Instagram and Google's for its takeover of the mapping app Waze.

“Today’s big tech companies have too much power -- too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy,” Warren said in a statement. “They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else.”

Zuckerberg said he would "go to the mat" and fight for his company against Warren's policy, according to audio leaked Oct. 1 from a July Q&A session with Facebook employees at company headquarters.

"Does that still suck for us? Yeah. I mean, I don’t want to have a major lawsuit against our own government ... We care about our country and want to work with our government and do good things," Zuckerberg said in the audio. "But look, at the end of the day, if someone’s going to try to threaten something that existential, you go to the mat and you fight."

Warren expressed concerns on Twitter that she believes Facebook holds power not just over the social media market, but also the political conversation surrounding the 2020 election. And as the fourth Democratic debate nears and early-voting states are paying closer attention to the candidates, she said letting false claims circulate is dangerous.

"Facebook already helped elect Donald Trump once through negligence," she tweeted. "Now, they've changed their policy so they can profit from lies to the American people."

A sign-up sheet was created on her campaign website to give voters what she called a chance to "hold Mark Zuckerberg accountable."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Oct132019

Arrest of Giuliani associates tied to Ukraine scandal renews scrutiny on campaign finance rules

iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The criminal "dark money" case involving two men with ties to President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has raised more questions about how the presence of foreign money in U.S. elections can enable nefarious actors to take advantage of a political system powered by cash.

The ultimate goal of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were charged Thursday with allegedly plotting a complex scheme to circumvent campaign finance laws, by using straw donations to disguise the original source of contributions and exceed donation limits, was "to gain influence with candidates as to policies that would benefit a future business venture," according to the indictment.

"It's very clear that the goal of these contributions was to buy access in order to advance their own personal financial interests and the interests of foreign government officials," Brendan Fischer, federal reform director at the watchdog group Campaign Legal Center, told ABC News. "That is a pretty clear example of the problems with our with our political system -- that in order to have your voice heard by powerful politicians, you have to give them money."

Both Parnas and Fruman have denied wrongdoing. Giuliani told ABC News' Kyra Phillips on Saturday that he has no knowledge he's under investigation and that no one from the Department of Justice had contacted him about Parnas or Fruman.

As foreign actors and governments continue to implement a wide range of tactics to penetrate and hold sway within America's political landscape, these unsealed charges raise questions about the extent to which individuals with foreign allegiances are leveraging political ties to undermine campaign finance safeguards and gain influence, experts said.

"The charges of conspiracy to funnel foreign dollars into U.S. elections against Florida businessmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman paint a troubling picture of the free flow of foreign money into our elections due to insufficient safeguards and lax enforcement," Paul S. Ryan, vice president for policy and litigation for Common Cause, another watchdog group, said in a statement. "[Thursday's] indictments, though, likely represent only the tip of the iceberg in terms of foreign meddling."

"Both men were also heavily involved in the efforts by the White House and President Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate unsubstantiated allegations against Trump's political rival, Joe Biden," he added.

Loopholes in campaign finance law

Parnas and Fruman are not the first to allegedly try to buy political influence, and they likely won't be the last to defy existing rules, experts told ABC News.

But their alleged actions bring new scrutiny on the current campaign finance apparatus and the lawmakers and officials responsible for patrolling it. The entire system operates in relatively new terrain after the blockbuster 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The court's conservative majority in the case ruled unconstitutional a longstanding federal law prohibiting corporate "independent expenditures" supporting or opposing federal candidates under the First Amendment.

Ryan said the advent of Citizens United, which fueled the rise of super PACs, political actions committees that can accept unlimited donations, unlike candidate committees and regular PACs that are limited, is the main reason the two Florida residents may have been able to easily conceal their identities while contributing to super PACs.

"It was clear in 2010 that disclosure laws on the books would not prevent the sort of corporate, straw-donor scheme at the heart of the Parnas and Fruman indictment unsealed [Thursday]," he noted.

But the alleged actions of Parnas and Fruman, Fischer said, clearly show why concerns over the weakness of campaign finance laws must extend beyond Citizens United.

"There's a history of wealthy donors using LLCs to make political contributions anonymously," Fischer said. "Wealthy donors setting up an LLC, putting money into the LLC, and then donating in the name of the LLC rather than in their own name in at first."

The problem, Fischer told ABC News, is the FEC's lack of enforcement.

"The reason that Fruman and Parnas may have felt comfortable using an LLC to launder their political contributions," Fischer said, "is because they figured the FEC wouldn't do anything about it."

The FEC has long faced criticism that it has been unable to act on important matters because of partisanship and frequent deadlocks. Concerns over the Federal Election Commission further intensified last month when one of the four remaining commissioners resigned, leaving the agency one vote short of the quorum required to act on any substantial matter.

But efforts to conceal foreign sources of political contributions haven't always gone unnoticed.

Last year, federal prosecutors indicted a veteran Republican lobbyist, Sam Patten, in a foreign lobbying and campaign finance case referred by special counsel Robert Mueller, leading to a guilty plea and cooperation from the operative, who illegally purchased tickets to Trump's inauguration on behalf of a foreign client. In April, Patten was sentenced to three years probation, a $5,000 fine and 500 hours of community service.

2 men tied to Ukraine scandal rankle GOP

The indictment of Parnas and Fruman details a "foreign national donor scheme" alleging how the two men and other associates funneled "$1-2 million" from a foreign donor with "Russian roots" into the U.S. political system between June 2018 and April 2019 to boost the donor's recreational marijuana business while concealing the origin of their money.

The indictment also alleges the defendants made a series of illegal straw donations that included $325,000 to the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action. Prosecutors allege that the two suspects violated the law by falsely reporting the origin of those funds under the name of "Global Energy Producers."

The indictment outlines Parnas and Fruman's alleged scheme to raise $20,000 for a "then-sitting U.S. Congressman" who "had also been the beneficiary of approximately $3 million" from America First Action during the 2018 midterm cycle. According to the indictment, Parnas allegedly met with the congressman and sought his "assistance in causing the U.S. government to remove or recall the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine," Marie Yovanovitch.

The indictment doesn't name the congressman, but it appears to be former Rep. Pete Sessions, who is seeking a return to Congress in 2020, ABC News reported.

Sessions, in a statement on Thursday, stopped short of confirming that he is "Congressman-1" in the indictment, but added that if he is indeed the congressman in question, he would not have any knowledge of the alleged campaign finance scheme.

Another Republican member of Congress entangled in the scandal is House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, after it was revealed an $11,000 donation from Parnas to McCarthy's joint fundraising committee with the National Republican Campaign Committee, Protect the House, also was part of the defendants' straw-donation scheme, the indictment showed.

But a McCarthy spokesperson said Thursday he is giving any donations from Parnas and Fruman to a local charity, adding, "The deception documented in [Thursday's] indictment has no place in our country."

Sessions, late Friday, similarly said he'd be donating what he'd received to charity, as reported by USA TODAY.

2020 Democrats map out campaign finance reforms

The allegations of illicit contributions from Parnas and Fruman to multiple Republicans, all the way up to a Trump-blessed PAC, come as many Democratic 2020 candidates have implemented some form of self-imposed limits on campaign fundraising -- a move that highlights the significance of the party's promise to get money out of politics.

Two top-tier candidates, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have been leading the charge in swearing off closed-door, high-dollar fundraisers through the general election, and other 2020 candidates also have been vocal in criticizing Citizens United.

While the presidential hopefuls are perhaps churning out more detailed policies to reform campaign finance in the primary, Fischer argues that to prevent foreign cash from slipping through, candidates should go farther than just talking about big-picture ideas related to corporate donations or overturning Citizens United, an unlikely outcome given the current makeup of the Supreme Court.

Warren has also said she would only nominate commissioners who would rigorously enforce campaign finance laws, , Sanders has put out a proposal to restructure the FEC, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has made an effort to rid the political system of "dark money" and curbing foreign influence in elections a cornerstone of his campaign.

"Assuming that gridlock is going to be the norm for the next several years in Congress," Fischer said, "short of the FEC reform legislation passing, something the next president could absolutely do is to commit to nominating FEC commissioners who are committed to the mission of the agency, and who will actually enforce the law."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Oct132019

Ambassador's removal 'deeply concerning': Rep. Jim Himes

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., called the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine's deposition on Friday "deeply concerning" and Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., said the former ambassador "contradicted herself" in her testimony, during an interview on ABC's "This Week" Sunday.

Marie Yovanovitch was deposed Friday by three House committees as part of their impeachment investigation. She testified that President Donald Trump pressured the State Department to remove her, based on "false claims" from his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

Yovanovitch said she was told in late April that she needed to leave immediately -- "to be on the next plane" -- and then arranged a meeting with Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan.

"He said that the President had lost confidence in me and no longer wished me to serve as his ambassador. He added that there had been a concerted campaign against me, and that the Department had been under pressure from the President to remove me since the Summer of 2018," according to the remarks. "He also said that I had done nothing wrong and that this was not like other situations where he had recalled ambassadors for cause."

"Equally fictitious is the notion that I am disloyal to President Trump," she said.

Himes, who sits on the Intelligence Committee, told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl on Sunday that her removal was "deeply concerning" and became key in the House’s impeachment inquiry.

"She was very, very important because she is an example of abusing the American public trust in favor of narrow objectives" he said.

In a subsequent interview on "This Week," Zeldin, who serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee, claimed that Yovanovitch "contradicted herself" during her testimony, and said that he believes her testimony, and others -- including former U.S Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker -- should be released to the public.

"Now, if we all had Ambassador Volker's testimony, we would know that that's not true,” Zeldin told Karl. “We would also know that it obliterated the quid pro quo charge, that fairytale, that President Trump supposedly demanded that there would be an investigation open against the Bidens in order to get aide from the United States to Ukraine.”

Volker was deposed Oct. 3. His texts with Gordon Sondland, the U.S Ambassador to the European Union, and Bill Taylor, the top U.S diplomat to the Ukraine, were provided as part of his closed-door deposition before multiple House committees.

Himes told Karl on "This Week" that he expects the transcripts of the depositions will eventually be released, but gave two main reasons the depositions are happening behind closed doors.

"One reason is that when you’re talking to ambassadors and other U.S. government officials who have regularly had access to classified information, you need to be able to talk about that information and then go back and say 'hey, this conversation has to be redacted because it involves classified information.' That’s the most important reason," he said. "The second reason for this is that when you’re interviewing people who are around the president -- political supporters of the president -- you don’t want them to be able to look at each other’s testimony in order to coordinate testimony."

Some House Republicans and the White House have also criticized their inability to have a representative cross examine the witness.

"Impeachment is more akin to a grand jury indictment, and in a grand jury indictment, it happens behind closed doors, there aren’t cross-examinations. Evidence is presented," Himes said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Oct132019

'We're ready to go at a moment's notice': Treasury Secretary Mnuchin on Turkey sanctions

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that President Donald Trump is focused on the developing situation in Turkey and that they will be meeting with the National Security Council Sunday, as reports of thousands of displaced citizens and escaped Islamic State fighters emerge.

"We are ready to go at a moment's notice to put on sanctions," Mnuchin said on ABC's "This Week" Sunday. "These sanctions could be starting small, they could be maximum pressure, which would destroy the Turkish economy."

A senior U.S. official confirmed to ABC News that the U.S. is withdrawing its troops from northeast Syria. A second official said that the Pentagon is working to convince Trump to keep a residual U.S. force in Syria.

Trump tweeted on Sunday that it was, "Very smart not to be involved in the intense fighting along the Turkish Border."

Mnuchin echoed the president on "This Week," emphasizing that his goal is to get troops out of Syria and end "long-standing wars."

"I think the analogy that everybody's saying is, we're abandoning the Kurds, like the Kurds are these longstanding allies," he said. "Our role in Syria was not to defend land for the Kurds in historical issues. Our focus was to defeat ISIS."

On Friday, Mnuchin announced that Trump had signed an executive order that would allow the Treasury Department to activate "very significant" sanctions against "any person associated with the government of Turkey," if the country crosses certain lines in its operation against Kurdish forces in northern Syria.

Those economic penalties have not yet been activated, but in a statement, the Treasury Department indicated that the U.S. would sanction Turkey for any action that disrupts counter Islamic State operators and indiscriminate targeting of civilians or ethnic and religious minorities.

Mnuchin said on Sunday that the executive order authorizes sanctions that could go as far as shutting down all U.S. dollar transactions with the Turkish government.

Republicans on Capitol Hill, including some of Trump's allies, have expressed outrage at the decision to have U.S. forces in Syria stand aside for Turkey's military operation.

He also responded to criticism on the situation by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who told Axios on Thursday, "I think he's putting the nation at risk. … If I hear the president say one more time, 'I made a campaign promise to get out of Syria,' I'm going to throw up."

"Lindsey and the president are close. This is obviously an issue that they don't agree on," Mnuchin said Sunday, adding that the administration's "number one issue" is defeating ISIS.

Late Sunday morning, Trump tweeted that he was working with Congress on sanctions.

Graham replied on Twitter that it was a "good decision" by the president to work with Congress "to impose crippling sanctions" against Turkey's "outrageous aggression/war crimes in Syria."

On "This Week" Sunday, the treasury secretary also addressed "phase one" of a trade deal with China that was announced on Friday. He said that the deal touched on "very substantial" issues like intellectual property and financial services.

"We have a lot of work to do, but I am confident that both sides will work very hard and anticipate we will be closing this," he added.

When asked about Trump's telling reporters two weeks ago that China should investigate Biden, Mnuchin said the administration had "never" had any discussions on investigating the Bidens in the trade meetings.

"People who are trying to imply that the president is asking for things or quid pro quos -- I think this is ridiculous," he said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Oct132019

US withdraws troops from northern Syria as Turkey expands military operation

iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. is withdrawing its forces from northeast Syria as Turkey's military operation targeting America's Kurdish allies there continues to expand, according to a senior U.S. official.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Fox News Sunday that President Donald Trump "directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of U.S. forces from the northern part of Syria." But a U.S. official told ABC News the Pentagon is working to convince the president to keep a residual U.S. force elsewhere in the country.

Esper said America's partner to fight the Islamic State in Syria -- the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) -- is expected to "cut a deal with the Syrian and Russians" in order to gain protection from Turkey.

"Now what we're facing is U.S. forces trapped between a Syrian-Russia army moving north to take on the Turkish army that is moving south," Esper said. "It puts us in a terrible position. And the protection, safety of our service members comes first to me."

The defense secretary would not say how long it would take to move "less than 1,000" of those U.S. forces from the area, but a second U.S. official said the "planning and execution is accelerating." A source familiar with U.S. military operations in the country told ABC News that U.S. troops were destroying classified materials in preparation for their withdrawal.

"The United States doesn't have the forces on hand to stop an invasion of Turkey that is 15,000 strong if you will, proceeded by airstrikes and artillery and mechanized forces," Esper said. "You got to keep in mind to that look we didn't sign up to fight Turkey, a longstanding NATO ally on behalf of the SDF."

One week ago, the White House announced it was moving fewer than 50 American forces away from the Turkey-Syria border after a phone call between Trump and Turkish President Erdogan. That decision drew backlash from Republican and Democratic lawmakers who charged the Trump administration with abandoning America's Kurdish allies and green-lighting a Turkish invasion of Syria.

Asked what his message is to the SDF now, Esper said, "We are doing everything we can to get the Turks to stop this egregious behavior."

But in a tweet on Sunday, the president was more dismissive of the situation, writing, "Others may want to come in and fight for one side or the other. Let them!"

Meanwhile, on the ground, the violence continues to escalate with Turkish-backed militias carrying out brutal executions along the main highway. On Saturday, a 35-year old female Kurdish politician was shot in the head by what is believed to be an al-Qaeda linked group backed by Turkey.

The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have fled their homes. With the Turkish operation only in its fifth day, those numbers are expected to rise dramatically.

On Sunday, Turkish airstrikes hit a Kurdish convoy near the border town of Ras al-Ayn, killing at least nine people including five civilians, according to The Associated Press. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that journalists were among the victims.

Turkish airstrikes have also caused some SDF fighters to leave their positions guarding ISIS prison camps with reports of some ISIS fighters escaping detention. Near Ain Issa, SDF forces were forced to leave their posts at a refugee camp following a barrage of Turkish airstrikes, allowing nearly 800 ISIS women and children to flee, a senior camp official told ABC News. The Kurdish Red Crescent later confirmed that the Turkish attack caused a "large number of ISIS families" to leave.

Amid fears that a wave of ISIS families or fighters could head east, Iraq is sending more troops to its border with Syria, an official said. In a report earlier this summer, the Pentagon warned of an ISIS insurgency in Iraq and resurgence in Syria.

"ISIS will resurge. It's absolutely a given that they will come back," former defense secretary James Mattis told NBC News on Sunday.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Oct132019

Bernie Sanders draws contrast with Elizabeth Warren: She says 'she is a capitalist through her bones. I'm not.'

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- With Sen. Elizabeth Warren continuing to climb in Democratic presidential primary polls, in part, at the expense of his own campaign, Sen. Bernie Sanders explicitly highlighted a key difference in their core economic philosophies in an interview with ABC's "This Week."

"There are differences between Elizabeth and myself," Sanders, I-Vt., said in an interview with ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl. "Elizabeth, I think, as you know, has said that she is a capitalist through her bones. I'm not."

The statement comes as Sanders, whose Democratic Socialist ideologies positioned him as Hillary Clinton's chief progressive rival in 2016, has found himself overtaken by Warren in the majority of national and early state surveys in recent weeks, leading to questions -- particularly in the aftermath of the heart attack he suffered last week -- about the viability of his 2020 campaign in a very crowded field.

In 2018, Warren was quoted as saying "I am a capitalist to my bones" during an event hosted by the New England Council, a non-partisan regional business organization.

Sanders pushed back at the idea that he and Warren hold "identical positions," and added, of the notion that voters would prefer the similarly liberal Warren given she is younger and free of health concerns, that he is the sole candidate willing to take on the nation's "ruling class."

"I am, I believe, the only candidate who's going to say to the ruling class of this country, the corporate elite: Enough, enough with your greed and with your corruption," Sanders said. "We need real change in this country."

Sanders noted that he and Warren have been friends "for some 25 years," and he thinks "she is a very, very good senator," but again contrasted their different economic beliefs.

"Elizabeth considers herself -- if I got the quote correctly -- to be a capitalist to her bones," he said. "I don't. And the reason I am not is because I will not tolerate for one second the kind of greed and corruption and income and wealth inequality and so much suffering that is going on in this country today, which is unnecessary."

The senator's heart attack less than two weeks ago arrived at an inflection point for a campaign facing sliding poll numbers while simultaneously posting the single-largest fundraising quarter of any Democratic candidate this year -- a reported $25.3 million from July through September.

Sanders was hospitalized for three days and had two stents inserted to relieve a blocked artery. But he said on Saturday, and throughout the past week, he feels "very well" and that his doctors are on board with an eventual return to the "vigorous" campaign schedule that saw him regularly make three to four stops per day.

"'Heart attack' is a scary word," he told Karl on "This Week" Sunday. "What I had is a 45 to 50 minute procedure, two stents were placed in my heart, which had a blocked artery. This is a procedure, as I understand it, done many, many hundreds of thousands of times a year. It's a fairly common procedure, and people are back on their feet pretty soon, as is the case with me."

As for releasing his medical records, Sanders again promised he would do so "as soon as we can" and "with all of the information that's available," a standard he said should "should be applicable to all candidates."

"I think when you're running for president of the United States," he added, "the American people have a right to know the condition of your health."

Though much of Sanders' attention is focused on the presidential race, he indicated his approval of the ongoing House of Representatives impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump's actions with regard to Ukraine, voicing that he hopes it moves "forward as expeditiously as it possibly can."

"I think at the end of the day, the evidence is there to impeach Trump. Now, here is the real issue that we should be talking about, and that is, what happens if, and as I expect will be the case, Trump is impeached in the House?" Sanders asked. "Will Mitch McConnell do the right thing? Will he have a full trial where the American people as senators -- I'll be one of them -- can hear the evidence regarding what Trump did?"

"I am nervous that McConnell will put party in front of country and not do that," the senator continued.

Sanders also was critical of Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, opening the way for maneuvers by Turkish troops -- a move met with bipartisan backlash in Washington. Though Sanders has previously decried "endless wars" resulting from American military intervention abroad, he worried that the action would send a negative message to U.S. allies.

"What does it say to the entire world that you have a president who gets off the phone with [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan of Turkey and then sends out a tweet that says, 'Oh, by the way, we're deserting [Syrian Kurds] who have put their lives on the line to work with us in fighting against some of the worst terrorists in the world," Sanders said on "This Week."

But when asked by Karl whether Trump's rationale for pulling the military out of the Syria -- at one point this week saying that the U.S. is "not a police force" -- "sounded a little bit like Bernie Sanders," the Vermont senator was quick to refute the point.

"But the difference between Trump and me is he lies," Sanders said. "I don't."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Oct132019

'Crazy' Dems consumed by 'hateful spirit' pursuing impeachment: Trump

iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Speaking to a gathering of evangelical Christians at the Values Voters Summit in Washington on Saturday night, Donald Trump said Democrats are consumed by a "hateful spirit" as they pursue an impeachment inquiry that, the president argued, is just the latest chapter in an ongoing "witch hunt."

"They are crazy -- shouldn't say it because we're all the same -- but they are crazy," Trump said during a speech that lasted about 90 minutes. "As we've seen over the last three years, the extreme left has absolutely no respect for the will of the American people."

"I never thought I'd see or hear that word with respect to me," Trump said, referring to impeachment. "An ugly word, it means so much, it means horrible, horrible crimes and things, I can't even believe it. It's a witch hunt."

As he did last night, the president blasted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying of her impeachment inquiry, "She's gonna do it." Trump said it's because Pelosi hates America.

"If she didn't hate our country," Trump added, "she wouldn't be doing this to our country. It's a fraud."

The president also talked about his wish to sue or try to impeach Rep. Adam Schiff after his remarks dramatizing his call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, despite the fact that he's been advised Schiff has immunity.

"I talked to my lawyers, I said sue him anyway, and sue Nancy Pelosi, or maybe we should just impeach them," Trump added.

He continued to defend his call with the president of Ukraine as "just absolutely nice, totally different than the phony things that he revealed with this crazy whistleblower."

The president at one point took aim at Beto O'Rourke, calling him a "whacko" over his call for revoking tax-exempt status for churches that oppose same-sex marriage.

"I will never allow the federal government to be used to target, harass or punish communities of faith," Trump said.

Appealing to his supporters, the president also alleged that Democrats are "coming after me because I'm fighting for you, that's a big part of it.

"On every front," Trump warned the crowd on Saturday night, "the left is waging war on the values shared by everyone in this room."

"They are trying to use the courts to rewrite the laws, undermine democracy and force through an agenda they can't pass at the ballot box," he said. "If given the chance, they would use every instrument of government, including the IRS, to try to shut you down. They're using the IRS against me."

Before Trump's remarks, Pastor Andrew Brunson, the pastor freed last year from a Turkish prison, was invited on stage to pray over the president, alongside the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins.

"I want to thank you for that beautiful prayer -- it means a lot," Trump said.

Later in his speech, in front of everyone, the president addressed Brunson, telling him he'd still be in that prison in Turkey if he weren't the president.

"I don't think our soldiers should be there for the next 50 years, guarding a border between Turkey and Syria, when we can't guard our own borders," he said. The president remained firm on his decision to stand aside for Turkey's military operation in Kurdish territory in Syria.

Shortly after the president's closing remarks, the White House released a statement announcing that the president has earmarked $50 million in stabilization assistance for Syria, which, press secretary Stephanie Grisham said is intended to "protect persecution ethnic and religious minorities."

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Saturday
Oct122019

Beto O'Rourke said he would revoke tax-exempt status from religious organizations that oppose same-sex marriage

Twitter/@BetoORourke(WASHINGTON) -- Beto O'Rourke, the former congressman from Texas and presidential hopeful, infuriated a swath of religious and conservative leaders with his response to a question from CNN's Don Lemon during a LGBTQ-focused town hall on Thursday night.

Lemon asked O'Rourke if religious institutions — schools, churches, or charities — should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage.

The presidential candidate answered "yes" to the applause of a Los Angeles crowd organized by the Human Rights Campaign, the country's largest LGBTQ equality organization.

"There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone or any institution, any organization in America that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us," O'Rourke said. "And so as president, we're going to make that a priority and we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans."

The response from some conservatives was swift.

"Does your church preach the Gospel? Then Beto O'Rourke wants to take away its tax-exemption," wrote Hermain Cain, a former business executive and GOP presidential candidate.

Republican Sen. Ben Sasse called Beto's response an unconstitutional attack on churches, synagogues, and mosques.

“Last night, Beto O’Rourke said that churches, hospitals, and charities — folks who are serving their communities and loving their neighbors — should lose their tax-exempt status if their religious convictions don’t fall in line with his progressive politics," Sasse wrote in a statement posted to his office's website.

He went on, "This extreme intolerance is un-American. The whole point of the First Amendment is that, no matter who you love and where you worship, everyone is created with dignity and we don’t use government power to decide which religious beliefs are legitimate and which aren’t. This bigoted nonsense would target a lot of sincere Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Leaders from both political parties have a duty to flatly condemn this attack on very basic American freedoms.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Christian conservative policy organization Family Research Council, said of O'Rourke Friday morning, "He was going after your guns, now he's going after your God," according to the Washington Blade.

All states and the District of Columbia provide tax exemptions for religious institutions. In 1983, Bob Jones University had its tax-exempt status revoked for banning interracial dating, deeming it a violation of "fundamental public policy."

O'Rourke's campaign spokesperson Lauren Hitt said the criticism was unwarranted.

"Beto was obviously referring to religious institutions who take discriminatory action," Hitt told ABC News in a statement. "The extreme right is distorting this for their own agenda.”

Cory Booker, a senator from New Jersey who is also a Democratic candidate, was asked the same question by Lemon but did not answer the question directly. The other eight candidates on stage, excluding O'Rourke, were not asked the question.

“I’m not saying, because I know this is a long legal battle. I’m not dodging your question. I’m saying I believe fundamentally that discrimination is discrimination,” Booker said. “And if you are using your position to try to discriminate others, there must be consequences to that. And I will make sure to hold them accountable using the DOJ or whatever investigatory. You cannot discriminate."

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Saturday
Oct122019

California governor signs bill requiring medication abortion at public colleges

iStock/sshepard(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill on Friday requiring that public universities provide medication abortion on campus.

"After three years of working to expand access to medication abortion at our public universities, I am thrilled that Governor Newsom rejected the misguided paths that other states have taken in limiting access to abortion care," state Sen. Connie Leyva, who wrote the bill, said in a statement. "Abortion is a protected right, and it is important that everyone -- including college students -- have access to that right, if they so choose."

The College Student Right to Access Act requires that public colleges in California -- the University of California and California State University systems -- that have student health centers on campus also make available medication abortion.

The bill says abortion services will be administered by trained medical professionals at the health centers.

Medication abortion involves taking two pills -- mifepristone, which stops the production of progesterone, and misoprostol, which induces a miscarriage-like abortion -- over a 48-hour period. It is approved for use by the FDA up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy.

Nearly a quarter of all abortions were medication abortions done at or before eight weeks' gestation in 2015, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We are grateful to see the College Student Right to Access Act signed into law so students who are struggling to make ends meet will not be forced to choose between their academic and financial well-being and accessing an abortion," Adiba Khan, co-founder of Berkeley Students United for Reproductive Justice, said in a statement.

The California Legislature had passed this bill in 2018, but Newsom didn'tt sign it, effectively vetoing it. After the Legislature passed it again this September, Newsom signed it within the 30-day time limit.

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